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What works

A Rather Unexpected Reading List

By | Adults Need to Grow Too, Life at Adora, Trauma Healing Based Learning, What works | No Comments

Several days ago, I walked into my son’s bedroom and snapped this photo of the stack of books he brought home with him from Adora. I wondered briefly if this was the reading list of our high school freshman or an MBA student home from college. These books weren’t assignments for him over the break but rather books that he has already read (most of them anyway) and chose to bring home to share with our family. What an incredible set of books to learn the skills necessary to build healthy relationships that produce personal and organizational excellence in families, churches, schools and businesses.

I paused to recall with amazement the things that God has done over the past few months to cause this particular set of books to be collected in our home. And, I sighed with the reassurance that He is clearly at work to heal and strengthen our family as He draws each of us more closely to Him and to one another through the work of the Adora Community.

I think it started this fall with Donovan’s assignment to read, report on, and discuss the personal application of The Entitlement Cure by Dr. John Townsend. This was followed by another assignment to do the same with The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. (Both of these are outstanding books that I highly recommend.) Donovan’s curriculum for the Fall trimester was designed specifically for him by the Adora staff as they assessed his needs for both educational and relationship development. And, as he progressed through the trimester, Donovan actively participated in choosing additional books.

The approach of the Adora team in applying Trauma Healing-Based Learning reminds me of Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos’, advice to be stubborn and “incredibly relentless” in pursuing vision but flexible on the details along the way. They continually search for the methods and materials that work best for each student at each particular stage of their development while remaining focused on the vision to help each student heal and connect with their families so they can return home as soon as they are ready.

But, getting the student in Adora’s residential program ready to come home is only part of what is required.

Those at home have to get ready too. Typically, the student who comes to Adora for help isn’t the only person in the family who needs to change for the family to be healthy and function as God intended. This brings me back to the stack of books and my encouragement in what God is doing.

Donovan’s choice of books by one of his favorite non-fiction authors, Patrick Lencioni, wasn’t all about the material. He chose to read more writings by Lencioni after learning that I was also using this author’s books at work. Donovan intentionally asked to read these books and to bring them home so that he could connect with me and strengthen our relationship which has been strained over the past few years. I cannot adequately express here the significance of this step he took and God’s grace in working through normal circumstances to bring about His work of connecting Donovan and me. Wow! But the evidence of God’s loving providence in our lives doesn’t end there.

Through his work at Adora this fall, Donovan is now basically the resident expert on “The Entitlement Cure” at our house. So, Angie and I consulted with him on how he benefitted from this book and how we might best apply it with other members of our family. His insights demonstrated that he clearly understands both his need for improvement and the need for each of us to grow and mature for the good of our family. Not bad for a fifteen-year-old, huh? (Please apply proud Dad filter here as appropriate.)

By God’s grace our family continues to move forward doing our best to follow what Townsend calls the “Hard Way – The habit of doing what is best, rather than what is comfortable, to achieve a worthwhile outcome.” We’ve a long way to go on this journey, but our family as a whole and as individuals are seeing God at work to heal us and mature us for His glory through the work of good authors and the ministry of the Adora Community. We are thankful.

by Greg Harrod

Staying Sane when the Amygdala Attacks

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Stimulate the amygdala part of the brain and out comes fear, aggression, and emotion.  Some affectionately call it the “lizard brain” because there is only reaction. No logical response.

She is 13 years old.  Too old for a temper tantrum, but…

Her request was for ice-cream.  She just had pizza, salad, and soda.  But when she heard “no” to ice cream, her brain told her I wasn’t meeting her needs.

Sometimes needs and wants are confused—even for mature adults. How much harder is it for a child who does not trust dad and mom to meet her needs? 

Instead of accepting no and showing gratitude for a fun day with many treats, her amygdala kicks into gear. 

Screaming. Biting. Slapping. Scratching. Kicking. My tween makes herself throw-up. 

I gently hold her. I quietly promise to stay. I try to keep away from her teeth, her feet, her fingernails. But, I stay with my precious, scared child. 

It seems like she rages forever. No one is watching. Everyone is watching.

I can only care about her. My reputation can’t be my priority. My comfort can’t be the important thing.

My daughter needs me to be present for her in every way.  

