Archive for the ‘attachment’ Category

Can Zip-a -Dee-Doo-Dah Change Eeyore? Using music to chip away at your child’s negative worldview.

April 2, 2012

Which is more powerful, a negative worldview or music?   Don’t count music out too fast.  Research has long shown that music can have a dramatic impact on body and mind.  While I can’t say that music  is capable alone of changing a negative worldview, I do know that for my family it makes a big difference for children and parents alike.

One of the effects of a neglectful, abusive, and/or traumatic beginning in life is that it often leaves a child with a darkened worldview.  We interpret and make sense of our world through our experiences, and when our experiences are largely negative it only makes sense that our view of the world in general would be negative as well.

Parenting  a child who looks at the world like the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore can be  frustrating and depressing.  It can seem as if no matter what you do your child is still unhappy and gloomy.  That’s because worldviews are not changed with motivational speeches, lecturing, nagging, or  reminding a child how lucky he or she is.  Worldviews do not change instantly just because the child is placed in a better situation. Worldviews are changed slowly and methodically over long periods of  time.  Only after millions and millions of cycles of need are completed for the child  can  these new more positive experiences begin to also impact that  child’s worldview.  Even then, a child’s worldview doesn’t often change dramatically.  I think it is more common to see a subtle lightening of a child’s worldview and hopefully  a continued lightening over time.

Years ago music became a sanity saver in terms of helping me stay upbeat while battling my oldest child’s sometimes gloomy outlook.  I took to singing her rousing choruses of  “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “Zip- a -Dee- Do -Dah” as we were waking up each morning.  These off key silly moments were as much for my sanity and centering as they were for her.  But I really do believe now that they also helped  to chip away at that Eeyore-like outlook.  She is in her 20’s  now and when she was home visiting recently she gave me a morning hug and broke into our “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” song.  So if nothing else, it is a fond memory for her.

My two youngest kids are teens now and reminding  me indirectly  that just  being a teenager can weigh heavily on one’s worldview.  Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive and upbeat as a teen in our society.  So I’ve decided to break out some morning music again.  I made a morning play list and this weekend  happy wake up music became part  the Drew family breakfast again.  I do believe over time  it will chip away just a bit at those challenging teen worldviews and if nothing else, it will help me to start each day off on the right foot instead of getting sucked into their grumpy.

Thought you might enjoy a peek at my list.  I’d love to hear what music  inspires your family.

I think this first song started everyday of my oldest child’s first grade year:

My mom and dad used to sing this one to me when I was  small and this is the one my daughter most remembers us singing in the mornings:

Good Day Sunshine, Beatles

A Beautiful Morning, The Rascals

Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

Ok I admit it, my kids were kind of rolling their eyes at my breakfast music this weekend UNTIL this one came on and then they burst out laughing!

Because of James Brown I was given a reprieve on eye rolling for John Denver.  And I’m sorry but who can’t feel just a little happy listening to this….

More Beatles.  You can’t really go wrong there.

Classic….Cat Stevens

Classic ….James Taylor

Feeling Good, Nina Simone

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Sending Parental Messages of Unconditional Love

February 14, 2012

I  thought this day was a perfect chance to remind ourselves  about the importance of sending messages of unconditional love to our children.   In my house we like to say, “Good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, I will always love you.”

Obviously each of us benefits from the security generated when we really know that despite our imperfections we are truly  loved.  For children who began life in less than optimal care and who waited for a  family the message of unconditional love is even more crucial.

Unfortunately, sometimes kids behaviors, especially the  behaviors that can stem from trauma, loss, attachment strain, etc.  are challenging to manage.  It is not uncommon for adoptive parents (and all parents for that matter) to struggle to address negative behaviors while still sending messages of unconditional love.   Take the following example for instance.

Mom says,  “Bad boy!  We don’t throw toys!  Go to your room this instant!”

Message received by child:   I am  bad.  Mom  wants me to get away from her.  I am not lovable.

In order to send messages of unconditional love we have to be very conscious of the language we choose.  Let’s tweak the above example just a bit.

Mom says, “Bad choice!  Throwing toys is dangerous!    I’m going to put this up until you’ve calmed down.  Now come and sit by Mom.”

Message received by child:  Throwing toys is dangerous.  Mom won’t let me throw toys without interceding.  Mom helps  me when I’m upset.    Mom loves me even when I screw up.

