Friday, December 27, 2013

Pulling out of Ruts

It doesn't take much to push my kids down into a rut, and Christmas did the job.  I think of these ruts as naughty-benders.  It's like they're addicted to being naughty and just can't stop themselves.  So, okay, we'll be the grown ups and pull them out.  Ugh.

We've been told that holidays can be a tough time for kids like ours.  We noticed about mid-November that some naughties were emerging that we hadn't seen in several months.  So we tightened the boundaries, kept routines really secure, and things stabalized.  Then Christmas morning hit, with a different routine and lots of new stuff and the kids took it to a whole new level.  They were defiant just because, about everything, as long as they could hold the energy.  Any control of impulsivity they'd gained was gone.  It was like we had taken a huge step backward and lots months and months of growth.

So now we're in a rut.  Our 7 year old told me today he was going to be good now.  Oh no!!!  I hate it when he says that because he's NEVER good after saying that.  He's worse.  But I do believe he's sincere.  Wanting to be good but being over the top naughty, that is crazy.  He's stuck, he's lost in old patterns and doesn't know how to get out.

Almost two months of troubles, then several days of working my tail off maintaining boundaries, and now I have to come up with the additional energy to infuse in these relationships to pull these kids out of their rut.  We've done it before and we'll do it again.
  • Collect smiles & laughs. Our kids have lots of old brain chemistry for sadness and hopelessness. So we pull them into new brain chemistry of smiling and laughing and happiness.  The hardest part of getting them to smile is to first put a real smile on my face.
  • Connection.  After so much trouble, I don't want to be with them, but that's exactly what they need.  And they need more than my presence in the room, they need my attention.  It's time to play games together, read stories, and do lots of rocking.
  • "Yes, Mama."  Everything I tell them to do has to be answered with a "Yes, Mama" with a smile.  I get this response by giving it.  "Say, yes Mama," I say to them with a smile, until they get it right. When they finally get past the resistance, the look on their faces is pure joy.  They are letting me be the parent and they get to be the kid.
  • Have fun.  I'm worn out of watching them, enforcing boundaries, and then getting those looks of defiance, but it doesn't matter.  We must have fun.  We must have fun!
Tomorrow we begin.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Signs of Progress

Our children have been home a year and we hold on to little markers of progress like a lifeline.  Some of these are very small and subtle, but counting them has become part of my staying sane program.  Ironically, these are not all things I would have been happy to see in my bio children.
  • Stranger Danger.  Our little ones had no stranger danger when they came home and hadn't since they entered foster care.  Now when they cry when a stranger comes near, I get so happy.  When my little 2yo was screaming her head off at the doctor's office, I was giddy, saying "you're such a good girl, you're such a good girl." The doctor noted that most parents aren't so happy at the crying, but he understood why.
  • Asking Permission. Attachment disorder builds a false independence in children, believing that they don't need parents.  Every time our children ask permission, we hear I need you and want to be connected to you.
  • Eye Smiling.  It's hard for us to look at early pictures of our kids with those dead eyes and toothy smiles.  But after several months, their eyes started smiling in photos and now we see eye smiling all the time.
  • Sleeping Soundly.  Our oldest two were 6 and 3 when they came home.  We were surprised how light their sleep was.  Usually as people fall asleep their breathing patterns become heavier, but our kids' breathing remained light and silent.  Today when I hear heavy sleepy breathing, I am affirmed that their subconscious feels safe enough to really sleep.  
  • Growing.  Our children came home very short and very fat.  They had enough calories but life had been so difficult that their bodies had stopped growing.  Our oldest grew less than an inch his first six months home and over two inches in the second six months home.  His little body is letting go and growing!
  • Body Molding.  One of the symptoms of attachment disorder is that kids are rigid when they are held.  Our kids sure were.  Slowly they have begun to relax in our arms.  Today when we hold them across our bodies like a baby, they just completely relax and mold to us.
  • Focusing.  To say that our children lack impulse control is to fundamentally understate their reality.  I had never seen mental flight at such a rapid pace.  So when our oldest was working on some math with his eyes closed, head down, and ears covered, popping up every now to write an answer down, I was awed at his new capacity to focus his mind.
  • Copying/Modeling.  Our 7yo has really begun to copy everything about my husband, including his tastes in food.  He'll rave about how much he loves something even as he's fighting to choke it down.  We realized it's because he wants to be like his Daddy and his Daddy likes it.  Seeing him wanting to be like his Daddy makes my heart swell. 
What are the things you've noticed that tell you that your child is healing?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Attachment Tricks

