Back to Basics Brain Development – Adoption/Foster Care Edition

For the month of March, we have been focusing on Back to Basics. This week on the podcast, Kristin Peters joins me (Kathleen) for a discussion about brain development as it applies to adoption. You can find the podcast here.

1. Kids that come home to us through adoption/foster care have altered brain chemistry caused by stress.

“We are all shaped by our genetic birthright and by the environment in which we live. To a developing fetus, the mother’s womb is an entire universe. If the mother has a healthful lifestyle, her uterus will share that with the growing child. But if the mom suffers from chronic stress, consumes such toxins such as alcohol and drugs, or doesn’t eat properly, the fetus is exposed to those dangers right along with the mother. An infant’s neurochemistry reflects his or her very first home-the uterus.”- The Connected Child

Neurons that fire together wire together. In plain English, the more a behavior is acted out or a trigger acted on, the more it becomes a pattern in the brain. It is as if the road is dug out, gravelled and paved by repeated experiences. The paved road then becomes the primary travel route.  

Adoption is messy. Children who are adopted from hard places have trouble verbalizing their feelings. They struggle with self-regulation and want to control everything and everyone around them. Trouble is, if we parents aren’t careful, we end up focusing on the behavior instead of digging deeper to the root of the problem. It’s quick and easy to think the child is misbehaving to get on our last nerve. We tend to think the child wants to make us angry.

The poor choices in behavior speaks what child is unable to state verbally.

Hurt children have a knack for making us adults feel out of control. They do know how to push our buttons. They seem to own a special button locating radar. Once they find the button, they push it mercilessly. And we adults, like puppets on a string flail around, flopping from hot to cold at their will. Rarely, if ever do these kids apologize. If they do, it is we parents have been steam rolled all day.

2.The attachment cycle has been broken.

Breaks in attachment cause a fear response. We need to work on felt safety.

“Chronic fear is like a schoolyard bully that scares children into behaving poorly.”- Dr. Karyn Purvis

We parents tend to expect our newly adopted children to enter the home and quickly develop a secure attachment style. We assume that they know the depth and width of time and work it took to secure their adoption.

“However, in the at-risk population, as much as 80% of children are classified as disorganized.”(Steele & Steele, Gray)

Once we come to terms with what sort of attachment our kiddos have and their level of fear, we can start moving in the right direction. It’s not enough for your child to be in a safe environment. He must feel safe. If he doesn’t feel safe, he will be in survival mode -flight, fight or freeze. Felt safety and secure attachment go hand in hand. When a child is securely attached to you, he will feel safe.

For instance, the other day at Joe and Throw (a local coffee place) I was holding my granddaughter Glenna on my lap. She was “watching” the Toy Story characters on my Apple watch. At the same time, she was slipping off my lap. She did nothing to secure herself or hang on. Because she felt safe, she trusted me to catch her and heave her back up which I did multiple times.

3.Your past affects your present parenting.

“We have also begun to understand how overwhelming experiences affect our innermost sensations and our relationship to our physical reality –the core of who we are. We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain and boy. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive the present.”- The Body Keeps Score

When I first got married, I naively thought that my past was wiped away as we similarly think that our adopted children’s past is wiped away. It’s not. We both carry our trauma into the relationship. The more aware we parents are of our triggers to our past trauma, the better we can navigate. It’s not easy. But, it is easier if your recognize them.

The more we do the work of healing for ourselves, the more we can help our kiddos. There seem to be a great many parents entering the foster/adoption world because they have had trauma – a troubled childhood, alcoholic parents, or fill in the blank. Our past can become their greatest gift and worst enemy -all in a minute. One moment the parenting is full of empathy, the next triggers send us into our past. Our past takes over and we are ashamed of our words and our actions.

The Road to Healing

To properly travel any route, we need a map. Even in this day and age of GPS via my phone, I like to see the trip before I travel. I’m one of those old school people who still print out a map. It helps me see where I’m going. If all this information is new to you or you don’t know which way to turn, start below. The video gives a great map of what may be going on with your kiddos. Below the video are some resources that can help you and your kiddos on the road to healing.

 

Resources:

Empowered to Connect

The Whole Brain Child

The Whole Brain Child Workbook

The Connected Child

Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma

Capital Letter Syndromes and Adoption

Six Risk Factors

To get a copy of Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Adoptive/Foster Families, click here and sign up to follow The Whole House via email.

If you would like to join our private facebook group –

The Whole House Adoption/Foster Support Group, just send us a request!

Movement Has Been Replaced By A Sedentary Lifestyle – Why Kids Need Play!

When I was growing up, I played outdoors a lot. We didn’t have a television because my mom thought it would rot our brains out.  I know that is extreme, the point was we filled our time with going outside, being creative and playing in the creek. There was not much time for being sedentary in my family. We played outside together, worked together, played long board games and my sisters and I made up lots of dances in the living room (and made mom watch our performances). What I didn’t know is that my parents were building my brain and giving me a healthy lifestyle.

