How to Stunt the Growth of Anxiety in Your Kiddo

Right now we are living in a season when the simplest tasks can seem overwhelming. Going to the grocery stores isn’t the chore it used to be. Now it’s full of even more stress and tension. We don’t know if someone will bump into us, yell at us, or if we are crossing the aisle at the wrong time.

As much as we tell ourselves, I will not let this bother me (raising my hand here), it does. It’s a palatable feeling in the air. The anxiety settles down on all of us collectively. As much as we feel it, our kiddos do too.

Our kiddos  mirror us. If we feel stressed, they feel stressed.

If we feel overwhelmed, they feel overwhelmed.

If we feel anxious, our anxiety adds to their stress shaped brain and squeezes.

This is true for any kiddo, even more so for kiddos from hard places and who has a capital letter syndrome.

My anxiety Story

When I was growing up, there was a lot of political unrest. Adults around me had an unwritten rule – Kids should understand how serious this is. I didn’t know what “this” was, and I wasn’t sure how to act. So, I did what any kiddo would do in the situation – I felt anxious. My anxiety grew over the years and became my constant companion in my adulthood. I felt as if I SHOULD FEEL ANXIOUS ABOUT EVERYTHING. So I did. I was like the character in The Great Divorce with the creature on his shoulder:

“What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear.”

My anxiety is like the lizard. It whispers things in my ear, and I act upon them. But this isn’t about me. It’s about the growth of anxiety in a child.

Tips for Stunting the growth of Anxiety

With my experience in mind (and science) I’m sharing a few tips to stunt the growth of anxiety in an already anxious kid.

  1. Tell them what’s going on. Your kids need not know everything. On the flip side, they don’t need to know nothing. Not knowing breeds anxiety. Whatever the situation, let them know what is age appropriate for them. This applies to any life situation. If Great Grandma dies, a five-year-old needs to know the truth. Not, she is floating in the air. But don’t go as far as the embalming process. 
  2. Let your kiddo talk about it. Whatever it is. One of the healthiest things a kiddo can do after a tragedy is talk. For example, my two-year-old Granddaughter fell while playing and suffered a concussion. At the ER she had a CT scan. Later, via Facetime, she told me several times about the giant camera that took a picture of her (and her daddy’s) head. She retold her story of falling and her ER visit. We make progress in our healing journey by telling our stories to an empathetic listener. So do kiddos. When something happens to a kiddo, it tempts us to tell them they will be all right. It’s tempting to tell them to forget it and move on. The truth is the world is full of adults who never talked about “it” and who have never moved on.
  3. Realize although your kiddo may have a stress shaped brain, anxiety can also become a habit. When I was a young mom, struggling with depression and anxiety, a friend recommended a book to me (that I can’t remember the name of!). The author had many of the same anxiety driven habits. She didn’t like closed-in places; she didn’t want to do anything in which she wasn’t in control. On a ski trip, she asked an exuberant  friend – Aren’t you anxious about going down the hill. To which her friend replied, “Yes, isn’t it glorious!” I’m paraphrasing here. The point is one woman took the anxious feeling, and it caused her to miss out. Another took the feeling and let her body feel it and felt joyful about it. While I’m not saying you can teach your kiddo to feel joyful about everything they are afraid of, it’s good to look for the habit of anxiety. When you see it, talk it through, work it through. Do whatever you need to help your kiddo form a new habit. “I feel anxious” can turn into “I feel excited!”
  4. Talk through an event before you go. Guess what. I still do this to quell my anxiety. One of my adult ways for handling this is looking at routes on the GPS. I ask someone who has traveled it how many tunnels there are. I plan my rest breaks when traveling alone. I count out my change for toll booths. These practices lessen my anxiety. Sure, I run into unknowns, traffic jams, a pit stop, my cooler sliding off the seat so I can’t reach my food (true story). I handle these unknowns better if I know the majority about the trip. Kids need to talk through events even more than adults do. It moves them to their upstairs brain. They can look at the event logically and stunt the growth of anxiety.

