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Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas......almost here moms. HANG ON!

I hear the moms on Face Book. Our 16 year old has turned into the Grinch and he has had much healing. I remember when the kids were little and my 2 little ones with RAD were in trouble so often at school and wild and angry at home. It is hard.  When their behaviors step up, the therapeutic parenting needs to step up.


Sometimes it helps a tad to realize this is normal for them. This is how it is going to be for now.


As they heal Christmas' will get better. I remember that eventually I would be at this point and think "Oh yeah. I used to hate Christmas, but it is OK now." If you work hard using empathy, consistency, attunement, love and understand their trauma and let them know so, IT WILL HAPPEN.


Do not focus on your child's behavior all the time. Do not become obsessed. Enjoy time with other family. Yesterday I went for a pedicure. Just that simple act of having someone care for me can be so refreshing this time of year. When your sick child's behavior steps up, your care of the caregiver needs to step up. During those times I found that going to bed one hour earlier was helpful.

Take care of yourselves mom. We all love moms, and care about your pain. You will get through this. Never, never, never quit.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

What is Therapeutic Parenting?

You are probably an amazing "regular" parent. That may be part of what made you want to adopt in the first place. But then a traumatized child entered your family and your self confidence went down the tubes.

Our children think differently. They feel a lot. And most of the time their big feelings go straight into anger. They do not feel safe and do not view mother's as safe people who they can trust.

Parenting our kids can actually have joyous times if we learn how to connect with them.  We want them to feel safe and loved.

Empathy: It is just being able to get into their world and walk around in their shoes and feel what they feel. We will never know (unless experienced yourself) the depths of some of their abuse, but we can know enough so that they feel understood and heard. All of us want to know that someone "gets"us. Understands us deep down. An important part of empathy as a parent, is coming back out of their world and being the calm and stable one to help them deal with it. Staying in that world and feeling it for them is not helpful. Being there to walk through it with them is what is needed.

Attunement: It is pretty obvious when our car needs tuned up. It runs rough. If you take it in for a tune up it is a pleasure to drive. And so we need attunement with our family members. It is different from empathy. Empathy says "I feel your pain and I care." Attunement is more of a matching of mood so as to communicate together. If your child is feeling playful but is escalating, smiling and calming them in a kind but gently playful way is attunement. If your child is sad, then giving them a hug and giving them quiet time is attunement. If it is you and your spouse are going out on a date and you want to go some place loud and fun, and your partner is exhausted and just wants a quiet dinner and a movie, you tune in to them and give them what they need. The same is true of our kids. If someone makes a joke and you see the look on your child's face says "Ouch" then you tune into that and say something like "be careful of each other's feelings" and make eye contact with that child letting them know you saw.

Fun: Having fun in life is so important for maintaining emotional health. Our kids find it hard to have fun. They may sabotage an outing if they know ahead. Simple. Don't tell them ahead of time until they are to the point of being able to handle that. Keep family times short and simple. A quick game of "Apples to Apples", a run to a matinee, a spontaneous trip to Dairy Queen. Even those may be tough. Sometimes on the way, you can say, "If this much family time is too hard for you, let us know by doing .......(whatever your child usually does) We can handle it." Or afterwards you may say. "I know family time sometimes makes you feel (sad, scared, angry) I'm here to help you through it if you need it".  As the child can handle these short fun activities, then you can add a little longer.

Snuggling: Sometimes snuggling an angry child is the last thing we want to do.  Tough. As a parent, we love our kids in the way they need it. So snuggle, love and hug on your kids as much as they will let you. (appropriately, of course).  Our kids need it. All kids need it. Our kids need it more.

When they fail: Do not lecture, yell, or start throwing around punishments. Parent and "correct" lovingly. Remember we are building trust and safety at this point. Not teaching them "a lesson". I'm not saying let them get by with things. Our other kids are watching. But our approach is gently and loving, not harsh and punitive. Take the negative emotion out of the situation. I often tell myself to think of my child as though they are very ill and have done this. How would I talk to them then? Gentleness enters the situation easily then.

