All adoptions involve loss and trauma. As parents, we often see the life of our child as beginning when they entered our home. It is naive for us to ignore their history–even if that precious child is adopted at birth. Research is now showing that children grasp how much they are loved and wanted while still in the womb.
Our children have suffered neglect, abuse, and trauma leading to fear and an inability to trust.
Students who come to Adora are fearful–they function in their amygdala—we often call it their animal brain. Fear is demonstrated in fight, flight, faint, or freeze. Those fearful students meet staff who desire to develop relationships with students. We actively work to teach students to trust through high nurture and high structure. It is not a fast process, nor is it easy.
Our work with students is based on research in the areas of neuroscience, fear-based behaviors, sensory processing issues, and attachment styles. But research is on paper and we face the real child–hiding in survival mode–with the heart of connection in each interaction.
For more information see: http://child.tcu.edu/about-us/tbri/
Law and Grace
Martin Luther said that Law is for the hard-heart and Grace is for the broken or soft-hearted.
God requires perfection from all of us that we are unable to attain. Children, parents, and all staff need to understand that God only accepts perfection. It is then that we can begin to fathom the true grace of the Gospel. We need real, tender, heavy, law in order to understand the amazing, counter-intuitive grace of the Gospel God gives everyday.
The Adora community is a place where we seek to live out Law and Gospel moment by moment. We actively avoid legalism because it says God will love us if we change. We actively engage living out the gospel which says God will change us because he loves us.
God is not looking for only compliance; neither are we at Adora. We do not practice punishment for the sake of getting a pound of flesh or changing behavior for the moment. Law–with tenderness–is shown to students when their behavior demonstrates a hard-heart. God’s counter-intuitive Grace is given when children begin to demonstrate a softer heart. A child who is stuck functioning in their amygdala needs the heavy weight of God’s law–given with tenderness–so they can step out of their fear, clearly see their sin, and begin to crave God’s grace. Grace is unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.
Connection is always the main goal with our students. Isolation is rarely an effective technique. We believe in time-in, not time-out. We carefully set appropriate boundaries for each individual student. Students begin with boundaries that keep them close to adults, supervision, and the opportunity to experience real connection. As students mature emotionally, physically, and spiritually, the boundaries slowly expand while still keeping their connection with animals, students, staff, and parents.
In order to build that connection, we avoid shaming the child. We must constantly give feedback–both positive and negative–to our students. When a child acts out, we come alongside the child to let them know that the behavior is unacceptable and that we are on their team to help solve the problem.
Guilt, fear, and rules do not help the hard heart of a wounded child. Only a taste of grace is the best catalyst for real work in our lives. When a child has been openly defiant and disrespectful or even violent it can be difficult to see past their actions.
At Adora our goal is to get past all the walls and masks a child puts on to avoid dealing with the tough stuff that he or she may not even know is bothering them so that he or she can truly begin to heal. When a child stops “playing games” and starts showing the real self, warts and all, God is softening their heart. This is the time for true grace.
Our students come to us having struggled relationally in many ways. They are disconnected from their birth parents through adoption, divorce, or other family issues. Often they are unable to trust their adoptive families. The trauma in their lives, known or unknown, causes the students to act out in ways that we as parents and adults struggle to understand. Many of our students arrive angry with God to the point that telling them more about Him is meaningless and only pushes them further away. Instead of preaching at them, we actively seek to model Law and the grace of the Gospel to our students. We show kids the love God has shown all of us. We are by no means perfect representations of God’s love; we sin often. It is often in our sin and our confession of that sin to the student that we get to demonstrate what God has done for us. It is then that our students begin to ask questions about God and we have the opportunity to share the Good News of what God has done for them.
Boundaries vs. Margins
At Adora we stress the difference between creating boundaries verses creating margins for kids. Margins are inflexible, if you stay within in them you are “good,” if you step outside the margin, you are “bad”. On the other hand, boundaries are flexible. They keep us safe while allowing for growth and change. They are not rigid, they appropriately grow as we mature.
