Building strong communication skills isn’t usually what most parents think of when preparing to add new foster or adopted siblings to the existing children in the family. Many parents rely on how things have been going, assuming that their ‘resident children’ (the ones already in the home) will speak up if things become difficult for them.
But what most often happens is that the resident children are afraid to speak up when problems arise, for fear it would be just more stress added to their already stressed family.
Fostering and adoption are beautiful things, but they do cause family dynamics to shift in ways that are unsettling for resident children. Most resident children are not prepared adequately for the changes that will affect them personally. Most are unprepared to speak up to their parents for their own needs.
Most parents assume that the level of communication openness already existing in their family prior to fostering or adoption will be sufficient for the resident child to withstand the changes coming to him or her. But even in the most openly communicative families, these changes can be more unsettling than the resident children are able to say. They’ll need support to express themselves in healthy ways.
Preparing your resident child for the new sibling takes hard work! Dreaming about instant friendships between the siblings is fun. But having the transition play out in real time is . . . well, not always fun. Being in an environment where open communication is the norm will help your resident child adjust better and make a smoother transition for everyone.
So, what does it take to have more open communication? How can you, already consumed with the needs of your new child, learn what it looks like to inadvertently silence the voice of your resident child? What can you do to avoid that? How can you empower your resident child to speak up about their own needs?
It takes determination, but it also takes know-how.
You can be 100% determined, but if you don’t know what to do, you will struggle.
That’s why I recommend starting today to work on your communication skills with your resident children.
Anyone can begin today to create a more open environment, no matter how long things have been difficult.
We’ve created an e-course called 8 Steps to Empowered Voices that takes you through a step-by-step process to increase the level of communication openness in your family. It’s full of content to help you understand:
- WHY your resident child is often reluctant to talk to you about their struggles
- WHAT you can do to support them
- and HOW to connect with them even if it’s years later (like with me)
You can support your children already in the home – it’s never too late!
Be honest. Can you relate? It’s OK if that’s where your thoughts are right now. It’s a pretty common belief born from traditional, authoritarian parenting. We’re “hard” on our kids now so that they’ll turn out to be productive citizens and stay our of trouble later. It’s part of the pay now or pay later philosophy, which isn’t a bad philosophy. In fact, I still believe that motto. Just in a different way, which you’ll see in a moment.
“Hey, I was raised that way and look how *I* turned out. ” That was my attitude a number of years ago if someone would have suggested to me to try some of the TBRI techniques on my children instead of going straight to ‘punishment’. If they did the crime, they do the time, right?
But the more I learned about these beautiful brains of ours, how they are designed to function and how things can go off track when a child experiences early abuse, neglect, and trauma, the less I wanted to contribute more to their shame core, and the less I wanted to be added to their long list of adults they feared.
Dr. Becky Bailey, whose quote is below, specializes in early childhood education and developmental psychology. She often writes about the dark side of fear-based punishment. This is true for all children, but even more so for our children who experience any of the 6 risk factors for behavior issues. By inadvertently triggering the stress response in our children by our punishment methods, we disconnect from them and become their adversary, not their ally.
Children who are in a fight, flight, or freeze mode are stuck, and cannot process that we are trying to do right by them – what they actually experience in their bodies is that the very one who is supposed to help, is actually hurting and scaring them. Of course, we don’t want that for our children.
Most of us raising kids from hard places didn’t learn how early adverse experiences affect their developing brain. I did not understand the effect that early trauma had on my twins. I thought that my tried-and-true parenting techniques were the answer: just do more of what worked with my biological children. But my biological children already felt safe with me, for example. My adopted twins did not. It wasn’t until I began to directly meet their needs for feeling safe and cared for did I see them relax and settle into FAMILY. I either learn to meet their needs now (pay now) or I’m faced with big behaviors when they don’t learn to trust me (pay later).
