help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

Parent Affirmation Monday- playful- 10/22/2012

Silly Furry Saturday!

Silly Furry Saturday! (Photo credit: Buntekuh)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Last week, I wrote about the PLACE Parenting attitude, as taught by Dr. Dan Hughes. For the next few weeks, I want to focus on each of the different parts of the PLACE attitude.

Our first attribute of this attitude is playful. I have to admit that as a parent, this is actually the most difficult part for me, which is actually pretty funny considering I started my career as a therapist as a “play therapist.” However, while my husband is pretty good at finding a silly answer to my children when they are grumbling about something, I’m too busy trying to figure out how to “fix” what I think is going wrong. Well, last week, I had a little breakthrough and I thought I might share it with you to show you what I mean about being playful.

My oldest daughter likes shopping for clothes almost as much as she liked getting a root canal last year. Actually, I heard less grumbling during the root canal. I’ve bought enough clothes that have disappeared into her drawers never to be seen again, or just to be outright rejected to know that I’m not spending money on clothes she has not picked. As a result, she and I have had a building issue about clothes shopping such that I myself have imagined the welcome relief of giving a cat a bath rather than taking her shopping. Long story short, what we were doing was not working despite my trying to process each interaction that went poorly when it came to clothes shopping. Recently, I decided to get playful.

If you haven’t heard of the gangnam style of dancing, you might want to check it out on Youtube (the dance starts around 30 seconds in). Let me give a brief descriptor: the gangnam dance is a sort of galloping style where sometimes you put one hand over your head like you are going to rope cattle at a rodeo. I downloaded the song on itunes and put it on my cell phone. Before leaving to go get winter pants with my darling eldest, I pulled her aside and said to her that I wanted things to go well. I put my arm around her and smiled while I told her that I had a plan for what to do if she got snippy or sassy with me. I proceeded to turn on the song and, to her horror, starting dancing/galloping around the living room. We both laughed pretty hard, but I ended by suggesting that if she found it so funny, she might like to see it in public as well.

And so it happened. Right there in JCPenny’s, going up the escalator my normally sweet, but now snarly girl said something  about me being fat- I’ve already forgotten what it was but it wasn’t nice. I took a breath, asked her in a serious tone if she knew what I had to do now, then, again, to her horror, I turned on that song. Right. There. In. JCPenny. (So sorry if you were there and happened to see that! It was necessary.) We both ended up laughing- I probably laughed hardest. And, we moved on. I didn’t hiss at her in the dressing room to get back at her. I didn’t feel the need to “make her pay” further. She apologized, sincerely almost as soon as the words came out of her mouth, but you know I still had to dance anyway.

When you can, if you can, be playful with your children. Find a way to make them, or at least yourself, smile. Show them how to rise above a nasty comment with a laugh and a grin. Show them how we, as adults, are able to stop taking ourselves so darn seriously all the time! With that being said, here is the affirmation this week:

I find ways to be funny and playful with my children. I welcome moments of unexpected silliness.

October 22, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting | , , , , , , , | 5 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

Teaching Children to Use Affirmations

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Loving Siblings

Loving Siblings (Photo credit: BenSpark)

All my regular readers know I am a fan of affirmations. I use them for parents all the time. I also find them to be very useful with children, especially for children who have a history of trauma or neglect. For these kids, and other children, teaching them the use of affirmations is another tool in their coping skills tool kit and can teach children who may never have learned to regulate their emotions a new way to self-soothe.

An affirmation is something you say to yourself. Positive thoughts affirm positive feelings. Negative thoughts affirm negative feelings. Both are affirmations. The trick is to decide what it is that you choose to affirm.

When teaching children about affirmations, I typically go through the following process.

