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 | , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Affirmation for the New Year

written by Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In honor of the New Year, I would like to share one of my favorite affirmations. I believe it comes from Louise Hay, but I have been saying for a while now and don’t honestly know the origins. However, I find it particularly fitting for the New Year. It is fairly simple and goes like this.

I am willing to let go of old, painful patterns that keep me feeling unhappy. I welcome new and fulfilling experiences into my life.

I love this affirmation because it rightly implies that you do not need to figure out how to let go of old patterns, as much as you must be willing to let them go. Just the simple act of being sincerely willing to let go of old, painful patterns, can open up a new experience for you and for your family, since your willingness to let go will impact them as well.

It is my hope for you that this year brings your happiest family experiences ever. Thank you so much for traveling with me through the past year, my first year of blogging, and for your support as I entered a new learning experience. I am looking forward to many more years spent together.

candles

candles (Photo credit: rogerglenn)

December 30, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

To Parents Who Worry Their Child Will Harm Others

Child

Child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

In a departure from my typical Monday affirmation posts, I want to address the recent tragedy in Connecticut and speak to an issue that has not been covered much but needs attention. While many parents worry that something so terrible could happen to their child, many of the parents who come into my office will be asking another question alongside the concern about their child’s safety at school. A good number of the parents I see will be asking whether their child is capable of someday growing up to perpetrate a similar crime. There is a striking article by the Anarchist Soccer Mom, who is not my client, about this very issue. Today I want to write a letter to this parent who has an added layer of grief.

Dear Mom/Dad/guardian/grandparent of a child with violent tendencies and angry outbursts,

I know that the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school has you shaken on many levels. Not only have you been faced with the vulnerability of human life, even children, but you also have had a scary glimpse into something similar to what your deepest darkest fears whisper to you…that your child could perpetrate a similar crime. As a private practice social worker, I work with children who have a history of being violent, angry, destructive, and rage-ful. I want to talk to you about this fear that may be bubbling up to the surface now even though you may have become an expert at keeping it tucked away.

Please do not live in fear. I know that sounds easier than it is, however, some of your most important work will be letting go of the fear of what your child could become. This does not mean pretending that your child is able to maintain and keep reasonable boundaries if she or he is not, it means to focus more time on planning for the success for your child than you do planning for the spiral down. Sometimes as we visualize a worst case scenario we begin to watch for and call forth those behaviors in our children which we most fear. I am not blaming you, just pointing out a human tendency that we have to find that which we seek, confirmation for that which we are looking for.  Have an emergency plan in place, then try to take in out only when needed.

Remember to separate the behaviors of your child from who you believe them to be. All behaviors are a reaction or coping mechanism based on internal or external stimuli. The core essence of your child, like all humans, is good, loving, caring and kind. This is my belief. The work of parents, therapists, teachers, and other adult caregivers is to help a child connect to his or her core perfect self. Sometimes this means helping a child to quiet internal stimuli via medication, acupuncture, physical exercise, and/or dietary changes. Other times or even at the same time, this means helping children to manage external stimuli, like social and family relationships, sensory issues, or physically or emotionally traumatic experiences. When you are working toward this goal PLEASE MAINTAIN HOPE. If you are seeking treatment for your child and it is not working go somewhere else, even if you are coming to see me! Please do not be scared of non-invasive alternative help that science may not have caught up with yet. There are always going to be people who some treatments help and people the same treatments don’t help. There are no cookie cutter treatments or people. Think about taking your child for yoga or meditation. Try Reiki. Look into crainio-sacral therapy. These are all non-invasive treatments and you can research the person you are taking your child to see. Make sure they are licensed in the treatment you are seeking. Ask questions. Yes I’m sure you will find people who think you are going off the rails, but if it works, do you care?

