Spider Webs and Trauma

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Remember the moment in “Lord of the Rings” when Frodo gets trapped in the spider web? He is caught. Giant spiders are everywhere. The web is wrapped around and around Frodo. The more he struggles, the more tied up he gets.

That picture of Frodo caught in the web of the spider shows the life many struggle to survive. Caught in a tangle they don’t understand, the emotional response to trauma (while it might be physically over) isn’t in the past. Each moment of life is lived through the lens of difficult experiences which tie them up.

Many who have not experienced trauma are able to see and understand the timeline of their lives. There are high points and low points, but they live in the moment with good and hard memories in the past.

The survivor, however, may constantly make each decision based on the hard experiences. They may not have the gift of thinking about life in a linear way. Each new situation goes back through the trauma loop and comes out the other side with the tangle of trauma making it difficult to move forward in the journey.

What solutions do we have?

In “Lord of the Rings” it is Sam who rushes in to save the day. Unfortunately, we cannot serve as Savior for our children.

Common solutions include medication, weekly therapy, or behavior charts. While sometimes necessary, those are not my favorite solutions.

My favorite?

Start with felt safety. Felt safety does not mean that I know the child is safe. There may be a warm bed in a beautiful bedroom in a house with doors and windows that lock. There may be plenty of food and water, pets to love, dad and mom who actively seek to meet needs.

None of those things mean the child has felt safety. When the child viscerally understands safety, then there is felt safety. As caregivers, we must find and meet the needs of each individual child in order to help our children find felt safety. It takes time. Sometimes years.

Next?

In that space of emotional felt safety, the three T’s are required.

Time. Talk. Tears.

Time because even after a child begins to understand felt safety, it takes time to find words for all those feelings. Eventually when the words are inside, it takes courage to say them. Talk is scary. And often the words can’t come without tears. Tears from the child. Tears with the child.

It’s a long process. Patience is required.

It is necessary to look at time just a little bit differently. Your 16-year-old may have lived with you since birth. But for our tweens and teens, all the new thoughts and emotions arriving daily require new time to process and speak.

Be present and ready without pushing.

Give each child their safe space. They will slip in when you aren’t looking. In a moment of their choosing, emotion and words will spew all over.

There it is—a brief moment to begin again to develop trust and relationship.

 

By Gail Prutow

Small Successes

By | The Struggle is Real | No Comments

Parenting a struggling teen is probably the most difficult job in the world. It is so easy to get caught up in power struggles that end almost every interaction with a fight. Before long, you may come to dread interacting with your child, and he or she will dread interacting with you.

This type of chronic negativity often produces feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, and depression in both you and your child. Do NOT beat yourself up about this, struggling is a part of parenting. You cannot and will not ever be a perfect parent.

A way to combat chronic negativity is to seek out places for your child to find small success. The goal at Adora is connection. We want to meet learners where they are and always find some way to connect with them. As the first sentence of this post implies, this is an INCREDIBLY difficult task and we are not perfect at accomplishing it.

One of our learners is really struggling right now and all of the staff members are working through the chronic negativity that surrounds interacting with him. This learner is one of many who takes riding lessons at a nearby stable on Saturdays. Last Saturday, while he was waiting for his turn on a horse, this learner helped me unload nearly 5000 lbs of bedding and stack the 50 lb bags neatly in the barn.

One of the main struggles for this learner is being attuned to the needs of others instead of focusing solely on himself. As we unloaded bag after bag he turned into the picture of chivalry, loading my dolly for me, and stacking his bags up high so short little me could stack mine on the lower rows.

You can bet I took this opportunity to praise the heck out of him, I was truly impressed by his selflessness. This was the first truly positive interaction either of us had had in weeks. Both of us left with a sense of accomplishment, some sore muscles, and a feeling of encouragement.

Did this fix any major problems? No. Did it completely turn the child’s behavior around? Nope. But it did give each of us hope that this negative rut wouldn’t last forever. It also gave me a beautiful opportunity to seek connection with a hurting child and him the opportunity to engage in soothing (and exhausting) proprioceptive work.

I know that not everyone has access to a barn and a trailer full of shavings to unload, but some easy ways to connect at home include:

  • Baking and cleaning up
  • Raking leaves
  • Shoveling snow
  • Cleaning the garage
  • Listening to books on tape
  • Rearranging furniture

Whatever you do, do it together.

Small Successes by Sarah Andrews

 

 

Start Horsin’ Around: How horses help with truama healing

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Horses are amazing creatures.

Even though they are prey animals and we are predators, there is a beautiful partnership between horses and humans. Unfortunately, humans sometimes do ruin that relationship by treating a horse badly.

