help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age

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?

Spc. Elizabeth Jarry shows an Iraqi girl prope...

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:

January 5, 2013 Posted by | attachment, child development, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Why Sexual Abuse is Never a Child’s Fault…Not Even a Teenager

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

English: Join the movement to end child abuse:...

English: Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The news was atwitter this past week with the story of the judge, who has since apologized, sort of, for stating that the 14-year-old girl, Cherice Moralez, who killed herself after her teacher molested her was “older than her chronological age” and that “It’s not probably the kind of rape most people think about,”… “It was not a violent, forcible, beat-the-victim rape, like you see in the movies. But it was nonetheless a rape. It was a troubled young girl, and he was a teacher. And this should not have occurred.” (cnn.com) I do not know this case, or this girl. I am not going to comment on this family’s pain other than to try to use their situation to create better understanding of all children who have experienced sexual abuse.

I have worked with people who have been molested for quite a while now and while many people know the company line is to say that it is never the victim’s fault, I do find that as adults it can be difficult to understand why we say that. It is true that 2 out of 3 teen victims know their abusers. In cases where a child knows his or her abuser, it is much more often the case that a child or teen was tricked into performing sexual acts rather than, as this judge envisioned a “forcible attack.”

Child abuse is difficult to think about, so many of us, when given the option, simply choose not to. It is not until we have someone close to us that is affected that we begin to examine our own underlying belief about abuse. I am glad when adults share what they really believe about their child’s abuse with me so that we can address the questions about whether a child participated in his or her own molestation, rather than continuing to hold onto a belief that a child might have done so, a belief that can unknowingly be conveyed to the child through actions, body language and words. In this article, I would like to address some of the questions that survivors and parents of survivors have brought to me over the years which may be difficult to answer unless you have had some time to reflect upon it:

Why didn’t the child tell anyone that he/she was being abused? Doesn’t that mean she/he might have wanted it?”

Children do not tell about abuse for a variety of reasons. Most often an abuser is someone known to the child. The abuser often tells the child that they (the child and the abuser) will be in BIG trouble if the child tells anyone. Abusers are often very good about convincing children they are participating in the wrongful behavior, even when a child says they do not want to. Sometimes an abuser suggests or threatens that if a child tells they will be removed from their home, the abuser will be fired and will not be able to take care of his family, no one will believe the child didn’t want it, that the child misinterpreted the abusers actions, and on and on. It is not difficult to convince children, even teenagers, that they are in control of whether the abuser is in trouble or not. It is a normal part of development to believe that the world in some senses revolves around us so, when an abuser presents the case that his or her world, as well as the child’s parents world and even other relatives,  revolves around the teens choice to tell or keep quiet, it becomes easier to understand how a child, even a teen, especially a teen would keep quiet. Should a teen figure out he or she has been tricked, the shame of feeling tricked can keep them quiet as well.

Yes, but my child was a teenager when this happened, he/she should have known better.”

This is probably the most common issue I hear from parents, family and friends of teens, and even the teen themselves who are abused by adult caregivers. It can be difficult to understand how teenagers who have learned about abuse, and whose parents have told them since childhood to tell if someone is abusing them would still keep from telling. I have even had adolescents who have tried to convince me that they were a party to their own abuse and that they are guilty of participating. I understand how teens and their parents can feel this way and when they do here is what I say. “Think about you two years ago. Were you different?” If you take a moment to think about the difference between a fourteen and sixteen year old, anyone who has had a child either of those ages knows there is a difference. A sixteen year old will absolutely tell you they are different from how they were two years ago, they have different friends, they know more, they have different interests or have increased their skill in an ongoing interest. Then I ask, “Do you think in two years you might be different from the way you are now? If so, what will the differences be?” Of course we all know we will be different in two years. We will have two more years worth of experience and information. We will have two more years of practicing independence, understanding relationships, etc. Last, I point out the difference in age between the abused and the abuser, say it’s fifteen years and say, “So this person had fifteen more years than you to figure out the stuff you are figuring out now. They had fifteen years more experience in relationships and getting what you want in relationships. They had fifteen more years to figure out how to talk someone into giving them what they wanted. Oh yeah, and how many serious relationships have you had?” What people often fail to realize is that for the child, this is their very first introduction to sexual relationships and they are simply outmatched by someone who has honed their skills of manipulation to lure the child into believing that they are on even cognitive ground and therefore in an equal relationship. This cannot possibly be the case when you think about it. While some teens are very good at acting mature and responsible, they do not yet have the ability to determine who is and isn’t trying to trick them and they cannot possibly have the understanding of adult relationships that only comes with experience.

“She/he always seemed older in a sexual way.”