To meet their emotional needs, I had to stop punishing my sons for misbehavior and instead focus on making soul connections with them. That is what can appear to be coddling, but in reality, it’s the first step in getting them to be able to respond appropriately down the road. Punishment takes a backseat (actually it gets booted in favor of discipline, from the root word disciple) while new neural connection in the brain get formed so that they can learn (perhaps for the first time ever) to trust another human being. Nurture is what they need before they can be expected to behave better.
Children need both structure and nurture, in equal measures, in order to be healthy.
When our children come to us with grave deficits in the nurture category, yes, we do need to focus more on ‘coddling’, and yes, from the outside looking in, it appears unbalanced. But we’re balancing from their history and that might mean going heavy-handed on connection and lighter on structure at times.
Most of us are more used to the structure part of the equation, so when we add more nurturing (and I’m talking about within the framework of our kid’s behaviors), it feels weird. It did for me, that’s for sure.
Something that helps to motivate me to get out of my structure comfort zone is to learn all I can about how childhood abuse changes the brain. Keeping this information fresh in my memory allows me to see beyond the behavior and underneath, to the true need they child is having.
I’d love to hear from you how you are balancing structure with nurturing in your own child. Let me know if I can help you bring more balance in this area.
For this, you will need to trust me a bit. Unless you are in a weird place right now and can’t do this….please stand up and then close your eyes. Reach your right arm out to the right of your body, like airplane arms. Put out your right index finger and then, with eyes still closed, bring your right finger in toward your nose and touch your finger to your nose. Put your finger and arm down again, eyes still closed, and repeat it all with the left side. Now, open your eyes and sit back down.
Without your proprioceptive system working properly, you wouldn’t have been able to do that successfully; you wouldn’t know where different parts of your body are without looking. This system is responsible for helping you move through space and move your body effectively. It’s an important sense!
Often children from hard places have deficits in this sense which can make it hard for them to stay regulated.
Research says that 15 minutes of proprioceptive activities can regulate for 1-2 hours! By adding some of these activities into your child’s day, this can increase their ability to regulate. Our body receives information for this sense through our muscles and joints.
Vestibular Input coordinates movements of the eyes, head, and body which affects our body’s balance, muscle tone, visual-spatial perception, auditory-language perception, and emotional security. The vestibular system helps us understand where our head and body are in space.
Vestibular is all about balance and movement. All children require this movement and input for proper development.
Some vestibular activities are:
- Linear movements
- Vertical movements
- Upside down movements
- Horizontal movements
- Challenges to balance
- Inverted head
- Starts and stops in motion (game of freeze)
- Changes in direction
- Changes in speed
When thinking of activities to strengthen your child’s brain, and therefore decrease their frequency, duration, or intensity of meltdowns, look for the following 6 “R’s” from Dr. Perry’s work. Relational – these are experiences that happen inside, safe, connected, and attuned relationship. For example, instead of putting a child on a rocking chair, we rock with them. Relevant means developmentally-matched to the individual . Repetitive is patterned – happening over and over again. Rewarding means the activity is pleasurable. Rhythmic has a beat to it. Respectful (of the child, family, and culture.)
If you believe that your child has some sensory differences, please consult an expert in the field, rather than just try hit or miss on adding these activities. For the most part, anything that adds proprioception input is very regulating, but you do need to be more careful with the vestibular activities so as not to accidentally get your child overly stimulated and therefore dysregulated. This website is a wealth of information: lemonlimeadventures.com
We want to find out, how come it is that on some days your child is pretty regulated, but other days, they have meltdowns? It turns out that we all have a certain amount of sensory input from our environment that we can tolerate before we become dysregulated. This difference can be based on time of day, whether hungry or thirsty, not enough sleep, stressed out about something, not feeling well.
