Over the years, I have come to learn that the cure for any kind of burnout, life burnout, work burnout, parenting burnout is two-fold. One part is incorporating self-care into your everyday routine so that it is no longer a question of whether you have time for it, it is just something you do, just like you get dressed in the morning. The second part of burnout prevention and or recovery is training and education. Often we feel burnt out because we feel ineffective at what we do, we wonder if we are doing our job, whether it be our job as parents, as part of a couple, as part of our employment or something else, well.
Recently I was able to have a few days of burnout prevention when I went to two wonderful continuing education workshops as well as taught my own full day training to other professionals, and, every teacher knows, when you are teaching, you are also learning. It’s always with very cautious optimism that I enter a training day, especially with someone I have never learned from and even more so when it has to do with something I find incredibly intimidating…brain functioning. I’ve always hoped just to be able to send healing messages to the subconsious rather than figure out the in’s and out’s of the ways the brain works. It turns out though that with the right teachers this stuff is actually pretty fascinating and even someone who shys away from science can learn a lot. What I learned was the reasons why much of what we do in working with building secure attachments between parents and children is so important to overall healthy brain functioning and just how much children have to teach us about the ways we learn and grow best. In my two trainings, the first with Terry Levy and Mark Owen from the Evergreen Clinic in Colorado, I learned about healing adult attachment related issues. In the second training, with Daniel Hughes and John Baylin, I learned about using our knowledge of brain functioning to help children with early insecure attachment styles. And now, I’m going to share some of what they taught me with you. By no means am I giving you all the information these guys taught me and I would highly recommend you see them should they come to your town. They all do trainings for both professionals and for parents.
Don’t Flip Your Lid!
Hold your hand in front of you with your thumb tucked in
Curl your fingers down around your thumb.
You are looking at a rough replica of your brain. There are three basic parts: 1. The back of your hand to your wrist represents your brain stem, which is responsible mainly for your body’s basic functioning (breathing, circulation, etc.); 2. Your thumb, tucked there in the middle, represents your limbic system. I think of your limbic system as your “first responders.” If you have heard of people in the midst of a crisis or threat having a fight, flight or freeze reaction, this is coming from your limbic system. Your limbic system takes in and interprets information way faster than any other part of your brain and it does not, for example, think first then shoot later, it sees danger and responds to get you out of danger quickly. 3. Your fingers represent your frontal lobe. They are the part of the brain that develops last and give us the ability to reflect on our actions, make more complicated, thoughtful decisions and maintain self control. This part of the brain is still developing well into our twenties.
Obviously I have made this brain thing about as basic as it gets. If you would like a longer lesson, click here and watch Dan Seigal, neuroscientist extraordinaire explain it in more detail.
Now, if you still have your fingers curled around your thumb I want you to lift them up again, we’ll call your finger your “lid.” John Baylin taught us that in large part as children much of our growing up process involves learning not to “flip your lid” or, in other words, not to allow our limbic system to work in a state of constant response, but rather to keep our “lid” intact, using our frontal lobe to think in more complex ways and to reflect upon what we did, are doing and would like to do. This job is a task we all must work on and we certainly know (or are) adults that flip that lid quite a bit when presented with a stresser. The problem is that once our lid is flipped, we have to figure out how to put it back on, this is how we develop strong coping and problem solving skills.
Stay tuned for more posts explaining about the ways in which our brains function and how to help children with attachment disorders that have caused delayed brain development to rework those neural passage ways and literally rewrite your child’s attachment script.
- PLACE Parenting (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Spectrum of Attachment (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Art of Breathing (help4yourfamily.com)
I just wanted to send out a quick reminder that this weekend is the last chance to sign up for two great opportunities. One is the chance to participate in the first Mother’s Weekend Retreat. Saturday is the last day to register! Here is the information:
The second is for mental health professionals to participate this coming Monday in a Continuing Education training where you will have a chance to learn about the importance of attachment and how to help clients who have developed an unhealthy attachment pattern. You can find the information for this training on this website. or by going to www.lisaferentz.com.
Please let me know if you have questions about either activity.
Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
April 25, 2013 Posted by help4yourfamily | attachment, attachment disorder, counseling, family, Groups/ trainings, help for parents, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment
When parents come to me for help with their children, my job is not so much to change every single thing about the way they are parenting. My job is to help mom and/or dad to create the outcome they are looking for. Many parents come in to me worried that I will shake my finger at them while scolding them about all the things they are doing it wrong. The fear that this could happen is one that keeps people away longer, until the problem gets “bad enough” that they have to come in.
I wish I could wave a magic wand to make this fear go away. If parents brought kids in when the issues first started, they would save so much time and money. Instead, we end up weeding through the guilt and shame of whatever the perpetuated cycle has been for parent and child. Most often what I end up doing with parents goes more like this:
- What are you doing right?
- How can we increase the times when you feel as though you are handling issues in a way you feel good about?
- How can we find ways to increase your effectiveness when you feel you are not meeting your own expectations?
A while back I heard someone (I wish I could remember who) saying that so often we focus on what we want to do, as in,
- What am I going to do about this?
- If you do this, I’m going to do that.
The speaker went on to point out that we are asking the wrong question. The real question is “Who do I want to be?” Answering this question, “Who do I want to be?” makes the question of what you want to do clear. If who you want to be is a loving parent, then what you want to do will incorporate love for your child (which can also include boundaries and discipline- just so we are clear). If who you want to be is a guide for your child then what you would do would incorporate modeling for your child the appropriate response to a particular situation. It guides us away from whether we are right or wrong to do what we do and into a new discussion about whether we are acting in a way that aligns with our values. When the answer is that we are not acting in such a way, and we cannot come up with a way to act that feels more in line with our value system as parents, it is time to seek help. Think about finding a therapist, parent coach, pastor, rabbi, parent support group or someone that you trust to take the courage to ask the questions about how to become more aligned with who you want to be.
- Declaring Your Parenting Independence (everydayfamily.com)
- Finding the Right Therapist for You and Your Child (help4yourfamily.com)
- Two Things Your Kids Tell Their Therapists About You (help4yourfamily.com)
April 11, 2013 Posted by help4yourfamily | affirmations, attachment, counseling, discipline, family, help for parents, kids, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, thinking about therapy? | Leave a Comment
written by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C
Having a blog on WordPress is so nice in that I got a nice little report for the end of 2012 letting me know which of my posts has gotten the most attention, etc. By far the most popular post was this one! So, in the spirit of sharing and refreshing for the New Year, I thought I would update and repost this blog, since it was one of my earlier ones and may have been missed by some of the folks who are newer to my blog. I keep my comments open and would love to hear if people are getting what they are looking for from this post even if it has been a while since I originally posted. Enjoy!
Chronological age vs. Developmental Age
When figuring out how to best meet the needs of our children, it is important to understand their developmental age. For many children this can be the same age as the chronological age, the age we typically think of when we talk about our children, however, if you have a child that, among other possibilities:
- has a history of trauma or neglect,
- was adopted at an older age (18 months or more),
- has a developmental disability,
- has experienced the death or loss of a primary caregiver,
- has experienced a major change in family structure,
- or has a parent with a serious illness or addiction,
you may have a child that has a “stuck” part of their development. If you have a child like this, typically you might notice that there are times when he or she acts much younger than you would expect for their chronological age. What makes this confusing is that your child may be able to do things that are appropriate for their chronological age. For example, you may have a child that works at or even above grade level in reading and/or math, but in some emotional areas they may be developmentally younger than their chronological age.
Let’s look at an example everyone can relate to, think for a moment about a time when you have been triggered into a younger developmental age, say, when you go to your parent’s house for the weekend. Even as an adult, you may find that you act differently toward them or your siblings than you would in your day-to-day life. You may feel younger, angrier, more docile or more or less confrontational. What that signifies is that there is a part of you that has not left or resolved some of the struggles from your own childhood. Most of us have something like this. Our children are no different.
Some important questions about an area where your child seems stuck in a younger developmental age are:
1. Is my child capable of meeting the demands of this developmental stage? Developmental delays, learning issues, issues related to physical abilities and early childhood exposure can all add to a child’s difficulty in meeting a developmental milestone.
2. Has my child ever been properly taught how to meet this developmental milestone? For example, if you have a daughter you adopted from foster care at age 5, she may not ever have been properly potty trained and taught to clean herself appropriately after using the bathroom. It may be that while we expect that to be a skill children learn between ages two and four, your daughter may require instruction now, as she has not received it before.