Yes, I hear this one too and my response to this is simple…how does a child come to seem older in a sexual way in the first place? Often it does not take much looking to see why this might seem true. Is this a child that was previously sexualized by another abuser? Is this a child that has been taught that her (could be a he but I find this argument most often to be about girls) looks and looking sexual is something that is rewarded in her family? Has this child been exposed to a lot of media that encourages young girls to act in sexual ways? Does this child live in a family where you do not get noticed unless you are acting out making it easier for her to get tricked by someone who treats her special? Were these circumstances also the child’s fault, or do these circumstances explain the ways in which this child was made into a target for a predator? Just because a child has learned to act in a certain way, or dress in a certain way, it does not mean that the child has the same cognitive abilities of an adult. It does however, give manipulative abusers a heads up that they are an easier target.

While we don’t like to think about these things, it is important before we make a statement that impacts an average of 1/3 of the people in the room, that we take the time to arm ourselves with knowledge. Yes, approximately 28% of the population in the United States will be sexually victimized by the age of 17. Knowledge is power and if you want more knowledge, try some of these links:

If you want to learn more about protecting your child from abuse try my posts:

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children From Abuse Part I

It’s Not Just Strangers: Spotting Potential Abusers Part II

Teaching Young Children about Stranger Danger

And, if you believe anyone you know is suicidal like Cherice Moralez, please look up my posts:

Suicide Prevention: Determining if Someone is Suicidal

5 Steps to Take if Someone is Suicidal

September 1, 2013 Posted by | child development, children, counseling, family, help for parents, keeping children safe, kids, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Happy Parent Tip #1

English: Houston, TX., 9/8/2005 -- Elementary ...

English: Houston, TX., 9/8/2005 — Elementary school students wave good bye to their parents as they leave the Reliant center for their first day of school in Texas. They are sheltered at the Reliant center and were evacuated from Louisianna. FEMA photo/Andrea Booher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

One super amazing thing about my job is that I get to see and learn so much from the parents that I work with. Even before my own children reach a particular age or stage, I have acquired knowledge about the issues that come with a particular time in a child’s life. Over the years I have amassed a wonderful body of learning which has helped me enormously in my own practice as well as with my own children. I feel blessed to have found the job that I have and from time to time, I would like to share some of the tips and understandings that I have come to which have created happier moments for me as a parent and for the parents I have worked with.

Tip number 1 is:

Give your child room to take ownership of their own responsibilities and accomplishments.

Here is a situation I am sure many of us can relate to:

It is time for school. You steel yourself for the daily battle of shoes, coats, and getting to the bus on time. Won’t your children ever learn how to tell time? Don’t they understand that the bus waits for no child and that you have to get to work on time? Within the first month of school you find yourself in the daily cycle of first gently reminding your children of the next step in the morning routine, then, getting firmer with your voice and using your best “I’m serious” tone to get them closer to the door, until you finally get tired of the games the children are playing and either start yelling or start resentfully doing activities they are more than capable of doing had they just managed their time in the ways you suggested.

This is an example of you caring more about your child getting to school than they do. And, really, if you are going to do something and take pride in it, you have to care. As adults we can see this when we go to a store with poor customer service. It is clear that the employees do not take ownership or pride in the running of the store most likely because they have not taken on the understanding that the quality of customer services reflects on them as well as the owners.

Of course it is important to remember your child’s age and developmental stage. For the example of going to school on time a kindergartener, will need much more help than a freshman in high school to get out the door. Also, if asked to in a respectful way, I am all for parents helping children in the morning just as you would want them to help you if you were running late as long as it is not a daily expectation.To illustrate ways you can help your child become more self-motivated rather than allowing you to carry all of the responsibility, you could say any of the following statements that you think would work for your child in a loving way that may cause your child to pause, think and re-prioritize. In the following suggestions I am focusing on elementary school, but they can work well for middle and high school as well although you can expect some verbal push-back.

  • I’m not going to work harder to get you to school than you do anymore. You know what time you need to leave. It is up to you to get to the bus on time.
  • I wonder what else you have to do to get ready for school? (they know the routine already, they have just been allowing you to do all the thinking for them thus far).
  • If we are late, I hope I’m not asked to write a note to excuse you because I won’t be able to do that without telling them why. (You can feel free to fill in the blanks here: Suzie didn’t feel like getting out of bed, taking her shower, etc.) If your child is late after you say this you cannot write an excuse note and you must allow for an unexcused tardy. Otherwise they will know you care more about it than they do.
  • I have had several parents who absolutely needed to get kids on the bus on time for work reasons in the morning who told the school that they were going to send their child in pajamas if they refused to get ready in the morning. These parents would pack an outfit for the child to put on at school. (hint: do not pack your child’s favorite clothes)
  • If you end up driving a child to school, you can have them pay you back for your time later by saying, “I had to use my time to fix your mistake this morning. You owe me the ten minutes it took me to take you to school. Now I need you to….”
  • Don’t forget that when a child has gotten themselves out the door on time, you want to point it out and ask them if they are happy with themselves. Reinforce the good feeling your child has about being on time and point out that there was no yelling, arguing or fussing.

