Author Archive

Kindergarten, to send or to wait?

July 17, 2013

Around here, families are getting ready to enroll their children in school.  As my oldest enters his senior year in high school (Yikes!  Where did the time go?), I’m reminded about the year he was five and it was time to decide whether or not to send him to Kindergarten.

Academically, he was more than ready but I felt that the social/emotional part would be a challenge.  I agonized over this decision and worried about everything!

Worries:                                         

If I waited: that he would be bored with academics…  but if I sent him: that he would be overwhelmed with a classroom setting and expectations.

If I waited: that he would eventually be one of the biggest or more physically mature in his class… but if I sent him: that he would be the smallest in his class

If I waited: that he would think there was something “wrong” with him…  but if I sent him: that he would have a difficult experience that would set a negative tone for his school career

If I waited: that he would eventually be embarrassed to be a year older than his classmates…  but if I sent him: that he would want–no, need!–to be at home another year.

If I waited: that I would be stifling him and denying exactly what he needed to mature …  but if I sent him: that I was pushing something on him that he was developmentally just not ready for.

And so on….!

I talked to many teachers and parents who had had to make the same decision for their children.  In the end, all of the teachers recommended waiting a year if unsure and all of the parents who waited said they were glad they did, while a few of the parents who went ahead and sent their children said they wished they had waited.

What the Science of Child Development Says
I also looked at what I knew and believed about child development.  I knew and believed that social and emotional development is key to other types of development, including academic development.  I knew and believed that the foundational skills used to be successful in social and emotional development were best developed one-on-one with someone who really understood and was conscious about developing those brain based skills.

In the end, I decided to wait a year before sending him to kindergarten.  As I am getting ready to enroll him in his Senior year of High School, I am so glad that I did wait!  He made tremendous leaps and bounds in his development that year he was (mostly) at home with me that set him up for a positive school experience.

Fortunately,  NONE of the things I worried about from the “Worries if I Waited to Send Him” list ever happened!  He is at the top of his class, enjoys his friends, is great to be around at home and is planning for college.  He has worked hard to be where he is and yet, I truly believe that what happened in those early years and particularly that extra year at home gave him the abilities he needed to be successful.

So, if you are weighing this decision, really take the time to discern what areas in your child’s development need growth and then really consider (using the science about child development!) how to best help your child gain those skills.   Some kids may be more ready than you think, but others will need time (and brain building experiences!) to mature and grow into kindergarten readiness.

Check out our Facebook page to find a link that provides other guides to determining skills needed for kindergarten.

www.heartofthematterseminars.com

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281 Voices: Adult Adoptees Describe Contact with Birth Family Members

December 10, 2012

281 voicesAs we release the 2ND SNEAK PEEK  into the information gathered in our survey of 281 adult adoptees about open adoption, once again I am reminded that there is no cookie cutter formula for open adoption.  Open adoptions are as different as all the people involved in them.

While the top three words used by our survey group were the same whether their adoptions had always been open or were closed and later became open, we also found that the majority of these folks used a mix of positive, negative and neutral words to describe contact. For example:

One participant who was adopted at birth and whose adoption was closed but became open when they were a young adult chose, “enjoyable, easy, difficult, interesting, safe, exciting, informative, healthy, stressful, fun, loving, respectful and a pleasure”  to describe contact.

Another individual who had contact with birth family members while growing up described it as, “enjoyable, difficult, interesting, exciting, sporadic, uncomfortable, normal, unusual, strained, stressful and fun”.

This shouldn’t be surprising.  After all, how many people can you describe in only positives or negatives?  In fact,  it’s hard to imagine that one would even bother to have a relationship with a person if there were only neutral feelings about them!

The question is, what does this mean for adoptive parents who have the opportunity to facilitate an open adoption with their child’s birth family members?

It helps set realistic expectations.  As parents our natural inclination is (or should be!) to jump to protect our kids from negative things.  However, if adoptive parents know that there are likely to also be positives to be gained, then they can weigh those positives and negatives to make a more informed, measured decision as to what is best for their child.