Listen to yourself. You know your child. I have spoken with too many parents who continued to take their child to a practitioner for years that the parent did not like, did not really agree with and did not trust that their child was getting the treatment he or she needed. These parents continued to go because they were told it was important. Treatment is important, however, the most important part of treatment is picking the right person. Just because someone is an expert, it does not mean they will be an expert for your child. If you feel they do not know or “get” you or your child, think about going elsewhere.

Most of all, keep trying. For some mental health issues, especially issues related to impulse control and emotional regulation, a lot depends on brain development. Sometimes we can teach and guide children endlessly toward more positive coping skills, however, they are not able to follow through with the knowledge they have gained until their brain catches up. Many times it is more than a parent or parents can do alone. You need a good team and respite. Don’t be afraid to ask for more help before you need it so you have it in place. For children who are struggling so much they put their parents and siblings in danger, there are inpatient programs that are good and I have seen parents who have figured out some amazing ways to fund a residential program in an attempt to save their child’s life, and it has.

I want to tell you that I have been doing this long enough now that I have seen kids get better. I am talking about kids who picked up knives and shook them at their parents, kids who started fires in their homes on purpose, kids who purposely urinated on furniture and threatened death toward their parents. You don’t hear about those brave children and parents because they don’t make the news…they grow up. They learn to love people and accept love back. They are not in rehab, or jail, they are at work, school or home, or out with their friends. They make mistakes sometimes, just like you do. They experience personal crises, just like you do, and question their lives, just like you, but really, they survive, just like you and they are doing just fine, utilizing the coping skills you worked so hard to make sure they had available to them.

Keep moving forward.

All the best,

Kate

Recommended Posts:

Messing Up Children in Just the Right Ways (help4yourfamily.com)

The Spectrum of Attachment (help4yourfamily.com)

How to Know if You or Your Child Need a Therapist (help4yourfamily.com)

December 17, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, discipline, help for parents, keeping children safe, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Quick self care for parents

Drunk water

Drunk water (Photo credit: eyesore9)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Many parents get into the habit of believing that in order to nourish ourselves, we need a grand gesture or a day away from the children. While that is nice sometimes, we also need to find smaller moments throughout the day to fit in body and soul nourishment. Especially around this time of year, when we find that we are doing more for others, it is important to fill our own tank as well.

One of the issues I hear from parents when it comes to self-care is that there is no time or money or that when you do start taking care of yourself it just reminds you of how little care you have been getting. Well, the last issue is for another post on another day (I am planning on writing that post), but in the meantime, here is a list of quick and easy self-care ideas that even a parent with a small child can find a moment in the day to do. Most of them cost little or no money. Please feel free to use the ones that work for you and lose the ones that don’t. I want to include this list in the book I am writing and would love it if you would share any other quick and easy self-care tips you have. You may notice that you already do some of them, like drinking water. For this list, the idea is not to just drink the water, but to enjoy doing it and to mark it in your mind as something you did today to take care of yourself.