Experts say that children from early trauma, abuse, or neglect backgrounds experience sensitivities in the way they process sensory information, and these sensitivities can decrease their ability to tolerate stress. Please know that even in a loving and attentive home, some children are just born wired for some sensory differences. It doesn’t mean you as a parent did anything wrong. But in our population of hurt kids, we do often see sensory differences. So, I am suggesting that you become a detective and notice your child’s environment to see how you can make an adjustment, if necessary.
Just like learning about the brain can help children understand what is happening to them during a meltdown, also, learning a little about sensory processing can help them understand themselves better too. So the way I explain sensory processing is in a really simplified version; how you might teach your child. I am making this really simplified.
We can easily think if sensory process as if we have a ‘cup’ which will hold the amount of sensory input in our environment. You can have a big cup or a little cup for sensory information. If you have a big cup it takes a lot of sensory input to fill your cup. If you have a little cup it doesn’t take much sensory input and your cup is full or overflowing. You can have a big cup for some senses and a little cup for others.
If the child’s environment is too sensory rich, or if it doesn’t provide enough sensory input, this can reduce their ability to regulate their emotions.
Think about your child and see if you can figure out whether their cups are large or small – in other words, whether they are sensory seekers or sensory avoiders. Let’s
start with smells.
I was told this story from an adopted 18 years old, that certain cooking smells used to trigger early memories in his birth country. He said, “I’d be going along in my day, everything going just fine and then I’d smell something and all of a sudden I would be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.” If his parents or caregivers had known this ahead of time, they could have done things to eliminate that smell trigger for him, or prepare him for it, maybe de-sensitize him. But smell isn’t just a trigger like that, bringing back, in his case unpleasant memories. Some children are just more sensitive to certain smells and the smell – not an associated memory- can dysregulate them. Cooking, cleaning supplies, other people, perfume, school supplies like markers and glue are possible culprits. Begin to notice if your child is affected by either seeking or avoiding certain smells.
School cafeterias are the worst for smells and SOUND. Sometimes home isn’t much better. We had one of those large, busy and active families, and can I be honest, I am super sensitive to sound. My poor children were taught to be quieter than what was their comfort level because *I* needed it in order to function. I homeschooled them and let me tell you, we did a lot of things outside, where they could use their ‘outside voices’ when they were younger.
Other noises at home might be voices, appliances like the vacuum, a hair dryer, a blender. But there is the other end of the spectrum. Some houses are too quiet for some children. There’s the story of the 6-year-old, who, for example, freaks out if her environment is too quiet. She’ll manufacture her own noise to reach her own comfort level. If her caregivers didn’t know this about her, and they weren’t ok making allowances for that need in her, they’d probably butt heads a lot if the family didn’t like loud noises.
Some children have sensitivities to certain tastes. Maybe don’t extend the invitation to join the ‘clean plate club’ if there is a chance that your child has taste sensitivities. Go ahead and pass that hot sauce even if they ask to put it on your grandma’s prized casserole dish.
Some children, from the time they are old enough to move around on their own, will find the toy basket and DUMP IT ALL ON THE GROUND. These kids have to have a messy environment. They crave that visual stimulation. For other children, this kind of visual chaos is dysregulating. Often our kids won’t tell us that these things are bothering them, so we have to be intentional about finding it out.
The one who runs at full speed to give you a hug and is always up in your face is a touch sensory seeker. It’s a delicate balance between teaching them good personal boundaries and not making them feel ashamed for their need for deeper touch stimulation. On the opposite end would be the child who avoids certain textures, or recoils at hugs.
The last two senses are proprioception and vestibular, which are also two general types of body movements that your kiddos can do which actually increase their ability to regulate. We’ll talk about those in a future blog post.
For now, be aware that there may be things in your child’s environment that make it harder for them to regulate and make them more prone to meltdowns. When you can teach even young kids about sensory processing, you can let them know that they are not a bad kid for having times of the day or certain environments that are hard for them to keep it all together.
Knowing that you are on their side even when they are having a really hard day can make all the difference on the world to them. And to you!
