The Child’s Mistaken Goals (Attachment)

I’ve been talking about attachment on my Whole House Lives on Facebook. Here are some of the points-

When parenting a child who has had trauma in their lives, we must consider the child’s mistaken goals and direct the child to new goals. If you want to know more about trauma, listen to our podcast– The Six Risk Factors.

Mistaken Goals

  1. Unless you pay attention to me, I am nothing. I have a place only when you are busy with me

  2. Struggle for power

  3. Retaliation and revenge

  4. Complete inadequacy

* From Driekurs’s Children the Challenge

A child stuck in survival mode or who has attachment issues, or both can vault like an Olympian between these mistaken goals and we parents can get stuck reacting to them.

Disciplining the unattached child is part of the package deal. We can’t attach to a child and ignore their mistaken goals. The child won’t let us. They will be our face, day and night.

Traditional Parenting Doesn’t Work with Kids From Hard Places

I have a confession to make. I tried spanking. I know, it is often viewed in harsh light nowadays. The media likes to paint a violent picture of a parent with a wide leather strap foaming at the mouth, who is angrily wailing on the child.  That is not spanking in the proper sense. Spanking is a calm, cool parent with loving intentions, one who has not given into angry resentments. The parent speaks calmly to the child about the consequence. There is a purpose and a process that works with a child who has been raised in a secure environment, not for a child who has already experienced abuse and neglect.

This is not a post about spanking. I just want to point out that it didn’t work with my adopted children. It often ended up in a physical tussle. Meltdowns could end that way too if I intervened at the wrong time.

I learned the hard way and through trial and error to leave spanking behind and focus on training (more of this subject later). I just wanted to touch on this subject briefly before I move on. If someone had recorded the spankings I gave my kids with them thrashing, hitting, kicking me and my tiny frame trying to hold them down. It wasn’t pretty. It backfired. I often ended up bruised and sore from them.  I am baring my soul for your sake and the sake of your children.

New Members of the Family

I’ve talked about some rudimentary basics of attachment,  purpose (work) and discipline on my live last week. These are intertwined, just as our spirit, body, mind and emotions are intertwined. A child with attachment difficulties is like a new convert in the church. They have been wounded and battered by the rules of this present darkness, working through humans, wars, famines, and all sorts of evil. These children come into the family with mistaken goals, just as new converts come into the church with faulty foundations. They aren’t sure how to behave, outwardly, physically, what to think, mind and emotions and how to actually walk in the spirit, the pair of themselves they have ignored until the day they joined the family of God.

These children come into the family with mistaken goals, just as new converts come into the church with faulty foundations.

Now, they are new creatures, family members in the house of God the Father, siblings with the son of God, yet they still slide off their chairs during dinner hour and eat scraps off the floor because they don’t know how to sit at the table. They horde manna because they don’t know that Jehovah Jireh provides only for today because today has sufficient worry of its own. All of the “Praise the Lord!” lingo is strange, just as it is weird to call a man “Daddy”, it may have a different and scary meaning for a child/convert raise by a daddy who reeked of alcohol and beat them. Will this new daddy be strict? Will the child slip into retaliation mode? This rears its ugly head when a power struggle ensues. Some people because of their past controllers cannot or will not listen to any branch of authority, so they come into the church family reluctant, refusing to take any advice and chafing at any restrictions.

“In many cases the child’s erroneous ideas and mistaken goals underlying his misbehavior are so well entrenched that it may take more than a correct response to the various acts of provocation. One may have to work toward a deep reconstruction of the child’s basic assumptions, of his personality pattern.” – Children the Challenge, Rudolf Dreikurs, M.D.

The basic beliefs or assumptions must replace the child’s mistaken goals:

  1. I am valuable even if you are not always paying attention to me. I am a son of God and therefore a sibling of Jesus, and heir to the promises of God

  2. I am not in control of everything, neither do I need to be. God is in control and He will take care of me. I can submit to some authority and trust God is in control..

  3. I do not need to retaliate. I can forgive and I am forgiven. I do not be in angry defensive mode. I need to be in trusting acceptance mode.

  4. I do not need to give up on life. I have a purpose. God created me to do good works and I will do them regardless of my  past circumstances. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

“For as many [of you] as were baptized into Christ [into a spiritual union and communion with Christ] the Anointed one, the Messiah] have put on (clothed yourselves with Christ).

There is [now no distinction] neither Jew, nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free there is not male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And if you belong to Christ [are in Him who is Abraham’s seed], then you are Abraham’s offspring and spiritual heirs according to the promise. – Galatians 3: 27-29

This is a new way of living that says “I can’t act the way I feel like acting anymore. I can’t act impulsively. I cannot run around in survival mode and be a functioning member of a family.”

Most of us came into the family of God in survival mode, i.e., in the flesh, but born of the Spirit. Our names are written in the Lambs book of life. The adoption decree is sealed. We legally belong, but our assumptions haven’t caught up. We don’t believe it. So, we must be patient with our children who come into our families with a different set of values and beliefs. We must parent them with the tools that will lead them to feel secure.


Thinking About Adopting Mini Seminar Recap

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you were thinking about coming to the ‘Thinking About Adopting’ Mini Seminar and just couldn’t make it, here is a quick recap.

There was lots of conversation, coffee and collaboration of many individuals to make this event happen. Thanks to Joe ‘n’ Throw for providing the venue, making the mugs (for prizes) and the amazing coffee!  Thanks to all the folks who shared their stories and Scott Nelson from NYAP for answering all of our foster/adopt questions!