It’s a reminder that birthparents/birth family members are real people.  I believe that the adoption community and our society tends to paint birth parents in extremes.  Angel or devil… hero or villain… saint or sinner…?  But, at the end of the day “birthparent” is only a person just like the rest of us and I suspect that if they were given a list like this one and asked to describe the adoptive parents they would have a mixed response, too!  Furthermore, if we are really talking in a real way, let’s remember that not all adoptees are perfect, either!  🙂

It reminds us that relationships ebb and flow.  I don’t think it’s an accident that both “normal” and “unusual” were selected by the same person.  The quality of relationships can change.  Beyond that, an adoptee may describe their contact with different family members in different ways.

Next, we will look at what benefits they see in open adoption.

 

www.heartofthematterseminars.com

 

Fortune Cookie and Our New Course

May 24, 2012

Creating our next course on open adoption is taking longer than we expected, but I received a good reminder to be patient!  We here at Heart of the Matter truly do believe in putting out quality courses that are worth taking!   –Katie

I not only had a nice lunch but received a good reminder yesterday!

The Day After Mother’s Day

May 14, 2012

Mother’s Day can be one of the hardest holidays to get through while waiting to adopt. I remember crying my way through many holidays during the years of infertility and then waiting for my son to come home.

If you are a woman waiting for motherhood, how did you get through the day?

For those of you who waited and are finally mothering, what advice can you give those who are still waiting? What helped you through the hard days?

LWB’s Realistic Expectations Series: Potty Training

May 1, 2012

Love Without Boundaries’ Amy Eldridge has been writing a series on her blog about “Realistic Expectations”. While it is geared toward families adopting from China, many of the issues are common in other countries as well. Today I read her post on toilet training and thought that there were many, many good points for any families adopting internationally! You can find it here: http://www.lwbcommunity.org/realistic-expectations-potty-training

I’d like to highlight a few of the issues she raises that are common to many other countries as well as China.

“Today we would like to continue with the “bathroom” subject, as one of the most common questions asked by parents is whether or not their child-to-be is potty trained.  Well…… define potty trained. And if the definition is “Western style toilet trained,” then the answer is probably not….  In orphanages that do use potty chairs or ceramic pots for toilet training, many staff will say that a child is “potty trained” when what they mean is that all the children are lined up on potties several times a day. They might sit there for an hour at a time starting at a very young age, and during that time they happen to “go.” Scheduled potty time in Chinese orphanages is common, but that doesn’t always equate to a toddler being able to tell a new parent when he or she needs to use the bathroom, and so don’t get frustrated when there are accidents.”  (underlines are mine)

This practice is certainly not limited to China.  For example, it’s the usual for children being adopted from East European countries, India and some African countries as well.

India

East Europe

Africa

Aside from the short-term issues (like helping a child acclimate to Western style toilets or managing parental expectations) there are sometimes long-term effects as well.   In some cases this type of “toilet training” causes the child to fear elimination and toileting.  Aside from the obvious signs of fear related to toileting, children will sometimes withhold urine or feces which can lead to physical complications, which in turn can start a cycle of fear, withholding and physical impact that can be hard to break.

Children who have spent time in less than optimal care (like and orphanage) often have a great need to control their environment.  And, what better area of life to control than pottying?  I mean, no one can truly make a child put their potty in the toilet short of abuse!

Add to these potential issues the fact that children who have spent time in less than optimal care also usually lag behind in one or more areas of development and there is huge potential for potty problems!

So, how do you know if you’re dealing with short term potty training issues or more long-term concerns?  That’s a big question and we’ve started to address it in our course Transitions, Developmental Challenges or Just Regular Kid Stuff???   Although this is a recorded course now, it was given in a webinar format a couple of years ago.  While many different behaviors were addressed, toilet training was one that was always raised in these live webinars!