3. Did something prevent my child from being able to learn this skill at the appropriate time? Perhaps you had a child with medical issues, a traumatic situation or something else. At the time when other children were learning to make friends and play nicely with other children, your child was busy managing an internal or external stressor that demanded all of their attention they would otherwise have been able to focus on meeting a developmental milestone.
4. Does your child have a traumatic trigger that remains unresolved which prevents them from moving through a developmental stage? I see children who have experienced trauma. Many of them have memories associated with trauma that prevent them from focusing on a task. Children (and adults) with unresolved trauma have what we call triggers, which remind them of the traumatic incident. Depending on what happened, a trigger could be a bathroom, a car, candy, really anything that reminds them of the trauma. What this means for parents with children who have experienced trauma is that the simple act of making a snack for your child could result in a child acting much younger until the traumatic triggers have been identified and resolved so that the apple you cut is just an apple again, instead of a reminder of a difficult past.
Why is it important to know where your child might have a developmental lag or stuck place? Knowing that there are areas where your child is developmentally behind their chronological age allows you to make decisions about how to handle their behavior appropriately.
What to do about a child acting developmentally younger:
After considering the reasons behind the developmental delay, it is easier to figure out how to address the issue. Sometimes it may just be a matter of time, or finding appropriate school or therapeutic support to allow a child’s brain to develop. For children who are delayed due to an external factor, in addition to school and therapeutic support, consider attempting to change your response to match their emotional/developmental age for the issue you are addressing. What would you do for a two-year old who needs to brush her teeth? Would you tell her to go brush her teeth and expect that she was going to easily and happy get right over to the toothbrush and begin throughly cleaning her teeth after applying just the right amount of toothpaste to the toothbrush? Of course not! Ideally, you would go with them (even if they are grumbling), you might remind them of why tooth-brushing is so important (if you have a child adopted at an older age, please remember it may be that no one ever taught them the importance), you would make brushing fun by singing a silly song to say how long you need to brush your teeth.
I know many parents reading this might be saying that your 12-year-old, who acts like a 2-year-old at brushing time is not going to stand for you hovering over her while she is brushing her teeth, and you are not going to talk to her like you would talk to a two-year old. You are right, I am not recommending that you use the tone you would for a two-year old because you might get the death stare or worse, escalate a tense situation. No, I am saying to use what you would do with a two-year old as a guideline for figuring out something with your child that is developmentally two during tooth-brushing time but is residing in a 12-year-old body. To me that would look something like, playfully having a contest to see who can get just the right amount of toothpaste on the toothbrush or offering to get your child started by putting the toothpaste on the toothbrush, then saying a silly poem or singing a silly 12-year-old song, or reading a page out of a joke book to your child while they brush their teeth so they can get an idea of how long to brush. Only read or sing when they are brushing, stop if they stop and start when they start again, and stay playful. Yes, they may look at you like you are crazy, but are they brushing while they are doing it?
Yes, I can hear protesting parents, now saying that you do not want to put toothpaste on your 12 year old’s toothbrush because they are old enough to do it themselves! I know they are chronologically old enough, however, we are talking about something that they experience at a developmentally younger age. And, here’s the good news, if you speak to your child’s developmental age for a while, their needs for that developmental stage get met, and they move on to the next stage of development for that issue.
For more parenting tips that don’t take a ton of time but do improve the happiness level in your home please see my previous posts:
- PLACE Parenting for Children with Attachment Disturbance (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- Playful (help4yourfamily.com)
- Tips for Gift Giving and the Child with a History of Abuse (help4yourfamily.com)
January 5, 2013 Posted by help4yourfamily | attachment, child development, discipline, help for parents | Attachment theory, Child, children, counseling, discipline, Family, parenting, psychology | 7 Comments
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
For this, the last week focusing on the PLACE parenting attitude, as described by Daniel Hughes, we are looking at the important parental quality of being empathic toward your child. Empathy is, simply described, the ability to see what another person is going through and to understand how hard/painful/joyful/confusing it must be. Empathy sounds like this:
- I can see this is hard for you.
- It’s difficult when we don’t get what we were hoping for.
- I know stopping something you enjoyed doing is tough, especially if you have to stop it to do chores.
- I can see how you would feel that way.
