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Messing up Children in Just the Right Ways

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

One of the most common concerns I hear from newly adoptive and biological parents, not to mention parents who have been doing this parenting thing for a while now, is the worry that the parents will, or already have, “messed up” their children.  The worry is that their child is permanantly damaged or will have a “life-long problem.”  This seems to be especially concerning to parents who had a childhood that would be considered less than ideal.

To the parents with this concern, I have these words for you, and I am writing them sincerely, with all the love I have in my heart.  Do not worry.  Your children probably are already “messed up.”  If they are not yet, they will be soon.  Just like the rest of us.  While this may not seem like a loving thing to say.  I assure you that I do, in fact, mean it to be a caring statement.  I want to help parents to break free from the delusion that they will somehow, miraculously, raise the first ever, perfectly self-actualized human on the planet.  A human that has experienced the perfect mix of trouble, discipline and love, with just the right number of family members who care for them and think they are fabulous while still remaining appropriately humble.  A person who finds the perfect job, right after they finish their doctoral degree (having gone to school on scholarship), all the while dating the perfect mate for them, without any heartache involved, and maintaining perfect physical health.  If we can all let go of this delusional belief, we will all breathe easier (literally), be so much happier with our lives and be more forgiving of our own imperfections, as well as stop taking our children’s imperfections so darned personally.

Humans are made to seek out better.  We cannot avoid the questions that come to mind about who has what, whether we would prefer to have that or something different.  Your children will be no different.  Your curly-haired children will wish to have straight hair, your straight-haired children will wish it to be curly.  Your athletic children want to be better at one particular aspect of the sport they play, even if they are the best at another.  Your child who is amazing at Math, wishes to be better in English.  We all long for things just out of reach.  It is healthy and motivating for us to continue trying.  At the same time, we inevitably feel as though we are “messed up” sometimes because we have not yet got that accomplishment we are seeking at that moment.

We can feed into this as parents.  Kids come to me with many different labels, mainly involving mental health: Reactive Attachment Disorder, Oppositional-Defiant Disorder, ADHD, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder.  I am supposed to fix them.  Usually, the kids are not broken, even if they look like it.  Usually, the kids are reacting the only way their systems know how to abnormal circumstances.  Often times, in the response of the child, if you look hard enough, you can see creativity, even brilliance,  and most definitely resilience that ultimately exceeds expectations if we can just step back a moment to examine it with a wider lens.

I find many times, the handle holding up the umbrella of concern about “messing up” children is the worry we have that they will experience the same hurts or slights we did as children.  Some of us work so hard to make sure that we do not repeat any hurtful patterns from our own childhood.  To that I say, “No worries!  Your children, my children, all children will experience their world in completely unique and different ways that are very difficult for us to predict, even when we “know” our children so well.

A few years back, I was one of the teachers of a class for parents in the process of separating.  In the class we talked about transitioning from couples, to co-parents.  During one session of the class, there was a parent panel.  More than five years later, I can still remember the words one of the parents on a panel said after she was asked by someone in the class how to predict which of her children would need help.  “It’s hardly ever the thing you think is going to be the problem, and it’s usually the kid you are least worried about that you need to be the most concerned with.”  As parents, sometimes, we think we are mind readers, and really we are not.  Raise your hand if your parents ever thought they knew what you were thinking and they were wrong.  If your hand is not raised, lucky you!  You have forgotten that feeling of being misunderstood.  My point is, parents, even very good parents, get it wrong all the time!  Life happens.  Unplanned things that seem very difficult to understand happen.  We can’t control it, and yet- here I am about to tell you what you really wanted me to say in the beginning.  I mean this one too.  Really, your kids are not messed up.  Your kids are perfect.  Whatever struggles life has thrown your way or your child’s way, are exactly the right struggles for each of you.  The “dings” in us are what make us uniquely, importantly us.