Remember, anxiety grows if fed. I fed mine for years. Now, I’m working on starving it out. I use these tips with my kiddos. They know them so well; they use them on me! 

I hope these tips help you and your kiddos. Do you have your own tip? Share it here.

Training With Sweets and Events Training

Yesterday, I shared ended my post with a “How To do a Training Session.” You can find that here.

Today lets move to types of training.

Training With Sweets

I put a handful of M&Ms on the dining room table in front of each child. I then gave them instructions about which color M&M to pick up.  If they listened, they got to eat that piece of candy. Failure to listen meant they missed out on the sweet — but there usually wasn’t much of that, and there was always a chance to try again. 

This training had several positive outcomes — the kids learned their colors in English without shame, and they got a sweet reward. There were many chances for redos, and the kids even coached each other by saying things like “That’s not brown!” and pointing to proper color. That last one is so important. The kids learned that families help each other.

I had training sessions with money, as well. I kept a gallon-sized bag full of coins: quarters, nickels, dimes, fifty-cent pieces, and pennies. I dumped the money on the floor and helped the kids work through identifying the coins. After a session, if a child could name a coin without my help, I gave him that coin or a handful of coins. The kids would spend their money on gum or a candy bar during our next grocery trip. This reward was delayed, but it reinforced the lesson. 

Training relieves the child of unreasonable expectations and puts the responsibility on the parent, where it belongs. Training can be lighthearted and fun rather than dictatorial. Most of the infractions we punish for can be eliminated by practicing outside the moment.

Events Training

After obedience training came events training. In this category is the library training I mentioned yesterday. Before I took the kids to the library for the first time, we played library at home, using our bookshelves to practice.

Obedience training must come first. Once children have caught on to listening and following simple commands, then you can add event training. 

When I first attended church with all my newbies, they sat in the regular service with Jerry and me instead of attending children’s church or the nursery. They were not ready to assimilate into the church culture. Since they had never attended a church service, they did not know how to conduct themselves. I could not expect them to know what to do in a church service — to stand during worship, to be silent during prayer, to sit while the message was being delivered, and so on.

To practice, I set up a church in my living room, complete with two rows of chairs. I had the kids sit on the chairs while we practiced a short service. I sang a few lines of a song, “preached” a short sermon, and then let them take turns being “pastor.” Through this simple training game, they learned when to sit, when to stand, and what cues to listen for. The training also generally relieved their anxiety regarding what church services entail.

Knowing what to expect is extremely important for the child with a stress-shaped brain. When going into an unfamiliar situation, the child’s fear is heightened, and he may have an extreme reaction that seems out of proportion with the actual event. Even if you’re just preparing for a family picnic, a child will often attempt to control the situation when he feels out of control.

We also practiced going out to eat. I set the table with my colorful fiestaware, silverware, glasses — the works. Then we filed into the “restaurant” and took our seats. We practiced placing the napkins on our laps, pretending to eat while having quiet, polite conversation, asking for a menu, ordering, and thanking the waiter or waitress.

Restaurant Manners

It amazes me to see parents assume that a four-year-old (or any child, for that matter) will pick up restaurant manners just because the family goes out to eat. I often hear comments like “You should know better!” or “I can’t believe you just did that!”

It reminds me of the Guire family’s first fast-food dining experience in Poland. Thanks to Pani Eugenia, we had taken a field trip and found a McDonald’s to eat lunch at. The new Guires had never been to a McDonald’s, and I wondered if they had ever been out to eat at all.

Jerry and I were watching carefully. We didn’t expect restaurant manners; we expected that the kids would run around or, worse, run out into the parking lot. We divided the group and each watched a contingent. Getting through the line and sitting down with the food was organized chaos, but once all the little ones had a happy meal bag in hand, they settled down to sitting or kneeling on their chairs. Everything was going better than we had hoped. They may have been too enthralled with the strange cuisine to act up. 