Empathy can also be shown with our bodies in the form of a hug, a gently placed hand, and/or a look that mirrors the person who is speaking. Many times we are showing empathy for another and we do not even realize it.
Notice I did not say that empathy means taking on the feelings of another person. It does not. It means that when you see your child in a particular situation, you are able to draw from memories of times that you may have had similar feelings or circumstances and empathize with (not take on) the feelings your child is having now. In other words, I want to distinguish empathy from a less helpful parental stance like sympathy, which can invoke feelings of pity, and/or the blurring of boundaries that can happen when a parent so deeply empathizes with a child that they feel they must take on the feelings of the child rather than letting the child learn how to recover from a difficult time in an age appropriate way. Empathy leaves room for a parent to guide a child, if the child is willing, but does not necessarily include a parent “fixing” the problem.
This weeks affirmation is:
I allow my children to resolve their problems and model healthy, empathic boundaries for them.
- Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious- 11/12/12 (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- Accepting- 11/5/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Importance of Empathizing with Children – Guest Post by Dionna Ford (attachmentparenting.org)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- 10/29/2012- Love (help4yourfamily.com)
- Parent Affirmation Monday- playful- 10/22/2012 (help4yourfamily.com)
- PLACE Parenting for Children With Attachment Disturbance (help4yourfamily.com)
November 19, 2012 Posted by help4yourfamily | affirmations, attachment, parent support/ self improvement | Child, Daniel Hughes, Empathy, Family, Home, Kate Oliver, List of credentials in psychology, parent | 3 Comments
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
When you have a child with any sort of attachment disturbance, you also have a child that is very good at making you feel like you don’t know what you are doing. In one training I went to on attachment disturbance, the presenter, Art Becker-Weidman said one of the parents he worked with described it something like this: ’It’s like you as the parent are the control station for a radio station, then the kids come up and play with all the buttons until they find one that gets the response they are looking for. When they find that button that gets them what they want, they just keep flipping the switch over and over again.’ I have used this description with the parents that come through my own practice and find it resonates deeply with them as well. What to do when you have a child that is constantly pushing your buttons and finding creative ways to make you feel like you don’t have a clue what you are doing?
Daniel Hughes and Art Becker-Weidman are working to popularize a parenting attitude that really can work wonders if parents are able to maintain it when they have an attachment disordered child (or any child for that matter). It is called the PLACE mentality, it stands for: Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, Empathic. I find that while the words are familiar it can be easy to misinterpret the meanings of those words in this particular context so let’s look at each word to see what we are talking about when it comes to parenting children using the PLACE mentality.
Playful- The most common misinterpretation of this quality is that parents believe I want them to throw a parade in their child’s honor every time they do something desirable to the parent. What I mean by playful is just finding an approach that has a less authoritarian tone. Instead of telling kids where to go to find their glasses, encourage them to play a little game with you where they have to look at your face for them to give you a hint where the glasses are. When they look into your face and lie, come up with a playful response “That’s a good one. I’ve always known you were creative. Tell me another!” Often being playful can help everyone tone it down a notch. If you have a child with a history of abuse or neglect, it can also keep them from getting triggered into believing that they are in huge trouble and helps prevent them from going into fight or flight mode so that you have some chance of them hearing some of the words you are saying. A way to really get playful is to learn from a parent that really gets this stuff. Christine Moers is a mom raising adopted children with attachment issues. She posts vlogs on youtube to help other parents (and to keep herself sane). Her video blog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDAALaVG27k&feature=fvwrel is a wonderful example of how to discipline in a playful way. I would recommend you look at her videos when you need help staying sane.
Loving- When I think of saying things in a loving way to children, what really helps me to stay in that place is remembering my purpose for saying the words in the first place. Yes, ultimately I may be asking my child to do a task because I want it done. But the bigger picture reason for asking children to do a task is to teach them so that they know how to do it, to give them a system for tackling problems, to get them into the routine of caring for themselves and planning how to fit everything into a schedule, or something else like that. In the end, our job as parents is to make it so that our children no longer need us in order to make it through the day. When we remember that we are asking our children to do something because we love them and want them to be happy, healthy adults, we can state requests in a more loving way. By remembering this, I believe the primary change is our tone of voice, which makes a world of difference to children with attachment disturbance.