Horses, serving as our example, can still find a way to trust again. And, just like horses, people can also learn to trust again too.

So how do horses help?

Horses are highly attuned to environmental activity and sensitive to the emotional states of people around them. Studies have suggested horses can decrease anger, depression, dissociation, and aggression—a perfect gift for our kids at Adora.

Horses also help with social skills. Building a partnership with a horse can be an easier for some people because the horse is non-judgmental. Horses love us the way we are. Working with horses helps us practice the skills we need to build relationships with people.

Time with horses can also help lower stress. Just being around horses and petting them can reduce stress and anxiety because a calm environment is needed around horses. That calm allows the child to regulate their emotions.

Another way horses help is by providing a safe way to learn new things. Anyone who has been in the horse business will tell you there is always something new to learn. Even an expert learns something everyday at the barn.

In short, working with horses provide many benefits for kids and adults alike. From just being a way to learn new and fun things to helping someone get through depression, a horse is a friend to rely on. A beautiful, strong animal to keep your secrets. A partner to listen when you need them most.

by Haley Johnson

Identity Idol

By | Adults Need to Grow Too | No Comments

I realized something this past week.

I realized that I was letting my story be my identity, my idol.

Not long ago, I prepared my life map—my story from birth to the present—to share with some friends who are a part of a mentoring group. I knew pieces of it were going to require a lot of vulnerability.

I expected the sharing of those hardships in my life to bring release. I expected that I would have time to glow over the amazing opportunities that God allowed me to have.

Instead, in my sharing, I spent too much time building up to the hardship that my family experienced. It was a time of trauma for me, and I found myself reliving it in the moment of the telling. I’ve worked through this pain before and the toll of sharing surprised me.

As I was speaking, wishing that I had taken time to practice and make better connections, I gave in to the little voice inside my head. The voice told me that I was betraying my family by sharing that story. The voice told me that I was stupid for not having taken time to practice. It told me that I was not making sense. That I was leaving out pieces that were vital for the protection of my heart and of my family. That I took too much time and shared too much about one thing when I could have shared so many other amazing things God had done.

I was the last one to share. Everyone was tired from the weekend of vulnerability.  But still, I expected more . . . sympathy.

Sympathy.

I struggled emotionally until my husband spoke truth to me gently. He said, “I don’t think this is as big as you are making it.” I was confused. What did he mean? This was such a hard time and I know that God has used what I learned there. It’s part of me.

“Think of the 5 most important events in your life. If I am correct, this one does not even make the top 5,” he said.

He was right.

This hard time in my life, a part of my story, is not the whole story. It is not the theme of my story. It’s not even a majority of my story.

Am I able to connect with others because I have experienced hardships of my own? Yes.

Does it allow me to share how God has grown me, provided for me, blessed me through time I’d never have wished on anyone? Yes.

Does it define me?

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!!

My identity is in Christ Jesus.

And then I think on Romans 8:35-39.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My identity of the victim is an idol.

I am not a victim!

Shame over a hard piece of my story has no power over me.

In Christ, I am more than a conqueror!

by Renee Kim

Keep it Soft and Simple

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My philosophy for transitions of any kind with my kids from hard places? Keep it Soft and Simple.

Getting out the door for school? Keep it Soft & Simple.
Leaving for church on Sunday morning? Keep it Soft & Simple.
Summer vacation? Keep it Soft & Simple.
Holidays? Keep it Soft & Simple.

This Thanksgiving was the first Thanksgiving in THIRTEEN YEARS without a major meltdown, an emotional rage, an out of control child with no idea what he or she was upset about or why falling apart seemed necessary.

Thirteen years.

Don’t get me wrong. We had narrow misses. Several moments when I held my breath and prayed begged God for calm in our home.

This year I promised myself I would dig my self-control out from behind the washing machine and use it. God help me—because that’s the only way possible for this broken mama to use self-control.

Be calm. Move slowly. Use a quiet voice. Be sensitive to the tender hearts of my children—no matter what. I was mostly successful. Mostly. (Let’s not talk about the moment when I squeezed the piece of fudge in my hand until it was melty and squishy rather than have my own melt-down.)

As we were beginning to get dinner on the table, one of the boys shifted into “everything must be completely, absolutely, without a doubt perfect” mode.

K.I.S.S.

I took a deep breath, reminded him that I made the turkey for the first time ever and it was sure to be dry, raw, or a mess. Turns out, I cooked it upside down so we couldn’t see the little red poppy-outy-thing. Great chance for us to be less than perfect together. He settled a little bit (not a lot) and we were able to sit down to dinner—and the turkey wasn’t awful.

