Posts Tagged ‘close proximity parenting’

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 He’s not withdrawn, but just doesn’t seem to really know how to engage with kids his own age.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!

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

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.

Stress, Re-Parenting and Pull Close Parenting

May 5, 2011

I just got off the phone with a dear friend of mine who told me a story that she is allowing me to now share with you.

She is the proud mommy to little 6-year-old C. who came home from China when she was about 2 years old or so. Their family was eating dinner the other night after a rough day and my friend could just see that C. was “in a mood” and really struggling to keep it together.  At some point during dinner, C. asked her mama, “Do you know how some people feed their babies like an airplane?”   (referring to zooming a spoonful of food toward the baby like it’s an airplane while feeding them)  C. went on to ask, “Do you think you could feed me like that?”  and dinner was finished with my friend feeding her big-little girl like an airplane.  My friend went on to tell me that  as she was feeding her daughter, she could just see the tension from the day melt out of C.

What a beautiful example of re-parenting and of a child who is learning to rely on their parent to help them regulate their emotions!  Imagine if my friend was less in tune with her daughter (or didn’t have the knowledge to know what C. was really asking for) and had instead told her to feed herself like a big girl.  They both would have missed out on a great opportunity to teach and learn trust, self-regulation and attunement.

How is your child asking for you to connect and parent them in a close, attuned manner?

Heart of the Matter Seminars

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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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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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.

Attachment Style Facebook-ing

January 20, 2011

I just read this article from BBC News on the use of Facebook and other online technology in classrooms.   I think this is pretty great, except for this part:

“Teachers setting up Facebook accounts should not befriend pupils, rather allow the children to take the initiative, Prof Heppell advises. They should not read their pupils’ Facebook pages and should never chat via instant message.”

Now, I don’t necessarily think teachers and students should chat via instant message, mostly to protect the teacher, but I do think that it’s important for kids to know that there is an adult presence even in cyberspace. (more…)

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…)

Estimating Intentions and Resolutions

December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!  This holiday makes me think of resolutions, intentions and how we estimate what we can do with these two things.   I think we tend to over-estimate or under-estimate what we can realistically accomplish.  Here are a few examples:

Money:  We usually over-estimate how much we will earn and under-estimate what we will spend.  This leaves us with far less savings that we originally intended.

Weight:  We usually over-estimate how much weight we plan to lose.  When buying clothes, how many people buy pants that are a bit snug with the idea that it will provide motivation to shed a few pounds?  I bet more people err on the smaller size rather than the larger!

Time and Family:  We tend to over-estimate how many activities and opportunities we can commit to.  Many families fill their schedules full to bursting with school, church, work and the like.   Children participate in music, dance, sports and other enriching activities.

All of these things are worth activities, but when something unexpected comes up it usually cuts into unstructured family time.  I think as a society we under-estimate the value of just being together as a family without chores, tasks, planned activities or agendas.   There is value in just being together whether it’s hanging around in the backyard or even just watching TV as a family!  There’s value in just relaxing, kicking back and goofing off together and yet we often feel guilty like we have to be producing something or working on a skill each and every minute.

And, there’s more to just being together than that.  Unstructured together time is important to helping our child unwind from whatever pressures they may be facing.  For older children, this is an important part of helping them learn to self-regulate their emotions–to find a level, center place.   It’s attachment building and good for our own ability to self-regulate our emotions!

This new year, think about your time.  How are you spending it?  When something unexpected occurs, what gets eliminated?  How much unstructured time is in your life?  Are you teaching your children the value of just “being” as well as the value of learning, creating or doing?

On a final note, check out what Deborah at Brain Insights has to say about unstructured time.

Heart of the Matter Seminars


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