Posts Tagged ‘caregiving’

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.

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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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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?

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Advice for “the church ladies” who want to help adoptive families….

September 19, 2011

So much of this is great advice, I had to share: Helping a Family Who Recently Adopted

Floors, Parenting and Procrastination

June 29, 2011

I just finished one of my least favorite jobs–cleaning floors.  I don’t mind doing laundry, dishes, gardening, even cleaning toilets!  But I really hate sweeping, mopping and vacuuming.  I put it off, am grateful for our hardwood floor that hides stuff and curse the older kitchen floor that shows everything.  When I finally make myself get started and just do it, I realize that it’s really not that bad and am glad to have clean floors when it’s over.

Today as I finished the hated kitchen floor, it occurred to me that this same phenomenon happens with parenting sometimes, especially parenting kids who have needs that go beyond the typical.  Here are a few examples:

Establishing a parent as the primary caregiver.  It’s hard to shuffle work schedules, put a career on hold, change jobs or start working from home.  It’s also hard to settle into change of pace and meet the new demands (and yes, sometimes boredom) of doing the hard work of daily parenting.  But, we know it’s so worth it to be there building those important foundational pieces of brain development and accompanying skills like trust, cause and effect thinking, impulse control, empathy, the ability to self-regulate emotions, etc….   I have never met a parent yet who regretted putting in the extra time with their child, just like I’ve never met anyone who regrets having clean floors.

Starting AND MAINTAINING Time In.  I’ve talked to many parents in the 13+ yearss since we first started presenting the idea of “Time In” in our live seminars.  Once folks understand why it makes sense and that it really does establish parenting authority, competency and boundaries, they are anxious to put it into use in their homes.  It’s not much fun to get started and it takes self-discipline and a commitment to see the job through, but it’s so worth it in the end.  Much like cleaning floors, only doing Time In halfway just highlights the mess.  

Utilizing professionals when necessary.  I don’t think any of us intend to avoid using professionals to help our families anymore than we intend to live in a pigsty and yet, when we put off actually making the appointment (or pulling out the broom!) in essence, that’s what happens.  Similarly, just as it’s not enough to pull the vacuum cleaner out and then not follow through actually vacuuming, it’s not enough to visit a professional and then not follow through *all the way* with a new parenting plan, therapy or other recommendations they have, provided they make sense given the research and what you know about your individual child.   

Being proactive.  This is the first piece of the parenting plan we highlight in Because They Waited.  It is so, so important!  Picture a small sticky spot on the floor.  If not cleaned up, it gets tracked around, dirt and gunk sticks to it and before long it’s just a bigger mess!   Same goes with issues that our kids have.  Most kids don’t come home severely impacted by their early months or years in less than optimal care–they come home with mild to moderate effects.  And yet, if we procrastinate parenting to those issues in a concerted manner, those issues usually just get bigger.  The look of them may change, but it’s often the same core issue just making a bigger mess.

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Determining School Readiness

May 6, 2011

... she has also felt a little nervous and uncertain.

Tuesday my baby went to kindergarten… admittedly, just for 1/2 hour (it was Buddy Day and next year’s kindergarteners went for a visit) but this is a big step for both of us!  Olivia has been home with me for the past 5+ years and when people ask her what school/preschool she is in she has taken to saying, “I skipped right over preschool and am landing in kindergarten!”   She has always seen her big brother and other neighborhood kids go to school and has been excited about her turn to start school.

And yet….

… over the past several weeks of gathering and turning in paperwork and getting ready for her visit to kindergarten, she has also felt nervous and uncertain.

The morning before her visit, this came out as a weird sort of “mad and sassy”, which is pretty unusual for her.  While there was no mistaking the sassy talk, it took me a minute to figure out if she was just joking or if something else was going on.   Well, it definitely was the latter.  When I pulled her into my lap and suggested that maybe her words were mad, but she might actually be feeling something else, one of the others in “mad, sad, glad or scared”, the facade broke and she cried a little and said she was scared and “concerned” about going to school.

When I told my dear husband about this, he immediately started to worry, went straight into fix-it-mode and said, “Oh no!  Maybe we should find some sort of preschool for her so that she can get used to it and be ready for kindergarten.”

I know that my husband isn’t the only parent to worry about kindergarten readiness. (Families adopting older children have similar concerns about school in general)  Others also jump to the same solution–send them to preschool to get practiced up and “ready” for real school.  In fact, the idea that preschool is needed for kindergarten readiness is so pervasive in our society that it’s fast becoming perceived as “real school”.

Now, my purpose here is not to bash preschool.  I think a well-done preschool can be a great experience for kids and parents, but I don’t think that it’s a necessary experience for children who are in a nurturing, engaged environment anyway.  The skills that one needs to be successful in school are actually not learned in a group situation.   We know that things like security (trust), impulse control, keeping (or getting) oneself calm, empathy for others, etc… are brain based skills learned through one-on-one responsive caregiving from a primary caregiver.  This is something Julie and I have been preaching for years now…  If you’ve taken part in the Because They Waited system, our other recorded courses or webinars, you’ll know that we base all of our own parenting and our education for parents on this piece of brain development science.

The truth is that if children learn these skills from being in a group of peers, children coming home from orphanage would be the best socialized and the most ready for school!  But of course, we know this isn’t the case.

But I digress… the point I wanted to make about my husband’s conclusion that Olivia might not be ready for kindergarten based on the fact that she was nervous is a jump that lots of parents make, but isn’t really true.  Feeling nervous before a new situation is completely normal for anyone, but especially for a child experiencing her first bit life change!   Sometimes I think that we place even greater expectations on our children than we do ourselves or other adults.