How things have changed.

“A UK survey conducted by the National Trust found that modern children spend half as much time outdoors as their parents did, despite the fact that 96% of the parents surveyed felt it was important for kids to have a “connection to nature.””-www.theatlantic.com/magazine

Children need to play outside. It’s one of the building blocks of brain development. When kids play outside, they learn cause and effect. They test their limits. The first physical science experiments happen in our own backyards-

  • when a child throws a rock in the stream and the water smacks him in the face.
  • when a child jumps from a swing and feels the jarring in his knees.
  • when he climbs a tree and falls two feet.
  • when he builds a dam and stops up the water in the stream

These are all brain builders. A child who has time to test his limits, build, create and pretend is growing the logic portion of his brain.

Play helps children teach themselves to regulate their emotions.

“University of Denver researchers Elena Bodrova, Carrie Germeroth, and Deborah J. Leong found that children teach themselves to regulate their emotions and think before they act when they play. For example, if a child is pretending to be Olaf from Frozen, they may pretend they’re melting when they come inside or insist that they like warm hugs. In each case, they consider how their actions will correlate with how Olaf should act in a given situation.”- Whitbyschool.org

If anyone has ever played make believe with a child, you know that kiddos play out relationships. They play Mom, Dad, sister, brother, super heroes, soldiers, or fill in the blank. My eldest used to ask me to play with her. She just told me what to say and I said it while her character was the star of the show (kind of like her). This is one of the ways kids figure out relationships. Often we hear children playing with the same words they hear us using -“It’s okay, mom is here” or “If you do that again you are in trouble”.

Play gives children a chance to practice what they’re learning.
– Fred Rogers

The Scientific Re-do.

When children have had trauma in their lives and struggle with regulation, play can help fill in the gaps missed in brain development. Organized play with a point can help. Acting out a scenario the right way and the wrong way helps a child form new pathways in his brain. This is a non threatening way of doing a re-do. This can be done with puppets or just acting it out. Try acting out the wrong way to ask for something and then the wrong way. Kids definitely enjoy the wrong way, they may giggle, but the right way will stick!

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain - unless it done with play, in which case it takes 10-20 repetitions._ - Dr. Karyn Purvis.png

Scientists have recently determined that it takes approximately 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain – unless it done with play, in which case it takes 10-20 repetitions.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Movement is Important.

Movement in play, indoors and outdoors are part of the pathway to healthy brain development. What a video game and screen time can’t do is amplify time, they simply spend it.

“Unlike television, nature does not steal time; it amplifies it.” Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods.

Organized play can teach skills and create a new synapse in the brain quicker, more efficiently and with more smiles than just going through the motions. While it’s tempting to fill time with screen time, remember you can’t get that time back. It’s spent on something that doesn’t have a great return. Educational show are great, but actually doing activities together -indoors or out- produce a greater reward.

*This is part of a Back to Basics Series! If you missed the beginning, start here or catch up the podcast here.

 

 

 

When Things get Tough, Should We Reroute or Stay the Course?

Recalculating

Hubby and I were on a road trip. We pulled into a gas station and our little GPS panicked. In a British accent, she yelled, “Recalculating! Recalculating!” It quickly changed to a more placid “Rerouting” once we turned around.

That’s often what I do. I hear God’s voice (through His Word) and I walk forth in obedience. A mountain rises up the distance. I break forth in a run, full of obedience and hope. I climb that mountain. Then another mountain waits in the distance. I climb it as well. After the twenty-fifth mountain, I yell – RECALCULATING!

Rerouting

Do you (like me) tend to want to reroute when things get difficult? I was hoping for fruitfulness, not a continual sacrifice of myself. I begin to doubt, rely on my own strength and then follows the spirit of control. Because of trauma in my past, my home base is sometimes control instead of Christ.

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Control or Trust. You can’t have both.

Trying to control circumstances only leads to disappointment.  Control doesn’t solve the problems, climb the mountains or satisfy. Trusting in the Lord, no matter what the outcome is relief. It shouldn’t matter how hard we must buckle down to be obedient. That’s our chief end, to be obedient to and glorify God.

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield, the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” – Psalm 84: 11

I don’t need to Reroute, I need to Dig in.

I don’t need to reroute. I need to press in. I need to dig into God’s Word. I need to praise into His presence, to trust that He is in control, and that He will give me the strength to climb the next mountain. Climbing the mountain or trying again in obedience is creating endurance in me. It’s allowing God’s strength to work in me.

