help4yourfamily

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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

Quick Jobs for Kids

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

The chore list

The chore list (Photo credit: demandaj)

Do you ever get tired of the constant routine of getting upset because your child has not done an agreed upon task or said something insulting to or about you, or bothered you while you were on the phone…again? It always seems to end in the child apologizing, you telling them why they shouldn’t do that, threatening with a consequence next time, only to find that they do it again when you are distracted and you just have a redo. Sorrys start to feel hollow when they are said about the same thing one hundred times.

Even though it’s my job to tell you that accepting what we would call a “repair,” (i.e.- I did something damaging to our relationship and now I am trying to fix it by saying ‘I’m sorry’) is best for your relationship with your child, I understand that this can feel more and more difficult to do as a parent when you feel stuck in a rut and like your children get to breeze by with a sorry and no real consequence.

If this sounds like a familiar routine in your house, might I recommend a little trick I like to call “quick jobs.” It’s a list of quick tasks a child can do around the house to help out when they have done something wrong. It’s not a “your grounded forever” kind of thing, it’s not something that has a child doing an extra 20 minutes of chores. These are for the day-to-day grievances, the ones kids say “sorry” for but you have to wonder after a while, “are they?”

Here is a quick list of tasks. You need the list, or this will just be another good idea that you will forget when the time comes (if you are anything like me). You can have fun making them up next time you are trying to straighten the house:

  • Dust the bannister
  • Clean all the door knobs in the house
  • Take the laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer
  • Help finish the dishes
  • Clean off one surface in the house (the dining room table, the end table next to the sofa)
  • Clean out the sink in the bathroom
  • Wipe down the outside of the dishwasher, oven, or pantry

Quick jobs are for when you are irritated and need a little something extra. When you use them you can say, “I realize your sorry but I would really know it if you ________.” If a child decides not to do it, you can point out that perhaps they are not so sorry after all and that is a bigger discussion.

For today let’s just focus on a quick fix that helps set things right again and teaches children how to really “repair” when they have done something they wish they hadn’t.

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March 21, 2013 Posted by | discipline, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Letting Go of the Parent You Thought You Would Be

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Funny Family Ecard: You're making it difficult for me to be the parent I always imagined I would be.

It seems to me that many parents I come across in my practice are in a grieving process without being fully aware of it. I would venture a guess that there are many parents outside of my practice who are grieving as well. Grieving, while often associated with death, is really just a word that describes a transition from one reality to another. Transitions have stages that go along with grief like, sadness, denial, blaming, anger, bargaining, and relief. We can grieve relationships with or without death. We can grieve changes, like moving from a home we have loved to a new home- even if we are excited about the move. What I think most parents grieve is the fantasy they had about the parent they thought they would be. We all have those thoughts before we become parents, then, after becoming parents, we have days where we question what the heck we were thinking in the first place.

I remember having my first daughter. I was so excited and felt so much joy that she was coming. I was allowed that pure joy because I did not fully understand at that time, nor could I really without experiencing it, the enormous undertaking I was embarking upon. I remember that almost confused feeling, where my husband and I wondered aloud how it was that we came to the hospital, two of us, and left with a whole extra person. All the nurse needed to check was that we had a car seat properly installed. I’m sure the same is true for adoption and fostering as well. One day there are two of you, or one person on your own and the next day there is a whole extra person who does not know a thing about your expectations (even if you told them) and they are just there…all the time.

I think of those emotions, in contrast to having my second daughter, where I cried in the delivery room before I had her. When my husband asked me why I was crying, I told him I was happy, but I was also scared. I knew then the awesome responsibility we were taking on. We were responsible for a human life…two of them! Even with the knowledge that we had a supportive family and community around us I still felt that feeling, you know, that knowing that “the buck stops here.” I wanted to be a good parent and, even with all my training as a social worker, I knew it was going to be tough to feel successful as a parent.

I know too, that for parents adopting children at an older age, there is an added complexity. When you adopt an older child, you don’t have the advantage that parent of infants have in that, when you figure out you do not know what the heck you are doing, your child does not understand that you are just figuring this stuff out too. Instead, you have a child who is probably a bit hypervigilant, who is looking to see if you do know what you are doing, and who is actively testing you every step of the way (usually without naps). Even if you have already raised biological children, you have now taken on a child with a history you did not control and that was not ideal. They are going to be vigilant in their seeking to see if you know what you are doing, as you realize that really, lots of times you don’t, even if you went to all the trainings about therapeutic parenting.