Accepting- One trap I see so many parents walk into is the argument with their child(ren) about whether their child is having a reasonable feeling or not. Both the child and parent find this is a way to feel crazy pretty quickly and I would like to present an alternative…acceptance. Here is how it goes, maybe it sounds familiar:
Child comes down to breakfast dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit for school
Parent (being curious): Wow, is there something going on at school today? That’s an interesting outfit.
Child: I knew you wouldn’t let me wear it! You never let me wear anything I want! You’re such a witch! You want me to be the ugliest girl in school!
Parent (accepting): That made you mad. I can see how you would be mad if you thought I wanted you to be the ugliest girl in school.
It’s that simple- do not engage in an argument about whether you want her to be the ugliest girl in school! If that is her belief in that moment, accept that her feeling is appropriate for the interpretation.
Curious- In my office, I often frame this curiosity as being a “feelings detective.” I tell kids I ask lots of questions because I am a very curious person and sometimes it takes me a while to understand things. Get curious about your children. In the above example, rather than arguing about who wants whom to look ugly, you might get curious about it. “I wonder what made you think I wanted you to look ugly when I asked about your outfit.” Another way to help with getting kids to understand you are curious (not judgmental) is to say something along the lines of, “I’m curious what got you so mad because I don’t want you to feel that way again. “ When they tell you what got them mad, again make sure you avoid arguing about whether that is really what happened (accepting) and then …empathize.
Empathy- Empathy looks like this,” If I thought someone felt that way about me/ said that to me/said that about me I can see how you would feel mad/sad/ scared too.” That’s all empathy is being able to see something from the viewpoint of another person. Empathy does not involve any discussion about whether someone is right or wrong for feeling the way they are feeling.
So, why does this work? It works because our children with attachment disturbance find the things we need to do most often, educate, speak with authority, and parenting, to name a few, to be triggers to them of things that remind them of times they were hurt or neglected. When kids do not learn the typical role of parents early on, they easily misinterpret the actions of parents. Using the PLACE mentality is one way of reducing the number of triggers for your child, not to mention that it just makes parenting more fun. I use it with my own securely attached children as well. Of course, this is a very quick overview of the PLACE mentality. It is important that if you feel you are in a position with your child(ren) where you need to utilize the PLACE attitude more and could use support in doing so, that you see a therapist that has an attachment informed practice.
- Announcing a New Group for Parents of Children with Attachment Disorder (help4yourfamily.com)
- What is Attachment Disorder? (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Spectrum of Attachment (help4yourfamily.com)
October 18, 2012 Posted by help4yourfamily | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | Adoption, Attachment disorder, Attachment theory, Child abuse, children, Children Youth and Family, counseling, Family, Kate Oliver, mental health, parent, parenting, psychology | 12 Comments
I am very excited to share with you that I am collaborating with the wonderful Lisa Ferentz through her organization, The Institute for Advanced Psychotherapy Training and Education, Inc., to bring you a course for mental health professionals: When Nothing Else Works, Start at the Beginning: Attachment 101. If you do not know about Lisa Ferentz’s work, she provides excellent training for professionals in the Maryland, DC, Virginia area. I highly recommend you check her out. I am so honored to be joining her team to provide this training. I would love to see you there on October 24, 2012. To register, click here. If you are interested in having me come to do a training in your area, please let me know. You can email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
When I speak to parents of children with attachment related issues about trying to delight in their children, I hear a couple of common responses. The first response is that, to be honest, their children are not all that delightful. The parents I work with have children that lived their first several months or even years with a marked lack of being delighted in, so, because they do not know any better, they do not desire to be delighted in and, rather than feeling good, being delighted in can actually be scary, or intimidating to the child.
Even if you can find a moment of delight during the day, for parents with children with insecure or disorganized attachments I hear that they, the parent, often experience repercussions, sometimes extreme repercussions, (like the kids I have known who have taken what was otherwise a nice day and ruined it by destroying something their parents loved by, say, urinating on furniture on purpose, or cutting up a cherished item) soon thereafter. I also have parents tell me that allowing themselves to delight in their child leads to the child becoming more demanding because the child either believes that if they do something to make their parent happy they should get some immediate reward, or the child feels good and falsely believes that the good feeling comes from something outside of them (such as the item they were delighting in or an amusement park ride). In an attempt to continue the good feeling, the child demands more and more of the parent until the parent is sorry they delighted in the first place since they have such an ungrateful little so and so. While some of that feeling is normal for any parent, for this post, I am focusing on those parents with a child on the far end of the attachment disordered spectrum. All children test limits sometimes and may engage in some of these behaviors, but attachment disordered children do this as part of an ongoing pattern of behavior, rather than as a part of the normal limit-testing all children do.
