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.
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.
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.
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!”
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.
Have you ever struggled with a child? Have you ever tromped around the same mountain and wondered- is this child ever going to change? Will he ever recover from the wounds he suffered in his life before I was his home? I’ve been there. I have circled until there is a trench up-to-my-shoulder-deep and I could barely see the light. I’ve been there more times then I would like to admit. How about you? Here are some words I jotted in my journal after a painful trying-to-save-the child-week.
“Whenever you are struggling with _____, thank Me for him. ….Don’t give up. Don’t give in……Picture him as the infant you adopted all those years ago. He didn’t know anything about hot stoves, electrical outlets, toys, older siblings- it was all new territory- so is this being responsible for his own actions- he may get burned, trip, get mad, slam doors… but in the end, he will learn where the boundaries are. He will learn to fight for something he wants- to apply his own blood, sweat and tears instead of riding on the backs of others, emotionally manipulating them and never feeling satisfied. My Word will work. Keep reading it. You cannot change him. Give him consequences. Let me do the work.I did not rescue these little ones to rot in another hell. Pray the Word, not the circumstances.”
Raising a child who has suffered loss
If you are raising a child from a who has suffered loss, abandonment and rejection in their early life, day to day living can be a struggle.
“To compound the situation, many children who have experienced neglect, abuse and abandonment have not yet developed an internalized set of values by which they judge themselves and others. They are not able to receive and experience empathy- nor can they develop insight -so they tend to project blame on others and onto objects. They blame their adoptive parents for causing their anger, and they blame toys for breaking. They blame things that could not possibly be responsible for anything!”
– Parenting the Hurt Child
How do I practice thankfulness in midst of pain? Thank Him for the child. List the blessings.
1. Morning hugs
2. He said he was sorry.
3. God sent someone my way to encourage me.
4. Dinner out with family. Everyone joking. Telling stories of the past.
5. The kids chilling/talking in the family room.
Victories are Sweeter
When parenting kiddos who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome, victories are sweeter. When the kid who couldn’t even place the letters of his name in a linear sequence writes his name on a line (in order), there is great cause for celebration. When a child who has been afraid to stand in front of people participates in the social studies fair even though she has tears running down her cheeks the whole time she presents to the judges, that’s a huge victory. When we think about the fact that these kids have to work harder at these victories, they are much sweeter tasting. These victories aren’t small. They’re huge.
It will change you
When we talk of raising kiddos from hard places, we often focus on the kiddos – their behaviors, their victories, their healing – those are all good things. Here’s another part of the picture – raising these kiddos will change us. Looking through the lens these kiddos see through will make me a better person. When I see a child laugh at a joke for the first time. When I hear a child ask for help and leave survival mode behind for the first time, I see things differently.
Also, raising kiddos from hard places has given me the opportunity to operate more in the fruit of the spirit. We parents will have to practice more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22, 23).
Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Episode 107 of Positive Adoption.
Are you raising a child who has had trauma or has a capital letter syndrome? Days can be long and tough. We know. How do you practice gratefulness during this season? Join Jerry and Kathleen as they tackle practicing gratefulness when raising kids from hard places (and with capital letter syndromes). They’ve lived it and have some great stories to share. Grab a cup of coffee and join this dynamic duo!
Are you parenting a child who has a capital letter syndrome — such as ADD, ADHD, FAS, SPD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder — or another special need?
If so, then this is for you!
When it comes to parenting kids who have had trauma, I struggle with imposter syndrome. I often ask myself, “How can I help other parents when I couldn’t do it perfectly or even well myself sometimes?”
We must let go of the myth that perfect parents exist. They don’t. And raising kids who have had trauma means a huge learning curve for us parents — especially if we have parented our bio children okayish with great results.
Traditional parenting is for securely attached children — kids who want to please. Any sort of parenting requires a foundation of connection with the child. That connection comes more easily with kids who haven’t experienced trauma. For those who have, the foundation is absent or shaky, and as a result, the child feels no need to follow commands or listen.
Traditional parenting tends to swoop in and fix the immediate problematic behavior. It is a short-term approach that doesn’t work with kids who have trauma. Instead, you need to take the time to consider the need behind the child’s behavior and focus on the ultimate goal of connection.
Kids who have trauma care more about control and survival. When a child has a disorganized attachment style born out of trauma, he will want to control his surroundings. Control will trump following instructions every time. In fact, the very thing that would make him feel more connected, he will fight.
As the authors of The Connected Childexplain, “Children who encountered deprivation or harm before they were brought home lack many types of connections. They can lack social connections, emotional connections, neurochemical connections, cognitive connections, and sensory connections.”Because these connections do not exist, traditional parenting will not work. We must change our parenting to adjust to the fact that it will be different with these kiddos.
