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Create the family you want to have

Parent Affirmation Monday- 10/29/2012- Love

English: In the End ...

English: In the End … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

This week we are focusing on the second of the parenting characteristics detailed in the PLACE attitude, loving. While it may seem simple to say we must always strive to parent with love, as parents we know that can be hard at times. I find the matter to be simplified if I focus on the true intent behind my interactions with my children, without being side-tracked by the other details.

Take chores as an example, yes, I do want my children to help with the dishes but what is behind that desire? Sometimes the desire we are most connected to when we ask is the desire not to do the dishes ourselves, but we also know that there are times we ask our children to do a chore that we could easily do in less time, with less effort for the child, and less effort for us. So why bother to ask children to do chores at all? Of course we do it because we want them to grow up to be contributing members of society and to any relationship with others. Why do we care about that? Because we love them and want our children to be happy and proud of themselves as they grow into adults. Boiled down to its most essential qualities, our direction toward our children comes, for most parents, from a place of love because we care about them and their happiness.

There are ways to phrase requests or instructions that help our children to know that we are coming from a place of love. One of these ways I detailed in my post, End the Hassle! Tell Kids What They Deserve, in which I describe how to tell kids they deserve a clean room, safety, a healthy body, less stress about school (i.e.- do your homework), etc. Some other statements that put love first with your children:

I love you too much to argue with you about this.

I love you more than I care about what you accidentally broke/spilled/ruined.

I don’t want you to feel any worse than you are going to feel about talking to me this way, let’s both cool off in a separate room…

I love you.

You are special to me.

I was thinking about you today.

I think you get the picture. This weeks affirmation is:

I am loving and loveable and I honor my love for my children by showing them with my words and actions.

Remember, the more you say the affirmation, the truer it becomes for you. If you find yourself slipping, remind yourself that is how you used to talk to your kids before you figured out this way of talking. Forgive yourself, because you probably learned how to talk to yourself and your children the other way from your parents, who learned it from their parents, and so on. Congratulate yourself on trying something new. Good luck!

October 29, 2012 Posted by | affirmations, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement, Parenting | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

PLACE Parenting for Children with Attachment Disturbance

A mother holds up her child.

A mother holds up her child. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

When you have a child with any sort of attachment disturbance, you also have a child that is very good at making you feel like you don’t know what you are doing.  In one training I went to on attachment disturbance, the presenter, Art Becker-Weidman said one of the parents he worked with described it something like this:  ‘It’s like you as the parent are the control station for a radio station, then the kids come up and play with all the buttons until they find one that gets the response they are looking for.  When they find that button that gets them what they want, they just keep flipping the switch over and over again.’  I have used this description with the parents that come through my own practice and find it resonates deeply with them as well.  What to do when you have a child that is constantly pushing your buttons and finding creative ways to make you feel like you don’t have a clue what you are doing?

Daniel Hughes and Art Becker-Weidman are working to popularize a parenting attitude that really can work wonders if parents are able to maintain it when they have an attachment disordered child (or any child for that matter).  It is called the PLACE mentality, it stands for: Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, Empathic.  I find that while the words are familiar it can be easy to misinterpret the meanings of those words in this particular context so let’s look at each word to see what we are talking about when it comes to parenting children using the PLACE mentality.

Playful–  The most common misinterpretation of this quality is that parents believe I want them to throw a parade in their child’s honor every time they do something desirable to the parent.  What I mean by playful is just finding an approach that has a less authoritarian tone.  Instead of telling kids where to go to find their glasses, encourage them to play a little game with you where they have to look at your face for them to give you a hint where the glasses are.  When they look into your face and lie, come up with a playful response “That’s a good one.  I’ve always known you were creative.  Tell me another!”  Often being playful can help everyone tone it down a notch.  If you have a child with a history of abuse or neglect, it can also keep them from getting triggered into believing that they are in huge trouble and helps prevent them from going into fight or flight mode so that you have some chance of them hearing some of the words you are saying.  A way to really get playful is to learn from a parent that really gets this stuff.  Christine Moers is a mom raising adopted children with attachment issues.  She posts vlogs on youtube to help other parents (and to keep herself sane).  Her video blog:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDAALaVG27k&feature=fvwrel is a wonderful example of how to discipline in a playful way.   I would recommend you look at her videos when you need help staying sane.