What is a parent to do? If you have a child that engages in the above mentioned behaviors when you try to delight in them, I have a few reminders to help you stay sane and remain in a place of loving kindness toward your child.
1. Your child may not know how to share a good feeling. In other words, due to early neglect and/or trauma, your child may not have developed the understanding of how to share good feelings with others. They may have what I have heard called “scarcity thinking,” meaning that only one person can feel good at a time and, because they may not also have had a chance to develop empathy, they decide the person feeling good is going to be them. Because they did not have an early environment of shared good feelings, they just do not know how to, well…share good feelings. Remember too, that having someone notice them may have had a very different meaning for them and the meaning may not have a positive association for them.
2. Your child may not know how to experience delight. Remember the neuron transmitters from my previous post? Your child did not get that so, guess what, you get to teach them! This would be a good time to review my post about chronological age vs. developmental age. No matter the chronological age of your child, their developmental age is quite a bit younger. How do you teach a child delight? Like this: say something along the lines of (with a tone like Mr. Rogers, remember him?) “Look at us! We are so happy together! We are feeling the same feelings at the same time!” Allow the feelings for a few moments but, as you observe your child beginning to take it over the top, in the same tone, “Sometimes I wish we could feel so happy all the time, but feelings come and go don’t they? It was so nice to have that good feeling. It looks like we are going back to the regular feelings now and that’s okay.” In this way, you are teaching your child about the normal ebb and flow of feelings, and building in normalcy about delight to address the first reminder, that all feelings are around for a little while, then leave, then come back again, and that is part of being human.
3. It takes many, many encounters for a child with attachment issues to actually learn how to genuinely delight. While a baby is primed for good feelings and eagerly absorbs them, they do that because they are also open and actually vulnerable. When a baby learns to delight, their vulnerability has paid off. For your child, the vulnerability did not pay off, so they stopped allowing themselves to feel vulnerable. Remembering this can help to ease the frustration for a parent that says, “But she’s lived with me longer than she lived with them! When is she going to learn that we are safe!” The answer is that she will learn to feel safe if we can capture the moments where she allows herself to be vulnerable, and during that quick window, you prove to be a safe and loving person. You prove this by maintaining a playful, loving, accepting, curious, empathic (PLACE) attitude as much as possible so that each time that window opens a little you enhance the opportunity for growth and change in your child, so that next time the window opens a bit farther for a bit longer until, eventually, it stays wide open.
4. Think of the alignment of the planets in our solar system. If one planet were to be knocked off-balance, the others pull it back into place using their gravitational pull. Similarly, for your child, when they come to you having become accustomed to being the “problem child” then you treat them as if they are not, they seek familiarity (they realign the planets as they know them) by doing something to make you as angry as they are used to parents being. We call this seeking homeostasis. I find one way to help if you have a child who does this is to name what is happening. In a matter of fact, gentle tone, I would suggest saying something along the lines of, “Having fun can make people uncomfortable or worried sometimes. I think it makes you feel that way.” Or, “I am so sad when you are too scared to let yourself be happy without making yourself pay for it later.”
I find we can be most compassionate when we can look to the origin of the issue rather than taking the response of our child personally.
If you have a child with a history of attachment issues, what have your experiences been with delight?
- Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age (help4yourfamily.com)
- What is Attachment Disorder? (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Spectrum of Attachment (help4yourfamily.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
Do you have a child that wants you to watch them play video games or swing on the swing? Do they want you to watch them do their 100th cartwheel for the day, or watch them spin until they are too dizzy to stand? Do you find it exhausting sometimes?
Part of what they are doing is trying to recreate a moment when they did something particularly cute, or said something a certain way or made a certain face that brought you a moment of pure happiness and they basked in the glow of your joyful feeling over what they did. When my children were younger, whenever they added an adult word to their vocabulary and used it correctly, I always found it so endearing. Having a three-year old say, “Actually Mommy, I would prefer to wear a different dress today.” with their little wide, innocent eyes, it just made me giggle. We call that moment delight. In this post, I am going to talk about delight for most children and parents. In Friday’s post, I am going to continue the conversation by writing about the role and importance of delight for children with attachment issues.