“Instead of” Parenting Suggestions
Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).
Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.
Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.
Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”
Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.
Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.
Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.
Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.
Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).
Many of us grew up with the lecture approach to parenting. For every infraction, Mom or Dad had a carefully selected and time-tested sermon they could pull from a database in the recesses of their mind. “If your great aunt Mary knew that you turned on a show in the middle of the night, [insert stories of monsters, bible verses, sticks in the eye, etc.].” You get the picture.
After a while, all our brains heard was the sound of a grown-up talking on Charlie Brown: “Wah, wah, wah, wah.” No matter how eloquent you are, your child may only hear the first 8 to 12 words. If you waste those first words, you have lost them. And long lectures aren’t the best way to get your child to listen and learn anyway.
Choose and use your words carefully. Aim them at the behavior, not the child — and there’s no need to bring other family members or what your parents would have done into it. Try instructions like these:
“Walk, don’t run.”
“We don’t hit.”
“Use your words.”
“Try that again.”
Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.
We’ve all done it. We see the precursor to a meltdown or a potential fight brewing over a toy, but we wait. We wait because it isn’t that bad yet or hasn’t gotten violent. Next thing you know, the situation is out of control.
Sometimes it helps to stop and ask yourself: Why wait? Would you rather spend five minutes addressing the behavior and reconnecting now, or spend the next two hours living with the fallout? It’s a pretty simple choice in my mind. I’ve learned from experience how draining the two-hour or day-long fallout of a complete meltdown can be. As a result, I lean toward addressing an issue while it is a tiny seed instead of waiting until it grows into a giant oak tree.
Recently, my daughter and I were on our way to the zoo with her kiddo. We were meeting her sister and her kiddos for a day of fun (four grandkids + zoo = fun). As usual, we talked about our trips together when she was growing up — zoo trips, field trips, vacations.
My grandson had been watching a show on the iPad while we talked, but it ended. “I can start a new one,” I offered. We had been hoping he would fall asleep during the first one, but no go.
“Are you sure you can get back there?” my daughter asked.
“Remember who you are talking to,” I reminded.
“Nevermind,” she said, and laughed. “You used to climb back and sit with us to get us to calm down.”
“Yep, I did.”
Some super safety-conscious parents are shaking your heads right now in disbelief. Yep, I crawled over seats and sat on the floor of the suburban to calm kids down or interrupt a fight before the trip turned into a giant meltdown.
Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.
When I was a young and naive parent, I thought I needed to have control all the time. There were no choices. My first child blew that theory out of the water. She was very much an “I can do it myself” child. If I didn’t offer her choices, she offered them to me. I got a lot of flack from family members for not being more strict, harsh, or punitive with her.
The funny thing is, I was judged for being too strict with my kids with trauma just a few short years later. That’s another story for another time.
The point is, Audrey taught me the value of giving choices. I’m not talking about moral choices. I mean giving kids simple choices like:
Do you want to wear black tennis shoes or purple?
Do you want a peanut butter sandwich or a ham sandwich?
Do you want to read this book first or that one?
Do you want to give Uncle Bob a hug or not?
Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”
A re-do is simple. Remember when you missed five on your spelling test and your teacher had to write the ones you missed each five times? Or when you were in gym class and missed the basketball hoop on the first shot but kept trying until you made it? Or when you got married and were trying out your cooking skills for the first time and something didn’t taste just right, so you called Mom and with her help tried again? Those are all re-do’s.
As the Empowered to Connect training manual explains, “Offering your child a chance to “try it again” and get it right — what we call a re-do — is often an ideal way to respond. In addition, this approach provides your child with body memory for doing the right thing and offers an opportunity for you to then give praise and encouragement once she re-does the task, follows the instructions, or interacts in an appropriate manner. This approach can help your child to experience doing the right thing and deepen your connection with her as well.”
Practice Outside of the Moment.
When teens or adults start a new job, they go through training. Usually, this training is practiced outside the moment. Training is not introduced when an employee is melting down over not knowing how to use the computer system (although that can happen). Practicing outside the moment allows you to teach a child when his upstairs brain is activated, instead of waiting until he flips his lid.
The authors of The Whole-Brain Childexplain the concept of your upstairs vs downstairs brain: “Imagine that your brain is a house, with both a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region, which are located in the lower parts of the brain, from the top of your neck to about the bridge of your nose. Scientists talk about these lower areas as being more primitive because they are responsible for basic functions (like breathing and blinking), for innate reactions and impulses (like flight and fight), and for strong emotions (like anger and fear).”