In the last blog post I wrote about shame’s role in your child’s meltdowns and dysregulation. And then I left you hanging, with but a mere promise to answer the question: HOW DO WE HELP THEM?
I propose that we can teach our kids a little bit about their brains, and this can take some of the stigma and shame out of those past meltdowns.
You can teach your kiddo about their brain in simple terms, so that they understand what happens behind the scenes in their brains during a meltdown.
When they understand how their brain’s actually go ‘off line’, they will experience less shame when they ‘blow it’ and flip their lid. This can reduce the frequency, duration and intensity of meltdowns. AND it can give them new experiences that challenge those old tapes playing in their head.
Now, natural consequences will follow in the aftermath of a meltdown, and there are times when they need to make restitution for what they’ve done. But if we can get our kids to understand that they are not bad people when a meltdown happens– that it is their ‘thinking brain’ that is ‘off-line’ so to speak, we can empower them to not re-cycle into further meltdowns because of the shame and confusion they might feel about what just happened.
Let me say this, shame is not the same as guilt. Shame is not a motivator toward better thinking and behaving. Its what keeps people stuck and dysregulated. Guilt says, I did wrong, I can improve. Shame says : I AM wrong, I AM a lost cause.
In today’s post, we’re going to learn about Dr. Dan Seigel’s hand model of the brain. I’ve written about it here.
Please watch the video from that post, so you can educate yourself about what it means to flip your lid and become dysregulated, then come back here and we’ll learn how to take that language and make it understandable for your child.
When talking to your child, pick a time when you both are calm. Use toys or puppets if you want, to make the learning more fun and so your child doesn’t think they are going to be in trouble for anything. That is very important that they don’t think they’ve done something wrong. Use language similar to this:
“You know how you (or the name of the toy you are using) sometimes have a hard day and get upset about things and you don’t really know why? That can feel really scary if you don’t know why. Did you know that it’s because of something going on in our brain that you aren’t even aware of? Do you want to see your brain? I can show you what it looks like.
Make a fist with your hand, tucking your thumb under your fingers (see picture above, the hand at the top left ). This handy little model of the brain can go with you wherever you are. You may already know that you have has a left side and a right side of your brain. You also have an upstairs and a downstairs part of your brain. Each part of your brain helps you do very important things.
The upstairs brain is where you make the best decisions and do the best things, even when you are feeling really upset. Some people like to call it the big brain, the thinking brain, the upstairs brain, or the wise leader.
Now, open up your ‘brain’ model and peek inside. Lift your fingers a little bit, see where your thumb is? (see picture above, the lower part of the hand/palm on the bottom right)That’s part of your downstairs brain, or little brain, animal brain, or feeling brain. That’s where your really big feelings come from, it lets you feel really upset, like when you are mad or scared or frustrated.
There is nothing wrong with feeling upset, that’s normal, especially when your upstairs brain helps you calm down. Close your fingers again. What do you notice about your upstairs brain and your downstairs brain? (top left picture). The thinking brain and the feeling brain are touching! When the two are touching, the upstairs, thinking brain can help your downstairs, feeling brain express your emotions calmly.
Sometimes when we get really upset, we can flip our lids (see lower right picture). See how your upstairs brain is no longer touching your downstairs brain? That means it cannot help it stay calm. This is what is happening when you have a meltdown. Then what we need to do is find a way to get your thinking brain working together with your downstairs brain.”
At this point, you can explain to your child that everyone has this happen to them – even mom and dad! The idea is to teach your child about what goes on behind the scenes of a meltdown so they can know that we don’t think they are bad kids when they flip their lids. And neither are you when YOU flip your lid.
There is a lot you can do after teaching this hand model of the brain, maybe then teaching some calming techniques such as this .
Or you could just use the time to let your child know that you’re there to help him or her when things feel really out of control. How might you use this brain model to help your kids feel less shame about their past? I’d love to know!