1. I pick something a child is talking to me about that bothers them, say a friend who is being mean to them, and have them practice two different types of  statements they might say to themselves about the friend while noticing how they feel after saying the statement a few times. For example, we might say, “She’s mad at me for no reason!” a few times. We talk about how the child’s body feels as she says that statement a few times. Then we try an alternate statement, “I have many friends who love me. I deserve loving friends.” We notice what happens in our bodies after saying this statement as well. I teach children that the statements we just learned are called affirmations.

2. I read children the book, “I Think, I Am!” by Louise Hayand Kristina Tracy to further introduce the concept of affirmations and show examples. I have never read this book to a child who did not love it and want their own copy.*

Cover of "I Think, I Am!: Teaching Kids t...

Cover via Amazon

3. We practice together with creating affirmations and pick one or two for kids to work on that week.

Do’s and Don’ts for helping children create affirmations

1. One major pitfall I see parents fall into when they help children create affirmations happens when they place an expectation on a child that might not be realistic or does not align with the child’s goals. “I can get an A on that Math test!” is a surefire way for a child struggling in math to feel like affirmation’s fail. A more general, “I am always learning and growing.” works much better since it is true and does not lead to the argument, “But I’ll never get an A in math!”

2. Be careful about believing there is only one positive way for things to turn out. It may be best for this friendship to end. Not making the team may open up a child to a new experience with a different sport they never would have tried otherwise. You can avoid this mistake by gearing affirmations toward a positive belief system ( I like Louise Hay’s, “Everything is always working toward my greater good.” or “The universe (God, spirit) has wonderful plans in store for me.”) rather than a specific outcome.

3. Allow children to come up with affirmations that work for them. Keep it simple. I remember my daughter telling her nose, “I’m ready to be healthy now.” when she was four. That was a message she wanted to give her body and she got better the next day. I do not mean to minimize any illness, but I do want to highlight that by telling our bodies what we want, we are programming them. Think of the difference between saying, “I’m fighting a cold.” and “I’m returning to health.” One tells your body to fight, the other tells your body to return to its natural, healthy state. If you do not believe that your body responds to your thoughts, I like Cheryl Richardson’s way of saying explaining this. She asks whether you have ever had a sexual fantasy and noticed a difference in your body. Hmmm? The more we research this, the more we learn about the connection between thoughts and physical health. Still don’t believe me? You might want to read this article from the Mayo Clinic.

4. Use affirmations yourself! When kids see you use them, they follow suit, it’s as simple as that. You know there are times when you hear your words come out of your children’s mouths. Sometimes it feels good to hear it, sometimes it’s not so good. Using affirmations yourself gives you more of the good ones.

5. Beware of glossing over negative feelings. Affirmations help us to see the positive in negative situations, but that does not mean that we pretend there are no negative feelings involved. It is important to still acknowledge the negative feelings i.e. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the team!” but to then use affirmations to chose a way to self-soothe by choosing what you are going to believe about not making the team. “I’m disappointed I didn’t make the team, but I know I can still find other ways to have fun.”

Have you used affirmations with your children? What’s your favorite affirmation to use with your child?

*If you want your own copy, you can easily purchase this book by clicking on the Amazon widgets link at the top right on my webpage. Please see the disclaimer page before doing so.

September 20, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, child development, Parenting | 15 Comments

A Quick Primer on Early Primary Relationships

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

As regular readers of my blog know, I recently joined the faculty of the Institute of Advanced Psychotherapy, Training and Education, Inc. (IAPTE), an organization that facilitates some of the best continuing education trainings for people in my field.

This week I had the honor of being asked to write a guest post for Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C, DAPA. Lisa is the founder of  (IAPTE). She is also the author of the recently published book, Treating Self-Destructive Behaviors in Traumatized Clients: A Clinician’s Guide. If you are not in the Maryland, DC, Virginia area, there is an option to “bring the training to you.”

I invite you all to check out Lisa’s blog for IAPTE. Click here for the link to my article, A Quick Primer on Eary Primary Relationships. There you will also have the opportunity to learn more about Lisa and all the wonderful work she does.