It is easy for me to say this with confidence because of the gift I have of seeing things through a wide lens as a result of my work experience and my own life.  If that does not feel like enough for you to believe me, let’s see if we can name a few people whose moms and dads may not have planned their childhood to go quite like it did:

  • Barack Obama (I’m so sure his mother did not anticipate two marriages, having her parents take care of her son for years at a time, and living on the edge of poverty)
  • John Lennon (grew up with a single mother except for the time he was in foster care)
  • Oprah Winfrey (ever heard of her?  Her childhood was pretty rotten)

There are many more folks to list, but I think you get the point.  No one is “ruined,” in fact there are quite a few amazing stories out there to be told.  All of this is not to say leave your children, live on welfare, it’s all gonna work out.  It is to say, lighten up on yourself for the moments when you can not do or be everything you wanted to be for yourself or your children and forgive yourself for your perceived failures.  Show your children what you want them to do when they wish they could take something back or change their circumstances.  I am assuming that among the things you would want them to do is to take responsibility for any part they played in what happened, learn from it and keep growing from there.

Your children already have an advantage, you.  You do care.  You do try your hardest.  You do love them and care for them the best way you know how.  You are perfectly imperfect, and so are they.  We all are.  We are all messed up.  We are all perfect.  So are our children.

June 27, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , | 12 Comments

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 6/25/2012- Forgiveness

Forgiveness: The Real F-Bomb

Forgiveness: The Real F-Bomb (Photo credit: bangart)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Today I’m going to talk about forgiveness.  It took me a long time to become a convert to this way of thinking.  For quite a few years, especially as I was working with traumatized and abused children, I believed that people, especially abusers, did not deserve forgiveness.  I did not forgive people in my own life as well.  It turns out, I just didn’t understand what forgiving really means.

You know that old saying forgive and forget?  Yeah, that’s not what we are talking about.  Here’s the kind of forgiving I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the kind of forgiving where you decide for yourself that you are going to give over the resentment that you feel about this issue.  There are a few quotes that keep me going when I think about forgiveness that I will share with you now.  Maybe you have heard them.  The first is by Robert Holden.  He says “forgiveness is remembering who we were before this grievance.”  In other words, it is letting go of who you are while holding onto the anger and resentment and embracing that which you were before you felt that way.  The second quote is by Carrie Fisher, “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  That one really gets me thinking every time.

Sometimes we tell ourselves that by withholding forgiveness, we are making the other person “pay for what they did.”  In reality, if the stories you are telling yourself about that person are true, you are most likely not making them pay at all.  What satisfaction is to be gained by silently, or loudly stewing about someone who is not even in the room?  Who is paying for that but the person who is holding onto the anger?

Forgiveness is the process of letting go of the emotional energy you have decided to carry about a particular issue or incident.  It is the willingness to see that all things happen in context and that anything that happens comes from things that happened before that.  Forgiveness does not require reconciling with someone.  Forgiving people still set boundaries with others including the person they are forgiving.  Forgiveness can be completely internal and may not involve speaking to a person at all.

A useful exercise that I learned when seeking to forgive people came from Joan Borysenko and Robyn Casarjian in an on-line course they taught on Forgiveness that you can link to here (if you are struggling, this is well worth your few hours of time and your $20)*.  In this course, one suggestion that the facilitators give to help let go of anger against a person is to take a few moments to picture the person you are angry with up on a stage.  Imagine that the person has all the tools they need to give you what you needed from them that they did not provide.  For example, did someone say hurtful or judgmental words to you?  What did that person need in order to say kinder words to you?  Did they need a kind parent growing up?  Did they need people cheering them on as they accomplished new things?  Did they need someone telling them that just because you have something they want, that it does not prevent them from having something?  As we become more aware of the lack in the life of the person  that we need to forgive, it becomes easier to forgive them.

What does this have to do with parenting?

How often have you gotten off the phone with someone you are carrying resentment toward then snapped at your children?  When you see or think about a family member who has hurt you then your child does something that reminds you of that person, do you respond to your child in a helpful way, or do you try to get them to stop doing that thing even if it is not hurtful?  Can you see holding onto resentment does impact your parenting?  Can you see that if you have a child with trauma and/or attachment issues, that carrying resentment and anger toward your child, while incredibly tempting at times, is not helpful to you or your child?  They are doing what they are doing because they needed something more, most often times it is something more than you were able to give them.  This week’s affirmation is:

I am letting go of anger and resentment.  I allow myself the freedom of forgiveness.