The smell of pungent strong coffee filled my nostrils, the air abuzz with anticipation. I didn’t need any caffeine at the moment. I was too excited as people trickled into Joe ‘n’ Throw. I had chosen a small venue and a limited number because I love small intimate groups.

We opened with announcements before adoptive parents Brian and Jeanette Schoonover took the stage to answer questions and their foster to adopt story. Jerry and I shared a bit of our story next, followed by the star of the seminar, Ciarra McCartney who candidly and eloquently told her story of her journey through foster care. What a bright and brave soul she is!

Next, Molly McCartney of the Beacon Barn shared her fostering/adopting story sprinkled with bits of expertise and wisdom gleaned through years of working with children who have experienced trauma. Then we switched gears and heard from Tacy Layne of World Orphans(#untiltheyallhavehomes). I love what this organization does.

“We equip, inspire and mobilize the church to care for vulnerable children.

Churches engaged. Children restored Communitiests transformed ty the Gospel of Christ.”

We finished with Scott Nelson of NYAP answering questions about foster/adopting.

Three Things I was Reminded of:

  1. Every child available for fostering/adopting experienced some sort of trauma.
  2. Trauma can be overcome. There can be healing. Older children may be angry when they come to your home. It is misplaced anger. Hold steady and continue to connect.
  3. The adoption/fostering process is frustrating, but there is joy in the end. The paperwork, homestudy, fingerprinting, the whole process is daunting, overwhelming and scary, but on the otherside…..there is joy, triumph and a forever family!

Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part 1

Hi, thanks for joining me for the Series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You”. If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.”

My mother had a pressure cooker. Remember those? Not the new fancy ones. The old ones that had the small metal cylinder on the top that wobbled and whistled like it was going to blow to kingdom come. My mother had a love-hate relationship with the pressure cooker and often blew before it did. Any child who was in the living room and wandered into the kitchen right before Mr. Pressure Cooker blew his top, got a firm yell from Mom, “Get out of the kitchen! The pressure cooker is on!” as if we kids could read the signs of Mr. Pressure Cooker from another room.

stock-vector-sleek-pressure-cooker-and-tomatoes-92591596Our adopted kids are like a pressure cooker. If we learn to see the precursor to a meltdown, we can help them develop strategies to avoid one! The problem is, many of these kids who were adopted as older children (not at birth) have no self-regulation powers. These hurt children want to be in control, trouble is, they feel out of control. All the time and they don’t know how to tell us parents. What they wish they could say is:

  1. I am in sensory overload. I’m overwhelmed and I am about to blow a gasket.

We parents must first become detectives. We cannot stay in the living room playing a game while the pressure cooker is on in the kitchen, so to speak. We must be present with our kids, watching for signs and symptoms of the meltdown. We have all seen those kids who lose it at the bookstore or the coffee shop or the grocery store. Truth is there were some signs before the meltdown (not that these tantrums can always be avoided). Maybe the kid was too hungry, too tired, too overwhelmed by all the errand running or the strangers pinching their rosy cheeks or engaging them in conversation.

Older kids can say things like, “I want to go home!  When are we going to eat? I’m hungry! How many more errands do we have?”

Hurt children struggle with verbalizing their feelings.

They have other tells (this is just a short list):

  • Clinched fists.
  • Elevated heart rate.
  • Stands in close proximity to mom or dad.
  • Sways back and forth with hands clasped in front of chest.
  • Stands ramrod straight and stands in back of the group.
  • Insists on being carried and clings to mom with a death grip while other children play.

Watch for your child’s tells and keep track of them mentally or on paper. Does your child freak out when you change the schedule at the last-minute? Even if the change benefits him? Such as going out for ice cream? Or going on a picnic or to a movie? Make a note of it. Does your child remember any info from an interesting field trip? If he doesn’t, he was probably hypervigilant the whole trip and could not learn/enjoy the trip. Does your child hate leaving home? Does he rule the roost at home, but is quiet and seemingly, mild-mannered out in public? Public may scare the life out of him and thus present a false front. People may refer to your child as “quiet and mature”. All the while you are thinking, if you only saw him at home!

After getting a handle on what your child’s tells are,  educate your child to recognizing them.

Don’t they know?  No, probably not. I know that getting into an elevator is going to raise my heart rate and make me feel a bit panicky most days. My son has the same reaction, but he doesn’t recognize it. He steps on the elevator clueless to what his body is going to do once the doors close. I watch him. His hands clench. His muscles tighten. His breath shortens. All the while, I may do the same, but I KNOW. I recognize my dislike of tight quarters. He doesn’t.


How do we teach kids to be aware of their sensory overload and potential gasket blow? Talk about it. Help the child recognize his racing heart, clenched fists or shortened breath. Then teach them some strategies to relieve the stress. The Tangle. Deep breathing. Chewing gum. Stepping out of the crowd and getting some air.

images (1) wheat fieldPractice the trip before you take it.

When on a field trip to an art museum, help him hyper focus on the art in a museum instead of thinking, I’m in a strange big city, I cannot get out, there are lots of people here I don’t know. Lean in towards him and the painting. Talk about it. Find the horizon line. Talk about the shape. The imperfect symmetry. Practice with them. Before an outing, talk about it. Show them a map to where you are going. Talk about how many tunnels you will go through. Let them know (if possible) how long you will be there. Make sure the child has food and water and remind him to eat and drink something every two hours. If you are doing something new, explain it in as simple terms as you can. Stay engaged with them. When they begin learning the skill of self-regulation, you can back off little by little and watch them pick up their own body’s signals.

What are your child’s tell? What sort of strategies have helped your child self-regulate?