Later, one of the girls had an “I don’t know what I need but I need something and it needs to be now” moment.

K.I.S.S.

I had just settled down to read. I’d been cooking, cleaning up, getting out dessert, cleaning that up, on my feet all day. I just wanted to sit quietly for a few moments.

Nope. No rest in that moment.

I asked what she needed. She didn’t know. I asked if she was “feeling funky” (our words for feeling emotional and triggered without really knowing why). She was, so we discussed options. Walk the dogs? Together? Alone? Read a book? Mom read to her? Listen to music? Do a puzzle? Jumping jacks? Push-ups? Leap-frog? Rearrange the furniture? (I was desperate, people!)

She chose a book to read in her hammock and actually stayed there for nearly an hour. Crisis averted.

The holidays can be very difficult for those of us with kids from hard places. We struggle to keep things calm while still seeing extended family, going to extra worship services, shopping for appropriate gifts that keep the focus on relationship, and still keeping our sanity.

At our house, we do everything possible to keep things soft and at the same time, simple.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are often at home with just our family. We do visit Grandpa and Grandma, but they have agreed to keep things simple at their house too.

Extra church services? Only if it works for our family in the moment. No guilt. No pressure to be there or not. We don’t volunteer to help with the offering, play the piano, or do a reading. I love worshipping with God’s people. Love it and need it. We try not to miss. But the needs of my family come first. If staying home from the extra Advent service on Wednesday night keeps things soft and simple, we stay home.

I don’t take the kids shopping all at once. Just. Can’t. Do. It.

One at a time, we shop for the others in the family. It has become a bonding experience—each of my kids get that special trip with mom. The one rule: we don’t shop for ourselves. At all. Period. If we get overwhelmed, we go home. I refuse to get upset or stressed out about shopping for Pokémon cards or lip gloss. Seriously. What’s the point? And Amazon helps a lot.

It has taken us thirteen years to reach this point. Maybe I should say that it has taken me thirteen years to get to this point.

I don’t know how Christmas will go. I’ll keep praying. I’ll keep following the K.I.S.S. rule. By the grace of God, we will find a way through the next few weeks without too many rages, blow-ups, or crises.

And, when they do come—because they will, I’ll drag my self-control back out from behind the washing machine again. I’ll do my best to keep my voice soft and give my precious teens and tweens the nurture and structure they need. I’ll wait out the tantrum and reconnect the best way I know how in the moment.

I’ll pray for you. Please pray for me. Together we will make it through this season of triggers for our kids.

Keep it Soft and Simple.

Fair Does Not Mean Equal

By | The Struggle is Real | No Comments

Growing up mom would say, “Fair does not mean the same.” Invariably she was saying that my sister and I were different and therefore had different needs.

In order to fairly and lovingly meet our needs, Mom and Dad sometimes had to treat us differently.

In a recent sermon on Matthew 20:1-16 about the laborers in the vineyards my pastor, Mike Morgan, used the illustration of a parent having 7 m&m’s and 2 girls. How does a parent treat both fairly? Pastor Morgan’s solution of giving each girl 3 M&M’s and eating the remainder was met with “that’s not fair” by both children.

His point was we do the same thing to God.

God is extravagantly generous. He doesn’t pay us earned wages of death. He gives us the gift of salvation. In love, He is willing to do what may be labeled as “unfair” by treating us as individuals with different needs. He gives us grace.

As sinful humans, we do not consistently get this message. We begrudge God’s generosity and covet His power to forgive.

Children from hard places can have the same difficulty seeing and recognizing God’s gifts. They have experienced the pain inflicted by the sin of others.

Their defense mechanisms may have outlived their usefulness. Now their defenses only perpetuate more pain for themselves and others. In constantly looking for potential hurts, they may be blind to the many blessings present in their lives.

Adora staff seek to model God’s generous love–to model a love that is not willing to check off boxes. We are unwilling to be mathematically fair and equal. Our work requires us to love in a way that meets the needs of each teen as a unique child of God.

We seek opportunities for the children in our care to learn how to develop and nurture loving, healthy relationships. We pray for God’s healing and restoration.

Just as with m&m’s and labourers in the field, healing and restoration require the understanding necessary to meet the needs of each child.

Not same or equal.

By Dr. Elizabeth Caldwell

Two Weeks Notice

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Two weeks.

It’s calculable. It’s palpable. There’s empirical evidence. It’s the witching hour. 14 days before any transition, our household begins a slow and steady downward spiral into Hades.