Slowly she calms down. Slowly she relaxes in my arms. Slowly we reconnect. 

How do we help a hurting child find precious calm? Here is my “go to” list:

  • Quiet voice—almost a whisper—gives an anxious, angry child a different behavior to mirror. It is not an immediate fix, but a habit of calm can slowly help a child find a more peaceful existence.
  • Gentle touch—Sometimes she doesn’t want any touch at all. Other times a pat on the back or holding a hand is needed. Reading the situation is the hard part.
  • Stay—It is so tempting to walk away when she begins to rage. Instead I try to find a place to sit and I stay put. She may walk out of the room, but she comes right back (entangled attachment style). If I stay, she rages near me. If I sit and don’t get in her way, she rages around me instead of on me.
  • Humor—Sometimes a giggle is all I have left. Never at the expense of the child. Usually at myself or a joke I tell.
  • Put the ego away—Ouch! This one hurts. I want to be a perfect parent. Actually, most days, I’d settle for decent parent. So when my kids fall apart, I feel like I’m not enough. The solution is…
  • Gratitude—God gave me the greatest gift in my children. I love them with my life. They teach me many things everyday. I get to be grateful for them in each moment—the hard moments and the easy moments. A whispered prayer of thanks in the moment helps.

Mom is a title that is hard earned. An teen who lives in the amygdala adds extra layers to the struggle. I become a better person each day I spend with my kids. More calm. More gentle. More humble. More grateful. I pray the same for you as you walk this path with your kids.

Using Tennis to Improve Proprioception

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Tennis is such a fantastic sport. It’s something you can do for your whole life, and with God’s grace, I hope to do just that. Tennis is a sport I brought to Adora almost before I started working here. I’ve been playing since I was young and tennis has helped me meet new people, develop a passion, learn to lose with dignity, and get some much needed exercise too!

I was excited to begin tennis with the students here when I realized the incredible proprioceptive experiences that take place in even the simplest action on the tennis court. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the $64,000 word in the last sentence, proprioception is knowing how and where your body is moving through space and how much strength to use in a given motion.  Tennis is a great example of this. You have to move your right foot one way, your left foot another, twist your shoulders a certain way, swing your arm just so, and flick your wrist to finish. Learning all of this is quite the process, but for children who have experienced trauma, it can be totally worth it.  

Proprioceptive activities can be difficult for trauma survivors because the right and left sides of the brain have trouble speaking to each other when trauma occurs in an individual.  Using both the right and left and left sides of the body as well as being able to use both the creative and analytical sides of the brain can be affected, but that is a subject for another blog.

Tennis is an activity that forces the person playing to use both sides of the brain.  When one is learning or playing tennis, using both sides of the brain is integral to success.  Your feet need to move in certain ways in unison with synchronized movement of your hands, shoulders, torso, head, and even eyes. Now, small refined muscle movements will take plenty of time and practice to make them excellent, but we aren’t talking about the end result, we want to focus on the process.  

It’s important with tennis, or any proprioceptive activity, to remember to not focus on the outcome but the process.  It’s also important to remember to take things extremely slow and to either praise (or self praise if you are doing this on your own) every single small success.  Kids, and us “well adjusted” adults too, tend to focus too hard on the end result and if “perfection” isn’t reached quickly lose interest and get discouraged.  Remember, process over product.  

Proprioceptive activities are HARD. Tennis especially. If tennis is not interesting or fun for you or those you care about, please find some sort of physical activity to do together. Proprioceptive activity can be immensely healing for individuals from hard places, but, as immensely powerful as it can be, time together can be much more powerful.  Also, if neither of you have done something like tennis before, trying something new and potentially embarrassing can help break apart some of the tension you both may be feeling.  

Please check out places like the United States Tennis Association or your local parks and recreation website to see where you can find local and even free tennis lessons for you or your family. Free lessons is where I started and can be a great way to try the sport without any sort of commitment, many free lessons will also help get you started with things like free rackets too!

Several of our learners have been taken tennis lessons and have benefited from the proprioceptive activity and physical activity of learning tennis. Learning to hit forehands and backhands, serves and volleys have helped the young men grow both physically and emotionally as well as helped them grown and have something in common with each other.   

by Jason Feeney

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

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