Loving– When I think of saying things in a loving way to children, what really helps me to stay in that place is remembering my purpose for saying the words in the first place. Yes, ultimately I may be asking my child to do a task because I want it done. But the bigger picture reason for asking children to do a task is to teach them so that they know how to do it, to give them a system for tackling problems, to get them into the routine of caring for themselves and planning how to fit everything into a schedule, or something else like that. In the end, our job as parents is to make it so that our children no longer need us in order to make it through the day. When we remember that we are asking our children to do something because we love them and want them to be happy, healthy adults, we can state requests in a more loving way. By remembering this, I believe the primary change is our tone of voice, which makes a world of difference to children with attachment disturbance.

Accepting– One trap I see so many parents walk into is the argument with their child(ren) about whether their child is having a reasonable feeling or not.  Both the child and parent find this is a way to feel crazy pretty quickly and I would like to present an alternative…acceptance.  Here is how it goes, maybe it sounds familiar:

Child comes down to breakfast dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit for school

Parent (being curious):  Wow, is there something going on at school today?  That’s an interesting outfit.

Child: I knew you wouldn’t let me wear it!  You never let me wear anything I want!  You’re such a witch!  You want me to be the ugliest girl in school!

Parent (accepting):  That made you mad.  I can see how you would be mad if you thought I wanted you to be the ugliest girl in school.

It’s that simple- do not engage in an argument about whether you want her to be the ugliest girl in school!  If that is her belief in that moment, accept that her feeling is appropriate for the interpretation.

Curious– In my office, I often frame this curiosity as being a “feelings detective.”  I tell kids I ask lots of questions because I am a very curious person and sometimes it takes me a while to understand things.  Get curious about your children.  In the above example, rather than arguing about who wants whom to look ugly, you might get curious about it.  “I wonder what made you think I wanted you to look ugly when I asked about your outfit.”  Another way to help with getting kids to understand you are curious (not judgmental) is to say something along the lines of, “I’m curious what got you so mad because I don’t want you to feel that way again. ”  When they tell you what got them mad, again make sure you avoid arguing about whether that is really what happened (accepting) and then …empathize.

Empathy– Empathy looks like this,” If I thought someone felt that way about me/ said that to me/said that about me I can see how you would feel mad/sad/ scared too.”  That’s all empathy is being able to see something from the viewpoint of another person.  Empathy does not involve any discussion about whether someone is right or wrong for feeling the way they are feeling.

So, why does this work?  It works because our children with attachment disturbance find the things we need to do most often, educate, speak with authority, and parenting, to name a few, to be triggers to them of things that remind them of times they were hurt or  neglected.  When kids do not learn the typical role of parents early on, they easily misinterpret the actions of parents.  Using the PLACE mentality is one way of reducing the number of triggers for your child, not to mention that it just makes parenting more fun.  I use it with my own securely attached children as well.  Of course, this is a very quick overview of the PLACE mentality.  It is important that if you feel you are in a position with your child(ren) where you need to utilize the PLACE attitude more and could use support in doing so, that you see a therapist that has an attachment informed practice.

October 18, 2012 Posted by | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- self-care 9/3/2012

Reading a book

Reading a book (Photo credit: Ed Yourdon)

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

If you are like most parents I see in my practice and you read the title and know this week is about self-care, you might be thinking about skipping this weeks affirmation. Don’t! It might be the most important affirmation of all. We have all heard the warning on the airplane where we are instructed that should the pressure drop and the air masks come down from the ceiling we need to put the masks on ourselves first. Have you ever thought why that might be the instruction? Well, think about it. If you, like most parents, would have the impulse to help your child first and put the mask on them, then you run out of time to put the mask on yourself, there you are passed out and unable to help your child. You are not able to make sure they keep the mask on, stay calm and exit should there be an emergency landing.  Your children end up taking care of you when you do not take care of yourself.

Let’s give an example on a more practical level, because really, how often are you going to need to put an air mask on your child in an airplane? Hopefully never. But what about this? Think about a time when your house was messy. I hope for you this is harder to do than it was for me. Are there days when you felt capable of cleaning your messy home, or at least part of it and you tackled the job? I bet there have also been days when you could not stand to look at it and the thought of cleaning it just made you feel overwhelmed and awful. What is the difference? Was your house messier on the bad day or was it just that your internal state was different? The same is true with our children. When we feel depleted we feel less able to tackle the issues with them as they come along. Rather than handling a bump in the road like forgotten homework or lost shoes or a ornery child the way we would like, we lose it and go into fight or flight mode, constantly reacting without giving real-time or attention to workable solutions that feel good to you and help your child.