Sounds simple but we all know how challenging it can be in the heat of parenting moments to choose the correct words and deliver them with a loving spirit.  I personally motivate myself by reminding myself regularly that I’m not doing this just to be nice or just to be positive.  I’m doing it because the science tells me that this is the kind of parenting that promotes attachment and nurtures emotional health.  One way I remind myself is by continuing to learn and read on the subject.  One author that particularly speaks to me on this subject is Gordon Neufeld.  He  writes,

 “Unconditional parental love is the indispensable nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth.   The first task is to create space in that child’s heart of the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love.  She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love- in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost.  It is not conditional.  It is just there regardless of which side the child is acting from – ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny , uncooperative, and plain rude and the parent still lets her feel loved.  Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted.  She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent’s absolutely satisfying, security –inducing unconditional love.”

Here’s hoping that this Valentine’s Day finds you enjoying the warmth of unconditional love yourself and inspired to keep sending that message to your kiddos.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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From Our Inbox: Are We Creating Bad Behavior By Meeting Too Many Needs?

September 21, 2011

Ever worry that meeting your child’s needs might be spoiling her?  Check out the below question we received by email and read our response to learn more about needs, wants, trust and control.

From Our Inbox:

Dear Ladies,

I was discussing the behavior of my adopted 4 year old with a friend, and she was describing what was going on in her house.  It seems we have the same child, she the female version! We realized that each of these children (in addition to coming from the same overseas orphanage) experienced trauma in the first months of life.  Now, both children are loving and continuing to show signs of attachment, but are the most strong willed, stubborn, and at times inflexibe children you’ve ever seen. My husband and I say, we all (including his biological adopted sister) go with the flow and our son directs the flow. I have taken your course on power struggle or adoptive behavior, and I either need to take it again, or need some techniques to use and share with my friend.  We were thinking maybe their behavior is a result of answering that cycle of need one to many times.   Have we created this behavior? Anyway, whatever you can suggest, we are listening and eager to hear. You are always my go-to gals on all things adoption, so thanks for all the work you do.

Signed,

Eager to Hear

Our Response:

Dear Eager to Hear,

First, let me assure you that you cannot spoil or overindulge a child by meeting their needs.  Having needs met over and over again in a timely, consistent, nurturing fashion creates positive brain based skills.  You can, however, spoil or overindulge a child by granting them every one of their desires, wishes, or wants.  There is a big difference between consistently meeting needs and always granting wants.

The Difference Between Meeting Needs and Granting Wants:
You could never become spoiled just because your partner or significant other interacted with you everyday, smiled at you, helped you fix a problem with a broken appliance, attended your child’s school meeting with you, kissed you and hugged you daily, and remembered that you are allergic to peanuts whenever he or she cooked.  That’s because these are just examples of meeting your needs as a spouse or partner.

You could however become “spoiled” if your spouse did all the cooking, cleaning and car and appliance repair with no need for input or help from you, rubbed your feet every single night, routinely brought home lavish gifts , made you breakfast in bed daily,  let you choose the menu always,  never raised his or her voice or demanded their own way, and basically gave in to anything and everything you ever WANTED.

It’s the same with children.  Since I’m not able to see into your home you will have to discern for yourself if you are simply meeting needs (food, comfort, support, boundaries, guidance, etc.) or if you are acquiescing to every want.  And remember, choosing to indulge in some of your child’s wants is perfectly fine as long as it is on your own terms and you understand the difference between needs and wants.

Trust and Control:But beyond the needs and wants conversation there lies an even more important topic to consider in your question.  That is the topic of controlling behavior and why so many children who waited in orphanages before their adoption exhibit such a strong need to control their environment even after they are safe at home with needs meeting parents.  When you say that you have the ability to “go with the flow” but your son “directs the flow” and when you use adjectives like “stubborn, strong willed and inflexible” you describe what I imagine to be a child struggling to remain in control. And given the history it makes a lot of sense.

Remember that even as you meet your child’s many needs over and over again now, you are still battling against the fact that prior to coming to you those needs were likely not met in a timely and nurturing fashion and so it makes sense that skills learned from having one’s needs met,  skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, self regulation , empathy and the most important of all ….trust, might be lacking.

You mention that your child shows positive signs of attachment, and that’s great, but remember that attachment is more than just love.  It also encompasses all of those brain based skills….especially trust.  A child who is still developing healthy levels of trust is much more likely to act in controlling ways.  Because of this it isn’t surprising to me at all that both your child and your friend’s child are exhibiting similar controlling behaviors.  I’m just more inclined to point to a lack of needs meeting early in life as the culprit.