The downstairs brain is survival mode. No logic or reasoning is applied — just illogical, knee-jerk responses. When a child gets stuck in their downstairs brain, his body shoots cortisol through his system, and he lives on the edge. A simple request sounds like YELLING. IN FACT, EVERYTHING IS AMPLIFIED. A CAR THAT PASSES THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS A THREAT. A COMPLIMENT IS TWISTED INTO A CORRECTION.
You get the point. Scary, huh? It’s no fun to live there.
I did lots of practicing outside the moment with my kiddos before we went somewhere. My funniest story using this tool is practicing to go to the library. My newbies had recently come home from Poland, so I had kiddos aged 12, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 1. Four of them had never been to a public library before, so we practiced at home. We pretended the bookshelves were the library. I showed them how to get a book, whisper, sit down at a table, and look at the book they had retrieved.
Our town had a small library with an unusual practice. When you got a book out, you replaced it with a ruler to mark your place in order to return it if you didn’t check it out. My kids loved this practice a little more than I realized. When we got to the library, they used all of the rulers to mark places and got a giant stack of books — which ties in nicely with my next point.
Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.
Traditional parenting often relies on assumptions. We assume that the child should know how to behave in an environment or know what to expect. We say things like, “You should know better” or “Be quiet! This is a library,” as if a child who has never been to a library would know that information. Just like my kiddos didn’t recognize the implied rule that you should only get one book out at a time.
You can practice outside the moment for about anything:
Going to a restaurant.
Going to a ball game.
Flying on a plane.
Visiting a friend’s house.
Not only does this help your child know what to expect, but it also alleviates fears. Many kids need to know what’s next, and if you have informed them and practiced with them, it will be a smoother ride for both of you.
Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.
One of the popular parenting tools frequently used is time out. As the authors of The Connected Child explain, “These isolating strategies may be useful for biological children who are already connected and emotionally bonded to their families. But isolating and banishing strategies are extremely problematic for at-risk children because these kids are already disconnected from relationships, attachment-challenged, and mildly dissociative because of their early histories of neglect and abuse. Isolation is not therapeutic for them.”
Instead of isolating, keep the child near you so that you can co-regulate for them. Your presence as a calm center can help them become calm down more quickly.
While a traditional time-out may not be a good idea, you can still have a “calming corner” in a public room (such as the family room or kitchen) with a pillow and a few toys for toddlers. This is a think-it-over place and can become more sophisticated as the child gets older. You can say, “Sit here and think it over. When you’re ready to talk, let me know.”
Just a caution — your child will not turn into Pollyanna just because you created a think-it-over space. When the child is ready to talk it over, he may say “ready” with the voice of a Balrog. That’s okay. Meet him where he is. Let him tell you in his own words what he did wrong, and if he doesn’t know, give him the words. Lead him through an apology or a redo or both. Make sure you finish connected. Then it’s done.
And when it’s over, it’s over. Don’t keep bringing it up. Saying things like, “Earlier today, you did that thing so I don’t trust you” or “You couldn’t handle yourself earlier, so never again” or any other broad statement makes the child feel less-than. If you know a child can’t handle participating in whatever brought on the meltdown, keep that to yourself and parent. Arrange the environment to give him something else to do.
For example, if the child has had too much screen time and it caused the meltdown, play a board game together (even if you don’t want to). You are investing in your child.
Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.
When parenting a child from a hard place — i.e. one who has had trauma — it’s easy to get into a pattern of only noticing “bad” behaviors. Because the child already believes he is worthless or of little value, harping on the negative only solidifies his belief.
When my newbies first came “home,” they were in a state of disorganized attachment. At times, I felt as if my home would never stop feeling chaotic. My kiddos had a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, and finding something praiseworthy was difficult in those beginning stages of “family.”
Instead of waiting for my kiddos’ behavior to rise up the bar I had set before I offered praise, I set my sights on something other than measuring up. I began by praising them for playing with Play-Doh, creating something with LEGOs, putting on a puppet show, eating food — pretty much anything I could praise. The kids sometimes bristled at the praise. They may have wondered what my motive was, but eventually they began to accept it and even expect it. “Mom, look what I built!” This is connection.
Imagine if you never received any praise at all. Imagine if your life was just a fight to survive, and everything you did was wrong. You couldn’t sit right, eat right, speak right, or behave right in general, and people pointed those things out constantly. How would you feel? How would you feel if suddenly you started receiving some praise for things? Wouldn’t you keep doing the things you received praise for?
Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.
When we look at behaviors as needs, we are less likely to take them personally. For instance, when we remind ourselves that the child can’t regulate — not won’t regulate — we can set our personal feelings aside. When we set our personal feelings aside, we can take the reins and parent. It’s not us against them; we’re all on the same team.
So before taking a behavior personally, ask yourself what the child needs. Is the child. . .
In his downstairs brain?
Unsure of the expectations?
Unable to adjust to a change of plans?