Ania had gotten a milkshake, as many of the group had. She removed the lid and jammed a hot fry into the cold contents. She pulled the gooey, drippy fry out and took a bite. Milkshake covered her hands, chin and shirt. She laboriously continued the ritual, messily coating each fry with shake. 

“Look what she is doing,” Audrey pointed out.

Several other youngsters had already followed suit and were also a gloppy, sticky mess. But nobody reprimanded Ania for her behavior. It wasn’t ideal, but she didn’t know any better. It was difficult to clean and all of her followers up, but I couldn’t fault them for shoving their whole fists into their milkshakes. Like her, they didn’t know any better.

This is exactly the kind of behavior I often see parents reprimanding small children for, even though the children have probably never attended a seminar on proper restaurant etiquette. 

For several years, my family ran a catering business with another family. Before an event, we would have a meeting with our “staff” (their kids and ours with a few other teens sprinkled in). During the meeting, we handed out job assignments and went over protocol for those jobs. 

For example, when refilling a coffee cup, you should take the cup off the table with your right hand. Turn from the table and refill it, then carefully place it back on the table. If you’re serving punch, hold the cup over the top of the punch bowl while filling it to avoid dripping on the white table cloth.

I could go on, but the point is this: Don’t expect good behavior if training is neglected. In the catering scenario, if I had sent a sixteen-year-old to serve a fresh pot of coffee without any training, disastrous things could have happened. He could have asked the guest to hold the cup while he poured and risked burning the guest with the scalding liquid.

I know I am going on and on about the same point, but for good reason. Training is such an overlooked tool, and exploring it in several contexts will make it easier to understand, remember, and implement.

Adoptive and foster parents face many behavioral challenges, and you may struggle with what to do in the moment. Where and when is a child supposed to learn these unwritten age-appropriate rules?

It is necessary to have a correcting and connecting response immediately following a behavior. However, you shouldn’t stop there. If a particular behavior continues to happen, the proactive approach is to practice the proper behavior outside the moment. The ETC Parent Training manual encourages parents to “turn to other tools that can help them (kiddos) learn and grow outside of the moment — when you and they are calm and they are better able to learn.”

*This article is a an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids Are In Chaos- Grab your copy here.

Training verses Discipline With Kiddos Who Have Had Trauma (Or Any Kiddos)

Training 

Training is often overlooked when it comes to child rearing. In general, parents are more likely to use discipline and punishment in an attempt to shape and mold their children. 

However, it is much more effective to train children in advance for proper behavior then it is to punish them after the fact. 

Just imagine starting a retail job with no training. You are put on the register at a popular, busy department store. You have no clue how to run the computerized register, and the customers start flocking in. You attempt to ring up a purchase, and when you make a mistake, the manager stands behind you and yells, “That’s wrong! You should know better! That’s not how to do it!” But how was I supposed to know? you think to yourself. After every infraction, there is more yelling and more correction, with some punishment added in. 

This is how most children are raised. I see it every day. Recently, I was in the Walmart parking lot, and I overheard a parent saying, “Don’t tell me you forgot your shoes again.”  I expected to see a seven- or eight-year-old child get out of the van, shoeless and contrite. Instead, a toddler began a sorrowful wail as the parent launched into a cursing tirade about forgetting shoes. Really? How was he supposed to know? It doesn’t make sense to yell, punish, or discipline a child over a practice he hasn’t been properly trained for.

A poster with the poem “Children Learn What They Live”hangs on the wall at Pediatric Dentistry, where all my kids used to go:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

“Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

Why Train (or Practice Outside the Moment)

This poem always reminded me of the concept of training — or, as Dr. Purvis called it, practicing outside the moment. It made me think of all the times I criticized my children for doing something right when they really didn’t know what was right. It must have been confusing and confounding for them to be corrected for something they didn’t know was wrong.

