help4yourfamily

Create the family you want to have

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

English: Danboard holding a Christmas gift.

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

Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Qualities of good programs to prevent child abuse

PEARL HARBOR (April 23, 2010) Mara MacDonald, ...

PEARL HARBOR (April 23, 2010) Mara MacDonald, from the Navy New Parent Support Home Visitation Program, leads a group of new mothers and their babies in an infant massage class. The program is administered by the Navy Region Hawaii Fleet & Family Support Center and assists new parents and expecting parents with home visits, information on parenting, referrals, support groups and nurturing skills. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Swink/Released) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my final post (for now) about programs to prevent child abuse, I thought I would highlight some qualities of programs I have seen that effectively work to prevent child abuse. As a reminder, my original start to this series of posts was a question posed on another blog about how we can prevent child abuse and child deaths.

1.  The first quality any program providing aid to people who could use parenting help is compassion/ empathy.  I know this may seem like a no-brainer, but some programs I have seen seem to leave this element out.  No one wants to go to a program to hear how awful they are, thus confirming their internal fear that they are, in fact, awful.  A compassionate program understands that all parents experience fear, that we are all doing the best we can, and that none of us have children thinking we are looking forward to messing them up as much as possible.  Acknowledging this over and over is an important part of any program seeking to help parents.

2.  Normalizing getting help is an incredibly important part of any program seeing to end child abuse.  Highlighting the diversity of parents, race, class, and gender, who seek help is also incredibly helpful.  This is, in my opinion, best achieved by having mentors that have completed the same or a similar program and are a representation of the general client population of the program.  For example, if this is a program aimed toward parents experiencing postpartum depression, you would want a parent mentor or group leader who has experienced this and is regularly available to participants.

3.  Good programs focus on the importance of parents in a child’s life.  For regular followers of my posts, you know I had to mention attachment :).  But seriously, the cornerstone of a good program that prevents child abuse absolutely needs to highlight the impact parents have on their children.  I think people sometimes think it is a given that parents know how important they are to their children, but for people struggling with parenting- perhaps people whose parents were not ideal either- I find that many of these parents feel disempowered to make change in their child’s life.  A good program reminds a parent of just how important they are.

4.  The final quality I would like to highlight is that a good program helps people to build a supportive community.  Good programs build communities so that if the program is ever unavailable, the learning and growing continues among the members of the community.

Some good programs I know of in my area are:

The Healthy Families program where parents are met in the hospital by someone from the program and are given support if they request it.  Support can include getting help with access to services or forming a group of other new parents in the community.  While there are healthy families programs all over the country, you can find the one near me here: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/howard_county_general_hospital/services/mothers_and_babies/healthy_families/index.html

The National Family Resiliency Center (NFRC) is a center for families experiencing a family transition and for parents where there is any need for co-parenting agreements.  NFRC has been a national leader in helping court systems to recognize that when parents separate it is important to keep in mind the best interests of the child.  They provide individual, couples, group counseling for parents and children, reunification and collaborative divorce services as well as very good classes for parents and children who are experiencing the transition process.  Additionally, NFRC helps parents who would like to have co-parent agreements and low-conflict divorce.  One way they do this is with an on-line program, www.familyconnex.org to help parents make decisions that are in the best interests of the children.  Here is the link to NFRC’s website: www.nfrchelp.org

The Infants and Toddlers program, which is part of the educational system but may go by different names in other states, identifies infants who may have developmental delays and helps parents by offering resources for children birth-5 years with the combination of services they might need to get them school ready.  You can find them here: http://marylandpublicschools.org/MSDE/divisions/earlyinterv/infant_toddlers/about/message.htm

There are many more, but these programs I mentioned in particular, although they target different populations, offer the combination of qualities important for a program aiming to prevent child abuse.  While they might not even directly target child abuse, they are organizations that can recognize and report possible abuse, and that may help to prevent it in the first place though education and service.

What do you think?  Do you know of any good programs that have been effective in your area in preventing abuse?  I would love to hear about them.  Also, did I miss any qualities of effective programs to help parents?

April 20, 2012 Posted by | help for parents, social services | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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