Besides minimizing it’s importance, another thing that keeps parents from self-care is the faulty belief that it costs money or takes too much time. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, if you can get a day at the spa or go play golf with your friends, that’s great but you do not have to spend a lot of time and money on self-care. The idea is to be aware that you are doing it when you are taking care of yourself and to enhance the moment with gratitude for how smart you were to fit it in.

Some quick and easy ideas for self-care: You know how you put a note in your child’s lunch sometimes just to be nice? Get a post-it note, write- “You are amazing” put it in your gym bag or your treadmill and get a smile the next time you open your bag to do something for yourself. You know how you get your kids a special snack at the grocery store? Grab yourself that lotion you wanted to try. Every night before bed, use it. By the way, I know several men who put lotion on their feet at night and sleep with socks on who have very happy significant others because there are no more scratchy feet. It takes less than one minute. You are worth 30 seconds right? Instead of grabbing a bag of chips or a cigarette, treat yourself to a few nice deep breaths. Put a poem or inspirational quote by your desk at work and say it to yourself.  You know how you think of things to entertain your kids when you take them places? Remember to put a book in the car for you to read- maybe one of those meditation a day books. I particularly enjoy Melody Beattie’s Language of Letting Go Meditation Series of books. You can sit in your car while you wait for the kids to get out of school, or for those few minutes your infant or toddler is sleeping in the car before you wake them up and read a page of inspiration and reflection. Poof! Self-care.

This weeks affirmation is:

I give myself permission to take care of me. I know that when I do, I am a better parent.

P.S.- It’s good to be back from vacation. I missed you all! Later this week, I’m going to send out a request that I think will help us all with self care.

September 3, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Parent Affirmation Monday- 8/13/2012- control

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

I care more about my child (or husband/wife, etc) than I care about this conflict.  

Zeke washing dishes

Zeke washing dishes (Photo credit: Nathan Rein)

How often do we get into it with our kids over something little?  Do you argue with your child about the right way to do something, or getting it done the way we want them to do it?  This week, I am challenging you to pay attention to how much you do this and whether you may be able to pull back that behavior a little bit to allow your children (or your spouse) to do it their way.

A recent study came out that says that mothers who feel as though they are the most essential component of their child’s life (over fathers even) are more likely to feel overwhelmed and depressed.  When we seek to control the actions of others (even our children), we are certain to get into a power struggle.  Yes, common parent knowledge these days says that if you give an order, you must follow through.  But how often are we demanding that things must be done only our way?  There is a happy medium between the constant negotiations we know children are capable of and completely avoiding all conflict.  Let’s try to find that for you with your children and with your adult relationships.

I distinctly remember when I realized my husband does some things better than I do with the children.  Honestly, I was a little put off.  My inner critic wanted to tell me I should know how to do everything better- being a child therapist and all, but, guess what?  He is better at playing with them, joking them out of a funk and getting them into and out of the bath without argument among other things.  This week, be open to the possibility that children and significant other adult relationships may do things differently in a way that might be just as good, or better than you expected.

August 13, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- Healthy Eating 7/23/2012

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...

Fresh vegetables are important components of a healthy diet. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s the middle of the summer.  Schedules are out of whack and ever-changing.  We have vacations and might be spending more meals on the go or out at restaurants.  Summer can be brutal to a healthy diet, especially if we take the old approach of telling ourselves what not to eat, instead of focusing on what to eat.  It might not seem like a big difference, but focusing on what to eat over what not to eat can make a big difference.  Think of it as looking for abundance rather than deprivation.  Which sounds better to you?  Try this affirmation for the week to see about getting your health back on track or keeping it healthy.

I nourish myself by joyfully eating healthy foods and sharing them with my family.

What does this have to do with parenting?  Two major things happen as a result of joyfully eating healthy foods.  The first is, of course, setting a good example for your children.  Then, when you talk to them about the importance of healthy eating, they are more likely to listen.  I have picture up in my office that says:

Children often fail to do as we say but seldom fail to do as we do.

It is so true.  Second, eating healthy foods is an important, and often overlooked part of regulating emotions.  Have you ever noticed that you were in a foul mood because you were hungry or ate junk all day?  Later this week, I will be posting about what to do when your child is acting just plain nasty and take a closer look at some of the ways food can play into foul moods.