One of the definitions of train in Webster’s 1828 dictionary includes these words: “To train or train up; to educate; to teach; to form by instruction or practice; to bring up.” That definition was followed by Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

The same dictionary defines punishment this way: “Any pain or suffering inflicted on a person for a crime or offense, by the authority to which the offender is subject, either by the constitution of God or of civil society. The punishment of the faults and offenses of children by the parent, is by virtue of the right of government with which the parent is invested by God himself. This species of punishment is chastisement or correction.”

This definition seems archaic. Our culture tends to shy away from words like offenses, chastisement, and correction. The new way is compassion and understanding — until the child does something that is out of line with the parent’s inner expectations. Then all nicities are often thrown out the window. We have all seen it and have most likely done it ourselves. (Raising my hand here.) We yell, rant, rave, put the kids in time out, take things away, or threaten with gritted teeth. Remember the mama cussing out her toddler for not having shoes on? We call all of the above discipline.

“Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences.” – The Whole-Brain Child

It’s only common sense to understand that a human cannot learn without being taught. It’s true that children mirror us, and some kids are a quick study. But think about kiddos who have come from disorganized parenting, where the rules and expectations shift every day. It makes sense that training might be a little harder for them.

My new Guires had not been taught that they should be obedient to persons of authority. Instead, circumstances had caused them to develop survival skills that included disobedience. That’s how they got by. Life trained them in the best ways to survive in that orphanage, and they stuck to what they knew.

More on Training/Practicing Outside the Moment tomorrow!

*This article is and excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 2

Love is Enough

“Love is enough” is a common misconception among parents in general, but even more so with kids who have experienced trauma. Kids who have had trauma seem to have a built-in button-locating radar. They find our buttons and push them over and over. It’s natural that we parents may think they are pushing our buttons or misbehaving to make us mad.

In reality, their behavior stems from early trauma and its effect on them. Most children that come into foster care, orphanages, or other institutions are disorganized in their attachment and stuck in dis-integration. The people who were supposed to care for them hurt them. This sets off a constant warning bell in the brains of these children. We call the result a stress-shaped brain.

Early Life Experience

Early life experience has shaped their brains to expect the worst and be on high alert all the time. This response is known as hypervigilance. The hypervigilant child jerks at every sound.  They don’t recognize their body’s own signals of hunger, thirst, and rest.

Normally, parents seamlessly teach regulation. When the child is hungry, the mother feeds him. If he is cold, she wraps him in a blanket. If he is tired, she rocks him to sleep. This pattern continues, with the mother regulating for the child until he begins to regulate for himself. He asks for a drink when he is thirsty. He puts on his sweater when he is cold, or grabs his blankie when he’s ready for bed. 

Kids who haven’t had this early regulation don’t know how to regulate. This doesn’t just apply to hunger and thirst, though those are the biggies. It also applies to behavior. Behavior is what we see externally, but it’s not the whole picture. We need to learn to watch the external behaviors as a clue to whether the child can regulate internally or not.

“Tantrums, meltdowns, aggression, and most other challenging experiences of parenting – and life- are a result of a loss of integration, also known as dis-integration.”

The Whole-Brain Child

Neurons that fire together wire together. In plain English, the more a behavior is acted out or a trigger is acted upon, the more it becomes a pattern in the brain. It is as if the road is dug out, graveled, 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 into 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 speak what the child is unable to state verbally.

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes

Have you ever been in a situation when you felt anxious or afraid for no apparent or logical reason? Instead of considering a situation your child was in, think of a situation that you have been in. Think of a time when you should have felt safe but instead you felt anxious.  Go back to that feeling for a minute, and as terrible as it is, let it wash over you. Imagine feeling like that all the time. That may be how your child is feeling. 

Five Bs Affected by Trauma

Science says there are five Bs affected by trauma, and we cannot overlook them. In kids from hard places, behavioral disorders are a symptom of the effect trauma has had on their development. 

Negative behaviors will be taken care of once a child is securely attached. To achieve that, we must start with the five Bs and work our way out from there. Take a few minutes and read about the Five Bs – start here. Listen to the podcast series on each B. There is a lot of information to read/listen to. Take your time. It will still be available long after this series is over. Maybe start with one B. Armed with this information, write down some of your child’s triggers with this information as your foundation.