Whether potty problems are stemming from fear, uncertainty, transitions, a need to control or a lag in development, special parenting is needed.  Traditional toilet training strategies have the potential to backfire in a big way.  Parenting that gets at the underlying issue rather than the symptom is called for and discussed at length in Because They Waited and in Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power.

Where are the adult adoptees?

April 30, 2012

You may have already seen that we have a survey out on open adoption. We are most interested in hearing from young adults who grew up in contact with birth family members, but we are struggling to get the survey into their hands.

We wonder if it may be because happy, well-adjusted young adults might not be hanging out in adoption forums and support groups!

Regardless of why, if you know a young adult adoptee, please share this link with them! http://app.fluidsurveys.com/s/openadopt/

Resolving to Get What You Want

January 4, 2012

Did you make a New Year’s resolution having to do with parenting?   Or, are you like me… a resolution-avoider?  Regardless,  I heard a great quote today.  Although it was used in the terms of healthy eating, it applies to much more, including parenting.  Here it is:

Don’t trade what you want most for what you want at this moment.

There is a lot to think about in that short little statement, but what first came to my mind was discipline.  Many of our courses talk about choosing discipline techniques that make sense in terms of brain development and building skills such as self-control, empathy, cause and effect thinking, ability to let go of control and impulse control.  While we get a lot of agreement that yes, pull close parenting types of discipline do manage the child’s behavior while building those skills, we find that for many of us (ourselves included at times!) what we want right now, in that moment, sometimes gets in the way.

Take the example of a younger child who is throwing a temper tantrum.  The science of brain development tells us that the ability to regulate one’s emotions is learned through someone else helping keep your emotions regulated.  We also know that we have to be present to help the child calm and regulate that mad feeling.  And yet, there is still a temptation to do something that makes them stop crying or throwing a fit right now!!!   …even if “making it all stop” works against what you really want… a child who will ultimately be able to handle their own angry feelings appropriately.

So, take a moment and ask yourself:

What are my goals for my child?
How do I get there?  Do I know how to get there?
What do I need to get there?

Heart of the Matter Seminars

Take the Elf OFF the Shelf!

November 28, 2011

Santa as a spy who has an obsession with behavior modification--ick!

I have a bone to pick with Santa.  As much as I love the big guy I am really tired of the part of him that is a parent-power-sucking-sponge.  The whole naughty or nice thing has several issues (um, are poor kids or kids in orphanages naughty?)  But the idea of Santa as a spy who is really into behavior modification has a lot of parents compounding the problem.

Santa must be sick of tattle tales!
For some folks who struggle with discipline, Santa is like a big fat permission slip to be wimpy parents.  When we attempt to secure desired behavior through the threat or promise of Santa instead of handling the problem ourselves, in essence we’re saying, “I can’t handle this, maybe you’ll behave for Santa.”  Or, sometimes it has the flavor of mom or dad tattletale-ing to Santa as in, “Do you want me to call Santa and tell him what you’re doing?”

The Elf on the Shelf sucks up money out of your wallet AND parental competency.

Shelve the elves!
Bad as all that is, merchandisers have come up with another way to suck up both our money and our parental competency!   The Elf on the Shelf.   The idea is that you buy a cute little elf to sit somewhere in you house.  During the day, he watches the children.  At night, he goes to the North Pole to report the children’s behavior to Santa and appears in a different spot the next morning, ready to spy on the children again.  In the meantime, parents are able to threaten their children with the elf and the possibility of no presents or an unhappy Santa.  Cute, huh?

Santa or the Elf on the Shelf may help bring a little “peace on earth” in the short term, but if parents rely on them during the holidays what happens on December 26th?  Not only is that parenting crutch tool gone, but they’ve been busy sending their child messages of incompetency for weeks and may have accidentally dug themselves into a hole that is not easy to get of.