September 12, 2012 Posted by | child development, Parenting | 1 Comment

You Never Have to Say “No” Again!

English: My dad took this picture on the day t...

English: My dad took this picture on the day that I was the child host of the Mayor Art Show. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you ever just get tired of saying that word over and over again? You know, that word…no.  Now, if you have a really little one, no works.  It’s short and sweet for your short, sweet kids.  I am talking about the older kids.  The negotiators.  For the people who see me at my practice, I am also talking about the children who are traumatized or attachment compromised, and for whom “no” is a trigger word.  The word “no” for those kids is like a magical word that can instantly build a wall (or tornado) up between you and your child that does not allow them to hear the love that parents intend behind the word “no.”

Before anyone gets all upset that I am suggesting that this word crushes fragile egos and all that nonsense, I want to make it clear that I am not advocating fear of the word “no” for parents, nor am I suggesting that children should never have to hear that word.  Let’s not pretend that “no” is never going to be a word they hear.  I am thinking you might just be tired of saying it, or you might want another option, or, like I said, for traumatized, attachment disturbed children, I’m giving you a new way to help them learn to love (trust me, “no” is a word they are familiar with anyway so no worries there).

Are you interested in knowing how this works?  Here are the conversations as they are now:

Child: Mom, can I go to the mall?

Mom: No

Child: Whhhyyyyeeee? (how do they make why into a three syllable word?)

or

Child: Dad, can I have a cookie?

Dad: No, not right now.  Dinner’s coming.

Child: Just one?

Dad: No.

Child: Please?  I promise I’ll eat my dinner!

Do I really need to write the rest of that conversation?  You already have it playing in your head at this point, right?

Here is an alternative.  I got it from the helpful folks who wrote the book Parenting with Love and Logic (find it in my recommended readings at the top right on this page)* and I am going to show you how it can work for anything.

Child: Mom, can I go to the mall?

Mom: Sure you can…on Saturday.

Child: Not today?

Mom: I think we’ll have more time to go on Saturday.

or

Child: Dad, can I have a cookie?

Dad: Sure, after dinner you can have two.

It’s that easy.  Here’s my favorite example because it takes this to the extreme and we can even laugh a little.

Teen:  Can I date a 30-year-old man with two kids?

Parents: Sure, you can date anyone you want when you’re 18.

or

Teen: Can I smoke crack?

Parent: Boy, that would make me really sad, but I guess when you are legally an adult you can make that choice.

I want to point out that I am not advocating that parents change their stance on an issue.  I am pointing out that if you are tired of saying that word over and over with the same result,  you can theoretically avoid “no” forever, and, because your child is not responding to the “no” you can sneak in a little loving too 🙂

Let me know what you think about this.  Does your child have an over the top reaction to “no,” or are you just tired of saying it?

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July 5, 2012 Posted by | child development, discipline, help for parents, Parenting | , , , | 6 Comments

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

Forgiveness: The Real F-Bomb

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

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

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

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

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

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

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

What does this have to do with parenting?

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

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

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

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

Preparing Children for Major Transitions

Summer Camp 2010

Summer Camp 2010 (Photo credit: Olds College)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

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

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

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

This weeks affirmation is:

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

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

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

Delighting in Children Who are Not Used to Delight

Cover of "Feelings"

Cover of Feelings

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

When I speak to parents of children with attachment related issues about trying to delight in their children, I hear a couple of common responses.  The first response is that, to be honest, their children are not all that delightful.  The parents I work with have children that lived their first several months or even years with a marked lack of being delighted in, so, because they do not know any better, they do not desire to be delighted in and, rather than feeling good, being delighted in can actually be scary, or intimidating to the child.