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Interested in the course? Read more about it and try a free module!

Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 1

Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 1

Children who have been traumatized in infancy and early childhood cannot be expected to behave or respond to stimuli in the same way as children who have not. 

 Key to remember– As Dr. Purvis reminds us, our children were harmed in and through relationships, and they will find healing in and through nurturing relationships.

Trauma is much more far-reaching than we assumed in the past. We have always been told that children are resilient and they are, but there are effects that trauma leaves behind. It affects every area of life for a child.

 Trauma harms the brain. Its footprint can be seen in these areas: Social, learning, behavior problems (regulation), physical development 

Dr. Purvis calls children who have had trauma in their lives “children from hard places.”

“The passage of time for these little ones does not in itself reduce trauma’s impact to a bearable level. The trauma contaminates the meaning of life and is part of early personality formation. Neurobiologically, trauma shapes the developing brain.”

-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoptions

Did your child have early trauma? If you aren’t sure, read the “Six Risk Factors” and listen to the podcast on the subject (linked in the article). Also, you can find a handy printable resource here. 

Today, take some time to think about your child’s history. This will help you begin to recognize the triggers. Write down the risk factors she encountered before coming home to you. Take some time to pray and process how these things can be affecting her behavior. 

We’ll cover more on this topic tomorrow. Feel free to comment, share, or ask a question!

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Interested in the course? Read more about it and try a free module!

Happy Adoption Day from The Guire Shire

It Was Twenty Years Ago today

Twenty years ago today, four kiddos got off a plane with Grandude, and my hubby, Jerry, to come to their new home. They had flown from Warsaw, Poland to Chicago, and then to Pittsburgh.

In a hospital, thirty minutes away, my stepfather, Bud was slowly, silently, slipping away – going on to glory (as he would say). As Dickens so poetically pointed out:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Today, twenty years later, I reflect, rejoice, celebrate, and grieve. Those early days after the adoption were the season of light and the season of darkness all rolled into one. Today I celebrate the addition of my four kiddos, as well as grieve the loss of Bud. It was during this season I learned through experience how joy and sorrow could co-exist.

Joy and Sorrow

I experienced the joy of my kiddos in their firsts:

  • Living in a house for the first time
  • Having enough to eat at EVERY meal
  • Sleeping in beds with relative safety (not being beat up or molested in the middle of the night)

If there was any night time activity it was night terror which we tried our best to comfort. We prayed long and hard because we were out of our depth. Or it was Gregory jumping on a sibling, just because he could.

Grieving and Growing

We were all grieving and growing. My kiddos were grieving their old life. Letting go of the past is difficult no matter what sort of past it is. I was grieving because I felt Bud slipping away. He had been my first link to unconditional love. He died a week after the kiddos came home.

Despite our grief, we were growing together, meals at the table, putting on puppet shows, playing with dolls, tea sets, Legos, and race car sets. Playing, reading, and shared family meal times knit us together even though frayed ends stretched and pulled, trying to unravel us. Hateful words. Meltdowns. Night terrors. Hoarding. Medical issues. Survival mode. Disorganized attachment. Before you think I’m only talking about the kiddos, don’t. It was me too. Totally raising my hand.

If you are reading this and thinking, I can’t adopt. It’s too hard. What if I enter a Job syndrome? May I ask you a question? Did you come into the family of God kicking and screaming? Were (or are) old beliefs still hanging on for dear life? Beliefs that tell you:

  • You don’t matter.
  • You are not chosen.
  • God doesn’t love YOU.

If so, you are worth fighting for. Aren’t you? If you’re not sure, the answer is YES! And so is every orphaned, abandoned, and neglected child. As Jesus said, let the children come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 9:14 paraphrase). Just as you are worth it, so are those children who need a home. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, to set the captives (physical and spiritual) free, to open the eyes of the blind, to bind up wounds, and give gladness instead of mourning. We are anointed to do the same. Don’t let the thought of doing hard things stop you from pursuing adoption.