So what’s a parent to do?  More of the same.  Keep up that needs meeting parenting and enjoy spending time with your friend who is parenting in the same way.  Help each other by chatting about needs and wants and discerning if you are striking a balance on delivering some wants and meeting most needs.     You mentioned taking some of our shorter courses but if you haven’t taken Because They Waited we strongly suggest it.   It really helps to answer some of the why’s as well as the “what to do’s” in a more comprehensive way than some of our shorter courses.

Hope that helps! Keep us posted on your progress and thoughts.

Julie

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Adoption and School: Why the classroom discipline plan often fails for our kids.

August 27, 2011

If you have seen the inside of an elementary classroom in the past 20 years you have probably seen this classroom management chart or some version of it.   You might be curious as to why this simple chart is the topic of today’s post.   What could it possibly have to do with adoptive families?  The truth is this chart (and other behavior modification tools) can have a large and sometimes negative  impact on our kids school experience.  So with school starting back up we wanted to take time to  talk about how these charts are used, why they can be a problem particularly for our kids, and what to do about it.

How the chart system works:
The  way this classroom management system works  is very simple.  Each child has a set of cards in the pocket chart.  Usually the cards are green, yellow and red symbolizing the go, warning, and stop signals of a traffic light.  Some teachers add an additional  black card.  Every day each child starts with their green card on top.  As the class moves through the day the teacher asks students who show undesirable behaviors or make poor choices to change their card color.

So seven year old Johnny starts the day with a green card on top,  but when he shouts out an answer without raising his hand the teacher asks him to change his top card to yellow.  Later when he turns in his math paper partially incomplete the teacher asks him to turn his card to red.   And finally when he pokes Sally in the arm with a freshly sharpened pencil she sends him to change the card to black.  Of course, landing on red or black usually means a note is sent home or a phone call is made to inform parents and to plan for better behavior.

Each school and individual teacher puts their own spin on the system.  For example, sometimes cards are only changed after several warnings.  Sometimes teachers have children fill out “think sheets” about their behavior when they change a card. Some teachers make individual plans with the parents of struggling students to give daily reports, and on and on.

So what is the problem with these charts and other behavior modification systems?
Sounds like a pretty simple system and I know a lot of teachers use it very successfully with typical kids.  So why would it be any different for a child who joined their family through adoption?  The key to the struggle is not actually about adoption, but instead about less than optimal care in the beginning of a child’s life, and how that care impacts the child’s ability to successfully navigate a behavior modification system like the color chart.

Many of our children waited in an orphanage, an abusive or neglectful birth home or were bounced from foster home to foster home prior to their adoption.  Research tells us that not having needs met in a timely, effective, and nurturing fashion over and over again early in life has an impact on a child’s brain development.   Often these children lag behind their peers in the development of brain based skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, self regulation, empathy and trust.

So lets go back to Johnny.  Let’s say his development of these skills is not that of a typical 7 year old because he spent the first 2 and ½ years of his life in an orphanage.  Does he have the impulse control to not shout out the answer?  Does he have the self regulation necessary to complete the math assignment without assistance?  Has empathy developed enough to think about how Sally will feel when she is poked?  Probably not.

But even more concerning is that our children who have experienced repeated cycles of unmet need are often lacking in trust, and children who lack trust usually have a strong need to control their environment.  When this is the case behavior modification systems like the color chart are almost certain to fail because the child is more motivated to control the environment than to get any reward that is offered.  In some cases children even seem to purposefully choose behaviors opposite of expectations;  their lack of trust and need to control leading them  to test the competency of their teacher.   It is as if they are saying, “Am I safe in this place?”  “Can you handle me?”  The behaviors are not usually  malicious but instead a sort of desperate  grasp at control.  Not surprisingly this type of  behavior is often misunderstood by teachers and school administrators, and sometimes results in a series of punishments that increase in intensity over time but never really seem to fix the behaviors.

What’s a parent to do?
So what as parents can we or should we do if this type of system is in place in our child’s classroom?   If behavior modification is being used in your child’s classroom and your child is successfully navigating it, obviously nothing needs to be done.  But if your child is struggling to behave in the classroom, is showing poor self regulation or impulse control, has to change their color over and over again for similar behaviors, or is showing signs of controlling the classroom through his or her misbehavior then it’s time  to advocate for your child and  her real  needs.  This means sitting down with the teacher and talking about why your child is struggling, and coming up with a plan to manage your child’s behaviors that will prove more successful.   To get ready for that talk check out this article with tips for talking to your child’s teacher.