Imagine you have a friend who is talking to you about starting a new job.  She loves her old job, it’s been great, but now she’s ready for a different experience and has landed a job will be great for her, only she’s feeling nervous about making the switch.  Would you counsel her to stay where she is?  To find a different job to practice at before taking on this new job?  Or would you encourage her to look at and remember that she is ready and equipped for this change that will bring new joys and challenges to her life?  I think a similar approach makes sense for a child who is developmentally ready for  school, but who is nervous.

Of course, there are some children who truly aren’t ready for school.  Some children are truly scared or anxious as opposed to nervous.  The real question is what pieces of their development need some growth?  Usually, parents cite concerns with maturity, impulse control (ie–focus), security (trust), emotional self-reguation, behavior (speaks to all of these!) and the like.  It’s important to remember how a child develops these skills–not just because they grow older, but because of the brain building experiences they have every day with a primary caregiver.

Olivia and Her Daddy Going to Kindergarten Buddy Day!

The good news for us is that Olivia truly is just nervous and not scared of going to school.  She truly has the skills to go to school and be successful.  She was able to march in happily with her daddy, had a great time once she got into the classroom and because she has the skills, she found the experience to be very confidence building.

Discipline: “We’re in this together!”

March 25, 2011

Katie’s “The Best Way to Struggle” post got me thinking about discipline responses and how the words we choose when interacting with our kids can help us to “struggle together” or “struggle against” our child.  I think responses that help us “struggle together”  towards success have some common elements.

  1. They are focused on the present and future.
  2. They are stated as positively as possible
  3. They include  some action (big or small) on the parent’s  part.

Here’s one example:

You never pick up your clothes!  Every day the pile gets higher!”  (Focuses on the past and = struggling against your child.)

Your room is a mess.”  (Focuses on the present and might be true, but isn’t very positive, doesn’t look to the future, and lacks action.)

Let’s get started on cleaning up your room.  We are both going to feel better when it is done.”  (Focuses on the present and future, and is positively stated.   This one for me = joining the struggle with my child to help them succeed.)

and another:

Isn’t your homework done yet?  What on earth have you been doing?”  (past and negative)

You are still working on your homework?!”  (present and negative)

You’re not as far along as I thought you’d be.  Let’s move to the  kitchen with that so I can help you get back on track while I make dinner.”  (This one is focused on present and future, is positively stated and includes an action.)

and one more…

“You have been whining all day!”  (past and negative)

“Stop whining!”  (present and negative—This one also sets  up a power struggle because we really can not make a child stop whining.)

“You are having a rough day!  Come walk close to me so I can help you. “ (present and future  focused, positive and includes action)

I’m trying this myself and have to say it’s a challenge (at least for me) to stay out of the past!  Give it a try yourself  during your parenting interactions today.  Listen to yourself as you interact with your child.  Do the words you choose help to create a spirit of “we’re in this together” or do they encourage more of a  “it’s me against you” feeling?

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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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Use of “Time In” at School

February 16, 2011

My cousin Martha is a substitute teacher and keeps a blog called “The Substitute Chronicles: True Life Tales from a Sub Who Survived”.   Now, I don’t know if Martha ever reads this blog and I actually don’t know how familiar she is with the work I do, but in her blog post yesterday she gave a beautiful example of what Time In might look like in a Pre-K classroom.

“…So, when I read that quote on the bathroom wall, I thought about all the kids that I ‘may be the world’ to. There are kids from my long-term jobs who I will remember for the rest of my career. In a Pre-K class, I had a student named Hubert. Hubert had the most energy of any child I had ever seen. When I first started the long-term job in the classroom, he couldn’t even sit in his chair to eat a snack! The aide told me that the previous teacher wouldn’t give this child the time of day. She had said that she couldn’t teach him, it was the aide’s job to teach him. And Hubert drove me crazy! He was always breaking his crayons and throwing them all over the floor. Then when he picked them up, he would get distracted and start doing somersaults!

Rest time was a dreaded part of the day for him. If given the chance, Hubert would just run around the room with his Transformers blanket as a cape. This wasn’t conducive for the napping of the rest of the students, however. Everyday, I would put on the lullaby music and get the other kids settled. Then I would go over to Hubert’s special corner, far away from the other students. Usually he would be rolling around in his blanket or donkey-kicking the wall. I would sit down next to him and attempt to settle him down.

Exhortations of “No Recess!” or “I’ll give you Skittles if you sleep!” never worked on Hubert. What did work was sitting quietly next to him and putting my hand on his back. This was enough to calm him down. (Well, it was enough sometimes.) Sometimes I would whisper to him, “Time to Sleep.” Sometimes I would sing. Sometimes, I would just sit there–the presence and attention of an adult was enough for him. And I didn’t leave.

The one thing that I could do to help them was to be a constant, kind person in their life for however long I would know them. And, let’s face it, the kids who need kindness the most, are usually the hardest to love…”

One of the things I love about this example is that Martha didn’t know that she was using what we here at Heart of the Matter Seminars call  “Time In”.    She looked beyond the behavior to the real issue and recognized that this child was unable, for whatever reason, to calm himself down.   The reason in this case–internal alarm, sensory issues, ADD/ADHD, etc… wasn’t important.  She was attuned to this child’s needs and met those needs.

And I can’t help but to point out her last sentence “… the kids who need kindness the most, are usually the hardest to love…”   Sometimes our children’s behavior almost seems designed to repel people.  And although we may not have mushy-gushy feelings of love, we can choose to use love as a verb and pull them close and as Martha says, treat them with kindness.

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…)


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