Final Thoughts

If I had a time machine and I could go back to pre-adoption me, would I still adopt? Yes. I’m so proud of my kiddos, who they have become and all the life lessons they have taught me along the way.

Journaling Your Triggers and Your Child’s Triggers

*Trigger Warning*

If you haven’t faced your past, this week’s assignments may produce overwhelming feelings! 

Sometimes it takes actually feeling your feelings before you can move towards healing or helping your kiddos move in that direction. Be sure to find a Christian therapist or counselor to help you work through your past!

Why are memories so triggering?

Have you ever smelled something like cinnamon rolls baking, or coffee brewing, and it suddenly evokes a feeling from a past event? Maybe it’s Christmas morning because your Mom made cinnamon rolls and coffee every year. Or maybe the scent of a  perfume sends you to a dark place because you were at Aunt Mary’s house the time you were molested and she wore that scent liberally. Why does this happen? Why doesn’t the past just stay in the past? Tommy Newberry explains:

“Your subconscious mind is incapable of distinguishing between an actual event and one that is only imagined.” 

When we have these flashbacks, our mind acts if they are actually happening again. Our subconscious doesn’t distinguish past,  present, or future. 

Why do we need to process our past?

If we don’t make sense of and peace with our past, we will continue to be triggered. We will live in fearful, reactionary ways. If we want to live positive lives, fully present with our kids, we must take the time to work on making peace with our past.

“Our mind is designed to control the body, of which the brain is a part, not the other way around. Matter does not control us; we control matter through our thinking and choosing. We cannot control the events and circumstances of life but we can control our reactions. In fact, we can control our reactions to anything, and in doing so, we change our brains. It’s not easy; it is hard work, but it can be done through our thoughts and choices.”

Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health

If you are thinking “Bad things happened to me and I can’t control that.” This is true. You can’t erase the fact bad things happened, neither can your kiddos. What you can do is change your mind about how you react to your triggers. You don’t have to be ruled by them. You can do the hard work of changing your brain! Are you ready?

For today, let’s start with a positive memory. Think of a time when you a child and were immensely happy. Was it a camping trip? A birthday party?  Playing with your cousins? Write it all down in the most vivid detail you can! Have fun with it. Use the five senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Hear? 

Deciding When to Accept Outside Help For Your Kiddos

Deciding When to Accept Outside Help

As I mentioned yesterday

As Adopting the Hurt Child says, many health professionals blame the adoptive parents for the child’s current problems. This statement summed up how I was feeling: “It is an unfortunate fact that many of those who attempt to provide treatment to adoptive parents with disturbed children know very little about issues related to adoption.” Rafal’s issues were a result of me not caring, nor were my present strategies ineffective. 

As a parent, it is my job to protect my child. That’s true for any parent, but medical issues can be especially scary and complicated when a child has been through traumatic circumstances — especially if those experiences include past medical issues. It is important for parents to know as much of the child’s medical history as possible. This is not necessarily just a bunch of papers that record history; there needs to be an understanding of how a child has received medical care.

It is difficult to make decisions about medical help for children who have had trauma

It is difficult to make decisions about medical help for children who have had trauma. Myriad services are available to adoptive families: counseling, speech therapy, play therapy, camps, feeding clinics, and much more. Jerry and I both settled into the conservative camp on this issue. We decided we didn’t want our home to be a revolving door of services. Our children had spent enough time in institutions, including orphanages and hospitals. What they needed now was to see what a secure home looked like. 

I felt confident that I could do the research and help my children with speech, physical therapy, feeding, and whatever other challenges came our way. I am not saying that every family must do this. I think parents should make informed decisions and do what is best for each child. 

Shortly after Rafal’s hospital visit, I attended a workshop for parents who wanted to handle the speech therapy at home. I went to work with Ania and Hunter right away, and later with Rafal. 