A few weeks ago, I was laughing with a mom in my office when she told me she thought adopting internationally would be great, her son would be used to other children, having spent the first year of his life in an orphanage with other children.  She would put him into daycare right away, where he would be familiar with other children, then she could keep working, and sometimes she and her husband could sneak away for dates periodically. She told me this after we had just spent the session with me reinforcing the importance of this mom spending time alone with her husband, since she had been a stay at home mom and they had not had a date in the three years since they brought their child home.

We parents all know that the actual day to day realities of raising children are different, perhaps vastly different, than what we expected. Some of it is more amazing than we could have ever imagined. Parenting can be funny, serious, exciting, and tiring! No matter what, it is always different than we thought it would be.

The children I see most often come with an unique set of challenges. They have been traumatized. Their brains work differently than other children’s brains due to neglect or drug use while they were in utero. They have experienced loss. Their hearts have been broken. In a harsher, less gradual way, the parents I see recognize that the children that live with them, sometimes children they have not had an opportunity to fall in love with yet, if they were adopted at an older age, need more than our traditional notions of  parenting have afforded us. Biological parents can find this out as well. We live in a new age of parenting where there really is no dominant model for parents to follow. The media loves to tell you how to raise your child the “best” way until, if you were to try to simultaneously follow all the advice, you would feel schizophrenic trying to figure out whether you are supposed to tell them what to do, let them figure it out themselves, hover, or hang back, stay home or work… the list is endless.

I think a big part of the grieving I see in parents is grieving the loss of knowing what you are supposed to do! As a single, or even in a couple, before those little ones came along, we knew which days were sleeping in days. We ran our own schedules. We thought when the kids came we still would know what to expect in a given day, remember? Remember transitioning from most of the time being your time, to your time feeling like stolen time where you had to weigh whether it was “worth it” to take time for yourself away from your children? I remember before children, going to the movies with my husband and turning around to go home without seeing a movie because we had already seen all the movies that were worth seeing. One day we will get there again…maybe.

Until then, we will go through a series of transitions. We will transition from knowing where our child learned everything, to hearing them have a thought or bring home an understanding from someplace else. We will watch our children prove to us over and over that while we can attempt to control their outside world, we do not have total control over their inside world as they will have their own unique interpretations of the world as they see it. We will realize we can not shield them from pain, nor can we make them forget the pain they have already experienced in the way we fantasized we could. We will see our own understanding of parenting shift as well. The parent we thought we would be makes way for the parent that we are becoming. Often, we find that rather than being the parent we imagined we would be, we must adapt to becoming the parent our unique children need us to be.

What have been some of the transitions you have made as a parent that surprised you?

Related Posts:

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

A Quick Primer on Early Primary Relationships (help4yourfamily.com)

To Parents Who Worry Their Children Will Harm Others (help4yourfamily.com)

Quick Self-Care for Parents (help4yourfamily.com)

February 28, 2013 Posted by | child development, help for parents, mental health, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Caught in the Loop: Why People Repeat the Same Bad Choices Over and Over

train circle

train circle (Photo credit: bitmapr)

written by, Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

When I met Aaron, he was 10 years old and living with his parents who had adopted him after three failed placements.  Aaron’s parents were at a loss about what to do with him.  They were committed, loving parents who wanted to help him make better decisions; however, after living with them for over a year, Aaron continued to have bizarre behaviors that they did not understand.  In addition to continuing to steal from his parents any time he had the opportunity, his parents had just figured out that he had also been urinating into the vents in his room.  Aaron’s parents were at a loss as to how to help him change this behavior and they were terrified that it would continue to get worse.

Children who have experienced trauma can seem to continually engage in activities that can be baffling to parents.  I have had many a parent come in to my practice and describe a foster or adopted child who seems to seek attention in negative ways and to actually work to recreate the circumstances that were traumatizing to them in the first place.  From rooms that seem to get instantly messy immediately after cleaning them, to repetitive behaviors that pluck even the calmest parent’s nerves, these children can seem intent on turning their parents into a recreation of the child’s biological parent or earliest caregiver.  There is a name for this phenomenon.  It is called “traumatic reenactment.”  The best way to explain traumatic reenactment is to first understand how trauma works, and the ways we store it in the brain.