Even if you can find a moment of delight during the day, for parents with children with insecure or disorganized attachments I hear that they, the parent, often experience repercussions, sometimes extreme repercussions, (like the kids I have known who have taken what was otherwise a nice day and ruined it by destroying something their parents loved by, say, urinating on furniture on purpose, or cutting up a cherished item) soon thereafter.  I also have parents tell me that allowing themselves to delight in their child leads to the child becoming more demanding because the child either believes that if they do something to make their parent happy they should get some immediate reward, or the child feels good and falsely believes that the good feeling comes from something outside of them (such as the item they were delighting in or an amusement park ride).  In an attempt to continue the good feeling, the child demands more and more of the parent until the parent is sorry they delighted in the first place since they have such an ungrateful little so and so.  While some of that feeling is normal for any parent, for this post, I am focusing on those parents with a child on the far end of the attachment disordered spectrum.  All children test limits sometimes and may engage in some of these behaviors, but attachment disordered children do this as part of an ongoing pattern of behavior, rather than as a part of the normal limit-testing all children do.

What is a parent to do?  If you have a child that engages in the above mentioned behaviors when you try to delight in them, I have a few reminders to help you stay sane and remain in a place of loving kindness toward your child.

1.  Your child may not know how to share a good feeling.  In other words, due to early neglect and/or trauma, your child may not have developed the understanding of how to share good feelings with others.  They may have what I have heard called “scarcity thinking,” meaning that only one person can feel good at a time and, because they may not also have had a chance to develop empathy, they decide the person feeling good is going to be them.  Because they did not have an early environment of shared good feelings, they just do not know how to, well…share good feelings.  Remember too, that having someone notice them may have had a very different meaning for them and the meaning may not have a positive association for them.

2. Your child may not know how to experience delight.  Remember the neuron transmitters from my previous post?  Your child did not get that so, guess what, you get to teach them!  This would be a good time to review my post about chronological age vs. developmental age.  No matter the chronological age of your child, their developmental age is quite a bit younger.  How do you teach a child delight?  Like this: say something along the lines of (with a tone like Mr. Rogers, remember him?) “Look at us!  We are so happy together!  We are feeling the same feelings at the same time!”  Allow the feelings for a few moments but, as you observe your child beginning to take it over the top, in the same tone, “Sometimes I wish we could feel so happy all the time, but feelings come and go don’t they?  It was so nice to have that good feeling.  It looks like we are going back to the regular feelings now and that’s okay.”  In this way, you are teaching your child about the normal ebb and flow of feelings, and building in normalcy about delight to address the first reminder, that all feelings are around for a little while, then leave, then come back again, and that is part of being human.

3. It takes many, many encounters for a child with attachment issues to actually learn how to genuinely delight.  While a baby is primed for good feelings and eagerly absorbs them, they do that because they are also open and actually vulnerable.  When a baby learns to delight, their vulnerability has paid off.  For your child, the vulnerability did not pay off, so they stopped allowing themselves to feel vulnerable.  Remembering this can help to ease the frustration for a parent that says, “But she’s lived with me longer than she lived with them!  When is she going to learn that we are safe!”  The answer is that she will learn to feel safe if we can capture the moments where she allows herself to be vulnerable, and during that quick window, you prove to be a safe and loving person.  You prove this by maintaining a playful, loving, accepting, curious, empathic (PLACE) attitude as much as possible so that each time that window opens a little you enhance the opportunity for growth and change in your child, so that next time the window opens a bit farther for a bit longer until, eventually, it stays wide open.

4.  Think of the alignment of the planets in our solar system.  If one planet were to be knocked off-balance, the others pull it back into place using their gravitational pull.  Similarly, for your child, when they come to you having become accustomed to being the “problem child” then you treat them as if they are not, they seek familiarity (they realign the planets as they know them) by doing something to make you as angry as they are used to parents being.  We call this seeking homeostasis.  I find one way to help if you have a child who does this is to name what is happening.  In a matter of fact, gentle tone, I would suggest saying something along the lines of, “Having fun can make people uncomfortable or worried sometimes.  I think it makes you feel that way.”  Or, “I am so sad when you are too scared to let yourself be happy without making yourself pay for it later.”