  1. Put lotion on your feet before you put your socks on.
  2. Take a deep breath, hold it for a slow count of two, then let it go. Repeat two more times.
  3. Try EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to enhance the good feeling you are having, or to clear away a difficult feeling. Here is a video of Cheryl Richardson teaching this technique in five minutes, but if you want to really take care of yourself, you can get the book by Jack Canfield and Pamela Brunner Tapping Into Ultimate Success (you can find this book quickly on amazon by clicking the amazon link on the top left of the screen).*
  4. Set a timer for five minutes and start clearing off a surface of your home that has been bothering you. Stop when the alarm goes off. Look at what you just accomplished for yourself!
  5. Sit and drink a glass of water. If you want to get really fancy, cut a slice of cucumber, lemon or apple and put it in the water. Allow yourself to enjoy the water as it cleanses your body.
  6. Light a candle that you have been saving for a special occasion. Now is the special occasion.
  7. Get the app on your phone called Quick Reminders (it’s free) and type in an affirmation for yourself then tell your phone to remind you of your affirmation regularly.
  8. Take a moment and stretch your body. Start at your head and slowly and gently circle your head around clockwise, then counter-clockwise. Circle your shoulders around, circle your wrists and elbows. Circle your hips around, clockwise, then counter-clockwise. Bend your knees. Circle your ankles around. Wiggle your toes. Bend and touch your toes, then reach up to the sky. Open your arms to the world and breathe in happiness.
  9. Imagine your body filling with a colored light that feels like the right color to you right now.
  10. Take a shower and enjoy the feeling of the water on your skin. Even better, take a bath.
  11. Treat yourself to reading an article you have been thinking about, or an extra chapter in the book you have next to the bed.
  12. Close your eyes for five minutes and take a power nap.
  13. Put your hand on your heart, close your eyes, and thank yourself for the good things you have done to make your life good in this moment.
  14. Say a prayer of thanks for the gifts that you have.
  15. Listen to a song that puts you in a good mood.
  16. Look up a funny video on YouTube and get a good laugh.
  17. Find a picture of yourself from when you were little, and tell the child in the picture some of the good things that are coming his or her way.
  18. Purchase a deck of gratitude cards, angel cards, etc, and pull one for yourself. Remind yourself of the message on the card.
  19. Give yourself a mini manicure or pedicure.
  20. Step outside and look at the sky. Touch a tree or feel your bare feet on the ground. Take a moment to enjoy nature.

I am certain that I have not covered every self-care tip out there, this was just the first 20 I could think of. I am so curious to know what it is that you do to take care of yourself quickly during the day. Please share!

Related Posts:

The Art of Breathing (help4yourfamily.com)

Parent Affirmation Monday- Being Present (help4yourfamily.com)

*See disclaimer page

December 13, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- Letting Go of Grievances- 12/10/2012

Don't let the sun go down on your grievances

Don’t let the sun go down on your grievances (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

As we approach a new year, and get closer to seeing people we might not see all the time, who we might have a history with that remains unresolved in some way, it is time to think about putting aside past grievances. Most of us, at some point, have had an argument with a person we cared for that turned into something much bigger than it needed to be. So often the conflicts we have are not about what we say they are about. More often they are about a perceived slight, belief about the other person, or some other story we tell ourselves about things that have happened in the past. When you look at the person you have an old, unresolved grievance with, perhaps one that gets activated this time of year, I’m going to suggest that it is time to ask yourself whether it is worth it to you to carry around this grudge anymore.

I am reminded of an email I got a long time ago that I wish I had saved. It was about a professor talking to his students. The professor filled a cup with water. He held the cup up in front of the class and asked the students how much they thought it weighed. The students guessed with a fair amount of accuracy. The professor then asked, “How much do you think this cup would weigh if I held it up just like this for five minutes?” Well of course it would weigh the same amount, but it would feel a good bit heavier. Imagine holding a cup up in front of you for an entire day…an entire week…a month…a year. That’s one heavy cup. Imagine the water is a grievance you have been carrying around. Think about the relief of putting down our cup of grievances.

Often we think we are going to hold onto a little grudge. It won’t weigh much. We only pull it out a couple of times a year when we see a certain individual. We minimize the energy it takes to carry the grievance inside of us until we wait for the right moment to pull it out and apply it.

In the car, on the way to see people you have not seen for a while, or maybe even people you see all the time, take a moment to listen to your thoughts. Are you dreading some aspect of the upcoming encounter? Why? Imagine what it would be like to let go of your expectations for what that person “should” do or how they “should” be according to you. A big part of this will be forgiving yourself for believing you knew how someone “should” be or what they “should” do. On the way to see anyone who you hold hurt or angry feelings about (including your children), try saying the following affirmation to yourself:

I am letting go of past grievances and looking toward a brighter future for myself and for this person.

I want to strongly emphasize that looking toward a brighter future does not necessarily mean that you are looking to become best friends. It does not even mean that you spend time together- ever. Letting go of grievances does not push the reset button for healthy boundaries. It is simply deciding that you are putting this memory, this contentious story you tell yourself about the issue to bed. Wishing happiness for those around you, and letting go of old grievances help us all create a more peaceful, loving existence and models for our children how to rise above old, unhealthy family patterns.