Ania and Hunter are nine months apart in age. Hunter helped Ania learn English quickly. He also gave her his slight speech impediment. They developed the same speech pattern — a New Yorker accent, I called it. Woild for world, goil for girl. They were extremely funny to listen to and oblivious to the fact that they had developed their own accent. 

Yes, I did receive flack for my decision to not receive a great deal of outside help, but as a homeschooler, I’m used to that. It is scary to step outside of the realm of the professionals — and to clarify, I did not lose my faith in the medical establishment as a whole. I understand that professionals are human beings who have diverse backgrounds and subjective opinions based on their own presuppositions. I guess that is just a fancy way of saying I don’t trust people based on titles. I trust my mother’s intuition more. 

Parents should not be afraid to question professionals who work with their children.

Parents should not be afraid to question professionals who work with their children. Has this professional treated children who have had traumatic hospital experiences, RAD, or FAS? Do they even know what any of these terms mean?  Will they support your morals/values and back up your work at home?

Parenting the Hurt Child recommends: “Parents should be seen as a part of the treatment team. After all, they are the only ones who can actually help the hurt child.”

Our society is built on professionals, but that hasn’t always been the case. Parents and extended family used to be the only thing that a child needed. Outside help was only sought in extreme circumstances. Nowadays, parents are offered prenatal help, lactation consultants, Birth to Three services, mommy and me classes to ensure the child is moving and talking properly, and preschool to socialize and learn basic concepts. It’s enough to make mothers feel as if they are incompetent. 

Since young mothers are told they need help, they assume they do. It is an unfortunate turn of events. These services are offered to help, not to tear down the confidence of parents. Traditionally, grandparents and extended family helped mom and dad when they were perplexed. Should Johnny be walking by now? Should he speak at nine months old?  These used to be questions you would ask family. Now pediatricians have handy checklists for each age and stage. 

As nice as they are, these lists shouldn’t be taken as gospel truth for each child. My older brother is a genius by IQ test standards. Sometimes I have a hard time with understanding the explanations that come from his complex brain — I’m just not that smart. Yet, according to my mother, he did not speak to adults until he was three. When he did begin speaking, it was in paragraphs. My mother was not extremely panicked about it because she once overheard him practicing speech in his bedroom. She figured he would share conversation when he was ready. If he had been three today, my mother would have been advised to accept in-home help for a genius who was busy privately perfecting his speech.

Parents are the Experts

My point is this: Parents are the experts. The decision of whether extra help is needed should not be left up to someone outside the home (such as Social Worker 1). Parents should not be pressured into receiving the all of the resources available. I have seen articles in newsletters and online where new adoptive parents are plopping children in speech therapy, school therapy, and more. 

My concern for these families is this: Are they building a family, or are they just a continuation of a government institution? Again, my point is not that outside help is never beneficial or necessary — just that it shouldn’t be the default. Each family should ask themselves these questions before embarking on the professional help route:

• How will this help affect the child?  

• What happens if help is refused?

• What are the long-term results if no help is received?

• What is necessary?

Once you have the answers to these questions, proceed with what you think is in the best interest of the child.

This is an excerpt from the chapter “Medical Issues” in How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

The Day I Was Reported

The Day I Was Reported

I sat in a small sterile room at the children’s hospital, holding a wiggly Rafal on my lap. It seemed as if we had been here for hours. After the initial measuring, weighing, and getting vitals, eighteen-month-old Rafal and I waited. He fussed, and I fed him a jar of baby food. Then the door swung open, and a petite lady flew into the room. She walked around us, examining Rafal, then started hammering me with facts about him being underweight and his head being too large for his body — facts I already knew. Then she introduced herself as a social worker. 

I wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise. This woman was angry at me for some reason. She went on and on about him being delayed and me needing assistance with him at home — and why hadn’t they seen him before this? She rushed out of the room and returned moments later with another social worker.

Social Worker 2 was quiet and let me talk. I introduced Rafal: “He is adopted from Poland. I have only had him for a few months.” I explained the feeding methods in the orphanage, the shortage of staff, and a little of his history. Within minutes, Social Worker 2 was in tears. She had adopted also. We cried for a few moments together. Then she said I had everything under control and left. 