While I know that everything can not be turned so that you help your child find their own initiative for making good decisions (I find it difficult to get children to understand that it benefits them to go to bed on time, for example), there are many times that I see parents, and I include myself in this group, taking on the emotional work for children. Many responsibility issues that cause conflict in families can be eased into in this way, grades, chores, clean rooms, curfews. Sometimes in the process of making our child’s life easier by doing things for them, we can forget that we may also be depriving them of important lessons about taking responsibility for themselves, and learning to manage success and learning opportunities with dignity and a forgiving heart. By stepping back and remembering why we care in the first place, we can realign our own priorities as parents. Ultimately, we want our children to do the things we ask because we love them and we want to learn responsibility etc. so they can have a happier adult life. The best way to do this is to help children see the ways in which taking responsibility is helpful to them, rather than telling them it is important.

What is something you could use help getting your child to take more responsibility for?

February 28, 2014 Posted by | child development, children, counseling, family, help for parents, kids, mental health, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting, psychology | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2

English: Typical Male Restroom in the U.S.

English: Typical Male Restroom in the U.S. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In last week’s post, we looked at the possible origin for encopresis (soiling after the usual age for toilet training) and enuresis (wetting after the usual toilet training age) in older children with a history of trauma and/or neglect.There is something about an older child wetting or soiling themselves that can send parents into a fury, especially if the incident is perceived to be intentional. This is understandable. We all have buttons, and a big one for many of us involve the transmission of germs whether it’s via spit, mucus, vomit, urine or feces, we don’t want to be around it!

In this week’s post, now that you have a theory from last week about where the issue originates, I want to help you to figure out what to do to help your older child, who will often experience shame as a result of the incident. If you have any questions about implementing any of these strategies, I hope you will ask in the comments section, or discuss it with your child’s therapist.* One of the reasons I am writing this post is because there are very few therapists who specialize in this issue, so if your child’s therapist is not familiar with it, please think about printing out and taking in this article.

As I stated in the first post on older children with bathroom related problems, the first intervention is always to follow the suggestion of your child’s physician as we do not want to fix a broken bone with a band-aid and some medical intervention may be necessary. As sensitive as I know parents are about this issue, children are also very sensitive about it, even if they pretend to be aloof. In fact, I know one of the beliefs parents have that send them into a fury about older children wetting and soiling, is that their child does not even care about the fact that they are doing it when, in reality, often children that have this issue are experts at covering up their feelings so you do not know how humiliated/ angry/ frustrated they are.

Before I give you suggestions, I want to give two important guidelines for all the interventions I use with children. My number one guideline is to follow the PLACE parenting attitude whether your child has attachment disturbance or not. The second is to make sure your child is primed to receive help from you. What I mean by that is, ask your child if they want help. If they say “no,” DO NOT OFFER IT. When you offer children help and they don’t want it, you are only listening to yourself talk and asking to be frustrated. If you offer it, then back off. After you child has refused a couple of times and their refusal has been listened to and honored, their curiosity begins to take over and eventually they ask you what help you have to offer. Then, and only then, are they open to receiving and they will be primed to listen to your advice.

With that said, here is a list of ways I have helped children with enuresis and encopresis:

1. Especially if you recently adopted or started fostering your child, do not panic! You may have a child who is looking for buttons to push to get you upset or make you reject them. If you have an upset reaction, they may see that it gets a rise out of you and will be more likely to continue. Without over-reacting, try to employ natural consequences, i.e. the child has to clean up the mess as appropriate for their developmental age. Remember to use your PLACE attitude, which means that humiliation and embarrassment of your child are not acceptable consequences. In fact, with a child that would purposefully wet or soil themselves, humiliation and embarrassment may actually reinforce the behavior in ways you did not anticipate. To better understand this concept you can read my Caught in the Loop post.

2. My first suggestion for someone with a child with ongoing problems of this nature is therapy. While my sample is quite skewed, I have not seen any children with this issue that did not experience a feeling of fear about the problem, often accompanied by humiliation, even if the behavior is perceived to be intentional by their parents. While moms and dads can be helpful in navigating those feelings, therapists are trained to add an additional and necessary layer of help. Also, as you well know, children are often more motivated to do something someone else suggests over the suggestion of their parents. You know your children do things for their teachers that they would not do for you and bringing the issue to the child’s attention while in therapy often gives a child an extra bit of motivation to work on it. Additionally, if your child has a history of trauma this includes the bathroom in any way, it is important for them to be able to process this history with a trained professional.