See how it feels to really say this one over and over.  If you are having problems with this, let me know.  This is so important.  I want to start a dialogue about forgiveness here and I welcome your thoughts.

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June 25, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting | 13 Comments

Preparing Children for Major Transitions

Summer Camp 2010

Summer Camp 2010 (Photo credit: Olds College)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

It’s summer.  Anyone with a child in school recently has, or is about to experience a major transition from having the school routine schedule to a summer schedule.  Perhaps your children have camps, vacations, different childcare arrangements, or long stretches of time at home, or, if you are like my family, a combination of all of those depending upon the week.  Even though summer can be a time of excitement and activities that children love, remember, even something exciting can be stressful.  To illustrate this, think about the last time you went on vacation.  Did you experience any stress before you went away?  Did you worry you were going to forget to pack something?  Did you have to work to make sure you stayed in budget or planned accordingly for activities vs. rest?

Even though your child does not necessarily have the same stressors you do, they have others.  Their stressors may include concerns like whether any other kids they meet on the trip or at camp might like them, whether this is going to be a fun place to go or not, whether the rules will be the same or different for them than what they are used to, whether they will have the food they like to eat on the trip, and what to expect next.

The adopted children I see can often have additional concerns such as whether someone from their birth family might spot them (I have heard this even from children adopted at birth), whether people in public will spot their family and ask why they look different or whether their family will be accepted.  They may worry if they are going to see relatives that they feel treat them differently from children born biologically into the family, or that their adoptive family is planning on leaving them in the new location.  Many of the children I see have the additional worry about embarrassing themselves by wetting the bed or their pants during the day if that has been a problem for them.

So, how can we prepare children for all of these transitions?  Here are a few tips to get you started.  The first few are for everyone, then I have a few special tips just for people with children with attachment issues.  Remember, every child is different.  That is why I am giving you several suggestions.  I encourage you to use those that feel right for you and your child.

1.  Prepare your child by telling them in a matter of fact way about what to expect.  For example: “Remember, you are going to camp tomorrow, I don’t know if you will know any of the kids there but I do know Ms. Suzie from last year will be there again.  I’m going to pack you an apple and some cereal in your lunch instead of a peanut butter sandwich because the camp does not allow peanuts in your lunch.”  Or, “We are going to Grandma’s.  Remember, we went there last year and you slept in the same room with your cousin Joey.  Sometimes you got to go to bed later and one night Aunt Cindy is going to watch you while Mom and Dad go out.  If two adults tell you two different things to do, I want you to come ask me if you are confused.  If I’m not there, I will always let you know who is in charge.”  You may need to break this information up into several conversations if you have a child that has difficulty taking in too much information at once.  I also like to ask children what they heard me say so I can hear them say it back and confirm that they heard what I think I said so I know if they got it.

2.  Always let children know who is in charge if you are not with them.  Meet the camp counselor, introduce your child to them and point out that that person is in charge.  “She’s in charge of this camp and I expect you to listen to her.”  Or, “We are going out and you are staying with Nana and Pop, I expect you to listen to both of them.”

A side note about tone here: I am not suggesting any kind of accusatory tone.  I always recommend a matter of fact, friendly tone that takes into account that our children are little humans with feelings.  I could see the above statement being said in an accusatory way and I hope you will refrain from that as much as possible.  If you have a child that has attention or attachment issues making it possible that they were not hearing you, or that they will pretend they did not hear you later, you can have them repeat it back.  Make it a game: You: Who’s in charge?  Child: Ms. Jenny’s in charge.

3.  Talk to your child about any transitions before they happen a few times so you can figure out if your child has questions that are causing anxiety so that you can get answers for them.  It is difficult to predict the ways in which children will formulate stories to fill in the gaps in their understanding.

When I was around 13 and my youngest sister was five, my family moved to a house about five miles away from the home we were living in.  I remember one night at dinner, we were talking about the move and someone asked my sister if she was excited to be moving.  She hesitated and got a little teary, then blurted out, “Yes!  But, I’m going to miss you guys!”  Remember, even if your child has made this transition before, it may only be their second or third time doing it.