Saying No to Help for the Right Reasons

Social Worker 1 stayed. “Would you like me to set up some help for you at home?”

At this point, I was completely clueless as to what she was talking about, but I knew that she was still angry with me for some reason. I could hear it in her tone of voice and see it in her body language. 

“Help with what?”

“Well, he’s not walking. How about that?  How do you feed him? We could send you to a feeding clinic. Speech therapy.”  She was so uptight, she could barely get the words out. She spit out fragments, and I was supposed to interpret them.

“No, I don’t need any help. I can work on walking. I know how to feed him. I use my food processor to puree things. He has gained weight since he has come home.”

When Rafal was born prematurely in September of ’98, his first four or five months of life were spent in the hospital with no parental care. The only physical contact he received came from the hands of overworked doctors and nurses. He was born with a hole in his heart or atrial septal defect (ASD) and a cleft palate. The staff had a difficult time feeding him, and IVs were used frequently. 

I pieced together some of his medical history through information given to me by the orphanage and the medical records they handed over. Because of his early history, I knew he wouldn’t react positively to another hospital stay. I had mentally prepared myself to comfort him in the children’s hospital. I didn’t know how he would react — but I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the one in panic mode. 

I had nothing against the Birth to Three program that the social worker was referring to; I just knew that it wasn’t right for Rafal. He needed to have a stable home and connect to Mom and Dad. He didn’t need any interference in that arena, nor did he need fear coming into the home to torment him. 

“So you are refusing help?”

“I don’t need any help right now, thank you.”

“But someone could come to your home.”

“No, thank you. I can handle it.” 

At this point, I was still calm and under the impression that if I didn’t want help, it was okay to refuse. I didn’t realize that I had broken some unwritten rule in the eyes of this particular social worker. Help is wonderful — but at this point in Rafal’s healing, emotionally and physically, he did not need another person coming in the home to work with him. He needed to attach to me. I was working diligently on that, and I did not want a new person in the mix. 

Also, I knew that having someone come in my home to work with him would terrify the other children because of their past medical history. They may have gotten the idea that these strangers were orphanage staff coming to take them away. I know all of these things could be explained eventually, but I didn’t want to take three steps back when my adopted children were beginning to take baby steps forward in the areas of attachment and trust. 

“I am going to write this up and send it to every doctor that is working with him. I am going to state that you refused treatment for this child.” With that, she stormed out of the room. I could hear her filling someone in on the details in the hallway.

Have you ever felt as if you were the villain in your own story?

I’ve heard countless stories of other foster/adoptive parents being grilled for the child still exhibiting the effects of trauma. It’s as if we are supposed to wipe away the years of neglect, malnutrition, and lack of proper medical treatment with a Magic Eraser as soon as they come through the door. It’s just not possible. We adoptive/foster parents can end up feeling as if we are the villain instead of the parent when those expectations aren’t met.

The other day I talked about how trauma’s effects can be delayed. That’s true. Other times, the physical effects are much more evident like in my son’s case. So how do we handle medical issues? How do we handle doctor’s visits knowing we may be called on the carpet for something out of our control? Or maybe we want to refuse help because we know it would hamper the child’s progress?

As Adopting the Hurt Child says, many health professionals blame the adoptive parents for the child’s current problems. This statement summed up how I was feeling: “It is an unfortunate fact that many of those who attempt to provide treatment to adoptive parents with disturbed children know very little about issues related to adoption.” Rafal’s issues were a result of me not caring, nor were my present strategies ineffective. 

Do you feel as if you have blamed for some of your foster/adoptive child’s current problems?

Have you wanted to refuse some services because you don’t think they are in the best interest of the child? 

Do you often feel as if you have no say in when to accept help? 

Join me tomorrow for “Deciding When to Accept Outside Help.”

Do you have a story to share on this topic? Please share in the comments!

*This article is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.