When things get difficult…

When things get difficult, we must do hard things. There I said it. I don’t like it. My husband had to listen to my cries of “rerouting” the other evening. I’ve hit obstacle after obstacle in this short year. I’m not complaining, I’m just reporting. I’m okay with a few mountains (not literally) because I can do them in my own strength-ish. What gets totally uncomfortable is when obedience requires strength, abilitiies and resources that I don’t have. When I am in postition of helplessness, Christ can do the work. I can’t take the glory. All glory and honor belong to Him.

“I don’t think the way you think.
    The way you work isn’t the way I work.”
        God’s Decree.
“For as the sky soars high above earth,
    so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
    and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
    and don’t go back until they’ve watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
    producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
    not come back empty-handed.
They’ll do the work I sent them to do,
    they’ll complete the assignment I gave them.- Isaiah 55: 8-9

If you are in the midst of some difficult circumstances, hold fast. Don’t reroute. If you are walking in obedience, God will do the work. You may not be able to see what He is doing right now. Often the work is internal. He’s working on our hearts. We want to see outward signs, but He wants us to trust Him for the outcome, no matter what that is.

Circling the Mountain

While I was giving my husband a status update on some circumstances, this analogy hit me. When we circle the mountain, complaining, measuring, planning or whatever it is we do to avoid obedience, we just make a deeper trough. The mountain then appears to be larger and we sink into mud. We walk ourselves into a pit of depression. We glorify our difficulites instead of depend on God’s strength. Our trust is in our ability. We are doomed to fail when our ability is all we have.

Blessed Hope

God promises to give us strength to carry out His will. We have: immeasurable and unlimited and surpassing greatness of His [active, spiritual] power working in us (Ephesians 1:19). Our hope is not in our circumstances, but in His power working through us to fulfill His purpose for His greater honor and glory. Don’t reroute. Climb that next mountain.

Let me leave you with this quote from Hind’s Feet on High Place:

“O Shepherd. You said you would make my feet like hinds‘ feet and set me upon High Places“. “Well”, he answered “the only way to develop hinds‘ feet is to go by the paths which the hinds use.” 
* Our Back to Basics Series continues next week! Catch up on it, by starting here! 

Nutrition has Been Thrown out the Window! How can we get it back?

We’re doing a Back to Basics Series here on The Whole House. This week we’re focusing on brain development. If you missed the beginning of the series start here.

What does food have to do with brain development? Everything. You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat?” That’s not just for grownups. As teens and children, we are told we have a fast metabolism and we can eat anything. But, should we?

Should you be concerned about what your kids are eating? Or should you just wait until they are old enough to know better?

The value of good nutrition.

“When you child eats regular, balanced meals and snacks, blood sugar levels remain constant and steady. This boosts learning and stabilizes moods. When we cheat ourselves out of meals, however, we’re also reducing our brainpower. Skipping breakfast or snacking on sugary sodas and sweets are just some of the ways that our daily habits can undermine healthy brain functioning.” –The Connected Child

Good nutrition isn’t just counting calories. When my newbies came home through adoption, they had health issues, including rotten teeth and malnutrition. The dentist informed me the rotten teeth were a result of the malnutrition. My kids hadn’t had access to sugary sodas or candy. The kind of calories my kiddos needed were specific and intentional. They needed protein and complex carbohydrates to grow their bodies and their brains. All kids do.

Deficiencies go hand in hand with a variety of health and behavioral problems. ADHD and diabetes have been linked to a shortage of magnesium. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, maybe you are in the same boat, but you want your child to have optimal health and brain function. My advice? Do some research. That’s what I did when my kiddos come home. Don’t take my word for it.

My youngest son, who is on the spectrum ate gluten-free for years because it “calmed his inner hulk” (his words). Children who have health and behavioral problems may need more vitamins and minerals in the form of a supplement. It’s not a cure, just support. It may be the difference between their inner hulk raging all the time and just making appearances.

“A growing and compelling body of research suggests that nutritional supplementation is extremely beneficial for at-risk populations. In one study at a Canadian hospital, two boys with explosive rage and volatile moods showed dramatic improvement – without lithium or other traditional psychpharmacolic agents – when they took a daily vitamin and mineral supplement. When taken off the nutritional supplement, their rage returned, but once the supplementation was restored, their behavior improved again.” – The Connected Child

Maybe your child is neurotypical.  Maybe he doesn’t have any capital letter syndromes or behavior issues. Should you be concerned about his nutrition? YES!

Eight years ago, I watched a Teresa Tapp seminar about health and nutrition. She said something that haunts me to this day. If we don’t change our eating and exercise habits, then this generation will have more serious health issues in their thirties and forties as opposed to their seventies and eighties our grandparents did. I’m serious paraphrasing here, but she said if we don’t start eating God-made (closest to their natural form) foods and moving, our kids could end up in nursing homes in their forties. YIKES! We don’t want that._The food your child eats becomes the building blocks of his or her brain chemistry._

Throw out the myth that because our kiddos have fast metabolisms, they can eat anything and everything. Food is fuel. Food is medicine. We must fuel our kiddos’ bodies with what will grow healthy brains. What they are eating now is building their future body, brain, and immune system.