Do you suffer from Santa or elf dependence?
How do you know if there’s a problem?  Well, some pretty good indicators are having to repeat directions several times, changing your directions to try to gain compliance, scolding, threatening, giving in or punishments or rewards that just don’t seem to make a lasting impact overall.  All this leaves an incredibly exhausted, frustrated and stressed out parent–not to mention a child who is ultimately not happy either.

Take back your parent power!
Fortunately, even if you’ve fallen into a trap where you’ve given your parenting power away to someone else, with some knowledge and a lot of determination you CAN get back to where you need to be.  It starts with taking back your parent power and learning how to manage power struggles.  One resource is our recorded course Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power   But, at the very least, forget about using Santa as a means to control a child’s behavior and if you must put the elf on the shelf, just let him sit there and look cute–don’t make him spy for Santa!

Remember….

November 10, 2011

Happy National Adoption Month!

My first thought is always about our family’s adoption experience.  My son came home from Russia on a VERY cold winter’s night in 1996.  He was a teeny, tiny, bald baby with huge blue eyes that seemed to see everything.  He was 11 months old and had never been outside an orphanage.  Our extended family was there at the airport with signs, balloons and lots of tears of joy.  My Grandma Nina loves to tell about the first time she held him.  She always talks about how he “snuggled right up” to her neck, remembering it as a sweet, trusting gesture by this tiny baby.  I don’t tell her that our family had actually freaked him out and that he was trying to get away as best as he could!!!!

15, almost 16 years later, he is an amazing young man.  I don’t talk about him much on this blog or in other aspects of my work because he is a very private person.  He is an old soul in a young body.  He has an incredible depth of thinking, sensitivity and interests that go beyond his age and is one of the few people who almost ALWAYS allow themselves to truly be their genuine selves.  He is often a contradiction–for example, he professes to dislike little kids, but is the kindest, gentlest big brother and older cousin you can imagine.  He is brilliant and can literally do anything he wants to do.  He is thinking of being a geological engineer but says his “back up plan” is to be a truck driver.  (he is only half kidding)  He very, very rarely has the typical teenager angst or anger.  He CAN, however make a person crazy with his stubbornness!   I just bought him a shirt that says “I May Be Wrong… But I Doubt It”.   

Long story short, he is amazing and I have no doubt that he will someday fulfill whatever purpose he is meant to.  He may change the world in big ways or small ways, but I am absolutely sure that it will be for the better.  None of this could or would be possible without international adoption.

We are some of the lucky ones.  There are thousands and thousands of children all over the world whose potential may never be reached because they will not have a family.  The statistics for children who age out of foster care or orphanage care are grim.  Their lives up to that point are sometimes even worse.

I want us all to remember all these little ones.  Whether adoptive parents, birth parents or adults who care about children, we owe it to the children who are still waiting for someone to be their own.   In particular, I’d like to ask you to remember and say a prayer for a group of children known as the “Bac Lieu 16”  They are not the only children needing our thoughts, prayers and especially ACTIONS., but looking at a tiny cross-section of the bigger problem can help us begin to comprehend the depth, scope and reality of so many children’s existence.

International adoption is not the only answer, but it should remain ONE answer.

From Our In-Box: Attachment and Biological Children

October 24, 2011

Hi Katie and Julie!

My husband and I just finished Because They Waited, plus the African Countries seminar, for training as we prepare to adopt from Ethiopia.  I wanted to say THANK YOU so much for all the excellent information. I have read a lot of parenting books and a lot of online parenting info, but your seminars were some of the most helpful, applicable content we’ve ever encountered.

We have two biological sons, ages 5 and 2, and as we went through Because They Waited, we really felt like a lot of it pertained to our older son.  He has always been a challenge, and we’ve experienced him as “strong-willed” ever since he was tiny. But since hearing from you about attachment, we are wondering whether he is actually showing signs of attachment strain (which is awful to think about, as he has been in our hopefully-“optimal” care all his life!).

A basic profile: He is smart as a whip — started reading and doing basic math before age 4. He is a collector with varied and sometimes comical passions … he has collected coins, rocks, newspapers, stamps, and plastic lids among other things. He loves to joke, loves playing and watching sports, and loves doing anything with his daddy. He is wonderful, sweet and very loving when things are going well.