It’s our job to be the emotionally stable person in the relationship. In an article for PBS, Katie Hurley explains one thing you can do to help your child become aware of their emotions: “Express your own emotions. Parents have a tendency to hide their own emotions from their kids. While kids don’t need to be involved in the fine points of adult problems, it’s okay for them to see you sad, mad or overwhelmed. When you label and talk about your own emotions, you show them that we all have big feelings to cope with and that you trust them just as they can trust you.”
Two of my kiddos struggled with recognizing emotions in themselves and others. I made flash cards with different expressions on them: happy, sad, angry, afraid, frustrated. We practiced recognizing emotions with a mirror and with the cards.
Sometimes, the things we take so personally are emotions the child isn’t equipped to express. In that sort of situation, the child often reverts to anger — the go-to for kids in survival mode.
Using the IDEAL Approach
For all interactions with your kiddos, use the IDEAL response as a guide. The IDEAL Approach is among the best tools for parenting, teaching, or supervising kids who have had trauma:
I: You respond immediately, within three seconds of misbehavior.
D: You respond directly to the child by making eye contact. Get down on their level.
E: The response is efficient and measured. Use as few words as possible.
A: The response is action-based. Lead the child through a re-do.
L: Your response should bed leveled at the behavior, not the child.
One final note: The suggestions in this article are simply tools for parenting. Not every tool is useful in every situation or with every child. You must find which work for your child. In extreme cases, a child may be so violent that he is a danger to himself and others the home. In that case, you need to get professional help. Don’t try to go it alone.
Taking dangerous risks because he has no cause-and-effect thinking?
Does he think the laws of nature don’t apply to him?
When raising a child with a capital letter syndrome or one from hard places (a child who has experienced trauma), healthy fear is a little more muddled. While we want our kiddos to have healthy fears, some of them seem to be in a no-fear frame of mind when it comes to outdoor play and all fear when it comes to some other aspects of life. What’s going on here?
1. Lack of Cause-and-Effect Thinking
Kids who come home to us through foster care/adoption have had trauma. One of the five Bs affected by trauma is the brain. Kids who have had trauma have altered neurochemistry. The Hebbian principle states that what fires together, wires together.
Simply put, an infant’s brain is experience-expectant. Experiences wire the brain. This is where the attachment cycle comes in. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need, thousands and thousands of times, until eventually the loose “wires” in the brain are connected.
What does attachment have to do with healthy fears? Everything. When those “wires” connect, the child is “wired” for cause-and-effect thinking. If there are breaks in attachment (or the child has a capital letter syndrome), then cause-and-effect thinking is not in place. It’s as if the child has some lose “wires.” This isn’t to say that the child isn’t intelligent — in fact, it’s often the opposite. It’s just that he doesn’t expect B to happen if he does A.
What does this look like?
A child decides to catch bees in a jar but didn’t think they would sting him.
A child watches a video of a man leaping from limb to limb high in a tree and tries it. (Yes, this actually happened in my family, and yes, he fell.)
A child tries to ride his bike under the trampoline.
A child starts a forest fire playing with a lighter.
A child walks on the pool cover and their foot falls through.
These are all true stories, and I could tell many more, but the point is that in each of these cases, no cause-and-effect thinking was applied. You may say, “Well many kids are adventure seekers and do these sorts of things.” That’s true.
However, neurotypical kids have a learning curve after these types of adventures. Kids with capital letter syndromes and kids with trauma often don’t. They will continue to try to defy the physical laws of nature with intensity and regularity. They don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
Here’s a good test: If you warn your child that the activity he is about to embark upon may cause harm and he says, “I’m not going to get hurt, I’m not that stupid!” then cause-and-effect thinking probably isn’t happening.
Unrealistic or faulty connections
On the other end of the spectrum, these kiddos may have one bad experience and instead of adjusting their approach and trying again, simply declare, “I’m never doing that again!” What does this look like?
The child refuses to put sunscreen on (because he won’t get burned), gets burnt, and won’t go to the beach ever again.
The child falls off a rock while climbing, scrapes his knee, and won’t climb again.
The child doesn’t think he can do something, so he says it’s stupid and refuses to try.
Trying to instill healthy fears in these kiddos can be confusing. They need to be watched more closely and encouraged more than neurotypical kids to keep them safe and get them trying new things.
2. Felt Safety
Another conundrum with kids with capital letter syndromes/foster/adopted kids is they often don’t feel safe when they are safe. To describe this, we use the term “felt safety.”
“Felt safety, as defined by Dr. Purvis, is “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child).
Fear is crippling. I know. Not only have I watched my own kiddos struggle with feeling safe and talked to countless moms whose kids struggle with it, but I have also experienced it myself. My fears were an oddly shaped gift that, when opened, gave me empathy.