I am familiar with a boy, when he was younger, would often get dysregulated over something that triggered him – he’d hit, scream, fight, say terrible things to his adopted mother, but then, once he finally calmed a little, he would often ramp up again, for no apparent reason, certainly not for the original reason. Do you know what was happening? The ‘new’ meltdown was because of the shame he felt for having just done whatever terrible thing he did. And so, the meltdown would start all over again. I mean, at the time, it looked to his mother like just one continuous meltdown, and it was only later that she realized the mechanics going on. When he was operating out of his shame core, this only fueled the meltdown.
We must never forget that our children have a story that started long before we met them. Your child’s history affects their body, brain, beliefs, behaviors, and biology. One way their history affects their beliefs is how they feel about themselves as persons.
All infants deserve to be seen, heard, and valued by their caregivers. What happens when this very basic need goes unmet in infancy or early childhood? How does that affect how they see themselves as precious people?
Our children from hard places often come to us with a very well developed shame core. They’ve already received many messages given to them before we ever met them, that were negative. Some of our kiddos are swimming in shame and their drowning looks like bad behaviors and meltdowns.
It’s been said that abuse sends the message, “I hate you” and neglect sends the message “You don’t exist”. Our kiddos (and if I’m being honest here, the kid in me still struggles with this) aren’t separating their experiences from who they are. They’re not separating out their history and their behaviors from their own self identity and worth. They need us to support them to do that. BUT HOW????
In the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing some strategies and techniques to help our children break free from the shame of their histories and the shame of past and current failures. Please stay tuned…
Even though your child is now safe with caring parents, accepting no is still hard for children haunted by feelings of being unloved, unwanted, and uncared for in the past. Research tells us that sometimes when the abuse/neglect happened to them before they were verbal, these memories get stored in their bodies and are carried as vague impressions and feelings without clear events recalled, or a time and place associated with them.* They can react to today’s no by reliving all the no’s of yesterdays gone by. “No, you may not have a cookie 10 minutes before dinner time” feels to them like the years of having to go without food, comfort, safety, or connection.
Here are three strategies that have proved sucessful to help children accept no:
1)Validate those feelings.
A powerful way to help children accept no the future is by validating the feelings they have now, right
2)Practice accepting no in a gentle and kind way.
A fun way to teach a child new skill or reinforce a lesson is through
You’ll demonstrate to the puppets the better way to accept no and then encourage your child to teach it again to the puppet or toy. This reinforces their learning. Then repeat with teaching your puppet the not gentle and kind way of accepting no. Here is where you can get as silly as you want to, demonstrating funny ways of not accepting no very well. Invite your child to come up with a few more not gentle and kind ways. Your child and the toy can take turns each being mom or the child, demonstrating both ways. The idea is to make it fun and connecting, not shaming. Keeping it fun and silly when you practice will help in the real-life moments too, next time you have to say no. This role playing is best done when your child is calm and regulated. Stop before it loses it’s fun.
3) Give lots of ‘yeses’ whenever you can.
Giving ‘yeses’ as often as possible to your children is like ‘money in the bank’ or in this case, good feelings in the bank. The more times you can say yes to even the little things, the better it will be when you have to ‘withdraw’ from the emotional bank by saying no. We’ve all been there, telling our children no just because it was easier, when really it would have been ok to let them have or do whatever it was they asked for. What can help is taking a breath before answering their request, to get that extra time needed to think before the autopilot no. This won’t make you a permissive parent, but it will open your eyes to more opportunities to say yes to them.
A., V. D. (2015). The body keeps the score: brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin Books.
Have you ever done what God asks but then everything seems to get worse? That’s one of those experiences that can really try one’s faith. I was reading in Exodus the other day and I realized that Moses is no stranger to this, but I have the vantage point of seeing the whole plan of God unfold, beyond that part where things really go south quick.