Maybe that’s a bit overstated, but I only think that after the transition has occurred. There will be no convincing me of it at the time.

Good or bad. One room to the next. Two states away. Exciting or dull.

It. Does. Not. Matter.

There is always that moment where my child is wackadoodle and I ask out loud “what is going ON?!!” That is the same moment when I look at a calendar. And there you have it.

We are two weeks away from camp; first day of school; basketball practice; summer vacation; any vacation; return from a homestay…

Feel free to substitute anything you like. It fits.

Put it on the family calendar or hide it for your eyes only or on your bathroom mirror. Circle it in red. Set a timer on your smart phone. It is coming.

WHY?!!!

They lose their voice. All the anxiety of a struggling kiddo begins to surface. For the child who has never practiced giving voice to their fear OR joy, fear-based behavior takes over.
I have no idea why two weeks is the magical mark. I just know that all three of my children, for as long as I’ve known them—since birth—have ushered in event after event with great enthusiasm, chaos, and gnashing of teeth.

I still never seem to be prepared for it.

Why can’t I batten down these hatches everyone talks about? What the heck IS a hatch? At least I am no longer surprised by it.

So. Now I know. Buuuuut, what then?

Well, I pray more specifically, that’s for sure. “Lord. Please do not let me say what I hear in my head out loud.” Seriously. I do that. But maybe more applicable is the prayer that I will be ever more gracious to my child. That I will be ever more gentle. That I will be ever more sympathetic to their inability to cope. That the absorptive qualities of my pillow will be ever more capable of muffling my exasperation.

It is weary work, this compassion. This leading our children out of their past and into their ability. Leading them from grief to grace.

Practically, when the realization that D Day has arrived dawns on us, my husband and I look at each other, breathe deep, quickly draw straws and the winner checks into a hotel.

No, we remind ourselves, very often audibly, that said child is struggling with the ability to manage feelings and it is our job to help them out.

There will be more compromise, more behaviors overlooked, more “yeses” if possible. There will be less volume in our voices; less concern about winning battles or teaching lessons or holding our ground on an issue. It is the time to flex in our rules more than ever (Not disregarding them all together, but giving in a bit more where it’s not an issue of safety.

Showing disrespect? Perhaps ignoring it is best this time rather than addressing it. Wanna eat in their room? At least they are getting nourishment today. Adamant that they must sleep on the bathroom floor tonight? Go for it. No harm. No foul.

To extend grace for poor choices and empathize, as much as possible, with this young person who is so UN-able to cope. And, quite frankly, to find ways to just survive the day, avoiding as much emotional damage as possible, until you reach the other side of that transition.

by Angie Harrod

Wanting to be the Very Best: How the Pokémon Trading Card Game is a Trauma Healing Strategy

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At first glance, a group of people sitting around a table playing a collectible card game might not look like a trauma healing activity. It might look like a group of people having fun or, to some, wasting time. I can assure you, healing is occurring in that group.

The Pokémon Trading Card Game (TCG) is a newly introduced activity here at Adora. At first even I was skeptical of how it would be perceived. How might Pokémon TCG help students other than by giving them something to do in their fleeting precious down time? I struggled with these doubts even though I’m the one who introduced it. However, after taking one student to his first ever competitive (albeit small scale) tournament, I can see how it is a strategy to help students grow and heal from their trauma.

There are 6 tenants of Pokémon Organized Play. Each must be followed by all players. They are strikingly similar to the 4 rules here at Adora (three borrowed from TheraPlay): No Hurts, Have Fun, Stick Together, and Words Match Actions. The Pokémon Organized Play rules are: fun, fairness, honesty, respect, sportsmanship, and learning. Our students have to follow these rules every time they sit down to play a game of Pokémon TCG, whether they are around the kitchen table at home or out at a larger competitive event.

Making sure that fun is had by all is an important aspect of any game because it encourages players to keep trying.  Fairness, honesty, and respect help students learn to interact with others around them by teaching them—and helping them practice—the Golden Rule. Sportsmanship helps them see that they have to match their words with their actions in order to succeed in Pokémon TCG and in life.

Playing Pokémon TCG is also a great time for students to practice their social skills. When they are ready and want to go to a larger tournament than the gathering around the kitchen table, they get to interact with others of all ages in a positive, constructive manner. This game can help them learn skills to do just that.

During an actual game, quite a bit of the process for trauma healing takes place. Players have to know how to interact with the person sitting across the table from them. While placing counters and moving cards in sync with their opponent, an intricate dance of cardboard, dice, fingers, facial expressions, and emotion takes place. You have to learn to do things quickly, efficiently, and sometimes even with both hands at the same time! Players have to learn how to engage both sides of the brain at once in order to play the game.