I find we can be most compassionate when we can look to the origin of the issue rather than taking the response of our child personally.

If you have a child with a history of attachment issues, what have your experiences been with delight?

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

The Importance of Delight

Latino Children Play Swing

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

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Do you have a child that wants you to watch them play video games or swing on the swing?  Do they want you to watch them do their 100th cartwheel for the day, or watch them spin until they are too dizzy to stand?  Do you find it exhausting sometimes?

Part of what they are doing is trying to recreate a moment when they did something particularly cute, or said something a certain way or made a certain face that brought you a moment of pure happiness and they basked in the glow of your joyful feeling over what they did.  When my children were younger, whenever they added an adult word to their vocabulary and used it correctly, I always found it so endearing.  Having a three-year old say, “Actually Mommy, I would prefer to wear a different dress today.” with their little wide, innocent eyes, it just made me giggle.  We call that moment delight.  In this post, I am going to talk about delight for most children and parents.  In Friday’s post, I am going to continue the conversation by writing about the role and importance of delight for children with attachment issues.

The Importance of Delight for All Children

While you may think that delight is just a nice thing that happens every once in a while between parents and children, it is actually quite important in the scheme of things for parents to delight in children and for children to be delighted in.  What we think of as a passing, silly, or endearing moment, (and this is especially true for younger children) actually helps to fire off thousands of neural transmissions per second in your child’s brain!  Delight enhances healthy brain development.  By delighting in young children, we help them to build neural passageways that encourage them to continue experiencing genuine joy (not the false kind that people think they get when doing drugs, for example).

Some parents worry that delighting in children too much will spoil them.  Let’s be honest…children are not always delightful.  I did not glow with excitement when my daughter went through the short period of time where she let me know she needed her diaper to be changed by showing me the poop on her finger that she got there by fishing it out of her diaper.  I am not in any way encouraging you to force delight nor do I intend to imply that you must live in a constant state of delighting in your children.  What I am encouraging is that you take the genuine moments of delight that you do actually have and really feel them.  Beyond giving your child validation and all the mapping of their neural transmissions, you are also giving yourself a gift.  When your child is being delighted in, genuinely, they know it, you can increase the positive feelings by laughing and looking them in the eye to tell them how delightful they are.  When you do this, you are creating an endorphin rush (like the one that comes with exercise or new love) for you and your child.  These are the feel good chemicals- the only ones, the natural ones- we want our children to get high from.  Allowing these special moments of time to happen naturally enhances our parent-child relationships, builds our likelihood of connecting to the idea that being together equates to feeling happy, and, well, to break it down to it’s simplest parts, it just feels really good.

As parents, we can sometimes feel like our children don’t need us to do anything with or for them if they are doing fine on their own.  In fact, they do need us to periodically delight in them.  Finding times when we feel genuinely delighted in our children is important.  When we do this, even though they may still ask you to watch them do the same thing over and over again, they become much more likely to accept this response: “I love watching you do things, but you deserve to have me watch you when I can give you my full attention.  Let me (fill in the blank) and then I can give you three minutes to watch you do that.”  When you set limits with your child in this loving way, we can also avoid the hassled, harried feeling of always putting them off.  Additionally, as they grow, they learn that they do not have to demand moments of delight, they are built into this loving family you have created.

By building moments of delight with our children from a young age, we have more good thoughts to call on when they are being difficult- giving us more patience for their behaviors.  We aren’t the only ones that get good memories to look back on.  When we set a limit with our children that they do not like, they are also able to weigh it against all the shared memories of delightful encounters we had together and are less likely to engage in all that teen and pre-teen angst we hear so much about or to try to find their delight in unhealthy ways outside of the family.

What delightful thing has your child done recently?  Please feel free to share your delight!

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

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