When they succeed: Tread lightly. Overly praising or making more of it then is worthy is obvious. None of us likes that. But give praise and  emotion for a job well done. Remember for them right now most strong emotion goes straight to anger, so keep it happy and proud, but not "too much".

Let your child know you adore them. You are glad you are their mom. They are a gift from God. We are blessed to have them in our lives. Do we some days want to tear our hair out. Oh yeah. Is it worth it? Oh yeah.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Proud of my heart

I was going to just post this picture but then I was afraid people would think I'm talking about me. I'm proud of my kids hearts. They just keep trying. I've had the stomach flu for a couple of days. We have only our youngest at home. He used to have a full blown case of RAD. He made me the best scrambled egg for dinner last night. He has been loving and attentive. I'm proud of your heart son!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Creating a Wonderful LIfe

This evening I watched It's a Wonderful Life. I love that movie. Just a couple of minutes into the movie this conversation takes place:
God:   Yes, Clarence. A man down on earth needs our help.
Clarence: Splendid! Is he sick?
God: No. Worse. He's discouraged.

That line always gets me thinking...No. Worse. He's discouraged.  Are you feeling discouraged? This is such difficult time of year for so many of our kids. It can be hard not to be discouraged.
Kick that discouragement to the curb!
Take one day at a time. Can you get through today? If you don't know, can you get through the next hour?

Use positive self talk. When you catch yourself having negative conversations in your head turn them around. Such as "Things are never going to be better". Tell yourself. "It will be better"

Reframe the situation. When you feel discouraged visualize a big ugly picture frame around the situation. The frame is dscouragement, or loss of hope. Then picture a beautiful new frame: Encouragement and hope. Which way would you rather look at the situation. Which way will get you through? In other words, picture things differently and then believe it will happen.

Change something. Remember the old saying "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results"? Examine your parenting. Are there areas where this is true. Then change them up and try something different.
Anchoring:There are a couple of ways to take this. First of all, what is your anchor,your strength? Faith, family, a friend?  If you have none you are surely adrift. Find an anchor and hang on!
Anchoring is also a term used often for getting people out of internalizing. In other words, getting back out of your head.  Are you in the habit of spending much time over thinking, analyzing and worrying? Get back out of your head by using your 5 senses. Name things you can see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Enjoy the moment and focus on what is around you and don't allow yourself to go back "inside".
Storyboarding: Walk through the steps or think of a "story" of how this should look. This will help you work out problems that may come up. For example have a school Christmas party and you are worried about your child will handle it. Go through the steps involved in the party and work out a plan.
Mental Rehearsing. Practice it. Believe it. Practice positive responses to negative behavior.
Empowering beliefs: Believe you can do this. Know you can do this. Write it down and post it by your mirror because...You can do this. Believe your child will heal. Plan on it.
If you are discouraged, find encouragement in blogs, books, and good times out with friends. Don't make poor Clarence come back down here.

Having a Healing Christmas

Here are some ways that we found helpful in handling the Christmas season.
 Extended Family events:
Bring board games. Sit down BEFORE your kids get hyper and begin playing with them. It is great family fun and you will be surprised by how many other family members will want to join in.
Relax about Attachment style parenting and let the relatives be themselves. Conflict with family members will only drive a wedge between you and your child as they will side with the other family memer against you. So let it go. It will give people a chance to say what a great mom you are (and YOU ARE A GEAT MOM) and your child needs to hear that!
Serve even more healthy foods at home than usual. Then don't police their food every place else.
Think of your child during times when they are dysregulated as a very ill child. Provide peace and quiet. Play soft music. Serve them sugar free hot chocolate and snuggle them with blankets. Have them sit near you and play. Prepare a basket full of quiet activities and you can carry it into what ever room you are in for them to use. Paper, colored pencils, puzzles, puzzle books, books, cds and a cd player, legos are all quiet activites that are very relaxing.
Take the kids to your local Y and PLAY in the gym, the swimming pool or if they are older in the work out room. Have some time when they can expend some energy every day.
Focus on the meaning of Christmas and not on the gifts. Choose a needy family from one of the trees around town and have the kids help you buy them gifts. Have them help in choosing gifts for grandparents.
Have your home be as calming and comforting as possible.
Have a healing Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christmas + trauma = ?

