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How to Turn Baby Love into Teen Attachment

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Adoption is loss. It as a beautiful gift. An opportunity. A true joy! It is also pain and hurt and difficult attachment.

Brown-eyed girl looks at me with eyes of fear. Brown-eyed girl smiles at every stranger and pushes momma away. Brown-eyed girl wants love and affection…  

…from everyone else. 

How can the same little girl who clung to me as a one-year-old push me away so vehemently as a 13-year-old? 

I wouldn’t change one thing about my decision to adopt. 

Not. One. Thing. 

She makes me a stronger, wiser, more patient, grace-giving, truth-telling parent.  When we finally wind our way through all the difficulties, she will be a resilient, thoughtful, grace-understanding, truth-telling young lady.  

Those brown eyes are a treasure. Those brown eyes changed my life in painfully beautiful ways. 

There are many things I wish I’d known before those brown eyes joined my family. Check out a few hints that can make a big difference for a small child who has experienced hard things.

  • Keep her in a wrap or front pack—physically attached to mom as often as possible.
  • Play silly little games that require connection by looking into each others eyes.
  • Snuggle, read, and play even more each night before bed.
  • Create your own special routines that make turning out the lights a little less scary.
  • Sucking on a bottle helps her learn about calm and safety. I wish I hadn’t encouraged my little one to give up her bottle like a “big girl”. We would have snuggled with that baba for many more nights just so she could calm herself with the sucking and safe snuggling.

As she grew, I quickly learned that raising my sweet brown-eyed girl the way I was raised would not work. The wounds are so deep. Kids who have experienced hard things need a different approach to parenting.

So, I adjusted the more simple strategies from above for my teen:

  • Keep her physically close by going on walks, baking cookies, taking her to riding lessons, watching movies. Anything that allows us to be together with a little less conflict.
  • Look for opportunities to make eye contact with soft eyes that tell her she is precious—sometimes even when she isn’t acting so precious.
  • Read together. Sometimes I read to her. Sometimes we listen to a pre-recorded book. Sometimes we each read our own books in the same room by the same fire.
  • She may be 14, but I still give her a hug good night and take a moment before lights out.
  • I am trying to make 10 minutes of alone time twice a day for each of my kiddos. Those of you with busy families know just how difficult that can be.
  • Since sucking and chewing are both calming behaviors, I keep suckers and bubble gum easily available. All she has to do is ask—the answer is almost always a yes. (For those of you wondering… Yes. When I first offered, we went through suckers and gum beyond anything that was reasonable. After three weeks, the rate of consumption began to decreased dramatically. We still have a sucker and a couple of pieces of gum each day. Sugar free is a good option. I strategically choose calm over an argument about how much is too much.)

Parenting my brown-eyed girl is beautiful, painful, and I wouldn’t trade it. It is not the mother-daughter relationship I enjoy with my mom. However, when my strong, precious daughter takes a step forward, it is a moment of great rejoicing in my momma heart. Can’t wait to see what she becomes.

What strategies do you use to help your teen?

What You Said. What He Heard.

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Not long ago, while sitting around with several of our dogs, one of the kids mentioned he didn’t want his dog playing with the St. Bernard because he didn’t want his dog to get all slobbery. As they started arguing I spoke up, “Some people don’t like dog slobber.” What the learner heard was, “I don’t like your dog.” It turned into an argument that led to the kid walking out. I had to reconnect in order to repair the relationship.

We often think of scripts in relation to theater. However, the origin of the word ‘script’ is Late Middle English meaning “in the sense of something written”. Kids have scripts or emotional thoughts written on their brains from conception.

“Shhh! Your brother is sleeping,” when heard from a place of trauma might sound like “I don’t want to listen to you” or “I love your brother more than you.”

That is not what you said or were even what you were thinking. Why do they hear such negative things when we mean the best? So, how do we change the script?

When we know “Shhhh! your brother is sleeping” will cause hurt, we adjust. One approach is lowering the volume of your own voice so your child will follow your example. Another option might be to say, “I love your fun. Let’s love your brother together with shhhhh.”

It’s not easy. Every kid is different. We will mess up. But that is the beauty of reconnection. If we set the example by admitting when we were wrong and choose to reconnect, we have used the most powerful tool. When we chose carefully, what we say can become what they hear.

 

 

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

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

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.