Parenting kids with attachment disorder often means doing the opposite of what's intuitive.  But it also means working some tricks to heal them.  Kids with attachment disorder are simple to heal (simple is NOT the same as easy).  They just need huge amounts of:
  • eye contact
  • smiles
  • touch
  • rocking
  • sucking sweet milk
They need to redo their first year of life.  It's simple, but this time they'll often do it kicking and screaming while you're trying to smile with eye contact.  We have learned a few tricks along the way.
  • Following.  For kids with attachment disorder keeping their eye on a parent isn't natural or habitual.  Following helps.  The child always walks beside or behind so they consistently have a parent in view.
  • Practice "Yes, Mama" or "Yes, Daddy" with a smile.  Every time we ask them to do something, we elicit a, "Yes, Mama" said with a smile and then smile back.  That gives about 100 smiles a day and begins reciprocity.
  • Crawling.  Our kids are always in the room with us, but we have things to get done, so the kids come along.  Crawling does two things.  First, I've read that if kids miss crawling in their baby years, it can cause troubles down the road, so it covers that base.  Second, it keeps their little hands busy so it's not so easy to reach out and grab everything.  By the way, proper crawling technique calls for having little hands open, not crawling on fists which can hide stuff.
  • Criss-cross, hands on your knees.  This is a posture our kids sit in a LOT.  There is something about this posture that is very calming for all the kids (this is the meditative posture of many traditions).  Keeping hands on the knees means that Mama can see what those little hands are up to at all times.
  • Holding.  Our kids need to redo their first year with us and the first year with my bio kids included lots and lots of holding.  Our adopted kids aren't always enthusiastic for holding, but we can tell it has made a huge difference over time.  Sometimes we hold like a big kid and sometimes we hold like a baby.
  • Mine for "good job" opportunities.  When they're naughty and finally get through a time out (which is always within 5 feet of us), we don't end with a little reminder of how naughty they were.  We use it as an opportunity for praise and smiles.  "Good job minding in break.  Why were you in break?"  When they tell us, we say, "good job remembering!"  And that's it.
What are the tricks you've learned?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Fuzes Burn Out

When we were doing all our reading before the kids came, I read that people parenting kids with attachment disorder need one hour a day off and one weekend a month off.  I remember thinking how that didn't seem plausible to me so I wouldn't worry about it.

And then the kids came home.  It only took about a week for them to push my husband and I below water.  But we kept going. 

We got very rigid about nap time.  It took a long time, but today the kids go down consistently for nap and stay quiet and still (we don't require sleep, only quiet & stillness).  Even our 7yo takes a nap and actually sleeps regularly.

About 7 months after the kids came home, we finally decided we just had to have a weekend off.  It was my 16yo who gave us permission.  I was talking with her about it and feeling guilty that we'd be leaving the little crazy little ones at home with her and her sisters.  She told me it was fine.  "We have to learn how to handle them.  They're our siblings."  OK, we were convinced.

That first weekend was a blur.  It literally took 24 hours of staring out the window before we could do anything.  I couldn't read.  I couldn't watch a movie.  I just starred out the window.  Finally, my mind and heart rested up enough to have a little bit of fun.  It made me realize just how emotionally exhausted I had become.  I needed to be compassionate but instead I had become numb.  We came home from that first weekend so much stronger emotionally so we could do the heavy lifting of attachment work.

I realized how desperately we needed some time to ourselves, with no one to watch and correct and nurture.  We needed time to rest and have fun.  And the kids needed it to.  When we are rested our fuzes are so much longer, we are so much more patient, and those smiles the kids need so badly come so much easier. 

As time has gone on, I've come to realize how desperately important self-care is.  Our children were lucky in that they've only had two placements, one foster home and us.  Right now what they need most in the entire world is to not move again.  They need us to stick with them.  But the only way we can keep from burning out and leave emotionally or physically, is to have that rest time. 