Christmas is  a trigger for many children with past trauma issues. Fear or sadness drives much of their behavior. Here are a few reasons. Tomorrow we will talk about ways of dodging the fear bullets this season.

1. Old memories of Christmas' past, some bad, are stirred up. They may miss their "old family" or wonder what they are doing. They may fantasize about them.

2. The kids at school are wired. I think my kids feed off of that energy and just go one step further. If you picture a room full of hyper kids ours are the ones whose heads are popping up above the crowd as they leap on chairs and jump on other kids backs.

3. Warm fuzzies. Do you feel the warm fuzzies at times during Christmas? I do. When we turn on the lights to our tree. When I hear the Christmas carols. I just want to hug my whole family. Imagine those thoughts in a child afraid of love.

4.Changes in diet and schedule. The constant treats every where I go are TROUBLE for me and my diet. No problem for my boys. They shovel them in as fast as they can!! The programs have started and the parties will be soon. This means later nights.

Remember to take care of yourself. Take time away to enjoy this season and have yourself a Merry little Christmas. You really still can.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

regulated, dysregulated, discombobulated

I remember as a parent the first time the therapist talked with my about my child being dysregulated and thought "What the heck does that mean?" If you think of the thermostat on the wall at your house, and the way it regulated the temperature. Only this is about mood.

If our child is regulated, it means they are able to control their emotions, control their bodies. If they are dysregulated they are more than likely having a rage, throwing things, kicking things, yelling, blaming, out of control of themselves.

BUT, here is the hard part. In order to help them learn to regulate themselves, we must first regulate ourselves. Ouch. If it is so hard for us, how can we doubt how difficult it is for them?


Breath deep, it slows down your heart rate and sends oxygen to the brain. Heaven knows mine can use all the oygen it can get! This means your stomach goes in an out when you breath, not shoulders up and down. Oh and put those shoulders back so the lungs can really fill.

Give yourself a time out. It is ok (good even) to say "Mom needs a few minutes and I'll talk to you about this later". Then lock yourself in your bathroom, bedroom, office, whatever and read a magazine, listen to a favorite song, pray, call a friend or spouse. When you are calm, then you can talk.

Make a play date with a friend. Even if you can't go then, knowing you will be "going out for coffee, going shopping, running with a friend" all will help. You can say to yourself. I can handle this because I'm gong to go have fun later.

Exercise. It produces endorphins, burns off anger and is good for you. It's better than eating another snack. It is a social thing for me. At first, yes, it will make you tired. Keep after it and eventually it will give you a ton of energy.

So....regulate yourself first, and then your child.

You've got this.

Monday, December 5, 2011

RAD: What works: Brenda Nelson

What works:

Parenting our  children with loving eyes, gentle appropriate touch and attunement bring healing. Looking for the fear and sadness under the behavior and helping them understand what is driving the behavior brings healing. Keeping them close by physically when they are falling apart and helping them calm themselves brings healing. Having fun with them in short happy moments (long ones are too much) brings healing.....You can do this. It takes practice. It takes calming yourself first.

What does not work:

Being authoritarian in a military fashion
Angry eyes
Natural consequences (yes they need them, because life will give them whether they figure it out or not, but it does not bring healing)
Time out (use time in when they stay near you quietly)

Feel free to share your successes and input! YOU are the experts.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Where is your focus?

When you have a child with RAD it is so easy to become totally focused on the RAD. You start seeing RAD in your child everywhere. You over analyze their words and actions. Don't ask how I know this.

Focus on the healthy relationships in your life. Spend time laughing and hanging out with those you love and who give back healthy love to you. You need to remember how normal feels. Your family needs to see you normal. (I realize normal is completely subjective, I mean your normal)

When we focus in on the disorder (RAD) and it consumes our time and thoughts, we too become unhealthy as we begin to see our child differently and we can begin to see ourselves through their eyes, or become entirely focused on the behaviors. Bag the behaviors. What is under there? Fear, sadness, rejection, feelings of abandonment, shame.  If you focus on those feelings much of the time what will happen to your own mood. Your own sense of peace?