3. My most successful intervention in the area of helping older children with encopresis and enuresis is to reintroduce the idea of toilet training. Before you skip this idea because you think your child is too old to re-potty train, let me tell you that I have used this with children in their early teens with success. The reintroduction is delicate and goes like this (and, as I say in many of my posts, the tone is important…think about how Mr. Rogers would say it):

“I wonder if when you were younger and didn’t get what you needed, you might have missed out on some of the signs your body gives you when you need to go to the bathroom.”

It may take a few times of gently suggesting this to your child for them to begin to get curious with you. Suggest you could help them to learn how their body knows it needs to go. Think about this. Your body knows it needs to go when your bladder feels full. I teach kids to playfully ask their bladders out loud in my office, “Bladder, do you have to go to the bathroom?” You would be amazed how many children have quickly realized by asking that question that they do, indeed need to go…right then…and we end up taking a quick restroom break.

You can also point out that sometimes you have been able to tell when your child needs to go and that when kids are young and have parents that take good care of them, the parents often point out when a child is doing the potty dance. For some kids, we come up with a signal that the parent can make, rather than asking out loud in public whether a child needs to go. This works well with a child who has a history of being shamed or traumatized in relation to going to the bathroom,or who was never potty-trained appropriately.

4. An additional technique to use with children who were not properly potty-trained, is to teach each your child about controlling their bowels. One way I do this is to have children picture a balloon full of water. I tell them to picture the balloon turn over so that the opening of the balloon is on the bottom. If you are using your fingers to pinch the balloon, it is like the muscles around your bladder holding the pee or poop in. If you were to let go with your fingers, you would see the water come out of the balloon. For some balloons, you would have to give an extra squeeze from the top to empty it out. Bladders can be like this too. When I work with kids with issues controlling their bowels, I suggest to them that they picture the balloon as their bladder every time they need to go to the bathroom. Muscles hold the urine until you get to the toilet, then they let go and we make sure your bladder is emptied completely. For kids with urinary issues that are feeling brave, I also suggest kegals, where they start urinating, then try to stop the urine one or two times every time they go in order to build up the muscles (consult with a physician to make sure this is a good idea for your child).

Also, and many adults do not know this, there is a right way and a wrong way to empty your bowels. To most easily and completely empty your bladder, teach children to sit, leaning forward with their forearms resting on their thighs. Have a small stool near the toilet so children can put their feet on the stool making it so their knees are higher than their hips. This will help kids that hold onto stool and urine, to most easily and quickly relax and let go when they are going to the bathroom.

5. For kids with bowel issues, especially kids that hold it until it gets painful, I teach a quick exercise to help them control bowel functioning. This is good for relaxation as well. Lie on the floor and counting slowly to five, suck your belly in. Picture your belly button touching your spine. Then, again to a slow count of five, push your belly out until your belly button is actually sticking up. See if you can make the pulling your belly in, equal in time to the pushing of your belly out. Ideally, kids who are learning to control their bowels will do this exercise for 3 minutes a day. The typical response I get from kids when I teach them this exercise and they actually do it in my office is a moment afterward when they start to get excited (like the potty dance) then a request to go to the bathroom. Success!

For children where this does not work, see about helping them find a Pilates class in your area. Many of the Pilates exercises, strengthen the core and pelvic muscles allowing for greater control.

4. I find the toughest kids with bathroom issues are typically the ones who are doing urinating and soiling on purpose, although often the times they do it are few and far between. As I recommended in my previous post on this issue, it is important to figure out the why, but really the intervention for purposeful urinaters and soilers is to make sure they are in therapy with someone who works on teaching them to state their feelings. Often these kids need remedial learning in the expression of feelings, and, while parents can do some of this, a child therapist will have the training to find ways that work for your child to teach them the proper expression of big feelings. Sometimes this means helping them to understand that they will not be harshly punished for the expression of their feelings, and others it will mean having a therapist identify that your child may be experiencing a traumatic reenactment.

I know that this is a sensitive topic for many families and people do not want to be identified by leaving comments, however, if you have questions, or a suggestion that works that I forgot, please let me know. You can feel free to leave a comment or to contact me privately via email: helpforyourfamily@gmail.com

*see disclaimer

January 31, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, mental health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why does it happen? How Can You Help? Part 1

White Toilet Bowl in Malaysia

White Toilet Bowl in Malaysia (Photo credit: epSos.de)

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

No one wants to talk about it. It’s a messy issue, and it stinks…literally. In my practice I see quite a few children who, at a much older age than usual, have bathroom issues, where either they wet themselves at night or during the day. Some even soil themselves. It is often a difficult issue for parents to bring up, and there I times I have seen a child for months before anyone is even willing to mention it, even though it is one of the questions I ask during my initial parent visit for children with attachment related issues. Many of the parents that come to me say it is the most embarrassing of all the issues their child has. It is also the thing that can make parents angry the fastest. After all, if you have a ten-year-old who just wet themselves in your car, it is easy to forget that there might be more going on than lack of self-control. Instead, we tend to focus on the fact that your car smells like urine and a ten-year-old did it!