Wishing emotional exhaustion away doesn't work.  Trying to be strong don't work.  Only rest and fun work.  So we do it.  We have to.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Healing Lifestyle

I found lots and lots of ideas on how to attach, many listed in my post, Attachment Work, but I also realize that much our success has been from the way we live, not anything specific that we do.  Things were so crazy in the beginning, not unlike chaos of bringing a newborn into the house, that my husband and I naturally went into that newborn survival living, which I think, turns out to be the best lifestyle for healing.

  • Schedule.  We keep a very rigid daily schedule of when we get up, when we eat, when we nap (yes, our 7yo naps), and when we go to bed.  That means we get up the same time on the weekends as on weekdays.  We always have lunch at the same time.  Our bedtime routine is the same every day and happens at the same time. 
It makes sense to me that our children had such a chaotic life in their birth home that their brains go to chaos quickly and easily.  By having such a predictable and stable routine, it gives their little brains a chance to grow new pathways that don't involve chaos and going crazy.
We've found the hard way that messing with the daily schedule isn't worth it.  We've quit saying that they should be able to handle schedule changes, because they can't.  They can't!  They get bounching-off-the-walls-crazy and pretty soon I'm running after them like an spasmatic bouncy ball.  No, life is so much better with a strict schedule.
  • Home-ness.  As our kids' placement got closer, my husband and I bowed out of most every outside activity.  It's been almost a year and we haven't gone back. Our ministry, our life, is at home with the kids, helping them learn the things they didn't learn in their first year.  We are home a lot.  We are together always.  We go to church and we spend time at home.  That's all we do.  
This long sustained time together is giving them a foundation on which to build their entire lives.  Our kids don't need to experience eating out or movies or video arcades.  They need a family and they need to feel like they belong.  Everything else is optional. 
  • Screens.  Screens are bad.  The kids will quickly forget everything in the world when the screen comes on.  My hunch is that's the way they escaped the insanity in their birth home.  Now that they are home, they need to keep their minds on us as they learn to attach, and they can't do that if a video is on.  The video will win every time.
I think the hardest part for many parents isn't turning off the kids' shows, it's turning off their own.  I admit that I have some addiction issues with screens and the kids aren't the only ones tuning out.  I have to be available to them and I have to not be resentful if they interrupt my show.  So my shows stay off too (until after bedtime).
  • Togetherness.  We are with the new kids all the time.  I mean, all the time.  I know how much they need it but it does get so exhausting.  Sometimes I just want to jump in the car and go out to coffee.  I want to walk through the house without keeping tracking of little ones following me. 
I remind myself that we didn't let our bio children play alone when they were 12 months old, so we can't let the new kids play alone.  They have to be with us.
There's another benefit.  Attachment disordered children lie and steal.  But our kids are with us all the time, so they don't have opportunity to steal and there's little they can lie about.  That's a pretty good positive.
  • Homeschooling.  I've read that homeschooling is not for attachment-disordered children, but it's part of our lifestyle and I think it's been a net positive.  Our kids are home with us every day instead of at school. Every thing they do right gives us another opportunity for smiling eye contact.   I don't have to read many posts by frustrated parents with their children causing trouble at school (stealing, lying, hurting) to be so glad we don't have to deal with that. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Books, Books, Books

I am the kind of person who reads a lot before I decide to do something, and adoption was no exception.  My husband and I spent a full year discerning a call to adopting hurt children and another two years waiting for placement. 

Here are the books I found helpful:
  • Attaching in Adoption: Practical Tools for Today's Parents by Deborah D. Gray
  • Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma by Deborah D. Gray
  • Toddler Adoption: The Weaver's Craft by Mary Hopkins-Best
  • Parenting the Hurt Child: Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow by Gregory C Keck, Regina Kupecky 
  • Welcome Home: A Guide for Adoptive, Foster, and Treatment Foster Parents by Christopher Alexander
  • When Love Is Not Enough by Nancy Thomas
  • The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to your Adoptive Family by Karyn Purvis, et al
  • Can this Child be Saved? Solutions for Adoptive and Foster Families by Foster Cline, Cathy Helding 
  • Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust & Love by Michael Orlans, Terry M. Levy
  • Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors by Heather T. Forbes
  • Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Troubled Children by Daniel Hughes
I really liked the last one, Building the Bonds of Attachment, because after reading of hundreds of pages of social worker/psychologist speak, it gave me a narrative description of attachment disorder and healing that helped me really visualize it.