Look for the little signs of healng and focus in on those instead. The real hug, the look of love in their eyes, the little note left for you, the sincere apology. Frame those and hang them on your heart to get you through the rough days.

So today where is your focus? In our family it was on church this morning and on the spiritual strength we gather there. I'm heading to work out at our local YMCA. ALONE! Yes. It would be good for our child to go with me and get some exercise, but after a struggling weekend with him, I need strength to be loving. NOT to do battle, but to be loving, attuned, supportive. That is the type of parent I want to be. Spend some time with your spouse, your healthy kids and don't talk about problems. Talk about fun. Experience joy.

Focus on healthy things and have a healing day!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Fragile Placements: Jackie Meyer

I have always known that kids who are in foster care think they are
going to get moved. Each child would be told that this was not the
A few weeks ago I was talking with a young man who had been in
several homes. He is now in a home that plans to take
guardianship. He is NOT moving. He said "Ya, I know they are
taking guardianship. I have been in guardianship before. I can still
move." I reminded him of the many bad things that he had done
and that he was STILL in the home. He said to me. "What happens if
I do one more thing? That one more thing will make them change
their mind. I can still move."
This conversation made me realize how fragile foster kids see their
placement. Everyday they wake up wondering if this is the day they
will be shipped off to another home. They have been primed to
think this for good reason. They have been moved for reasons that
they did not understand.
I realized that parent's standards for foster kids are actually much
higher than for their own biological kids. When our son stole from
the collection plate and his dad was the pastor, it never occurred to
us to kick him out. When the same child got kicked out of preschool
Sunday school, we did not say: "I am calling Social Services". He
faced severe consequences and learned that this is not acceptable
behavior. By the way, he is an adult now and is very responsible.
My husband and I took a foster child into our home 40 years ago.
We received NO training. When the adolescent girl in our care
organized a séance with the church youth group, brought a fifth of
whiskey from a home visit, and became sexually active with a young
man from the local air force base, we said, "This girl needs to go."
In our untrained minds these were serious transgressions. If we
had the support to help us set up a safety plan that young woman
could have stayed
Most of foster children's negative behavior is the result of fear.
Their biggest fear is moving. As we get frustrated with our kids
behaviors, we need to ask ourselves: "Would we move our biological
child for this behavior?" Some times we may have to answer yes. If
not, ask what else can we do to help the child.

Friday, December 2, 2011

If it is to be...is it really up to me? Brenda Nelson

Over the years I put tremendous pressure on myself regarding my children's healing. I felt like if anything would happen in my children's healing it would be because I  read the right book, tried the right technique, found the right the therapist, the right med, the right article on line.  I came to a realization...

I couldn't do it.

It was too much. A few years ago the saying "It takes a village to raise a child" became popular....I believe that is true with a child with RAD. Build your support. Blog, read blogs, find people to help. Ask each person in your area who is familiar with attachment and trauma issues what support organizations they  know about.  Then pursue them. The chances are some of them will not be right for you...but when you find the right connection it is so sweet. Here are a few suggestions: Doctor, therapist, Nurse practioner, foster parents support groups (if you don't know and can't find one, call HHS, adoption agencies, mental health agencies: in Nebraska the Nebraska Foster Adoptive Parent's Association and Right Turn have support groups in several cities) church, adoptive parents, blogs, ATTACh parent listserv.

If you still do not find the support you need, expand it to areas further away. If you find a support group that is too far, maybe a member will be your email buddy or meet you occasionally in between. Attend conferences and workshops on RAD and childhood trauma and talk to the other parents there. Get phone numbers and emails from them.

You help your kids most when you find help for yourself. An overwhelmed parent finds it hard to be empathetic, loving and tender. A supported parent will know they are not alone and WILL make it. If you cannot find support, please feel free to email me at brendanelson@counselingandenrichment.com and I will be your support buddy. You are not alone. Have a healing day.