A year in the eyes of a child is infinitely longer than a year in the eyes of an adult.  For a 33-year-old, a year is 1/33rd of their lives, for a four-year old, a year is 1/4 of their lives.  That’s a big difference.  A lot happens in the year of a child, and going somewhere, like a camp or vacation, where they have not gone for a year still qualifies as a major transition in their eyes.

4.  While you are making sure that you are talking about the upcoming transition some, I want to caution you to refrain from talking about it too much.

Recently my family and I went for a vacation weekend to a child friendly hotel/amusement park.  While we were there, my husband and I walked through the lobby where there was a show going on.  The show had animatronic characters singing a song.  I can only assume the song was called “There’s Nothing to Be Afraid Of.”  I assume that was the title of the song because the characters sang that line at least twenty times in the short time we were walking through the lobby.  I turned to my husband and remarked that while I was not scared before, I was thinking I might need to be scared now!  After all, why are they so adamant about telling me that there is nothing to be afraid of unless there is, in fact, something that might be kind of scary?

My point is, I have seen many parents who are worried about their child’s response to something new, prepare their child by talking about it endlessly.  A child who might not otherwise have been so worried, can then become fearful and put more energy and focus more anxiety on this thing Mom and Dad seem to be so worried about…it must be big.  Discussions about a transition need not be endless, just check-in, answer questions gently and matter-of-factly, and refrain from shaming or embarrassing children for asking what you think is a silly question.

I have two additional tip for parents with attachment disturbed children:

1.  Attachment disordered children still need safety and predictability, however, be mindful that they can often find ways to mess up vacations for themselves and put extra strain on the family by acting out when they are anxious.  Often a child worries they will mess up a vacation until they torture themselves internally about it so much that they go ahead and get in trouble just to get it over with.  Depending on your child, you may want to keep some things about a vacation private until just before they happen and to keep your plans flexible.  For example, say you have decided to go to a water park for one day during the vacation.  If possible, give yourself a window of days and times to go.  That way if your child is having a rough day you can just go the next day so they do not feel you are taking it away because they ruined things.  Then, on the day you do go, you can tell your child that morning or even on the way there and field questions as they come.  Children with attachment issues can get overly anxious and have temper tantrums as their anxiety builds and giving them a few surprises can actually save them from this anxiety in the long run.  Reserve this for things you are all doing together, do not surprise your child by telling them you are leaving them with someone else, even someone else they like.

2.  Be mindful that as you tell a child your expectations, you are not also handing them “the keys to the kingdom” as one of my colleagues likes to say.  What she means by this is that attachment disordered children are interested in what makes you the most upset so that they may use that against you whenever they are feeling anxious, insecure or fearful.  Be careful that when you are telling them your expectations as detailed in the suggestions mentioned earlier that you are not also highlighting the things that will annoy you the most if they do them.  “We are going to grandma’s and she is making cookies.  You may have two.  I expect you to use your manners.  If there is something you would like to have, please let me know so I can tell you if it is okay,” is very different from, “We are going to Grandma’s house.  No stealing, no lying.”  The first example encourages children to meet expectations, the second informs the children of the ways they can disappoint themselves yet again.

For all children, stating what you do want is always preferable to stating what you don’t want.  If I told you not to look at the title of this post, what is the first thing you think about doing?  Reading the title of course!  However, if I said to you that I hope you keep reading this post to the end, where is your attention?  Children are the same way.  High energy children, and attachment disturbed children are like this more than others and if you say, “Don’t steal,” their little minds say over and over, “Don’t steal.  Don’t steal.  Don’t steal.” until they have thought it so hard they find a chocolate bar in their pocket that they really may not have meant to have there.  If you give a child another thought such as, “Ask me if you want something,” and they say this over and over in their heads, even if it does not always work out, it plants a better seed in a child’s mind.  The more seeds like that you plant, the more likely they are to take root.

What are some transitions your children are going through?  Are there other ways you help your child with major transitions?