The game can also help players deal with the eventuality that things don’t always go as we plan in life. While Pokémon TCG is in essence a skill based game there is a luck component in what card will come up to the top of the deck next. Players have to learn the skill of accepting a loss or setback and moving forward to the next play or game.

While playing Pokémon might just look like a fun pastime, the next time you see children or adults sitting down at a table to sling some cardboard, take a look at the growing and learning that is taking place. You might be surprised that wanting to become “the very best”, as the theme song says, can help everyone learn to become the best version of themselves.

By Jason Feeney

Mama Guilt

By | The Struggle is Real | No Comments

Years ago I wrote this in my journal. God used my precious children to draw me back to His mercies and His plan. It is a good reminder again.

I like things I can fix. I like to focus on issues I might somehow be able to control.

My children need just as much of me, my time, and my attention as they did 9 years ago.

Welcome to the heart of a sinful, broken mama. Welcome to the heart of a mama who needs the Gospel everyday—just to get out of bed. Welcome to the heart of a mama who loves her children from hard places desperately.

The note was on my pillow. Wrinkled paper. Precious kindergarten scrawl.

“Doo u luv me? Pla wif me.”

Those seven words put me under. Just like that I was a complete mess. Tears dripping. Thinking back on the last few weeks: a new school year, a new school, a new apartment, 100 new students in and out of my classroom.

Pushing aside the most important children in my life.

I knew it before I saw the note. The weight of it was already crushing me.

I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be. Too tired. So busy. Sarcastic. Unkind. Impatient. Preoccupied. I didn’t take time to sit down and play. Or when I did, I wasn’t really there.

My life. The life of someone who desperately wants to love well and finds failure all around. The life of one who is learning to look hard at the broken places and confess her sin.

I can’t hold it all together even when I try. So, in my tears, I lay it at the feet of my Savior.

God repairs what I’ve broken. He creates hope where there is hopelessness and gives peace when all I feel is defeat.

Then I find the three most beautiful people I know…

…and we play.

 

Mama Guilt
By Gail Prutow

Calm Assertive Parenting

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Parents of troubled teens can learn a lot from working with a unbalanced dog.  Kids who have experienced trauma often function out of their amygdala, also known as the “animal brain,” reacting instead of thinking logically.  All hurting or abused animals function out of this part of the brain, meaning that dogs and kids may exhibit similar behaviors.

Before you stop reading because you think I’m crazy and cold-hearted treating kids like dogs, hear, or rather, read me out.

Our kids are often not able to self-regulate.  We see dis-regulation in depression, anxiety, anger, and other behavioral problems.  Dis-regulated dogs act out with aggression, obsession, destruction, and hyperactivity.  In order to help a dog feel safe, the “pack-leader” must be a self-regulated source of calm, assertive energy. The same is true for a teen to regulate. Their adult must be a source of calm, assertive energy.

Ok, great!  What does that mean?  Merriam-Webster defines calm as a peaceful mental or emotional state, assertive as confident in behavior or style, and energy as a usually positive spiritual force.

So together we have a peaceful, confident, positive force that is shared with others in the way we present ourselves  This is what we must project to troubled teens, especially when they are acting out.

When a child or dog acts out you have three choices with your energy: you can add more anxiety by conforming to the negative energy, you can increase the negative energy by yelling, or you can settle the situation by practicing calm, assertive energy.

To use calm, assertive energy you might get down on the kids’ level, use a relaxed voice, and  whisper.  Your calm will draw them to you. Whispering will bring their energy down.

If you get into a shouting match with your struggling teen, you add tension rather than stabilizing the situation.  Maintaining calm, assertive energy is a skill, and just like any skill, the only way to hone it is to practice, make mistakes, learn, and grow.

If you are looking for an examples of calm, assertive leadership, Jesus is our best example. His energy inspired people to listen, to leave everything, and follow Him.  He did not control people through fear or manipulation. He spoke the truth with gentleness which drew people to Him.

Modern examples include the source of knowledge for this post, Cesar Milan (the Dog Whisperer), Tim Gunn of Project Runway, Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News, Dana Perino, former White House Press Secretary, and Buck Brannaman, the inspiration for “The Horse Whisperer.”

You can see calm, assertive energy in action by watching any of their programs.  I highly recommend watching at least one episode of “The Dog Whisperer” or “Cesar 911” to see calm, assertive leadership at work both with people and dogs.

Sarah Andrews
September 10, 2016