After a while of reading, I noticed that there was a spectrum of approaches, from the strict and arguably authoritarian Nancy Thomas to the touchy-feely Heather Forbes and Karen Purvis.  Sometimes they even argued with each other in print. 

Isn't it odd that they can be so different but all seem to have found a formula to success?  And I don't think they're lying.  I think all of them have helped kids heal from attachment disorder.  That means it's what they have in common that's essential and everything else is just style.

All the books stress the fundamental importance of connection and rebuilding the attachment cycle.  That's absolutely essential and must be pervasive in any approach.  The differences were mostly in dealing with the icky behaviors kids have while they are attaching. 

OK, I get it.  Connect first and foremost, and find a way to cope with their crazies until they're not crazy anymore.  

After our kids came home, I went back to books as I needed them.  How do you deal with peeing?  Or tantrums?  Or  lying?  Or night time hassles?  I pulled ideas out of different books that fit my parenting style and mashed them together into my own approach.  I gave myself permission to ignore the ideas that didn't work for us.  We have nine children so I can't spend 30 minutes exploring the feelings behind the latest lie with one child.   Our lives demand a more strict approach.  We also have to use an approach that isn't contrary to the way we parent our bio children.  And we have Asperger's in the house, so that has to fit in too.  

These books helped me through very hard days, but reading so many also helped me do it my own way.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Anger is a Symptom

The list of symptoms for Reactive Attachment Disorder ends with "parents present angry or hostile."  When I read this before our adopted kids came home, I felt a patronizing kind of pity for those parents.  Now I am one of them.

Our adopted kids don't make us angry like normal kids.  Our bio kids frustrate us and occasionally that frustration boils up to anger.  By contrast, these attachment disordered kids make us angry every day.  It's on a whole different scale.  Our kids do things all day long that are INTENDED to make us angry.  They're not making mistakes, they are intentionally breaking rules to piss us off and keep us at a distance.  Part of me wonders if they aren't even trying to get us to beat them.  By the end of the day, when they've been working at it all day long, we are left with a seething anger that doesn't shake off easily.  Oh, and I did I mention, that all the while we've been working at nurturing, soothing, and connecting, because that's the only way to get the behavior to change. 

Living with anger that never fully extinguishes has been the hardest part of raising adopted kids. 

This life requires that I have enough self-awareness to make sure my anger doesn't boil up to rage.  That means self-care and respite.  My husband and I discovered that respite isn't optional for us.  I'd read that parents need a weekend a month away from the kids.   It took seven months of crazy before we admitted we truly needed that kind of respite, but now we are committed to it.  Those glorious two days let the fire of anger burn all the way out to cold ash.  We come home with much longer fuses and much more capable of doing attachment work.

After almost a year, I have even discovered that our anger can actually be helpful.  Our kids are very sneaky.  Often they dance on boundaries but don't actually cross them.  They're not obviously defiant or oppositional, but we still get worn out.  Are they really being defiant or are they just full of energy?   The answer is our anger.  Low level defiance makes us angry, even when we don't notice it in the moment.  Just reflecting on our own feelings helps us identify what's going on with the kids and respond better tomorrow.

Our lives are backwards.  Attachment disorder began with our little children receiving coldness when they needed love.  And now we find that anger helps us parent them better.  Yep, it's crazy.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

It's All About Connection

Kids with attachment disorder make me question many things, but one thing I am sure about is that the ONLY we do that makes any difference is connection.  The more we build connection, the brighter our future is.  Everything else is nothing and stays in the past.

This may have been true with our biological children, but I really did feel that we could "teach" them politeness, waiting, respect, etc.  With our adopted kids I've come to the certain conclusion that we don't teach them anything because they don't want to learn.  They just don't care, until connection has been built, and then they do care.

In some ways, this has been a very freeing realization.  When they're acting crazy, I don't have to worry about giving the right consequences or using the right system, because it doesn't matter.  I don't have to remember the penalty or keep track of being consistent, because it doesn't matter. I don't worry about how long the crazies will last or where the latest naughtiness is coming from, because I can't change it anyway.

But it's also a very heavy responsibility.  Since connection is the only thing that matters, that means I have to invest in connecting to my children when they are making me crazy.  Every day, all day, whether I want to or not. After breaking a rule for the 10th time in so many minutes, instead of sending them away (which is what I want to do), I have to stay close.  I have to give time, attention, and smiles when I'm full of resentment for the last awful thing they've done.  After a hard day full of little kid crazies, I have to be right there in the thick of it again tomorrow. 