However, here are some of his characteristics that cause us concern:

— He was never a “cuddly” baby or child — still very much resists being “confined”
— HIGH need for control of his environment. Always invents a third choice when given two. Can be frustratingly defiant.
— Aggressive and often competitive with his younger brother. Lacks empathy, patience or impulse control when it comes to having his way at home.
— Has not valued or sought friendships with peers outside of our family. He’s not withdrawn, but just doesn’t seem to really know how to engage with kids his own age. Prefers the company/stability of grownups.
— Self-regulates pretty well at preschool, but lets it all hang out at home. He is prone to anger and tantrums with hitting, kicking and screaming when he doesn’t get his way or perceives an injustice.

We have gone around and around searching for the magical method of discipline that will work for him. We’ve used time-out, consequences, behavior modification, and spanking. But after Because They Waited, we’re wondering whether we’ve been going about parenting this child ALL WRONG! We’ve thought of his challenges as springing from rebellion, but thinking of his behavior as springing from a lack of TRUST pretty much breaks my heart.

So, my questions are: Can biological children raised in (not-perfect, but) good and loving homes suffer from attachment strain?  Can you speak to whether there’s a difference between a child with attachment strain and a “strong-willed” but securely attached child?  And do you have any action steps you’d suggest for our specific situation? (we’ve started to apply time-in and general pull-close parenting, and it seems to be making a difference already.)

Thank you so much — we’ve really appreciated your excellent teaching!

–A Thinking Mom

Katie’s Response:

Thank you for sharing your experiences with Because They Waited.  I am so impressed with your willingness to be open to other ways of parenting and with the obvious thought and effort you are putting in to doing your best job as a mom.  These are the kind of stories that keep Julie and I going and the reason why Heart of the Matter Seminars exists!

Before I answer your questions, let me first say that I can only address your questions in a general manner since I don’t know you or your family.  I do think you’ve asked some excellent questions, though, and would be glad to try to answer them as best as I can:

First of all, yes, attachment strain can be present in biological children who have always lived with their parents. It does NOT mean that they are unattached, but circumstances may mean that they are struggling with trust.  For example, parents who are “wimpy” do not provide what the child needs to believe that they are trustworthy.  Or, a child who has had many, many ear infections early in life may have had so many Cycles of Unmet Need (episodes of pain and discomfort) that they struggle with trust.  Children who have not had emotionally sensitive enough and attuned enough parenting may also struggle with trust.

I believe some children are more sensitive than others.  In fact, one thing that stuck out to me was that your son sounds very bright and possibly even gifted.  These children are more aware and attuned to what is going on around them.  They often have a more keen sense of injustice and ability to reason that can really intensify the impact of parenting that is not attuning to their emotional needs. They often struggle with peer relationships and prefer adult company because their brains just work on a different plane than the typical child their age.

In terms of your question about whether there is a difference between attachment strain and a securely attached “strong willed” child….Yes and no… It depends on how you define strong willed.  I think that oftentimes in our society “strong willed” has become a nice way of saying “controlling” and in that sense, I would say that it’s the same thing…. a lack of trust.  On the other hand, I define my daughter (and myself, if truth be known!) as “strong willed” in the sense of strong opinions, focus and determination but able to allow others to call the shots sometimes–particularly a person in authority.

You asked about specifics on what to do… It sounds like you are already on the right track!  Lots of pull close parenting and Time In, but beyond that, I would suggest really honing your skills at managing his need to control.  This is tricky at times–especially with a smart kid!!!  I am not trying to sell you something for the sake of selling you something, but I really do think that our course “Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power” would be very, very useful based on what you are describing.  Power struggles and bids for power all really stem from a lack of trust or an attempt to control and like I said, there are a lot of nuances there that it’s important to think through and understand how to address–both proactively and reactively.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Let me know how it goes!


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