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June 21, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, help for parents, Parenting | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 6/18/2012- delight

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

After last’s week’s posts, you have to know what this weeks affirmation is going to be about.  Delight, of course!  Now that you know how important delight is, let’s go about making the process of delighting in our children of all ages a habit.

Delight is not only for the young.  Even if your child is one that rolls her eyes at you when you say something nice, don’t worry, she is listening, keep delighting anyway!  Remember the last time someone pointed out something you did really well and seemed genuinely excited for you?  How did it feel?  I hope it was not too long ago that you experienced this, since it is important for us all to be delighted in.

As a mom or dad, sometimes you are not the only one delighting, sometimes your children are delighting in you as well.  My friend Jennifer Webb, over at Mom’s Soul Cafe, just wrote a post about her daughter delighting in something about her.  You can read about it here.

This weeks affirmation is:

My children and I delight in each other, and in ourselves.

Enjoy this one and please take a moment to report back what your experiences are with this affirmation.

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June 18, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, Parenting | 7 Comments

Delighting in Children Who are Not Used to Delight

Cover of "Feelings"

Cover of Feelings

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?

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June 15, 2012 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, Parenting | , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Importance of Delight

Latino Children Play Swing

Latino Children Play Swing (Photo credit: epSos.de)

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!

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June 13, 2012 Posted by | attachment, help for parents, Parenting | 9 Comments

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 6/11/2012- creative solutions

English: A day in lunch

English: A day in lunch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

The day-to-day tasks that come with being a parent can make it difficult sometimes to stand back and see the forest for the trees.  With all the chauffering, making of meals, time keeping, study supporting, and the coaching/ disciplining we can get into a rut and forget something important… we forget about creative solutions.  Creative solutions are all around us.

I remember when my husband and I figured out that dates can happen during the day!  We decided that instead of going out in the evening when we are already tired and ready to crawl into bed, we would get the babysitter for the day.  That way we can go get lunch, when the restaurants are nearly empty, and see a movie or take a walk together, then come home and be there to put the girls to bed.  We enjoy each other so much when we are not tired.

Sometimes creative solutions come from the outside also.  I remember being very frustrated with dinner time.  It is a real struggle in my home to put a meal on the table that is acceptable to everyone and I found that I was working hard to find meals that would work.  Week after week, I tried different meals and week after week, between one and three members of my family would reject whatever it was that I made.  I finally got so frustrated I decided my own attempts to fix it were not working and I needed to hand my problem over.  I used today’s affirmation. Wouldn’t you know it?  That night, I got an email from one of my favorite websites.  In the email, a mom wrote about how she could not get her family to agree on what meals to eat.  She decided to pass out index cards to each of the members of her family so they could write down a few meals they like and then she plugged those meals into the calendar.  I could have kissed the screen!  We’ve been following this suggestion ever since and it works.

Today’s affirmation is:

I am open to finding creative solutions to any problem.

If you are having a hard time believing this one will help, you can put it to the test.  Think of a problem you are having right now.  Put your attention on it and affirm that you are open to finding solutions, whether you think of them yourself, or they come from someone else.  Say the affirmation over and over whenever you think about the problem and then see what happens.

Once you have done that, come tell me about it!  I want to know about the issue and the solutions that came to you or that you came up with.  Maybe by sharing, you will be giving someone else a solution they were looking for.

By the way, the website I mentioned with the helpful tips is www.flylady.net.  After you finish looking at my blog, go check her out, she is wonderful.

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June 11, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | 8 Comments

The Spectrum of Attachment

This picture by Sovanna Ly -csc- can be used f...

This picture by Sovanna Ly -csc- can be used for any purpose, provided that his name is credited. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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)
  • Stealing
  • 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, helpforyourfamily@gmail.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

June 8, 2012 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents | , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Beautiful Blogger Award

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Karen, the Queen of Familiosity, was kind enough to nominate me for the Beautiful Blogger Award.  I feel so beautiful!  Thank you Karen, for thinking of me so kindly.  I encourage everyone to check out Karen’s blog, especially the beautiful Navajo Prayer she shared in her recent post when she was nominated as a beautiful blogger.  I plan to live up to my new award by continuting to provide blogs that come from my heart because I know that anything that comes from the heart is beautiful.