And if you have completed the Because They Waited education system you will remember making a parenting plan that included discipline techniques that made sense given the science and research surrounding the adopted child.  We encourage techniques like pull close parenting, time in not time out, and more.  These techniques can be helpful to teachers too.   I’m reminded here of of one of Katie’s posts about time in at school.  Share examples like these with your child’s teacher.

The bottom line is that in order for our kids to be successful at school we need to continue to turn that cycle of need to completion at home thus building and shoring up those brain based skills.  We also need to help teachers understand why color charts (and other behavior mod techniques)   that work perfectly  for so many children, can be problematic  for the child who comes from a background of less than optimal care.  And finally, we need to partner with our child’s teacher to come up with effective ways to manage the sometimes difficult behaviors that kids struggling in these areas bring to the classroom.

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Thermometer or Thermostat?

April 18, 2011

Here’s a question:  In your home, are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

Think about times of emotional stress in your home:

Do you heat up in measure to the intensity of the behavior, emotion, situation?

Or, do you take stock of how "hot it is" and then actively do something to "lower the heat" in your home?

We all want to be thermostats!  Do you know how to be one?  We’d love to share some of our ideas with you through our courses and webinars.  We would love to hear back from you, too.

What is your best tip for being a thermostat instead of a thermometer?  Visit our Facebook page to share your best idea and to see what others are saying.

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When Mom is Mad: Thinking About Anger Management for Adoptive Parents

February 28, 2011

Every parent has been there at some point… that place where the sometimes stressful complications of family life suddenly get the best of you, and you momentarily change from a reasonable, functioning and nurturing mom or dad into a ball of fury, frustration or despair.    Let’s face it.  Parenting is not only rewarding and thrilling it is also demanding and difficult.   All parents can benefit from  learning about anger management and positive parenting.  It is even more crucial for adoptive parents (particularly those who are parenting children who started life in less than optimal circumstances) to explore these topics.

Katie and I have ended up in several conversations lately about “mad moms.”  We keep hearing from or about adoptive parents (in our examples moms but it could be either moms or dads) who are dealing with difficult behaviors in their adopted child and are responding to that child with anger.   While we certainly can identify with the difficulties facing these parents (having been there ourselves) my blog today is spurred from a larger concern.  I’m afraid that because these kiddos’ behaviors can be so challenging it often times leads adoptive parents to lose sight of the bigger picture and to visit that “ball of fury, frustration or despair” moment all too often.  And when that moment becomes the norm instead of the exception no one in the family benefits.  The child stays stuck where they are emotionally and developmentally or gets worse and the parent becomes even more distressed and challenged to make good parenting decisions.

Optimally we want parents focusing on meeting the child’s needs, moving them to a healthier place on the attachment continuum and building brain based skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, trust and empathy.  These are the things that ultimately will produce the desired behaviors in their children.  Punitive punishment and parent raging will likely only create more frustrating moments and build zero skills.   But that is easy to say and so very hard to do when you are in the parenting trenches with a child that has difficult behaviors.

So when is it ok to be mad at your child and what do you do about it?   OK wait a minute.  A feeling is a feeling.  Right?  I mean you can’t help it if you feel mad.  Can you?  It is not  a “right” or “wrong” kind of thing really.  Is it?  Well yes and no.  Katie has been known to quip, “You wouldn’t get mad a child with only one leg because he couldn’t win the three legged race,”  reminding us that if a child does not possess the skills and abilities necessary to behave in a certain way it doesn’t make sense to be mad at that child or respond in anger.

Anger management strategies suggest that when a parent stops in those difficult moments and asks themselves a few key questions it can have a major impact on what happens next.

Questions like:  Am I mad at my child, myself, someone else, or is this a case where there is really no one to be mad at?

The self reflection might go something like this:

I’m tired of my child’s temper tantrum and raging but mad doesn’t make sense since this child does not yet have impulse control and is struggling with attachment and unresolved trauma.  Of course she is having temper tantrums.  Maybe I’m not mad.  A more accurate word might be weary or defeated.  Maybe I’m even scared.  What if these tantrums don’t end?

Or this:

My child just purposefully wet her pants after refusing to use the bathroom before we left home.  It sure feels like I’m mad at my child.  But maybe there is actually no one to be mad at.  After all I know this child has control issues stemming from her years in care and challenges with attachment.  I also know that toileting issues are classic struggles for children with control issues.  It doesn’t make sense to be mad at her for this issue.  But I sure am tired of wet pants and frustrated with dealing with this problem.

