Posts Tagged ‘trust’

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 He’s not withdrawn, but just doesn’t seem to really know how to engage with kids his own age.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

“We don’t do that!” (Yes we do.) Word Choice in Parenting

June 14, 2010

So I’m in the library helping my daughter pick out books when a commotion breaks out in the next aisle.  The sound of little feet running and little voices squealing breaks into the normally quiet environment and  as I finish my selections and walk around the aisle I see a very tired looking mom grab her preschooler’s arm with one hand and a 7 or 8 year old’s arm with her other.  As she is hustling  them towards the door she leans down to whisper loudly to them,

“We don’t run and yell in the library!”

Now I did feel for this mom.  I’ve been there and done that (and I’m sure many of you have too.)  But I couldn’t help also sighing to myself at her comment.  So often I hear parents begin their discipline with “We don’t….” and end it with whatever the child is actually doing or just finished doing.

“We don’t talk with our mouth full.”

“We don’t hit.”

“We don’t leave toys on the floor.”

The problem is that whenever we say these things just as the child is doing them we really look a bit foolish and incompetent because clearly the child IS DOING these things.   Sending poor competency messages can be a minefield for any parent, but for those of us parenting children who began life in a less than optimal environment this can be an even bigger problem.

Why is this?  Those of you who have completed Because They Waited will remember the module about promoting attachment.  Children with attachment strain need even stronger competency messages from their parents in order to move to a healthier place on the attachment continuum.  Their early life experiences have often left them with reduced or lacking trust and when a child cannot trust they often have an increased need or urge to control their environment.   This means that our children are even MORE likely to engage in challenging behaviors, especially when we respond in ways that signal we are less than able to handle the situation.

Word choice seems like a little thing but it is really powerful in sending (or not sending) messages of competency.   The following statements still make the parental expectations clear without reducing parental competency:

When we run or shout in the library we have to leave.  (Parent then leaves with the children)

Talking with your mouthful is considered bad manners.

Stop!  Hitting hurts!  (Remove child from the person he or she is hitting.)

Someone might trip over toys left on the floor or your toys might end up broken.  (Help the child pick up the toys.)

These statements are only slightly altered and yet they send  much stronger messages of competency

Heart of the Matter Seminars Home

Attachment Strain and Control: My Epiphany

May 13, 2010

I was at mass this past Sunday listening to my priest’s homily when I decided that I myself might have attachment strain.  I’m not kidding.  Mind you I was raised in a beautifully loving family that met all my needs.  Remember also that I know a lot about attachment both from raising my own three children (one adopted at the age of 6 from a Russian orphanage) and also from researching the topic extensively in order to educate adoptive parents in the Because They Waited program. (more…)

Remind me! A Recap of our Power Struggles Discussion Group

March 10, 2010

It is challenging to manage any child’s bid for power, but for those of us dealing with a child who has limited trust and therefore a heightened need to control, that challenge can be exhausting.  

A few weeks ago a group of parents got together with us online to discuss power struggles and managing bids for power with kids who have a strong need to control.   We talked about positive parenting strategies for managing kids’ bids for power and even brainstormed ideas for specific issues our group was struggling with at the time.  

Our participants on that day shared with us some things they wanted to be reminded of a few weeks down the road.  I was looking over the list today and decided that most of us could use reminding about most of these things so I decided to share the list via blog so we could all benefit.     For those of you who participated I hope that seeing the list reminds you of what you’re working on and inspires you to make today a purposeful parenting day.  Thanks for all your great input!  

Remind me: 

  • to give clear directions instead of making requests when dealing with my control seeking child
  • to maintain my competency even if it means an issue might lasts a bit longer
  • to maintain a nurturing attitude and tone while managing my child’s bid for power
  • to be on top of my game (parenting with purpose and using what I know)
  • to use actions not words when dealing with a bid for power
  • not to banter because banter can turn a bid for power into a power struggle
  • to stay on top of positive parenting now to set my child up for success now and later
  • to parent from my feet not my seat
  • that what I am doing really can make a positive difference even as I struggle through

If you weren’t part of the group but want to learn more about managing your child’s bid for power check out our recorded course.

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