One sticking point I know some parents will have with this affirmation is the feeling they have about children who refuse to try healthy food.  I have one of these in my home.  I am not asking you to pretend this is not a struggle.  I am asking you to reframe this issue.  Rather than focusing on what your child is not doing, I would encourage you to model what you are doing, eating healthy, feeling good, looking at healthy foods with excitement and savoring the way they taste.  By doing this, you greatly increase the chances of your child following suit.  If you do not feel excited about the healthy foods you are eating, perhaps you are eating the wrong healthy foods for you.  While I am not a dietician, I do try to be aware to these things and I can tell you a simple rule I have learned: if it has been processed and comes in a package, it is not as healthy as something that was picked and sent right to your grocery store, roadside stand, or, best of all, came from your vegetable garden.  One resource I have come to trust is the website Everyday Health.  If you are looking for more information about making healthy food choices, I would suggest you check them out or go to your family physician for resources or referrals.

What healthy foods do you enjoy with your children?  Please share any ways that you have been creative in finding healthy food choices for you and your family.

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July 23, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Parent Affirmation Monday- Boundaries 7/16/2012

Written by Kate Oliver, LCSW-C

English: Children at play in the 'Cottage Home...

Boundaries are tough for a lot of people, especially if they were not always honored for you while you were growing up in your family of origin.  They are also ever- changing.  The boundaries you have with your two-year old will be very different from those you have with your teenager.  Extenuating family circumstances and developmental issues can also play a major role in the boundaries we set with our children.

What I would like for each parent to take a moment to do this week is to really think about how your child will have many, many adults go in and out of their lives, but very few parents.  Your role is so special and unique for your child.  They look to you to show them the way to be in the world.  They want you to guide them and teach them how to feel peaceful and happy.  While it can seem like helping kids feel peaceful and happy means giving them free rein to explore, do and receive  as they wish, children actually seek and need you to set reasonable limits for them.  

You can see how important boundaries are when you look at children who seem to get all they want.  Watch the children you know in your lives that get the toys right when they want them and whose parents take them anywhere they want to go.  They are often the most demanding, unhappy children you will see.  Parents that fool themselves into thinking that they must meet all of their children’s desires in order to make them happy are actually breeding unhappiness in their children along with a search for more and more and the message that the issues inside can be resolved by “getting something” from the outside.  When children feel as though they are safely contained within the confines of a parental relationship where their parents are allowing them to explore in a way that is safe, and where they have limits, they feel better!

The affirmation for this week is:

I maintain healthy boundaries with my children.

July 16, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , | 7 Comments

Monday is Parent Affirmation Day at Help 4 Your Family! 7/9/2012- unique

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

Keeping Up with the Joneses

Keeping Up with the Joneses (Photo credit: teresia)

Most of us have heard that saying about “keeping up with the Joneses.”  It refers to our longing to have what others around us have and to fit into our perception of a “normal” family, but what if we all stopped?  What if everyone stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses and just worked on being the Smiths, the Olivers, the Mbutus, the Pierces, the Finklesteins, or whatever your last name is?  What would happen then?  What do we give up when we work so hard to be like everyone else?

I would venture to guess that when we strive to be like everyone else, we give up our own authenticity, our power, and our inner peace, yet, so many people who come through my doors each day struggle with feeling so different from everyone else with the assumption that different equals not as good as.

I am going to propose that different just means different, no more and no less.  I bet you can come up with a lot of people you have met who are different.  I bet some of you are way nicer about them being different than you are to yourself when you feel different.  Every family is different too.  Each family has its own eccentricities.  Maybe part of what attracts you to the Jones family is the thing that seems to make them unique.  It could be that they always seem to have some inside joke in their family, or that they have a family activity they do together like hiking or biking that makes them different.  Well, this week, we are going to focus on embracing what makes our family unique with this affirmation:

I love the experiences, values, and principles that make the family I am creating unique.  We celebrate our differences.

This is an important affirmation for all families, but I am going to highlight the importance of this affirmation for families with trans-racial adoptees.   In those families, or any families where a child does not necessarily look like his or her parent(s), finding similarities or unique qualities about your family that bind you together outside of the way that you look is so important.  In my family we have a special hand squeeze that we, and only we know, means “I love you.”  If I want to make my child feel special at any time, I give them the special squeeze- it does not embarrass them in front of their friends since no one else knows it is happening but the two of us, and sometimes they give me the squeeze and it always makes me smile.

I hope you enjoy this affirmation this week.  As with all affirmations, it is good to say it over and over to make it a part of your everyday thought process.

How is your family unique?  Please share.

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July 9, 2012 Posted by | affirmations | , , | 2 Comments

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

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

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

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