Guilt vs. Shame
Shame tells us we are a bad person beyond saving. Shame often motivates more bad behavior. The child looks in the mirror and sees only their mistakes. Guilt tells us we have done something wrong, but allow us to see God’s mercy and forgiveness.
Brene’ Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, discusses the idea of wholeheartedness. Students often look for ways to be “enough”. The opposite of not enough can never be enough. Who defines what “enough” looks like? Instead she suggests that rather than trying to be enough for ourselves and others, we live wholeheartedly–giving our best in each situation. Mistakes are acceptable. Growing and learning is necessary.
Parenting and Teaching
We are parents and teachers. We are far from perfect. We are sinful, get angry, annoyed, and frustrated. We are also joyful, peaceful, compassionate, and loving. We appropriately model showing our emotion. We seek to act rather than react. We love, care, and give with our whole hearts. It isn’t a job–it is our calling and our lifestyle to give our best to children from hard places.
- We give nurture
- We offer structure rather than control
- We listen before we talk
- We encourage our children to do the right things for the right reasons
- We offer boundaries and natural consequences, not punishment
- We don’t push. We patiently encourage children to trust.
- We meet the needs–and a few wants–of our children
- We live with transparency as a community. With connection, we help students feel safe enough to be transparent.
- We strive to understand the difference between defiant behavior and a child giving all they have
- We encourage compromise–not negotiation
- We avoid an “all-or-nothing” or “my way or the highway” approach
Strategies for Meeting needs
- Connection is the goal
- Soft voice and soft eyes to address both positive and negative behavior
- Link to blog post
- Even if we are reacting in praise, voices must be kept soft. Loud has a tendency to amp-up the situation, potentially leading to acting-out due to overstimulation
- Nutritional food options available to regulate blood sugar every 3-4 hours throughout the day
- Our body’s nervous system sends signals to and from the brain. If our brain is not registering that is has enough protein or carbohydrates, it tells the body that it is not safe. Regular occasion to replenish helps to calm nerves, promote brain function, and let our students know we want to keep them safe.
- Drinking water
- Weighted blankets or similar devices/activities to provide calming compression
- 4:1 praise to criticism ratio
- Constantly be looking for good behavior instead of bad. Whenever you discover positive behavior, praise it specifically. “Thank-you for erasing so nicely! Now it will be easier for me to read!” “Great work knocking before you enter the room!” “Wow! Thank-you for catching yourself interrupting and then waiting until I was finished!”
- So often a negative comment can spout thoughts of shame. “I am bad. I am worthless. I am stupid. I am unloveable.” Giving 4:1 specific praise can help to reinforce a child’s worth to us and to themselves.
- Praise sandwich: When behavior must be addressed, sandwich it between praise for positives. Sometimes this seem like a huge stretch, but it can be helpful to de-escalate the situation. “Thank-you for speaking so I can hear you! Inside, we need to use our soft or medium voices.
- Playful engagement to address behavior
- “Typically, the mildest challenge to parental authority is when a child is sassy, controlling, or uncooperative. In this case (assuming the child is not in any sort of physical distress, which you would have to address first), use a playful reminder to bring him or her back in line. Using a lighthearted tone of voice, ask a simple, good-natured question that reminds the child who is in charge. Then give the child a chance to self-correct.” See The Connected Child by Karen Purvis.
- Proprioceptive activities often during the day
- Space to write, draw, or color to process emotions
- Redo’s to practice proper behavior without shaming
- Freedom to speak and feel that they have been heard
- Often, our first impulse is to fix whatever we think the problem is. However, this may or may not be what is best for our child in this particular situation. Sitting, making eye-contact, keeping our thoughts to ourselves until the child has expressed themselves, and then offering feedback, “What I am hearing you say is . . . , it that right?” This gives them the assurance that you were listening and allows for more discussion if we have not understood what need they are asking to be met. Then, we can pursue a solution together.