Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Attachment and Therapeutic Parenting

It has been almost 3 years since we agreed to adopt the boys, to be precise it was the end of May when we formally agreed. We jumped in with 2 feet and there was no looking back, putting our running shoes on before we jumped ( so we could hit the ground running so to speak) would of been advisable but hindsight is 20/20.

That being said since then P and I have not left the boys alone for more than an evening in all that time. We have a patched together network of friends who will watch our kids but we have never ever asked anyone to do it for more than a few hours, until last week. When we left for 2 nights and went to Toronto to go to the first annual conference of the Attachment Association of Canada with Daniel Hughes, MaryJo Land ( she doesn't have a website of her own but she is also the president of ATTACh), Candee Forest and Arthur Becker-Weideman. It was fantastic, I wish it had been longer. My children survived and I must say that the payback was minimal which has me really excited that this could happen again at some point in the future.

All that being said, people have asked what I learned, a lot, I learned a lot but to keep it straight forward I am going to give you the highlights and in case you did not already know this I would kidnap Dan Hughes(DH) and hide him in closet in my house if I could, he totally gets this and he does it so well. He makes it sound easy even though I know it is not but it is good and useful and the reminders and new learning were so great to hear.

  • PLACE - Playfulness, Love, Acceptance, Curousity, Empathy - this is how DH describes the attitude you need to have when working with these kids, our kids, the kind of kids that we have and parent each and everyday. It means being playful with them ( or silly as Christine does so very well), it means matching their voice and tone and being emphatic to how they are feeling in that moment even though you really want to yell at them, it means asking questions to get at the root of the emotion behind the behaviour and it means letting them know that you will continue to love them even though in this moment things seems really overwhelming. 
  • Our kids do not just have PTSD, PTSD is from an event ( or sometimes repeated or multiple events), a car accident, a shooting, etc, it is the result of trauma and it can be the result of traumas that happen more than once. But in the case of our kids they were often repeatedly exposed to trauma/abuse/neglect by the people who were supposed to love and nurture them. In many cases it went on for years and what has happened to them and the effects of that are so much more complicated than what we refer to as PTSD
  • Keep Calm - this is integral, yelling triggers our kids. If you are a yeller, STOP IT, I know it's hard, trust me I know. I am a yeller, a really loud one and I have to make a really conscious effort not to be, I fail most days but I am trying. A calm parent with a empathetic tone gets a lot further with a disregulated kid than an yelling one. 
  • Learn about your own triggers around your attachment issues and do the work you need to do. You might be able to do this on your own or you might need a therapist to help you. If you do the work around your own issues you will be better able to help your child. 
  • Childhood is an apprenticeship for adulthood, our kids are lacking skills to be successful, we need to teach them those skills not expect that they are just going to know them. We teach our infants to self soothe, we teach toddlers to share, we teach preschoolers to talk instead of hit - our kids missed those lessons, we need to actually teach them how to do these things not just expect that they are going to figure it out on thier own. We do not expect adults to be skilled at a new skill after one lesson, our kids are the same, it may take two hundred lessons before they understand but they can get there. 
  • We (as a society)  are constantly evaluating children, good work, good tying your shoes, I am disappointed, you made a bad choice and so on, this is really hard for our kids to hear and process. Much of it ( good and bad)  causes shame which triggers them and then we get behaviour as a result of the shame, you need to validate your child without attaching any self-worth to the comment - wow Calvin thank you for setting the table when I asked you to, rather than good job, or good boy. It hurts me when you call me names rather than I am disappointed that you are choosing to hurt me by calling me names. 
  • Keep your kids world small. No big parties, no disneyland, no huge events until they learn to integrate the excitement and stimulation in an acceptable way. Our kids will sabotage events because they can not handle the thought of feeling that good for that long. It overwhelms them and scares them and they will do whatever they can to stop those feelings from creeping in. Do expect them to be successful at these things right away, they simply can not do it. Wait, it will happen but you need to be patient. 
The sun is shining and I need to get outside and work in the garden but there will be more, I really, really, really ( I'll stop at 3 really's)  want to share more specifically around our kids being successful in school - there was lots of good stuff. If you have not read Daniel Hughes I would suggest you start with Attachment Focussed Parenting - it's great. 


e said...

Those guys saved our family. Their books, their evaluations,...

Fifi said...

look forward to reading more

Essie the Accidental Mommy said...

I grew up with a mom who yelled, and yelled often. So I am by genetics a yeller. I try really hard not to though. I know that yelling at Genea immediately sends her stress level to the top and then it is just time before she boils over. With Teena, she doesn't care as much, and often needs a 'cue' other than words to understand I am getting angry or frustrated with her. Tricky.
Tell us more!

BT said...

So glad it was great and that it went well on the domestic front!!

I can't wait to hear more. Your summary so far is such a good reminder "handbook."

I am a genetic yeller too -- my dad had one of the shortest fuses on the planet. I know his yelling was not good for my brother, sister, and me. And I knew early on that my yelling was not good for either of our boys. But it took me a long time to overcome it and STOP. It was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I finally succeeded by ALWAYS asking myself whether I want to feed and fuel RAD. When I think of it that way, it becomes a no-brainer not to yell! To keep me accountable now -- and thankfully we are at a stage in P's healing where he can handle this and even rejoice in it -- I have told P that he is free to ask me whether I want to feed RAD any time he thinks that I am anything other than fully regulated when interacting with him. Boy, does that keep me on my toes!

Anonymous said...

Hello, I wanted to say Thank You for this blog. I just found you through "Last Mom"'s blog. My partner and I are in the home study portion of the adoption process, we're reading and researching on older child adoption in Canada (Ontario). One of the things I've been looking for is parent accounts, and it's been difficult finding older child blogs. Yours is a HUGE resource for me. Thanks again.