December 10, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Few Helpful Resources

Since I have been busy preparing a book proposal to send off (please wish me well), I have missed a few posts. Well, the proposal is sent, and I would like to share with you three posts:

1. Sometimes you read something that just sticks with you and you want to keep referring back to. Kristen Barton Cuthriell over at Let Life in Practices wrote just such a post. It is called How to Become a Happier Person. I think we all need to read it. To get to it, you can click here.

2. In the spirit of the holiday’s Leah DeCesare over at Mother’s Circle invited me to do a guest post about a family tradition we have for this time of year. I would love to invite you to check it out now by clicking here.

3. Lastly, Karen, over at Familosity, was kind enough to mention me in a post she made about finding our true mission. I wanted to send her my appreciation for recognizing that I am working to live my life’s mission and to share her lovely post with you all. You can find the post by clicking here.

Have you read any recent articles or research that you think need to be included on this site? Please feel free to share in the comments section:

December 6, 2012 Posted by | help for parents, resources/ book reviews | | Leave a comment

Parent Affirmation Monday- being present- 12/3/2012

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu.

Christmas lights on Aleksanterinkatu. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

This week’s affirmation is simple and meant to be a reminder to help your holiday season happier for you. Have you ever noticed how the holidays have changed since you had children. They can go from a time you anticipate all of the wonderful surprises, to a time you find yourself constantly working to make sure everything gets done. When you are planning the holidays around your children, while also keeping up with the regular routines in your life, the joy of the season can become lost in favor of muddling through and getting it all done. My hope is to simply remind you to take time to stop and enjoy yourself along the way.

I remember my wedding day. It was scheduled to be outside in the summer at the end of a long drought in our area. It was actually scheduled for what I now call “the day the drought ended.” About an hour and a half before the ceremony, the drought ended with a bang, thunder, lightning and a heavy downpour. I guess because I don’t take myself very seriously, I really didn’t fret about it. My friends kept telling me how sorry they were for the bad luck and kept reminding me rain on your wedding day is lucky. I just laughed and told them it was all going into my memories of a special day. I decided the minute the rain started that the day would be special, rain or not.

My point is, that at some point, it is all just going to be memories. If the kids are too scared to sit on Santa’s lap for the perfect picture? Memories. If you burn the turkey and everyone lives on side dishes? Memories. Almost any imperfect happening can be looked back on with a smile later if we have the right attitude, so why not allow yourself to be present, go with the flow, and, when it gets to the point where you have a chance to sit back and enjoy your hard work and planning, do it?

This week, I want to remind you that as you find yourself planning to create just the “right” memories, remember also, that there comes a point at which you can stop and just enjoy the ride as well. Show your children that when you plan well, you also get to laugh hard, have fun, and be present in the moment. Any worries you have about work, money or anything else can wait a moment while you allow yourself and your children to enjoy a family meal, take a drive to see the Christmas lights, or enjoy a special holiday show.

This week’s affirmation is:

I enjoy being present with my children as we enjoy each moment together. I remember that it is often the imperfect moments that we end up treasuring the most.

By the way, 15 minutes before my ceremony, the sky cleared and we ended up having our ceremony outside anyway. It turns out whether I worried or not, the day was destined to work out just fine.

December 3, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- budgeting- 11/26/2012

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Pile of gorgeous gifts

Pile of gorgeous gifts (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s that time of year again. The time when any old unresolved feelings we have about giving and receiving get activated. Whether you celebrate a holiday that involves gifts, right about now in the United States it would take quite a lot to get away from the messages we get about the meaning of giving and receiving different kinds of gifts. For parents, the meaning of giving gifts can change when we have children. Some of us work to make sure our children have just the same kind of holiday that our parents gave us. Others want our holidays to have little to no resemblance to the holidays from our past. We have a tendency to see people that we only see one to two times per year right around now, which can bring up old, unresolved feelings and cause us to evaluate where we think we are in relation to others. With this perfect storm of holiday memories past and holiday hopes for the future, what happens next can put a real strain on our wallets.