Here are tasks asked of those who choose to accept the nomination as  a Beautiful Blogger:

1. Thank the one who nominated you by linking back.

2. Tell one unknown fact about yourself.

3.Nominate five blogs.

4. Let your nominees know by leaving a comment on their sites.

5. Copy and paste the award image on your site.

Now that I have thanked Karen, I will proceed to tell an unknown fact about myself while trying to keep it relevant to the content of my blog.  I’m going to make this a two for one deal.  Here’s the first one…this blog is as much for me as it is for you.  I write it because it keeps me mindful of the things I need to focus on, it encourages me to continue to expand my own knowledge about myself and the children I work with.

In case that first item wasn’t enough, I’ll throw in a second unknown fact.  For fun recently, I got my palm read.  The woman who read my palm was actually quite interesting.  We had a funny moment when she looked at the side of my hand and her eyes opened wide.  She stammered for a moment as she asked me how many children I have.  I told her I have two.  She asked me if I have any other children that are close to me as if they were my own children and I told her what I do for a living.  She started laughing and said that I must care deeply for them because there are many, many children showing up as mine on the side of my palm- more than she could count.  I smiled because I know that I do carry many children in my heart and, apparently, on the sides of my hands as well 🙂

Now, to nominate five others.  I have been so lucky to find so many good blogs.  I know a few that were recently nominated and appropriately so like One Inch of Grace and Mom Meets Blog.

This time, I’ve decided to nominate:

1. dirtyrottenparenting– I especially loved her No Modesty Mother’s Day post.

2. Hike.Blog.Love– If you are an adoptive parent of an older child, do not miss the post she wrote to her “pre-mommy” self- I linked to that one specifically.

3. insaniteen– an honest look at raising teens with varied needs that includes the difficulty of allowing them to feel the consequences of their choices.

4. Mombian– a wonderful resource for LGBT parents

5. Dad Loves Daddy– the Road to King post was so sweet I was holding back tears.

I hope you enjoy these wonderful blogs and thanks again to Karen for the nomination!

June 6, 2012 Posted by | blog awards and recognition | , , | Leave a comment

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 6/4/2012- planning time

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Doing the best she can

Doing the best she can (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today’s affirmation is short and sweet and we know we all need it.  It is about time.  I know I already posted an affirmation about things happening at the right time.  This one is about how we plan time.  How many of us feel like we are short on time, don’t have enough time, or, when we finally get time to ourselves, we think we will have time to do so many things in a short period of time?  I remember when my kids were little, if I had a few hours to myself I would start planning all sorts of things to do with my time.  I thought I could paint my bedroom in a couple of hours, even though I hadn’t picked the paint out or moved the furniture yet!  When my daughters started school I would use that dangerous word “should” and I would say things to myself like, “it should only take us 45 minutes to get up and out of the house.”  I would allot 5 minutes to packing lunches, 5 minutes to dressing each girl, etc.  Silly, silly me.  I would get so frustrated with myself and my daughters when my timeline got interrupted.  It is when we do this to ourselves that we find we are grumbling, fussing or even yelling and threatening our children about what we will do if they do not stick to our timeline.  We can terrorize ourselves in the same way as well, giving ourselves an incredibly hard time if we do not stick to the timeline we planned for.

I’m going to suggest an alternative.  Let’s routinely schedule time to stop and delight in our children whenever possible.  When you are planning time, include time to figure out where your children took off your shoes when they wore them around last night pretending to be you.  Schedule in time for when your child asks to help make breakfast and you know it will take longer than if you just did it yourself, or they tell you they promised their friend you would pick them up on the way to school.  I like to give myself 30-45 minutes more than I think I need to do things.  Sometimes this means waking up earlier and planning for fewer things in my day.  It always makes for happier, less frenzied parents and children and an overall more peaceful family.

This weeks affirmation is:

I give myself and my children realistic expectations for managing time.

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June 3, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents | 6 Comments

   

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