Because of some trauma in my past, I feared riding in the back seat of a car, going through tunnels, riding elevators, and more. My fears helped me understand my kiddos’ fears. Your child’s fears may seem weird or unrealistic to you, but they are super overwhelming to them.
“From research, we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.” – empoweredtoconnect.org
Instilling healthy fears and avoiding unhealthy fears is hit-or-miss with these kiddos. We keep trying, keep asking, and keep being flexible. No one wants their kids to be overwhelmed with fear all the time. No one wants their kiddos to get injured because they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them, either. So, I’ll finish with some tips. Feel free to comment and add your own tips!
Tips for Instilling Healthy Fears and Disarming Unhealthy Fears in Kids From Hard Places or Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes:
Watch these kiddos more closely.
Talk them through their fear even if the solution seems obvious to you.
Help them try an activity away from the crowd.
Ask them what they need.
Remember that they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
These kids have enough fear; don’t instill more.
Clap for them if they accomplish an outdoor feat even if you think it is below their ability. Baby steps.
On the one hand, you are instilling healthy fears and calming ones that seem far fetched and unrealistic to you. On the other hand, when you provide fun, S.A.F.E. activities, you are relieving fears, which is healthy!
This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, the Neurotypical Edition, here.
This week on The Whole House podcast, Lori and Kathleen talked about Healthy Summer living with a capital letter syndrome. Whether you’re an adult with a capital letter syndrome or have a child with one, summer means change. To help prepare, we wanted to look at some healthy ways to cope with the changes summer brings:
Keep a schedule.
Harness the power of habit.
Prioritize S.A.F.E. activities.
“The brain needs safety and involvement for positive learning experiences. If little children are not motivated to learn, check how safe they feel.” – James M. Healy, Ph.D., author, and educator
Remember that kids need to feel safe to enjoy learning and play. In the acronym above, “SAFE” stands for “Sensory-motor, Appropriate, Fun, and Easy.” Here’s what that means:
“Kids who are out of sync may have difficulty making the sensory-motor connection. Because their best attempts are often inadequate and unsatisfactory, these children may give up trying or simply lose interest. They may opt for sensory activities that require negligible motor response, such as watching television, listening to music, or reading. The gap between sensory input and motor output widens because the less they do, the less they may be able to do.” –The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun
It’s important not to fall into the trap of doing whatever the child wants to do simply because it’s easier or because he balks at going outdoors. The more sensory activity a child has, the better prepared he will be to function in real life.
When a child becomes conditioned to perfection or comfort in his environment — air conditioning, a comfy chair, a screen to entertain him — he will be less flexible and unable to adapt when circumstances aren’t just right. That’s a recipe for disaster.
People with capital letter syndromes are less flexible naturally, so why not take some time and work on flexibility when you have the opportunity to? We’ve all heard the complaints: It’s too hot. I’m bored. Can we go in yet? In response, you can alleviate a bit of the discomfort, set a time frame for how long you’ll stay outside, or provide a game (water games are great for hot days).
Sensory seekers will go for daredevil experiences, while sensory avoiders will shun activity. It’s important to find appropriate activities for both. I raised one of each of these. The challenge is keeping the sensory seeker safe and the sensory avoider playing with the rest of the kiddos instead of standing on the sidelines.
“So when a sensory seeker clambers to the diving board although he can’t swim, we must rechannel his out of sync behavior.” – The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun
We must give the sensory-avoider a chance to practice new activities privately so she doesn’t just stand on the sidelines watching.
At our family camp, the kids were jumping rope and playing while my daughter stood with her eyes downcast and shoulders slumped. She was afraid to try after tripping on the rope one time. I took her to the other side of the house, and we practiced alone until she could manage jumping successfully. She joined the cousins with a smile on her face and jumped rope with them.
You’re doing your sensory-avoiding child a disservice if you don’t find ways to help them participate in sensory activities and feel successful.
While a child is having fun, he is experiencing sensory integration. This is functional activity that will provide skills for adulthood.
We all want our kids to play, cooperate, and get along — but are we modeling that for them? Are we showing instead of telling? It’s fun and simple to show. Have a squirt gun battle with your kids and be prepared to get wet. Play “Mother May I?” and don’t cry when you have to go back to the beginning. Play hide and seek. Have a crab-walk race, a sack race, or a human wheelbarrow race. These are all functional, family bonding activities!
E: Easy (Economical, Environmentally Friendly, and Emotionally Satisfying)
Fun doesn’t have to be expensive! You can create loads of fun for your family in your own backyard or in a creek, stream, or lake. Check your area for trails to hike or bike. Look around for access to a creek. Go creek walking. Skip stones. There is something so emotionally satisfying about skipping stones! I am not great at it, but my kids are!
Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is emotionally satisfying. I would put that at the top of the list.
“The activities should be easy enough for your child to taste success. When they are too challenging, your child may resist doing them. Think of how frustrating it is to be a child who wants to have fun, wants to please you — and can’t.” – The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun
Also, make sure you take the time to discern the child’s fear level. If it is high and you know he would really enjoy the activity and have success, gently push. By gently, I mean comfort and coax with a calm voice. Don’t yell, “You’re going to do this or else!” Say, “Let’s just try this for a couple of minutes. I’ll hold your hand. See, you’re doing it.” Some parents struggle with being sweet when they just want the kid to JUST DO IT!
Here’s a good self-check: ask yourself how you would want to be treated in this situation. Even if you are an adventure-seeker who is afraid of nothing, do you enjoy put-downs, yelling, or belittling?
Here’s a good example. My niece was visiting, and we took her creek walking. This was her first time. She was about 7 years old and was used to city living. Creek walking is a Guire tradition. It’s super simple and free. You just put on old tennis shoes or rubber boots and walk in the creek. You can catch craw-dads or just enjoy the walk.
This was all new to my niece. She was afraid — understandably so. You may be reading this, thinking, That’s just a weird thing to do. She thought so. I asked her to try for a few minutes and held her hand. After those few minutes, she let go of my hand and thoroughly enjoyed the day. After fifteen minutes, she took the lead!
I’m not saying every child will obtain this level of competence, but every child can have an emotionally rewarding experience. Some kids may need you to hold their hand the whole time. That’s okay. Meet the child at their level.
One final thought: Don’t take resistance as a “no.” There are many interpretations of resistance. It may mean, I’m afraid, I don’t think I can do this, or I have never donethis before. Some of the activities my kids resisted as young children are their fondest memories as adults.
So what are you waiting for? Get outside!
For more help, check out this video: A Sensory World Preview.
This week on the podcast, the topic was “Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes Are People Too.” Lori and I talked a bit about how teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome don’t know how to act differently in front of adults. By that I mean, they don’t put up false fronts while adults are in the room and then go back to misbehaving when they leave.
Judging Teens Who Have Had Trauma
Teens who have had trauma are judged differently for their behavior than kids from traditional two-parent families. When we’re talking about teens from traditional two-parent homes, we tend to say things like “they’re just sowing their wild oats” or “teens will be teens.” We naturally assume they’re exploring, finding their own way, etc. When we’re talking about adopted kids, foster kids, or kids who have had trauma, however, we tend to take a different perspective and jump to the conclusion that they are just bad kids.
If a kid in a two-parent home wrecks a car because he’s buzzed or drunk, it’s kept on the down-low. But if a kid from a traumatic background flips a car because they panic at being near an abuser’s home, then they’re just “crazy” and “wild.” The incident becomes a story TOLD about them — as if they’re just messed up and horrible and careless and ungrateful.
If a kid in a stable, two-parent home is confronted with something they did wrong, they might get a little angry, but they also know the language of remorse (genuine or not). They know how to say sorry and how to stop. Kids from hard places often don’t.
The Social Age Factor
Also, because of the social age difference, trauma kids end up being labeled “bad” for things they do out of immaturity. They are perceived to be willfully acting immaturely because we assume they possess a certain level of maturity based on their physical age and appearance. However, physical maturity does not always correspond to emotional or social maturity.
Kids with trauma issues have a harder time hiding behavior or putting on the brakes. They’re caught more often, and they tend to lean into the destructive behavior when they’re caught and told to stop, whereas non-trauma kids might be better at genuinely stopping, hiding their behavior, or faking obedience.
The Effects of Neglect and Abuse
“Neglect and abuse delay cause-and-effect processing and, specifically, seeing accurately how our actions impact the world. When the infant cried in need (cause), there was no comfort response from the caregiver (effect). Over time, a child learns there is no connection between what they do and how others respond.” – Executive function #6 in Wounded Children, Healing Homes
Kids who have endured trauma end up giving themselves permission to behave badly because they THINK of themselves as trash.
Two-parent kids with a stable home life have this underlying perception of themselves as baseline GOOD, no matter WHAT their behavior is. Bad behavior is just something they’re DOING and can stop at any time. It’s not who they are.
Traumatized kids think that even neutral behavior is probably awful because it’s just who they are. They overhear discussions about themselves as the “bad” kid. Traumatized kids tend to blow up more spectacularly, and with only one parent, with foster parents, or with an entire community watching them, it’s not as hush-hush.
“Bad kids” are “bad kids” because when they’re caught, they act angry and “selfish.” They don’t apologize, they internalize self-hatred, they shift the blame, and they sometimes blow up more in retaliation.