When a child has a behavior like enuresis (wetting themselves during the night or daytime) or encopresis (soiling themselves), I always look for the root cause. It is important to know where this problem starts because often by knowing where something starts, we can figure out how to fix it in the most loving way possible. In this post I am going to focus on daytime wetting and soiling, as I believe that bed-wetting is an easier issue to find information about and can have a different origin than daytime wetting and soiling which I see most often in children with a history of trauma and neglect.

In my next post we will look at solutions to these problems. Until then, here is a list of questions to help you think about the origin of your child’s issue because when we know the origin, often the solution becomes clear.

1. “Has my child seen a doctor about this issue?” The first place to start with any problems involving the bladder is always with your child’s doctor. Even if your child has not been complaining about a bladder issue. Even if you asked them all the questions that go along with having a bladder infection, still go to get tested. This is important especially if your child has a history of neglect, since they will be more likely to be out of touch with their bodies so they may not be alert to discomfort until it is a major problem. Additionally, even when there is a mental health issue related to a child’s enuresis or encopresis, some children require a medical intervention because, especially for a child that holds on to bowel movements (bm’s), there can be a cycle of holding onto bm’s followed by a painful releasing that can require medical attention in order to stop the pain that reinforces the holding of the bm’s in the first place.

2. “Was my child properly potty-trained?” This may seem like a strange question to ask if you have an eight-year-old, however, if your eight-year-old was being potty trained by an abusive, and or actively drug-using parent, child-care worker, grandparent, etc. during the time when children normally get potty-trained (anywhere from 2-4.5 years old) then they may not have been taught in the ways that they were able to understand. It may be that no one ever walked them through proper wiping procedure after going to the bathroom. It may be that no one ever taught them how to tell if they need to go. Your child may have a developmental lag in this area because they were not able to “master” the developmental milestones that go with being properly potty trained. Additionally, if your child was not properly trained, they may not have developed the muscles that we do not even think about which we use everyday to control our bladder that keep us from our own embarrassing issues.

3. “Does my child have trauma associated with the bathroom?” It may be that your child avoids that bathroom because some bad stuff happened in and/or related to a bathroom at some point, or, they may have experienced trauma related to wetting or soiling themselves. Potty training is reported to be the developmental step during which a child is most likely to experience abuse. If you have a child who has experienced trauma, ask yourself if they may be avoiding the bathroom because it reminds them of something they would rather not think about. Maybe it was a place they hid from someone. Maybe it was a place where they or someone else they loved got hurt. Maybe they were beaten or threatened with harm if they had an accident during potty-training. For children with severe trauma, it may be that they experience a “trigger” wherein they feel terrified, and/or they may be experiencing a traumatic reenactment wherein they are re-experiencing a traumatic situation as their brain’s way of making sense of it and the experience is so intense that they end up peeing on or soiling themselves. An example I have often used comes from when I was a kid myself:

One night I woke up to a small fire in my room. No one was hurt and the house survived but it was scary. The fire truck came and it was pretty clear that things would have been way worse had I not woken up when I did.

Many years later when my children were very small, I remember taking my daughters out to play in the snow. It was a cold day and several people had made fires in their fireplaces. When I went to enter my own home (where we did not have a fire lit), I had a moment when the smell of smoke hit my nose, probably from a nearby chimney. I handed my youngest daughter to my husband and yelled, “Stay out of the house, there’s a fire!” Then I proceeded to run into the house, looking for smoke so I could see where the fire was.

Because I am telling you this story, I’m sure you have figured out by now that there was no fire, however, I can tell you that at the moment I entered my home, I was 100% certain that there was. The smell of smoke was the trigger and I responded accordingly. While it did not involve a wetting or soiling incident (lucky me) I think it does describe how our brains can get tricked for a moment into thinking something is happening again, even when it is not. As I said before, this can sometimes happen with enuresis and encopresis in children of all ages.

4. “Is my child pissed off?” Well, what is the best way to show someone that you are pissed off? Some of the kids that come to see me, intentionally urinate or defecate either on themselves, the furniture, or even mom’s prized photo album. If a child has not been given the tools to express feelings in a reasonable way, they express them in whatever way occurs to them at the time.

Any survivor of abuse or neglect that has not had adequate opportunity or support to process the impact of the trauma often carries an intense level of anger or rage inside. When the anger is not addressed, it comes out in other ways. Even though I have had parents report to me that their child does not act angry when they are urinating on furniture, it is possible that a child with an attachment disorder would seem relatively calm while seething with rage underneath. I liken it to the times when I have gone to the ocean and the lifeguards warned people not to go in the water because the undertow is too strong. The waves look the same to me but there is a pull underwater that you cannot see and that can carry you away from safety. Whether it is because they were not allowed to express feelings for fear of harm, or they gave up on expressing feelings because their feelings were not honored anyway, some children learn that the most effective way to express how they feel is by urinating or defecating intentionally.