It means holding them when I'm tired.  Feeding them when I know they could do it themselves.  Reading another story when I'd rather not.  It means that going to the bathroom is always a team event.  That everything I try to accomplish will have "helpers."  That movies or reading or anything else I do for fun is on hold for a long, long, time.

Building connection is very hard and takes a very long time.  But it does make a difference.  It makes a HUGE difference.  As they start to care and the connection gets stronger, the crazies diminish because they want to please us.  Eye contact no longer feels like a competitive sport as they start to relax into the warmth of being truly seen.  Holding time becomes a recapture of the lost baby years.  And when their eyes shine with real genuine love, I am awash in gratitude that I birthed it there.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Respect Sleuth

They say that kids with attachment disorder have problems with respect.  That's about the biggest understatement I've ever heard.

Our 7 year old is so passive aggressively disrespectful that we often don't even realize the dig until it's past.  When he first came home it was constant, but it's gotten a lot better.  Tonight he had a little relapse.

Ds: "Mama, how long until Natasha comes home?"
Me: "17 days."
Ds: "It's maybe 3 or 5 days until Natasha comes home."

He does it with a perfectly straight tone of voice, so it slips right by.  But then, hey! That was a dig he just got in there!  He was being disrespectful, and I suspect there was a little intelligence quiz in there too.  He was thinking, let's see if Mama's stupid enough to let this one slide.

Ugh.  So he lost his voice for 10 minutes since he used it to be disrespectful (while I try to shake the anger he just gave me).

Our kids are almost never overtly aggressive.  We don't deal with name calling or violence.  Our kids use passive aggression and they are experts.  It means that we have to always be on alert because there is often no warning sign it's coming.  We used to not respond when he did that kind of thing, but it seems like he does better when we name it the disrespect that it is.  So we stay on alert, one more thing to commit brain energy to.  Ugh.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Consequences? Yeah, right!

We came into adoption and parenting hurt children with six biological children already in the family, including two with Asperger's.  We'd figured out logical and natural consequences a long time ago and felt confident that we could teach any child to behave.

Then our adopted children came home and we discovered slow learners.  Finally I realized that consequences just don't work for our children. They don't work at all! 

When my bio children were 18 months old, walking and getting into trouble, we didn't use consequences because they were too young to understand.  Our adopted children were 19 months, 3 years old and 6-1/2 when they came home and not one of them could learn through consequences.  We finally realized that consequences require cause-and-effect thinking which none of our children had. 

We have found that there are only two ways to teach them.  One way is connection (more on that later).  The other is to actually make them do whatever they are supposed to do.  Our son's counselor called it hand-on-hand.  If they're supposed to keep their hands in their lap and they come out, then hold them in their lap.  If they're supposed to walk into the house without getting sidetracked, hold them by the hand and walk them into the house.  If they're supposed to be going to the bathroom, walk them to the bathroom.  If they're supposed to be quiet and they talk, they put their hands on their mouth (and a parent can help if they continue having trouble).

But logical consequences just don't work.  Time outs don't work.  Sitting in break doesn't work.  Those all require an assumption that today's consequence will be the same as tomorrow's, which of course was no part of our children's birth environment. 

Natural consequences do seem to work better.  They rarely get hurt the same way twice. 

We have found that natural responses are pretty effective when our now 7 year old son feigned injury or sickness.  Once we were driving home from camping and he made a big to do about how sick he was (I noticed in the mirror that his expression was very different when he thought we weren't looking).  So when we got home he went straight to bed for 24 hours since he was so sick.  No more pretending to be sick.  Similarly, after a few big screaming episodes over minor injuries, I was ready for the next one.  When he let out a blood curdling shriek after getting a few hairs pulled, I scooped him up and rushed him to bed.  Those shrieks turned to anger quickly when he realized what was happening.  I bandaged his entire head and kept him in bed resting for hours.  That was the last shriek over any injury.

But, let me tell ya, I'll be deliriously happy when time-outs start working, because using hand-on-hand with three little children all day long is just about more than any human being can do and stay sane.  Oh, that's right, I'm already crazy.