An Inability to Self-Check
“Monitoring refers to the ability to self-check work as you go. …It is tempting to jump to the conclusion that the child is willfully unmotivated to self-monitor, and for some kids, that may be true. … for children whose brain development is affected by exposure to complex trauma, the capacity to monitor may be outside of the realm of will power.” – Executive function #3 in Wounded Children, Healing Homes
When a child can’t monitor or self-check, more behaviors are evident as he tries to negotiate needs. His response to transitions or stimuli is over the top. When that child becomes a teen, his body size makes his reactions appear more violent (because they are). When a 16-year-old hits a wall, his fist goes through it, whereas a 4-year-old would just hurt his fist. Remember that the social age factor is in play here.
What Do We Do With This Information?
What do we see first when observing teens? The way they act. I get it. As my mom said when I was a teen, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” When ministering to teens from hard places, throw that out the window. Don’t discount the first impression, but learn to look beyond the behavior. Just because the teen isn’t polite or sweet doesn’t mean we should pull out the judgment card.
Look Beyond the Behavior and Love the Person
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Gal. 6:2
A teen who has had trauma in their life has some heavy burdens. Lighten the load by giving them some grace. Don’t be so quick to judge. Look beyond the behavior to the need. What does that teen need? Does he need a listening ear? Does he need you to help him figure out some coping skills? Maybe he just needs an adult to say, “I’ve been through some junk, too. I hear you. You aren’t alone.”
Remember the Social Age of the Teen
Teens and kiddos alike hear this all the time: “Act your age!” Guess what? Kids and teens from hard places are acting their age.
Typically, a child who had trauma is, emotionally, half his physical age (many times, the gap is even greater). You know what’s great about that? You can appeal to their inner child. You can play with them. Teens love to play. They love games with Nerf guns, squirt guns or _______ (fill in the blank).
Meet the teens where they are at emotionally, not physically. Don’t let their size fool you! They need to play! This disarms a child’s fear, and the result of that is more regulation.
Remember, don’t judge a teen by his behavior. If he has had trauma, he may not be skilled in the area of hiding behavior or putting on the brakes. Look beyond the behavior to the need. What does that teen need? Look through your trauma-informed lens and see the teen.
I knew. I knew from early on that my son marched to the beat of his own drum. I tried to to make him march with the other kids. I didn’t want him to think something was wrong with him. I tried all the parenting advice and discipline techniques. Nothing seemed to matter. I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
The school nightmare
School was a nightmare. He’d burn up all his energy on trying to “be good” only to fail and fall short of the teacher’s expectations. He never brought home that coveted green smiley on his behavioral chart that said it was a good day. I could see it in his eyes, he felt less than. Less than the other kids his age, less than good, less than what people want. It broke my heart. I hated that stinking behavioral chart. I hated that people refused to try and understand my sweet boy.
Soon we realized that traditional public school made things worse. When he was in third grade, my husband and I made the choice to homeschool all our children. I will never forget the day early in our journey that he leaned against my shoulder and said “Thank you for homeschooling me, Mommy. I felt so stupid in school” I cried that day and still remember it so vividly. I replay that memory when we’re having a rough day.
Being your Child’s Advocate
I knew that I was going to have to be my son’s biggest advocate. From the time we got his SPD diagnosis in first grade until just recently, I’ve had to explain everything it means and what it doesn’t. I’ve had to undo society’s idea of what perfect children should look like. My son was perfect. Exactly the way God made him. Just because he doesn’t do everything like the masses doesn’t make him somehow less than. I am actually proud that he doesn’t. And now, even at 14 years old, I will still fight anyone that tries to force that square peg into that round hole….or lovingly point out how mistaken they are. It’s a toss-up, really. 😉
Want to hear more of what Lori has to say on the subject? Listen to this week’s podcast episode:
Special Needs (Capital Letter Syndromes) and Homeschooling Director
Lori Shaffer is married to her childhood best friend, Jacob.She is a stay at home missionary and homeschool mom to their three children.She is passionate about advocating for teen moms and women and children that have been abused and giving them hope and encouragement.Most days she can be found drinking coffee, working out with Kathleen, or hanging out with her family.
Is your schedule out of whack this holiday season?
Are you experiencing some winter or holiday blues?
Is your adopted/foster/special needs kid melting down every time you turn around?
Do you just want to pack up the decorations and skip Christmas altogether?
Then this is for you friend.
The Whole House team had a conversation the other day (on our pm) about kids being dysregulated over the holidays. It’s hard. Constant meltdowns make us want to just skip the whole season.