It’s important that parents take time to reflect on their feelings before they act because people who are not skilled at correctly identifying their own feelings often choose counterproductive responses to their feelings.  For parents who routinely identify their feeling as “mad” this might look like:

Labeling their child…….”He’s hostile. ”   “She’s unmanageable.”  “He’s selfish.”

Commanding their child……. “Shut up!”  “Be quiet.”  “Sit!”  “Move!”

Name calling…….” You brat!”  “Don’t be a baby!”  “You’re a pain!”

Sarcasm…….”Well I can see we are going to have a wonderful day!” (response to tantrum)

If you see yourself in these responses take time to self reflect about the behaviors  that are prompting this response in you, what the root causes of those behaviors are, what your real feelings are relating to that behavior, and what a productive response to that behavior would be.

And beyond that make sure that you are getting your own needs met.  Do you have someone to talk to that understands the trials and joys of parenting the child who has waited?  If not seek that person out.  Taking care of yourself  is no longer a luxury.  Your child needs you to be healthy so that you can continue to meet their needs.

I’ll be blogging more about this in the coming weeks and Katie and I are tossing around the idea of a webinar that addresses this topic further, but for now we would love to hear your thoughts and the  strategies that you use to keep a calm head in the face of parenting storms.

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Two Stars and a Wish: Pull Close Parenting Recharges Parents Too

January 13, 2011

We talk a lot about how important pull close parenting is for our kids and many of you will remember my emphasis on pull close parenting for even teenagers in my recent blog post.  Today I’m thinking about how important pull close parenting is not just for our kids, but for us as parents as well.  It really  has the ability to  recharge our batteries just when we need it.   Yesterday I got my battery recharged.

My family has used a version of “Two Stars and a Wish” as a dinner time conversation and family relationship building tool for years.  When I (or another family member) suggests the activity everyone at the table thinks of two positives (stars) and one “wish” for every other family member.  A wish cannot be a put down but it can be a wish for more positive behavior.  (Example:  Sister wish to brother:  “I wish you would not go into my room without my permission.”)  Then we go around the table and share.  Sometimes the game inspires laughter and sometimes serious conversations.  We make it a commitment to try to be grateful for whatever stars we are offered and thoughtful (not angry) about whatever wishes are offered. (more…)

“Pull Close Parenting” Your Teenager

December 30, 2010

Experiencing each age and stage of my three children’s lives teaches me something new each time about parenting.   It proves that parenting is not an exact science and that, at least for most of us, we are “building the ship as we sail it.”  I know I am.  Oh don’t get me wrong.   You have to have a plan.  (You know I love parenting plans!)  But part of the parenting learning curve is experiential.  During the last few months my 15 year old accidentally taught me more about pull close parenting for teenagers. (more…)

More on “Cry it Out” and Doctors Giving Parenting Advice

December 13, 2010

This weekend, while Christmas shopping,  I overheard a young mother’s cell phone conversation.  As she talked this mom was pushing a darling little boy in a stroller.  The cutie looked to be about 8 or 9  months old.  He had a giant smile that caught my attention immediately.   I keyed into the Mom’s side of the phone conversation because I thought she was so cute too.   She was gushing about all the amazing things her baby was able to do, bragging on him quite shamelessly (probably to a close friend or relative on the other end of the phone).  It warmed my heart to hear her revel in the miracle of her child and I smiled to myself and started to move on.

But just before I exited the aisle I heard her say, ”But now the bad news….we just saw the pediatrician yesterday and he says we’re not going to grow out of this sleeping problem.   He said it was time to let him cry it out so I did it for the first time today for his nap.  He cried for about 35 minutes.  It was horrible but I survived.” (more…)

Holiday Gift Giving Ideas For Adoptive Families: Julie and Katie’s Top 10

November 29, 2010

Cyber Monday has us thinking about shopping so we thought we’d share some favorite holiday gift ideas for adoptive families.   Here is the “top 10 list” that Katie and I generated this morning.  It’s not comprehensive but we think these are all worthy and purposeful gifts.  And hey, these are not only great ideas  for the family parenting the child who waited, but also for all families interested in promoting attachment and optimizing  brain development.

#1:  Double Sized Blanket for Cuddling–   Cuddling is not just good for your baby but also your toddler, (more…)


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