Gratitude for this marathon I'm running: Brenda Nelson

Raising kids with RAD is a marathon for sure. Over Thanksgiving I ran in the 5 mile Turkey Trot here in town with 3 of my kids. 5 miles is a marathon for me. But it does not come close to the marathon parenting we are all living. There were no times when I thought "I can't do this any more." There were no times when I felt alone or misunderstood. Physical hurt from running is preferable to the emotional pain I have at times felt over the years.

We have one left at home folks.

So first I want to offer encouragement. There IS light at the end of the tunnel. All those things I feared for my kids... all the "What ifs". None of them have happened. Everyone is living safely and on their own except the youngest who is still in high school. He still has his inner battles, but I will tell you having one child with RAD at home is bucket loads easier than having two!

Secondly, I would never have begun this new adventure, this new career, as a therapist if it weren't for my kids.  They helped me learn a lot about myself. I CAN do what I set out to do. I have learned about how to parent my kids and I enjoy sharing that information with others. There is hope.  So if you are still dug in deep in the midst of RAD....I hope you find hope today.  You have reason too.  Never, never, never quit!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

PTSD: Jackie Meyer

The drawing that you see is from an eight year old boy who has
been in a SAFE foster home since he was three. We will call him
Dan. I had asked him to draw a picture of his family. I assumed he
was going to draw his foster family with whom he loves and feels
safe. He drew his biological family with mom out of the picture, his
siblings crying from pain and he is shaking because he is about to
be hit.
Dan is suffering from complex post traumatic stress. It is different
from other types of traumatic stress in that it is early, chronic
maltreatment within a care giving relationship.
Dan’s abuse was so early; it started before he was born. He had a
mom who was being severely beaten while she was pregnant. His
life was in danger and he knew it at an implicit level while he was
still in the womb.
Chronic maltreatment was ever present for the first three years of
Dan's life. He did not know if he would have food while parents ate
steak. He was often severely beaten for what normal kids do, like
lose a shoe. The people, who were supposed to protect him, hurt
CPTSD affects brain development. Dan, like the other children we
get into foster care, has a physically damaged brain. These children
have learning lags that are not always the result of a lack of
intelligence. They have no cause and effect thinking. Dan stood in
the school lunch room and loudly yelled at the lunch lady because
his class did not wait for him to put his colors away before going to
lunch. He used every vulgar word his bio dad taught him in front of
everyone. It did not occur to him that it was his slowness that
caused the problem.
These kids appear to be on hyper alert all of the time. They are
primed for the next bad thing to happen. It is the same feeling that
we get when we see the police car lights in our rear view mirror.
Only their feeling never ends. Dan has difficulty laughing because
the neurons for fun have been hijacked by rage and fear.
CPTSD affects the children’s ability to attach. Since it was the care
giver who hurt them, why would they want to connect to someone
else who they think will want to hurt them. As a result they behave
in ways that push the adults in their life away even it means getting
Kids who suffered from this kind of trauma get sick a lot more or at
least claim to be sick. Their sympathetic nervous system is out of
control. Being on hyper alert takes its toll on the body. Dan has to
have allergy shots on a regular basis
Because of the brain damage these kids often can not control their
emotions. The child may not be oppositional when he throws the
tantrum in Wal-mart. He may be just out of control. “It may be a
matter of can’t verses won’t.” They may use negative behavior to
make themselves feel better. The pain from cutting is a whole lot
easier to handle then remembering my father taking a gun to my
mom’s head. Getting in trouble for lying is a whole lot better than
taking the chance of getting beaten if I tell the truth.
Kids do not know for sure that foster parents or other caregivers
are not going to beat them. Dan was kicked out of school several
times in Kindergarten. One time he was so angry over some minor
thing that he hit the teacher. Dan was afraid and had no skills to
handle his big feeling. The school did not like this so much. They
were afraid that he would hurt the other kids. It was difficult for the
school to understand that he was not just being defiant. But they
did agree to a safety plan for Dan and the other children.
Bad memories may surface at any time. The child’s feelings of
terror are so overwhelming they may dissociate. This could
happen in school. He may just sit and stare and not cause any
problems. However, he has just missed class time. Dan was always
being accused of not getting his work done on time. The teacher
would often encourage Dan to do his work, but because his body
was feeling the emotions from abuse that happened years before he
could not do it.
Behavior control is a big issue with these severely traumatized kids.
One usually thinks about aggressive impulsive behavior. However,
excessive compliance is also a behavior issue. This is the kid that
every teacher and foster parent loves. He is doing helpful things
way beyond normal expectation. People have always abused him
before so he is going to do everything he can to prevent it. What
caregivers do not understand is that this child is extremely afraid.
He can be living in terror.
Foster parents often tell me that they can not get their child
interested in anything. CPTSD often does not allow the brain to
process new information. Everything is funneled through old
patterns. If he was always put down for trying he is not going to try
Kids with CPTSD suffer huge amounts of shame. These kids feel like
pond scum. Telling a child how valuable he is will do no good. All
preschool children believe they cause everything that happens to
them. Therefore these children believe that they caused the
maltreatment that happened to them. They made mom go to jail.
They made dad beat them. They are often stuck at this early
developmental age and continue to believe this.
The good news is that kids can be helped. We must work with them
at their level.
Think of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Kids need to feel safe first:
Treatment is phased based. They must feel safe first. Remember
Dan had been in foster care for five years and never felt safe.
Treatment must always be done with in the family setting because
only the caregiver can help him feel safe.
The foster parents literally redo the child’s early life. They put a
new narrative into his brain so that this time he feels safe. Like with
small children, the foster parent must set clear boundaries and give
lots of nurturing. As the child feels safe his brain will heal. He will
be able to do the things that other kids his age do. Until then a 16
year old that is functioning like a 10 year old should not drive.
The foster parent needs to help the child control his feelings. Two
year olds throw tantrums and often can not control them. Because
of CPTSD, a 16 year old may not be able to control his tantrums
either. The parent must calm the teen until his brain heals and he
can calm himself.
As the parent helps the child eliminate his shame, the child begins
to use his thinking part of his brain and not just react with
emotions. The child can now make clear and wise choices. He no
longer suffers from Complex Post Traumatic Stress.
To some this may seem impossible. Mary Dozier has done much
research on this and her conclusions show that it is the foster
parents that make the difference. This is true of Dan. Dan’s
teachers report he is doing above average work. There have been
NO violent out burst. Dan is on his way to becoming a productive
young man.
Never forget how much influence you have as a foster parent.