Here’s a couple of things to remember if you want to skip Christmas:
Different things are triggers for different people. I get weepy around Christmas. I hear an Amy Grant song. I put up the Christmas tree. I hear a church bell and I think of my mother. Midnight mass in the choir loft. Pumpkin pie in the oven or cooling on the gas range. Christmas dinners with tables end to end all the way across the length of the living room. Great memories. Mom left this earth almost twenty years ago and yet , a smell, a sound, can make it feel as if it were yesterday. That’s the way with triggers, they transport us to another time, another place and more importantly, another feeling- whatever that was.
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We adoptive parents must remember that our children have a past. Some of it is fresh in their memory. Some of it is buried so deep, they cannot tell the story.
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But, let them smell something in the air, hear a sound, or taste something and they are transported to another time and place. They may not know why or where. They may not be able to vocalize it. Instead, they will act it out. They will meltdown. Be prepared. Be patient. Be prayerful. Be proactive if you have any information that will help you avert those triggers! – 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas
This also applies to kids with Capital Letter syndromes. We’re playing Christmas music and decorating the tree and the kid is punching a hole in the wall. We are left scratching our heads and throwing our hands up and saying, “Forget it!”
Lack of schedule, change of routine and the anticipation of the upcoming event(s) create a tornado of emotions. Some of us just want to skip Christmas altogether! These items I just listed make it hard for a neurotypical child to regulate. Just imagine how much more stress is added for a child with a Capital Letter syndrome or a child from hard places.
Your teen may turn into a giant toddler. His eyes may stay dilated, indicating stress. His body may be rigid, shoulders tense, hypervigilant, looking this way and that for danger, supposed or real. It’s common for your kiddos to balk at doing every day tasks during the Christmas season, even if they normally enjoy them. Their bodies are too overwhelmed to enjoy things.
When we adults react with our own triggers and meltdown ourselves, there will be chaos. We need to provide felt-safety for our kiddos. If that means skipping the Christmas party, ordering online instead of going to a crowded mall or not visiting Santa. Skipping anything that stresses your child to the point of meltdown is worth it to enjoy your holiday. Guess what – you are in charge of your Christmas schedule. You don’t have to do something just because Aunt Edna said so. You don’t have to put up a tree if it stresses you or your child.
Think of it this way, Christmas is Jesus’ birthday. How do you prefer celebrating a birthday? What about your child? If you prefer a quiet birthday dinner at home and not tons of people because it stresses you and your child – do that. Do whatever fits your family style. Make the season what you need to make it as peaceful as possible. If you need to participate in events, as much as possible, let your kids know what is happening next. Make sure you rest in between events. Give your child voice. If they can verbalize that opening presents in front of everyone is too much, don’t make them. If people get offended because you are parenting your child, that’s really on their plate. Not yours.
“Remember at the end of the day, you are the parent.You have the right to say no to some parties, to say no to the extra sugar, to say no to extra church events that bring in loads of people.And give yourself permission to not feel guilty because it’s your family and your child and your sanity.And remember that as hard and stressful it is for you, it’s probably 10x more so for that special needs kid.Grace upon grace upon grace for this Christmas season.”- Lori Shaffer
Watch for Episode 51 of The Whole House Podcast on Monday, December 17th – “Kids from Hard Places and the Holiday Schedule” recorded by Kathleen and Lori. (PS- I think we recorded this to encourage ourselves. Hope it encourages you as well).
In episode 43 of The Whole House podcast, Kathleen and I discuss what exactly is Sensory Processing Disorder. The book, The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Stock Kranowitz, M.A. defines SPD this way:
“Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is the inability to use information received through the senses in order to function smoothly in daily life.”
In short, that means a child (or adult since it’s not something that is grown out of), cannot process all his/her sensory input and has the wrong reaction to many things that “regular” people have no problem with. Sensory issues become a disorder when the person has an inability to function normally in day to day life.
If you suspect your child (or yourself) might have SPD, the STAR Institute is a great place to start to try and understand this disorder. It includes great information, including this checklist. Another great source of information is The Out-of-Sync Child. It is split into two parts, the first being how to recognize SPD, and the second on how to cope with SPD. One thing this book suggests is to document your child’s behavior. This helps to recognize patterns. Sometimes diet or phases of the moon (I kid you not) can affect the intensity of the symptoms. The book also makes suggestions on how to better get your child to focus. Occupational therapy is so helpful. An occupational therapist can not only properly diagnose your child, but also give you ways to help your child regulate. I have mentioned many times that my son regularly does his school work in a spinning chair or on the trampoline. He focuses so much better this way.
Most importantly, we ladies at The Whole House want you to know that we are here for you. The amount of information out there can be dizzying and overwhelming. The first step is to get a proper diagnosis. The second is to connect with someone that can come along beside you and say “I know exactly how you feel”. If you don’t have anyone like that in your life, contact us.