Think of your brain as a computer.  The files in your computer are stored in different areas.  There is a short term memory file that stores what you had for breakfast today and yesterday.  There is a long term memory file that stores the stories from your childhood.  There is the work file, the running “to do” list file, and many, many more.  Days that go as planned are pretty easy to file away.

But what happens on a day when something traumatic happens?  An easy definition of trauma is anything that impacts you in such a way that it causes you to feel as though your life is in serious danger, with the possibility of death, or that changes who you perceive yourself to be in a negative way.  To show how people typically store traumatic memories, let’s take the example of a car accident.  You do not wake up in the morning thinking this is probably going to be the day you are in a car accident.  If you really believed that, you would probably never get into the car.  But, there you are, driving down the road and someone sideswipes the car you are in.  No one is hurt, but there are a few moments of panic and your car is seriously damaged.  What do you do?  Well, of course, as an adult you make sure everyone in both cars is okay, call 911 to make sure no one is hurt, and then the insurance.  But what is happening with your memory filing system?  How are you filing this memory?  It sure does not go in the breakfast file!

What happens with trauma is that, until we file it, it acts like a virus on our computers.  If you have ever had a virus on your computer, you know what happens.  You go to get on the internet and think you are checking your email, only to find all kinds of unwanted images popping up on your computer.  Then, if and when you are able to get to your email, you may find out you sent a bunch of messages to people that were not even from you!  You never sent that!  This is how trauma works.  Until you file that traumatic memory you just got from the car accident, your brain is going to be working overtime to file it.  You will go to get in the car and up will pop the memory of the accident and maybe another accident you had a while back.  You will start to remember those terrifying moments when you were out of control and you did not know if you were going to live or die.

Healthy adults file traumatic memories as they verbally process the trauma.  Remember how you called the police?  You had to tell them what happened so they knew who to send.  You were processing the memory.  Remember when you had to call the insurance?  Same thing.  Did you sit in your car for a moment and do some sort of self-soothing like deep breathing to calm yourself down?  Maybe you got a hug or reassurance from someone.  Perhaps you reminded yourself that you have been in cars thousands of times and the vast majority of those times nothing bad happened.

If you did any of those things, you were processing and filing your memory.  Another part of filing trauma is finding a way to understand the event.  This includes thinking about whether you could have done something differently, how you got through it, and how you can avoid the same thing happening again.  Therapists call that mastering the situation.

Now, think about the child you have or have had in your home who has experienced trauma but did not have anyone to process it with and did not have anyone to soothe them, nor did they know how to self soothe, after all, who would they have learned soothing from?  The clinical term for the way this “virus” manifests is “traumatic reenactment.”  It goes like this.  A trauma occurs.  It is not filed appropriately because there is either no, or not enough, processing or soothing for the child.  The child tries to gain mastery (understanding) of the trauma by subconsciously putting themselves back into the same situation over and over again in an attempt to understand or “master” it.

Remember Aaron?  When Aaron lived with his birth parents he was repeatedly locked in his room for days at a time when his parents went on drug binges.  When his adoptive parents brought him in to see me he was lying and stealing constantly, then, they had recently discovered that when they sent him to his room for punishment, he had been urinating into the vents of their home.  What became clear was that this child had found a way to experience a traumatic reenactment with his adoptive parents.  He lied and stole, then got sent to his room for punishment.  While in his room, he had the emotional experience of feeling trapped again, just as he was trapped when he was very young.  In his mind, being sent to his room meant he was not allowed to come out even to go to the bathroom.  When he had to go, he did what he had before, went in the vents, so he did not have to be around a wet spot in his room.  His loving parents had responded in every way they could think of to change these behaviors, but it was not until they understood where the behaviors were coming from that they were able to adapt their responses to more accurately fix the underlying problems.

In therapy, Aaron processed the trauma, learned how to soothe himself and to be soothed by his parents.  It really did not take long for the vents to become dry again so his parents could focus on new ways to address other issues related to his early abuse and neglect.  For traumatized children, I strongly recommend counseling, with a therapist that specializes in trauma, as a resource to help them process traumatic memories to improve behaviors and help parents find a way to adapt parenting styles in ways that are most beneficial to the child.

January 15, 2013 Posted by | attachment disorder, child development, discipline, help for parents | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

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

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

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