“The food your child eats becomes the building blocks of his or her brain chemistry.” – The Connected Child

Just a few tips from The Connected Child to end on. You may already have a handle on this, if so, GO YOU! Maybe you just need a restart, some reminders to get you back on track. I need those often!

  • Make sure your kiddos drink lots of water! Dehydration cause mental (cognitive) function to deteriorate. (I notice this in myself. If I have been working at my desk for hours, I start craving coffee and sweets. I get a quart of lemon water instead and feel fresh and ready to go!)
  • Avoid deep-fried foods. They make the brain sluggish.
  • Use yogurt as a healthful snack.  The live cultures improve digestions and intestinal health. The intestines help produce serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. Get the whole fat kind with lower sugar content. Kids need good fats! Don’t do fat-free! Use probiotic supplements for kiddos who can’t do dairy!
  • Keep a food dairy. I love this suggestion. Sometimes we don’t know what the food offender is until we take the time to write down reactions.

Get your kiddos eating as many God-made foods as can and go you! Every time you get nutrition and water in your kiddos, you are enabling better brain function. You’re building strong bodies and immune systems for a long and healthy life.

 

 

Have the Basics of Brain Development Been Left Behind?

We don’t often think about brain development in our children. Often we just follow the right steps and our kiddo’s brains develop. Until. Something. Is. Off.

I know. With my first child, I had some brain science under my belt from my education degree. I had a skeletal view of the developmental steps she should go through, but that’s as much as I thought about it. Maybe you’re like me. You’re doing some great things to improve your baby’s brain function. If so, think of this as a cheerleading session. I’m cheering you on! Great job! Maybe you are practicing some of these principles to grow you child’s brain and you are tired of doing the right thing. Maybe you are growing weary. Let me encourage you.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6: 9

The truth is most of the hard work you do to grow your child’s brain, no one sees. Not right now anyway. When you keep practicing the principles that grow your child’s brain, it will grow. You can’t open their brains and check it. Just as when you plant a seed in the ground, you water and wait. You don’t dig up the seed every few days and see if it sprouted. You wait and one day, it pushes a tiny green sprout through the soil. Your kiddos will follow suit. One day, your toddler will sign “more.” One day you child will regulate and use her words. One day, your five year old will recognize her need for a snack. This glimpses of brain growth will happen in bits and spurts. You can’t grow a tree in day, neither can you expect your kiddos brain to mature after a few practiced principles.

While genetics play a role in a developing brain in a newborn, scientists now know that relationships and experience shape the brain.

  When an infant is  born he has 100 billion neurons just waiting to connect. They are like loose wires flailing around waiting to connect. Think of your middle school science class and the electricity board, you have a light, a battery and a switch. You have to connect all three with wire. Then you flip the switch. You are the wire. Your babies brain already has the light and switch, just waiting to turn on. How do you connect the wires?

 Relationship grows the brain. 

This is one of the most important parts of brain growth. Relationship has the power to grow the brain. Interactions make the connections. This is why it is so important to engage with your child starting at infancy. The more you interact with your infant in positive ways, the more you grow the brain.

Here are some easy ways to grow an infants brain:

Baby wearing.

Singing to baby.

Comforting.

Soothing voice of mother.

Being on the shoulder of daddy.

Mother holding baby and gazing into her eyes.

Reading to your infant (you can start in utero).

Singing with and to your infant.

Playing music.

“A well-tended child is fed, cradled, and soothed when she cries from hunger or crankiness. This scene plays out hundreds of times in the first month of life alone. Through this exchange, the baby learns to trust that her needs will be met and that she can rely on people.” – The Connected Child

Repeated experiences also grow the brain.

Whatever the experiences are, that is where the brain will grow. If it is fearful, then the downstairs will grow (more on upstairs and downstairs brain here). If a child is soothed and learns how to talk things through and sort out feelings, the upstairs brain will grow.

This is the Hebbian Principle: What fires together, wires together.

An infant who is fed when hungry  regularly expects to be fed every time she is. She develops the belief that her needs will be met.

An infant who is soothed when upset develops the belief that her voice will be heard. She is on her way to healthy emotional intelligence.

An infant who is smiled at, laughed with, spoken to, read to, and sung to (no matter how off key) believes that she is important. She is developing social skills.

The basics of brain development are so basic, they usually come naturally. Maybe they come naturally to you. Think of this post as a booster shot. You are already doing all the right things to enable your infants brain to keep growing -Go YOU!

Want to learn more about this subject? Listen to our latest Podcast, “Baby Intelligence.