In an effort to get us all through the holidays feeling content with the decisions we have made, I would like to recommend taking a moment each day to ponder what a reasonable budget is for you for this season. When you do, you might want to keep in mind that children are happier when their parents are happy, peaceful and content. Sticking with a budget allows you to feel this way. A parent who is stressed and worried about money is more likely to overreact when children are feeling the normal excitement that goes with the holidays.

If you do that thing I hear some parents do where you worry that you are not getting your children enough, take a moment to ask them what they got last Christmas. I bet they don’t remember it all beyond a few meaningful gifts. Think what the money from the gifts they have already forgotten from last year would mean in your retirement fund, or your child’s college savings rather than on the floor of your child’s room. Also remember that when we look back, we tend to think more about our parents actions, good or bad, than we remember what items they gave us.

This weeks affirmation is:

When I give gifts to my children, I spend only an amount that is affordable to me. I remember that I show my love to my children via actions more than things.

One person who has really come up with a wonderful way to help parents get through the holiday while maintaining sanity and a budget is the Flylady. She has a free email sign up that allows you to “fly through the holidays” where she gives one item that takes a couple of minutes each day to help you get ready for the holidays. I used it myself last year and had to pinch myself while I sipped coffee and read a book on Christmas Eve because all of my preparations were complete, and I had come in under budget. You can do it too.

As a child, did you ever receive a gift that was really special to you? What was the meaning of the gift? What memories do  you want your children to have this holiday?

November 26, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tips for Gift Giving and the Child With a History of Abuse

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

It is the time of year when many adults are on a mission to find just the right gifts for the special children in their lives. One issue that comes up in my practice around this time of year is that of giving gifts to children who have a history of abuse or neglect. While many adults would love to believe that this is the time of year when we can try to make things right, be it a child who may have missed out on many of the memories that make us misty eyed, or laugh out loud when we think about them. I have spoken with many a parent who wishes to restore the magical elements of the Christmas or Hannukah holiday season by showering children with gifts and creating special memories for children in hopes of replacing older more difficult memories.

To ease the way for adoptive and foster parents of children who have a history of abuse or neglect, I would like to give some food for thought as you decide what will work for your child this holiday.

1. Please be aware that for children who have been abused, gifts may carry a different meaning than they do for other children. Many times the cycle of physical abuse including domestic violence may include gifts from the perpetrator following the abuse as the abusers way of trying to apologize or bribe a child into staying silent. Additionally, a child who has been a victim of sexual abuse may have been offered gifts as part of the process of grooming the child for abuse, or again as a means to apologize or buy silence from the child. If you have a child in your home who has experienced this, or you are uncertain if a child has experienced the giving of gifts as part of a cycle of abuse, please be sure to check in with your child’s therapist to see what you might need to do to help re-write the script for you child when it comes to the giving and receiving of gifts. This process cannot be described in a post because it will need to be individualized for each child. If you are uncertain whether your child has this issue and they do not have a therapist, it is time to start looking for one.

2. When children have a history of abuse or neglect, they tend to miss the lessons we all learn (or don’t learn) as babies about emotional regulation. In other words, whereas the rest of us tend to learn over time that we all have highs and lows, sometimes even in the same day, and we learn to manage those highs and lows, children with an abuse or neglect history have not been taught this same emotional management systems so the highs can seem higher or more agitated and the lows can seem lower. Many parents describe to me that their adopted or foster child just can’t seem to stop when things are going well and find a way to get into trouble every time they have a good day. If you have a child like this, I would suggest that for the child’s benefit, you pare down your festivities to something that is more meaningful to them and which does not get them more over-excited than they already are. A few thoughtful gifts will be more meaningful and easier to manage than a tree that has many, many gifts underneath it.