Remember when Moses had that amazingly faith-building talk with the the Holy One right before he and his brother Aaron went to the elders of Israel for the first time?
“Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped” (Exodus 5:29-31).
It had been a long time since any of them had heard from God, and now they knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that He was about to do something to alleviate their misery. Moses and Aaron must have felt pretty empowered as only one can, when they’ve just had a word from God.
Has this happened to you? You will be reading along in His Word when all of a sudden, it is as if the words are only for you, speaking into your spirit for your life at this moment in time. It’s as if a portal between heaven and earth is opened and you are right there with The Holy One. Some people experience this through music worship and they know it is not merely that the music is stirring their soul – they know that they are meeting with God. If you have not experienced this kind of heaven on earth, where God speaks to you ‘face to face as a man speaks to a friend (Exodus 33:11), ask God now to come to you this way. And so He speaks and you obey.
Moses and Aaron know by personal experience that their God, the God above all others, is on their side. Or maybe it is that they realize that they are on God’s side. And now they go with God’s plan to speak to pharaoh – arguably the most important , feared, and influential man in the land, considered a god by the Egyptians – with an emboldened war cry: “Let God’s people Go”.
And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness (Exodus 5:1).
These are the mountaintop experiences are they not? The pinnacle moments of one’s faith. No one can touch me now, God is with me. I know I am on the right track. Nothing can stop me. The thing for which I have prayed has been answered and I am moving forward in real faith, not just that fake-it-’till-you’-make-it kind that, if we are honest, gets us squeaking by most of the time. It is time to act, and I do it. It was time for Moses and Aaron to act and they do it.
But then, after doing what God says to do, the unexpected happens. Nothing goes as it was assumed it would. And in fact, things get worse. Confusion sets in. Pharaoh gives a new order as a direct result of Moses and Aaron’s speech to him.
“You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota” (Exodus 5:7-8).
We can imagine how Moses must have felt in this moment and in the moments after the Israelite leaders blame him for their increased work load. We can imagine because we’ve been there ourselves, when what we do for God seems to backfire and make things worse.
Has God given you a promise, asked you to act upon it, but then things seem to be worse for having done it? I call that the storm before the calm. When what seems to me to be unanswered prayers because of how circumstances look, I keep asking – pestering, like the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8 when she keeps hounding the unrighteous judge. But I wonder….at what point will I stop ‘asking that he will’ and start ‘thanking that He is’.
I think that’s where Moses and Aaron were. They had to make a decision whether they would trust God to the end, despite what they saw, despite the fear that looking at current circumstances would have brought. We know the end of the story in Exodus. We know the victory, the calm. But for that space of time they did not. It is, I believe, in those moments like that where we have to really solidify in our minds whether God is trustworthy or not. When things look worse is not the time to give up and it is not the time to keep praying for that which He has already said He will do. Maybe this is the time we thank Him for it. Even if we can’t see it coming to fruition. Maybe this is the time to recount the faithfulness of God to His other Promises. If you don’t have enough personal experiences where things get worse and then get better, maybe this is the time to mine the riches of the Word for all the other examples where He shows Himself faithful to that which He promised and we already have the evidence that He brought it to pass.
GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL TO BRING ABOUT THAT WHICH HE PROMISED.
Hebrews 10: 23 Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised
Have you ever considered how shepherds walk and guide their flock from behind, while the sheep move forward ahead? From the perspective of the sheep, the shepherd is ‘unseen’ and with the gentle movements of his staff, barely perceived by them. Have you ever had your faith derailed because you expect to walk WITH God, side by side, so you can ‘see’ and ‘feel’ Him, because you believe ‘feeling’ and ‘seeing’ is believing? I have! Isn’t it usually when we can’t ‘see’ or ‘feel’ Him that we accuse Him of not being there for us? Remember He is our shepherd! We can take a lesson from Jacob/Israel who knew God as: “The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd for my whole life until today (Gen. 48:15).