5. “Is my child fearful of connection to others?” For children with attachment disorders, it is not uncommon for a child to make themselves seem repellent. I hear a lot about children who refuse to bathe even though they smell terrible, or who have disgusting habits that repulse their parents. If a child is fearful of connection, then feels connection despite that fear, they may do something to make themselves feel more comfortably distant. I see this sometimes when a child comes into my office and we have a moment when the child connects to her mother. Maybe she says something nice about her mom, or they share a hug. For a child where connection is terrifying due to early abuse or neglect, they may subconsciously find a way to reestablish a distance between themselves and their caregivers by wetting or soiling.

Now that we are getting curious about the origins of encopresis and enuresis in older children, in my next post, I will address what we can do about enuretic and encopretic older children.

Related articles:

Older Kids with Bathroom Issues: Why Does it Happen? How Can You Help? Part 2 (help4yourfamily.com)

Caught in the Loop: Why People Repeat the Same Bad Choices Over and Over (help4yourfamily.com)

Parent Affirmation Monday- Curious (help4yourfamily.com)

Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age (help4yourfamily.com)

January 24, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, mental health | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

10 Tips for Guiding Children Through Difficult or Unique Life Circumstances

Writer Lesley Lathrop (left), an adoptee, at r...

Writer Lesley Lathrop (left), an adoptee, at reunion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Most families have gone through, or will go through some type of unique life circumstances at some point. Some families seem to have nothing but unique life circumstances! Whether your child is adopted, was born via a surrogate, has an absent parent, has a parent with a life-threatening illness or drug addiction, an ill or unique sibling, or something else, it is important for them to have a narrative (story) to explain their experiences.

While it may seem commonplace to us, as adults, we can forget that children do not have the knowledge we do about certain life experiences, and, in case you have not noticed, they can be pretty self-centered folks. What happens when those two characteristics combine are some pretty interesting situations, like the mother who brought her daughter to me because she had been acting rotten to her sister in a way that was completely out of character for her. Upon further exploration, I came to learn that this child’s younger sister had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and my client (9 years-old) thought she might catch ADHD. She was irritated with her sister for getting it and bringing it into the house. If you think about it, it makes sense. My client saw her sister taking medicine, just like you have to when you are sick, and had most likely been told it was because her sister had ADHD. Why would a 9 year-old believe that ADHD is any different than the flu? Similarly, a child with say a drug or alcohol addicted parent will come up with a compelling story about the why’s of the way things are and, typically, it has to do with them doing something wrong or being bad.

To avoid misunderstandings for children when there are difficult and/or unique life circumstances, it is important to give them a good narrative to explain what has happened. To guide you in this endeavor, here are some tips for you as you create your narrative:

1. Tell the truth. While it may feel easier to tell kids that mommy is sick and she is going to get all better, if you don’t really know she is going to get better, don’t include that in what you say. Just like if you were taking your child to the doctor to get a shot, you would not want to tell them it’s not going to hurt at all (then you would be a liar), you want to say, “It’s going to pinch for a minute but then you will be fine.” If your child cannot trust you to tell them the truth, who can they trust?

2. Know the developmental age of your child. You want to make sure you are speaking at their developmental level or you will just sound like the adults from a Charlie Brown cartoon. Think of the words that you use and whether they are words your child will understand.

3. Keep your story as simple and to the point as possible. I am thinking of one mom in particular who wanted to explain to her daughter about being adopted from China. She found an opportunity while her child was playing to use dolls, and one of her son’s toy planes. The mom said to her daughter, “One day a lady had you in her tummy. She couldn’t take care of you so you went to live at the orphanage with other kids in China. Mommy and Daddy wanted to have a daughter. We went to China in the plane to find a daughter. We met you and we were so happy! We brought you home on the plane to live with us forever.” The little girl re-told the story, and asked her mom to retell the story many, many times. As she has gotten older, her mother has added more details at her daughters request however, starting this as a simple story, and telling it at a time when her daughter was open and attentive to hearing it was key.

4. Tell the story when it is a good time for your child. You know your child. Some kids listen best in the car. Some only listen when they have asked the question rather than you bringing up the subject. Others want to talk at bedtime or in the morning when they are fresh. Pick a time that works for your child.

5. Watch your tone of voice! Think matter-of-fact, not gloom and doom when you are talking to your child. They will take their cues about how to feel about this story from you, and if your tone suggests it is a horrible story or circumstance, then that is what they will believe about it.