3. Remember your child may not have learned about the same traditions you have around holidays and birthdays. I have had children tremble and shake in my office over the idea of “birthday spankings,” because they actually got painful birthday spankings in their birth family, or because a foster or adoptive parent mentioned them as a joke, but the child in question did not hear it as a joke but as a threat. Similarly, I have had children in my office who have had Christmas taken away as punishment for being bad, or had gifts given only to be repossessed by parents the next day. Some children have had traumas specific to a given day, for example, witnessing domestic violence at Thanksgiving or seeing a parent get hurt by another parent who did not agree with how much money was spent on a child’s gift. Children may have been given an internal message that all gifts bring pain of some sort with them, whether it is the pain of disappointment, physical or emotional pain, or the feeling of being unworthy of a gift. Again, if you are concerned that this is an issue for your child, the time is now to begin discussing it with your child’s therapist to see about recognizing and rewriting old belief patterns.

4. Consider whether your child may need you to walk them through the gift giving process in your family. Most of us do not think about it, but each family really does do things in a unique way. Letting your child know how this family does it, will be helpful to them so they know what is going to happen next.

5. Avoid labeling gifts as secrets, as in, “Don’t tell Mom we got this for her. It’s a secret.” Instead try something like, “We are going to surprise mom with this gift. It’s okay to keep this surprise until she gets it.” It may seem like a small distinction but for kids with the kind of history we are talking about I always try to teach the difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises= safe and good, secrets= unsafe and bad. As children grow and begin to feel safer in their day to day life, we can get less concrete about this issue.

6. Remember to receive any gift your child gives you with love and acceptance being extra sure that they do not hear critique of their gift as you receive it. Remember to that your child, for all of the above reasons and more, may have difficulty giving a gift to you as it may symbolize for them any number of difficult memories, or remind them of a relationship they have a major internal conflict about.

While I know this post may remind you of some issues you would rather forget during the season, one wonderful things I have seen over the years is how parents of adoptive and foster children work so hard to come up with the combination of experiences that best meet their child’s needs. If you are a foster or adoptive parent of a child adopted at an older age with a history of abuse or neglect, please feel free to chime in with any other tips you have. I would love to hear about things that went right and things you would have changed if you could go back in time.

November 21, 2012 Posted by | attachment disorder, keeping children safe, mental health | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- Empathic- 11/17/2012

"The mother"

“The mother” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

For this, the last week focusing on the PLACE parenting attitude, as described by Daniel Hughes, we are looking at the important parental quality of being empathic toward your child. Empathy is, simply described, the ability to see what another person is going through and to understand how hard/painful/joyful/confusing it must be. Empathy sounds like this:

  • I can see this is hard for you.
  • It’s difficult when we don’t get what we were hoping for.
  • I know stopping something you enjoyed doing is tough, especially if you have to stop it to do chores.
  • I can see how you would feel that way.

Empathy can also be shown with our bodies in the form of a hug, a gently placed hand, and/or a look that mirrors the person who is speaking. Many times we are showing empathy for another and we do not even realize it.

Notice I did not say that empathy means taking on the feelings of another person. It does not. It means that when you see your child in a particular situation, you are able to draw from memories of times that you may have had similar feelings or circumstances and empathize with (not take on) the feelings your child is having now. In other words, I want to distinguish empathy from a less helpful parental stance like sympathy, which can invoke feelings of pity, and/or the blurring of boundaries that can happen when a parent so deeply empathizes with a child that they feel they must take on the feelings of the child rather than letting the child learn how to recover from a difficult time in an age appropriate way. Empathy leaves room for a parent to guide a child, if the child is willing, but does not necessarily include a parent “fixing” the problem.

This weeks affirmation is:

I allow my children to resolve their problems and model healthy, empathic boundaries for them.

November 19, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, attachment, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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