The Importance of Delight for All Children
While you may think that delight is just a nice thing that happens every once in a while between parents and children, it is actually quite important in the scheme of things for parents to delight in children and for children to be delighted in. What we think of as a passing, silly, or endearing moment, (and this is especially true for younger children) actually helps to fire off thousands of neural transmissions per second in your child’s brain! Delight enhances healthy brain development. By delighting in young children, we help them to build neural passageways that encourage them to continue experiencing genuine joy (not the false kind that people think they get when doing drugs, for example).
Some parents worry that delighting in children too much will spoil them. Let’s be honest…children are not always delightful. I did not glow with excitement when my daughter went through the short period of time where she let me know she needed her diaper to be changed by showing me the poop on her finger that she got there by fishing it out of her diaper. I am not in any way encouraging you to force delight nor do I intend to imply that you must live in a constant state of delighting in your children. What I am encouraging is that you take the genuine moments of delight that you do actually have and really feel them. Beyond giving your child validation and all the mapping of their neural transmissions, you are also giving yourself a gift. When your child is being delighted in, genuinely, they know it, you can increase the positive feelings by laughing and looking them in the eye to tell them how delightful they are. When you do this, you are creating an endorphin rush (like the one that comes with exercise or new love) for you and your child. These are the feel good chemicals- the only ones, the natural ones- we want our children to get high from. Allowing these special moments of time to happen naturally enhances our parent-child relationships, builds our likelihood of connecting to the idea that being together equates to feeling happy, and, well, to break it down to it’s simplest parts, it just feels really good.
As parents, we can sometimes feel like our children don’t need us to do anything with or for them if they are doing fine on their own. In fact, they do need us to periodically delight in them. Finding times when we feel genuinely delighted in our children is important. When we do this, even though they may still ask you to watch them do the same thing over and over again, they become much more likely to accept this response: “I love watching you do things, but you deserve to have me watch you when I can give you my full attention. Let me (fill in the blank) and then I can give you three minutes to watch you do that.” When you set limits with your child in this loving way, we can also avoid the hassled, harried feeling of always putting them off. Additionally, as they grow, they learn that they do not have to demand moments of delight, they are built into this loving family you have created.
By building moments of delight with our children from a young age, we have more good thoughts to call on when they are being difficult- giving us more patience for their behaviors. We aren’t the only ones that get good memories to look back on. When we set a limit with our children that they do not like, they are also able to weigh it against all the shared memories of delightful encounters we had together and are less likely to engage in all that teen and pre-teen angst we hear so much about or to try to find their delight in unhealthy ways outside of the family.
What delightful thing has your child done recently? Please feel free to share your delight!
- What is Attachment Disorder? (help4yourfamily.com)
- End the Hassle! Tell Children What They Deserve (help4yourfamily.com)
- Laugh and Your Family Laughs With You (help4yourfamily.com)
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
When we look at children’s attachment styles, they typically fall into one of three categories, secure, insecure and disorganized. I explained some about these categories in my post, “What is Attachment Disorder?” This post will go more into attachment disturbance and how to tell the difference between an attachment “issue” and an attachment “disorder” and some of the symptoms you might see from a child (or adult) with attachment issues. If you are interested in learning about attachment disorders, you can find the diagnostic criteria here. I personally do not find it helpful to diagnose a disorder vs. disturbance of attachment unless I need to as a means for getting insurance reimbursement because if you look at attachment across the spectrum, you would find that we all have attachment issues.
In my world, where I see many actions through the lens of attachment, I think of it like this: picture the security of a person’s attachment on a scale from 1-10. A person with a 1 would be a person who feels worthless and unlovable in all situations across the board. They do not believe they have the power to make any positive changes in the world, nor do they believe that anyone cares about or wants to help them to make positive changes. This person would constantly live in the moment, since they do not feel as though planning helps anything and would constantly look to meet his or her own needs (without distinguishing between wants and needs) by whatever means necessary. A person operating at a “one” steals and lies constantly, manipulates with as much sophistication as possible for their developmental level, does not seem capable of forming any lasting relationships, etc. A” 10” would be a person who never worries about rejection or abandonment from the people they love, knows they are loving and loveable at all times, and understands that all problems can be solved, etc.
The way I see it, most of us fall between a 4 and an 8. From 1-4, I would say you have a disorder: an attachment style that presents major problems in your day to day life that requires specialized therapeutic treatment. A 5-8 is what I would call a good, healthy neurotic: while therapy is an option for difficult times, the gaps and insecurities in attachment are manageable most of the time as long as life is relatively stable for you. Yes, you worry about people leaving you sometimes and might avoid conflict when it might be healthier for you to confront an issue, or make a confrontation out of something that really could have been a constructive conversation, but, overall, life feels manageable and you have areas you do well in even if there are parts where you feel you struggle.
All of our internal feelings and perceptions about ourselves can be seen through behaviors. To figure out if someone has serious attachment issues, we need to look at what the symptoms are of an attachment disturbance. Here are some of the things practitioners who see people with attachment disturbance look for:
Difficulty maintaining eye contact with primary caregivers (especially when someone is saying something loving)
- Constant lying
- Manipulating situations
- Lack of language to express feelings
- Lower developmental age than chronological age
- History of multiple primary caregivers (foster care, adoption at an older age, frequent changes in child care providers)
- Identification with the villain in movies
- Playing with fire
- Bullying and/or blindly following others who are a bad influence
- Abusing animals
- Seeming lack of remorse or conscience
- Difficulty empathizing with others
- Lack of understanding of cause and effect
- No trust in authorities
- A constant seeking for control of every situation
Now, before you start worrying that you and your child will be featured on the next segment of “Kids who Kill” on 20/20, let me point out that it is a combination of all of these features that would point toward a diagnosis of attachment disorder. Even though headaches are associated with brain tumors, you would not automatically assume you have a tumor every time you have a headache. Also, it is not only the presence, but the severity and consistency of the symptoms that informs the diagnosis. For example, we have all probably lied a few times this week. We said we were fine, or even great when asked “how’s it going?” rather than saying, “Well, everything’s going well except for my job.” Or maybe a telemarketer called and asked you for a few minutes of your time but you said you were busy when really you were not.
Just like with attachment being on a spectrum, so are the symptoms. If you stole $20 out of your mother’s wallet once when you were 13 and felt awful about it, that is very different than being 13 and stealing from your mother, your brother, and the teacher’s desk at school whenever you get the chance, and your stealing includes anything from candy and treats to money, toys, and clothes. Also, when you were 13 and stole that time, maybe you had a specific purchase in mind or something you were going to do with the money. That too is different from stealing whenever the chance presents itself as if you needed to fill a perceived lack with any and every chance that comes along.
I have mentioned before Daniel Hughes book, “Building the Bonds of Attachment.” This, to me, really is the best book with the most readable format* that explains what happens with a child with attachment disorder, while simultaneously showing how secure attachments are made. You can easily link to find his book, and other books about attachment that I recommend on Amazon by clicking on the “Amazon widgets” link at the top right corner of my webpage.**
Something that can make an attachment related diagnosis difficult to make, is differentiating it from other diagnosies, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or even early bipolar disorder or schitzophrenia. That is why, this post should never substitute for seeing a mental health practitioner. It is possible for children and adults to have any or all of those issues and each needs to be carefully treated. If you are concerned that your child needs therapy for attachment disorder, please find a mental health practitioner. I give tips on how to do this here. I give tips on how to get insurance to reimburse specialiazed therapy here.
What are your questions about attachment? Do you have a question about something that your child does and whether it is attachment related? Please feel free to ask here or comment. Or you can contact me directly, email@example.com.
*If you are not a practitioner, I would suggest that you skip or skim the first 50 pages of the book. Even as a practitioner, I found them difficult but I am glad I kept reading after that.
**see disclaimer page
- What is attachment disorder? (help4yourfamily.com)
- An Attachment Therapist on Attachment Parenting (help4yourfamily.com)
- Finding a Therapist for Your Attachment Disordered or Traumatized Child (help4yourfamily.com)
- How to Know if You or Your Child Need Therapy (help4yourfamily.com)
- Getting Insurance to Finance Specialized Therapy (help4yourfamily.com)
Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
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