Children who live in fear: by Bonnie Hines

Children who live in fear may eventually pose a threat to society.  That’s a strong statement.  Let me explain.
            A child, for the most part, is born helpless.  This child depends on caretakers to get his needs met.  At any time that that system fails, fear settles in.  The newborn has no mental ability to make sense of such a failure.  The only conclusion can be that the infant feels innately bad.  The emotional construct that develops is shame and it feels horrible!
            If the caretaking system breaks down later in life, the brain will be more developed and might be able to make meaning, rather than shame, out of the experience.  Humans are the most vulnerable from birth to age two or three and the least vulnerable in the teenage or adult years.
            Children who have failed to deal with shame may feel intense fear and possibly rage at the slightest provocation.  Loving caretakers help normal toddlers deal with their normal rage until they gain the ability to get it under control themselves.
            Those children who have nobody to calm them experience the growth of shame and, therefore, the growth of fear and rage.  Children who have been neglected, abused, or abandoned may carry this intense shame, fear, and rage with them.
            Proper therapy and proper parenting or re-parenting (as in foster or adoptive parenting) techniques help a hurt child make sense of what has happened to her.  Eventually, the shame makes less and less sense and she will let all or some of it go.
            Children who live with unrelieved shame, rage and fear can become angry teenagers and young adults who do the unthinkable – like open fire in shopping malls or classrooms.  If someone is involved in the care or education of a child who rages and is no longer a toddler, help is available.