6. Avoid harsh, shaming words for any of the people in the story. To be more specific, I have heard adoptive parents describe a birth parent as a “druggie” and a “loser.” Keep in mind that the people in this narrative may be very important to your child, and they may identify strongly with them. So, for example, in this instance rather than saying “druggie and loser” you might say, “Your birth mom was addicted to drugs when you were young and she made a lot of poor choices because of that.”

7. Include any evidence that points to it not being the child’s fault that people are sick, parents got divorced, they were adopted, abused, etc. and be sure to include any evidence that shows they are loved and lovable. Examples of this could be, “When parents have an addiction, it is never a child’s fault. Usually, it is a problem they had since before their child was born.” or, “Even though your birth mom was not able to take care of it’s clear she loved you because she wanted you to have the best opportunity to have a good life.”

8. Check in with your child after you have told them the story to see what they heard. Many times children will nod along then, when you ask them if they understand, they will say yes. I would encourage you to gently ask something like, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say?” For some kids you will need to tell them they are not required to say your words back verbatim, they only need to give you a summary (like a quick report at school) of what you just said. This is an important thing to do for two reasons: 1. Sometimes kids didn’t get what you said, or interpreted what you said differently than you thought. You can only correct this if you know it happened. 2. Sometimes as we ask children what we just said, we can realize that we just used a ton of words and we may need to edit this story for simplicity.

9. Keep the lines of communication open with your child after you have introduced the narrative to them. The kinds of issues I am talking about in the post typically are issues that last a lifetime and as such will need to be revisited multiple times throughout a child’s life and, while they will start simple when a child is young, they will grow in complexity as a child ages.

10. If there is something a child can do to help be clear about that, however, be careful that your child does not then take on that duty as a life or death responsibility. For example, telling a child who has a mother who has cancer that it one way she can help mom is to make sure she is helping around the house makes perfect sense. Remember, however, that children, even adolescents can have some of what we call magical thinking, and, whereas you and I get that not doing your chores will not make mom sicker, should mom get sicker, you are going to want to make sure your daughter knows it is not because she stopped doing the dishes and sassed her mother last week.

What are some circumstances you have had to explain to your children? How did it go?

September 27, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, Parenting | 5 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?

Related Articles:

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

It’s Not Just Strangers- spotting potential abusers: Part II

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While 96% of all abusers are men,* and men tend to be the focus of this article, it is important that we refrain from trivializing the role of women as abusers as well.  In this article, I speak mostly about men, but the same holds true for women.  Here are some tips to spot potential perpetrators or unsafe situations:

1. Look for people who are more interested in your children than their own children.  For example, if you go to a birthday party and see the father of the birthday kid paying more attention to your child than their child, take a moment to listen to the words they are saying to your child.  Are they trying to draw your child away from the crowd?  Are they excessively flattering?  Are they trying to get your child to come for a playdate even when your child seems reluctant?

2.  Pay attention to any men who are overly willing to be available to babysit, especially if they are willing to put off other, adult activities to be more available to your child for one on one time.  This is true for teenage boys and boys or girls that you know have issues but just like to hang around with your children even though your children are significantly younger.  Kids who are developmentally younger than their chronological age will still begin sexual development at the same age and if they feel more comfortable with children their own age, they are more likely to try out sexual behavior on younger children who will let them get away with it.

3.  “Grabbers” are perpetrators that take the opportunity when it presents itself.  These are, for example, the in-home, daycare provider’s brother who came to visit for a week and was in the home when you dropped your child off.  You can protect your children from those by asking any adult who is in charge of your child to tell you if there will be any other adults around your child.  If you notice a new face when you take your child to school or child care, don’t be afraid to ask.  Just do what I do and say you are an over protective parent.  Own it 🙂

4.  “Groomers” are people who take time to get a child (and parent) comfortable with them.  They may take a long time to even begin doing anything to the child.  In the meantime, they begin to seamlessly insert themselves into the family and over time, develop a relationship with the children.  Listen to your gut if you get a feeling about someone, take a minute to ask your child and get curious about how they feel when that person is around.

5.  Be visible.  Parents who are a known presence at school and day-care are less likely to have children who are victims.  Show up unannounced at child care and for school lunches if your child’s school allows it.  Volunteer a few times a year so you get to know teachers and other school personnel and they get to know you.  Know your childcare provider and, if you do not trust his or her decision-making, get a new one.

6.  Be aware of people in your own family who you know are perpetrators.  This may sound obvious, however, I have met enough people by now who allowed their child to be around the grandparent who abused the parent, yet the parent felt if they were watchful enough, their child would not get hurt, or hoped that the perpetrator had changed enough that they would not do that to their grandchild.  Similarly, if you are a divorced parent and abuse was an issue during your marriage, or you knew that your child’s other parent was harming or neglecting the children, if possible, protect your child from being alone with that parent.  Wikipedia reports that, “the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that for each year between 2000 and 2005, “female parents acting alone” were most likely to be perpetrators of child abuse.”  **  If someone is a known perpetrator to you, do not allow your child to be alone with them.  Stepfathers and fathers respectively are the most likely to be reported as perpetrators of sexual abuse for girls 10 and older according to childabuse.org.

7.  Listen to your child.  Children, especially young children, often disclose information that we do not catch if we are not listening.  If a child says something that causes you concern, be curious and ask them about it to clarify what they are talking about.  Sometimes because our young children are so sexually innocent, they don’t even know that there was anything out-of-order with what happened and they just tell you about it.

I want to conclude by being perfectly clear, that there is no guarantee that our children will never deal with an abusive caretaker.  However, the likelihood that a child will identify a problem to you sooner, so that you may take action immediately will be increased by talking to your child and being aware of the tricks of abusers.

Related Articles:

*http://www.child-abuse-effects.com/male-sex-offenders.html

**http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_abuse#cite_ref-31

May 18, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

It’s Not Just Strangers: Protecting Young Children from Abuse- Part I

child abuse

child abuse (Photo credit: Southworth Sailor)

I hate to break this to you in case you didn’t already know it but strangers are not the main cause of harm to children.  While we talk to children about “stranger danger,” as parents, we sometimes fail to talk to them about ways to protect themselves from people they come across in their daily lives who may be harmful to them.  Statistically, children are much more likely to be harmed by someone they know.  In cases of sexual abuse, for example, 90% of child victims know the perpetrator in some way^.  In 1994, Dr. Gene Abel, conducted a study of 453 pedophiles.  In total, those pedophiles admitted to over 67,000 victims, averaging out to 148 victims per perpetrator^^.  In my own experience, I have seen that most perpetrators have multiple victims and that sexual abuse is much less likely to be reported and prosecuted in the United States.  In this post, I am focusing on sexual abuse since that is the most under-reported of the abuses, however, you can use many of the same rules for neglect and physical abuse.  Rather than encouraging fear, I would like to tell you some ways you can prepare your children in case anyone ever does try to inappropriately touch or discipline them.  In my next post, I will tell you about signs you can look for to prevent abuse before it occurs.

Tips for teaching your young children about abuse prevention:

1.  Talk with your young child about the rules about private parts, namely that: private parts are the parts covered by your bathing suit; the only people who can touch private parts are parents when you are taking a bath or helping to change a diaper or going potty, and doctors during an exam.

2. Define other types of abuse as well: if someone hits you and leaves a mark, or does not take care of you when they are supposed to- like a babysitter who would leave a child home alone, then come back before the parents get home.  Tell your child that no one has permission to hit them even if they say they do, and that no one is supposed to leave them home alone.

3.  Teach children that if anyone tries to do anything you have just taught them is abusive they should: 1. say no, 2. get away, 3.  tell someone (list a few people it is okay to tell).

4.  Teach kids that people who would try to touch private parts, or hit, or neglect kids can be tricky.  If someone says they are going to hurt someone else if you tell something, don’t be tricked!  Tell!

5.  Teach children to listen to the “uh oh” feeling.  If anyone they know gives them an “uh oh” feeling (usually you feel it in your tummy, throat or head) then instruct your child to tell you as soon as possible.

6.  If you see your child acting strange around another adults and it makes you uncomfortable, when they are away from that person, gently bring up that you noticed they seemed different and get curious about why that might be.

7.  Encourage your child to build a vocabulary for feelings and talk about feelings in your family.  If you have difficulty with this, remember our affirmation for last week was: My children give me constant opportunities to learn and grow.  See, you have a learning, growing opportunity right here.

8.  Keep an open dialogue with children about okay and not okay touches.  Allow your child to speak up if they do not want to hug or kiss someone and back them up if they say or use body language to show that they do not want someone touching them.  Give them alternatives to help them problem solve like a fist bump, a high-five, or a hand shake, or if you find yourself witnessing your child being uncomfortable with a person trying to touch them, you can say something like, “Jake’s not quite ready for a hug, how about a high-five?”

Watch the language and tone that you use during your conversations with kids about this topic.  Children can misinterpret a very serious parent for an angry parent and feel like they are in trouble if you take the conversation too seriously. Keep the conversation light.  Remember Mr. Rogers from Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?  If you don’t remember him, think of a gentle teacher you have met and emulate them.  Just like talking to kids about “stranger danger” this is not a one-time conversation.  Check in periodically with kids about what they would do if anyone ever tried to touch them.

Do you have questions about protecting your children from abuse?  Please feel free to ask them in the comments section.

^http://www.childhelp.org/pages/statistics

^^http://www.cpiu.us/statistics-2/

 

May 16, 2012 Posted by | child development, help for parents, keeping children safe | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

%d bloggers like this: