This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What is TBRI??

What is TBRI??

Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®): A systematic approach to complex developmental trauma.
Guest Post By: Trauma Mama - Lori Van Roo
{Marythemom: For my brief review of Karyn Purvis developer of TBRI, see this post.}

In October of 2013 my husband and I were at the end of our rope with our oldest child (adopted from foster care). By this time, he had have five mental health hospitalizations and his mental health care team recommended several times placement into a residential treatment center (RTC), which was not covered by traditional Medicaid. In addition, my husband and I had concerns over placement into an RTC, as it did not foster attachment and love in our child’s eyes. His biological mother always pushed him to the side, and favored his younger brother (also adopted by our family) who has type 1 diabetes.

TBRI is more of a parenting intervention for the adults. It has helped my husband and I make a 180 degree change in our home. Now we can tell our kids, "No" or give an alternative answer without a meltdown and a 2 year old tantrum out of our 12 yr old.

Here is the website on it:

What I have learned the most is that we as parents of "children from hard places" need to have choices so that they still feel in control. This was huge because my 12 yr old would want to eat 1/2 a chocolate cake at 8 PM right before bed and I would tell him no and we would have 2 hrs of "I hate you, your not my real mom, I wish you were dead, I wish you didn't adopt me, etc.” I'm sure you get the picture of the tantrum!

First read chapter 4 from the book The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis. If you do not have the book and just want the chapter on disarming fear, here it is…/CTC-Chapter-4.pdf

The basic premise of TBRI is you want to fill up the "yes" bank as much as possible. 
So you say yes to everything as much as possible so that when you have to say no, or give a compromise there isn't a power struggle.

The other biggest thing is that our kids need to eat every 2 hrs. And have high protein snacks available like hard boiled eggs, cheese, etc. So our normal day is breakfast, 2 hrs later snack, 2 hrs later, lunch, 2 hr later, snack, 2 hrs dinner, 2 hrs snack. Do we follow this to a T every day? No, not at all! Most important is the snack prior to bed. As we all know, most of our kids have food dependency issues. Making sure that they get a snack prior to bed is critical to aid in breaking this dependency. (If you can -- I have a child with type 1 diabetes, so it's hard)

The hard part is to find a professional who is:
  1. Trained in TBRI 
  2. Who practices doing it. 
Here is a list off of TCU's website of professionals who have taking the professional's training class and are certified professionals in TBRI.

My oldest (15) who has had 9 mental health hospitalizations in 2 yrs, now calls me Mom, says he loves me, helps around the house, walks the dogs, grades are going up, and is down from six medications to two.

YouTube videos from TCU on TBRI:

Opinions within this post are not of Texas Christian University, but those of fellow Trauma Momma, Lori Van Roo. If you have any questions please feel to contact her via Facebook at  or via email.

{Marythemom: For my brief review of Karyn Purvis developer of TBRI, see this post.}

Monday, June 6, 2016

If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect You'll Leave

"If you find out I'm not perfect, you'll leave." 

Our kids feel deep down that they are unworthy and unlovable.

When Kitty trusted me enough to admit this fear out loud, I think she was finally ready to start healing. I feel the best thing I did was reassure her that I already knew she wasn't "perfect" and I still loved her. That I wasn't going to leave because she didn't/ couldn't behave and sometimes took joy in causing chaos.

I believe that was what both my kids with RAD were the most scared of - that they were unlovable and unworthy of love. That if people found out what they were "really like, " then they would leave him/ her. At the same time, they needed control of the situation so they would push us away, feeling it was inevitable that we were going to leave so they wanted to be the one leaving. {I think this is also one reason why they try to go back to birth family and at the same time the reason why it terrifies them - they need to prove/ disprove that the people who rejected them were right (or wrong)}

Why Do They DO That?!      


The following is the list of common beliefs of children with attachment disorders (Katharine Leslie, When a Stranger Calls You Mom). I have to say Bear definitely believes most if not all of these. Kitty believes a lot of them.

  • Those who love me will hurt me.
  • It is safer to get my needs for closeness met by strangers or those who are not important to me. (Can you say, "Kleenex girls"?! I knew you could.)
  • I have to look out for myself, cause nobody else will.
  • I have to hurt others before they hurt me.
  • I lose myself (I will die) if I become who you want me to be (like you).
  • I might as well lie, no one believes me anyway.
  • I'm forced to lie when people ask me questions.
  • People should stay out of my business.
  • If I want something than I should have it.
  • If I see something I want I should take it.
  • People make me mad.
  • When I'm mad I don't care who gets hurt.
  • People deserve what they get.
  • If I don't get what I want you are to blame.

The Frozen Lake Story
"In order to understand what an unattached child feels like, one must understand his perspective. Imagine that you are the young child who must cross a frozen lake in the autumn to reach your home. As you are walking across the lake alone, you fall suddenly and unexpectedly through the ice. Shocked and cold in the dark, you can't even cry for help. You struggle for your very life, you struggle to the surface. Locating the jagged opening, you drag yourself through the air and crawl back into the woods from where you started. You decide to live there and never, never to return onto the ice. As weeks go by you see others on the ice skating and crossing the ice. If you go onto it, you will die."
"Your family across the pond hears the sad news that the temperature will drop to sub-zero this night. So a brave and caring family member (that is you, the parent!) searches and finds you to bring you home to love and warmth. The family member attempts to help you cross the ice by supporting and encouraging, pulling and prodding. You, believing you will die, fight for your life by kicking, screaming, punching and yelling (even obscenities) to get the other person away from you. Every effort is spent in attempting to disengage from this family member. The family member fights for your life, knowing you must have the love and warmth of home for your very survival. They take the blows you dish out and continue to pull you across the ice to home, knowing it's your only chance."
"The ice represents the strength of the bond and your ability to trust. It was damaged by the break in your connection to someone you trusted. Some children have numerous bonding breaks throughout their young lives. This is like crashing them into the ice water each time they are moved, scarring and chilling their hearts against ever loving and bonding again." By Nancy L. Thomas


For more about Safety and why it's essential to a child's survival -  see this post Safety First. Children NEED structure and caring support to feel safe and start to heal.   This feeling of safety is not about physical safety and often not based in reality – it is a perceived feeling of safety.

Just like our kids keep using old defense mechanisms that are no longer needed, our kids with scary, traumatic early childhoods often get stuck in the feeling that they are not safe.

This is a life or death feeling! 

A child who feels unsafe is a scared child. A scared child will act out (or act in) to try to feel safe again.

Feeling unsafe is not rational. You can't explain to the child that they're safe now. Logic doesn't work. Feelings of being unsafe can pop up at the most unexpected times, like a PTSD flashback. Generally this feeling of being unsafe will fade as our child heals, but there will probably always be times when it comes up again.


My kids tend to behave only because they fear the consequences of being caught (if they understand consequences at all) rather than doing something because it's the right thing. Lying and Stealing. This is not because they're bad, or manipulative, or hate me, it is because they are stuck at the bottom of  Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs. Their fear keeps them feeling like they're in a war zone  - focused only on survival.

Maslow’s five levels of hierarchy are:
1.) Physiological or biological needs. These are the survival needs — air, water, food, sleep and procreation. These requirements are the basic needs of human existence.
2.) Security or safety needs. These needs include health, financial security, shelter and the assurance of living in a place where one does not feel threatened.
3.) Social needs. Maslow felt that once physiological and security needs were met, people start looking for love, friendship and community. Families, religious groups and social organizations fulfill the need to belong.
4.) Esteem needs. Malsow noted two types of esteem needs — self-esteem and esteem from others.
5.) Self-actualization needs. This is search for becoming his or her "best self." Unlike the lower levels of the hierarchy, this need is never completely met as there are continuous new occasions for growth. Maslow stated only about 2% of the world population is in the self-actualization state.

These first four levels of hierarchy are referred to as "Deficit needs," sometimes called D-needs. The theory is that if a person doesn’t have enough of something in these four levels, he or she would feel the deficit — or need. If one does have enough, it is often times not noticed. Maslow has also termed these first four categories as survival needs, as humans instinctively attempt to cover all of these. If one of these needs was not properly met when a person was a child, that person may fixate on the particular need throughout the rest of his or her life.

With D- needs, once fulfilled you don’t often notice them. The B-needs however, become stronger as they are realized. These are the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy and are called the "Being Needs" or B-needs. When the first four D-needs are met, then a person begins to search for becoming his or her best self.

Why they Act Differently When They're Away From Home

My kids have what I call "Charming RAD" officially known as Disinhibited RAD. That means they would literally rather die than let others see that they are not perfect --- because it feels like life or death to them. People pleasing is one of the strongest defense mechanisms they have. Most have an uncanny knack for knowing what they need to do to make people like them and want to take care of them - even if they have a total lack of empathy and almost no social skills.

With parents, this usually starts as a honeymoon period. Once they start to trust us, we start seeing more of their imperfections. It sucks, but it means they trust us more than they do other people in their life (most of the time I wish they didn't trust me that much!).

At school, in public, or at a friend's house, they appear to hold it all together, convincing you that they have control over the behaviors so they should be able to do it at home too! Unfortunately that's not the way it works. Imagine if you have to give an important presentation at work, but you have the flu. You get up, give your presentation, and then go home and collapse. Our kids run out of emotional reserves. Spoon Theory. They're living in a life and death war zone in public, and can only hold it together for so long,

Why kids act differently in RTC (or psych hospitals, school or anywhere else):
  1. YOU are not there. You are the symbol of all mom caregivers, and you dare to try to “inflict” your love on him. In an RTC, our children don’t have to deal with the stress of family and emotions, which may reduce enough of their stress to a point where they can handle it better.
  2. Too “Broken” to Function in a Family. Some kids do better in RTC. They NEED an environment without emotions and long-term consequences, and need people to keep them, and those around them, safe because they are not capable of doing it for themselves.
  3. Trust. The child trusts you enough to “let his/her hair down.” They really do believe that you love them enough to put up with their behaviors. Which is true, but sometimes I wish mine didn’t trust me that much! My daughter “holds it together” all day by cramming everything inside and ignoring it – then she gets home and lets it all out on us. Those feelings have to go somewhere, but they can also hold it for a long time when they know it’s life or death (which it usually feels like it is).
  4. Honeymooning/ Shut Down/ Dissociation. RTC/ schools, etc. are scary places. My daughter will lie, shut down, dissociate, escape by sleeping, “talk the talk” (years of therapy and being in hospitals can teach a child all the right buzz words)… anything to get through this and get out. With the right meds and enough motivation, they can hold it in for months – up to a year depending on whether or not they see that it’s working.
  5. Structure and Support 24/7.  Making decisions and choices is hard for our kids. They NEED structure and support. Concrete expectations make them feel safe. In an RTC, there are very few gray areas for the child to have to figure out. They have fewer decisions to make (bedtime, where to sit, what to do next...). My daughter feels “safer” when someone who knows her issues is monitoring her 24/7 -- so well supervised that she doesn’t have to stress about making bad choices. She can’t suicide, self-harm, use drugs or tobacco (supposedly! – my son found a way to sneak chewing tobacco). My son deliberately acts out at public school until he gets sent back to the special school, because he needs and craves the structure and support provided by the special school. We cannot always provide the structure and concrete expectations that our kids need/ crave, especially over the long-term. RTCs have much better staff to child ratios and back up than we ever could! It is not possible to live real life like an institution (although we sometimes come close in our house), especially when you have other special needs kids and are dealing with life.
  6. Staff is Easily Manipulated. The staff is used to being treated like scum, so any child that is nice to them… They don’t necessarily recognize or care that it is manipulative. Generally “Charming” RAD kids hug and are warm and sweet to everyone (as long as they aren’t family). This helps the child feel safer. The child doesn't actually trust or care about these people, but they are pretty believable so the staff, case managers, teachers… have no clue. They want to protect this sweet, loving child from obviously crazy, overly strict parents with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. Which feeds right into what the child wants.
  7. Not Their Problem. Short-term focus and our child’s best interest is not the staff's problem, especially in the long-term. Staff can avoid telling the kids what they don’t want to hear (like “no”). So our kids behave better, because they like people who rarely tell them no. No one cares about long-term consequences (except you!).
  8. Closed Environment that is impossible in the "real world." This is a locked campus that goes way beyond child proofing, so staff don’t have to deal with watching him and correcting him when he gets into things that could hurt him. There are no small children or pets running around that the child could sexually abuse, torture, torment, or just be cruel to. They don’t have to protect a whole family, just a bunch of kids who are not exactly perceived as defenseless. 
  9. Concrete, Absolute Rules - Your child KNOWS he has little to no flexibility or “wiggle room” on most subjects so they don’t bother to argue with staff about bedtime, computer time, respectful words…
  10. It’s Not Personal. It’s just a job. Staff can walk away. They go home at the end of their shift. They can quit. They can let someone else take over for awhile… we have to protect ourselves and the rest of the family, and that influences how we handle our child. Staff don’t have to do anything that isn’t in their job description. If someone vomits that’s the job of the cleaning staff. If the staff person has the flu, they can take a sick day. We have to deal with everything our children throw at us, no matter what, and it often hits home and gets personal.
  11. Nurturing is Optional. Unlike an RTC, when a child is rude, horrible, scary, threatening, tries or succeeds in hurting us and/ or a family member, we have to continue living with this child. If a stranger, or even our significant other, treated us the way our child does, then most likely that person would go to jail, and everyone would be encouraging us to leave him, but when it’s a child, we’re expected to handle the emotions and stress, not show it in any way to our child, and be warm and loving all the time.
  12. No Social Skills Needed or Required. No one expects the child to care about anyone else’s feelings. Empathy, sharing, cooperation is rewarded as something above and beyond. 
  13. School is Easier in an RTC. Lower expectations and lots of one-on-one instruction. No one knows or cares about your child's actual capabilities. The child is not expected to live up to his or her "potential."
  14. Blank Slate. If the child messes up, they get to start all over again with a blank slate the next day. No one cares what he/she did last year, last summer, or even last night. No grudges, no expectations, no hurt feelings, no holding the child to a higher standard….
  15. No Personality Conflicts. If someone doesn’t like your child, or the child doesn’t like them… the child can just wait, they’ll leave and/or go home soon. Our kids don't expect people to stick around.
  16. No One Knows the Child's Family - Staff. They mostly only know what the child tells them. They tend to believe the child if he tells them that you beat him daily, or “hug him too much” (Yes, my son told the staff that was one of the main reasons he was in RTC – we’d known him less than 6 months at that point… let’s just say that was NOT why he was there). Most RTCs are not used to working with kids with loving, involved parents. They’re also not used to working with kids with attachment issues. If the child says, "My dad beats me every day," "My mom doesn't feed me," "My parents won't let me have a cell phone because they are unreasonably strict,' "I'm a poor little abused orphan that no one cares about"... well, to the staff, it's entirely possible. The staff and other kids will validate your child's every entitled feeling, and will most likely try to "make it up to the child" by giving them things and special treatment. We also got a lot of pressure to give our child the same privileges a normal teen "deserves." Example of how we handled this.
  17. No One Knows the Child's Family - Peers. The kids in RTC and school will reinforce your child’s beliefs, and make the child feel better about him/herself (usually at your expense), based on whatever the child chooses to tell them. Ask my daughter how many of her “friends” (and biofamily) think we are evil, strict parents, and have offered to kidnap my daughter and let her live with them – most of them call us names (which she loves to share with us) and some of them have even offered to hurt us for her.
  18. RTCs Can Be Fun. Tiny successes are celebrated and rewarded. Even with almost no positive behavior they get to go on field trips, go to the playground, have dessert… get to go out to eat with parents (who are expected to be sensitive to their feelings), and can eat all the fried foods they want. ...things they get to resent you for for not doing all the time when they're home again.
  19. Chaos Feels Normal. Even children adopted at birth can be used to high levels of stress hormones from the womb. An environment of chaos, can feel normal and familiar. RTC’s feel normal. Nice, quiet homes feel abnormal and “boring.”
  20. It's Not Safe to Act Out. Tranquilizers, lock down, intimidating staff, big scary kids who fight back… RTC’s are scary places. It’s not safe to fight or draw attention to yourself.
  21. What's Normal for your child? Staff don’t know your child’s history or what is normal for him or her. They don’t recognize his/ her anxious behaviors or what Acting In looks like. We were told our daughter was “a little homesick,” but other than that was doing great. On the same day they gave her an anti-anxiety med PRN because she told a staff that she wanted to hit a girl for telling her to “shut up.” They don’t know this is totally out of character for our daughter.
  22. Compared to Whom? I always forget that staff’s definition of “normal” and “sweet” needs to be taken with a truckload of salt. Remember what they are comparing him too – NOT neurotypical children his age! My son is the best behaved kid in the school... a highly structured program for emotionally disturbed youths. They’re always trying to promote him back into regular public school, but that’s because they don’t even notice his “minor” behaviors, like crying, cussing, punching lockers, being rude and oppositional to staff but complying in the end… because they have kids that are listening to the voices in their head that tell them to kill, are spitting in people’s faces, constantly screaming and cussing in the middle of class at other students (because he broke up with her to date her twin – yes this was my son *sigh*), destroying property…
  23. Like Attracts Like. ALL the kids in RTC have poor social skills, so no one will notice that your child is not “good friend” material. So he can have lots of friends if he wants. Plus my kids are naturally attracted to other kids with issues (probably because kids with issues are more tolerant of the poor social skills or maybe because they crave chaos since that’s what they grew up with) so they have a large pool of choices… who can’t escape! It's all short term too, so they can even appear to be popular. Kleenex Girls.
  24. No Self-Entertainment Required. Self-entertainment is often difficult for kids with attachment issues to do - it usually requires imagination, which can be very difficult for concrete thinkers. In an RTC, there’s always something to do and people to entertain you. For example, if we try to stick to a schedule that says we have dinner at 6pm then we have to leave the child(ren) to their own devices for ½ an hour or so while we make the dinner. In an RTC there is staff with them entertaining them all the time, and then they get up and walk to the cafeteria where dinner is magically ready. The child rarely has to self-entertain in an RTC.
  25. Medications and Round The Clock Staff. RTCs can make dramatic med changes, whereas we as parents have to work with small incremental increases to a therapeutic level, and don’t have access to 24/7 nursing/ psychiatric care if our child has an adverse reaction. We have to deal with a raging or dysregulated child while the right medication cocktail is found. 

What we did: 

I constantly reassured my kids that I would help them deal with these feelings (and find others to help) and that I wouldn't allow them to push me away. I also reassured them that I knew these behaviors and feelings were caused by their "issues," and that as they healed the behaviors and feelings of fear and wanting to hurt us would get better.

At the same time, I set up boundaries/ rules/ structure that let them know they were safe (this is a perceived sense of safety - nothing to do with real life physical safety). I let them know that while they were healing, I would be there to keep them and the rest of the family safe. That hurting me and the family was not OK, and that I would not allow it.

I took away most of their control (even about little stuff like when they would be eating and where they sat in the car), and by doing so they knew that I was strong enough to handle them and love them despite their issues. It took me a long time to understand that they didn't just need someone to love them unconditionally - they didn't believe in that, they needed someone to make them feel safe. Their favorite teacher was the strictest teacher, one of the staff in the behavior unit at school. She tolerated no nonsense, but they knew she really cared about them.

They were afraid (deep down) of the teachers/ people that they could manipulate, that they could fool into not realizing that the child was not perfect and was "unlovable and unworthy of love." People that gave them a blank slate every day, that forgave them every time, that didn't hold them accountable for their actions... those people weren't strong enough to keep them "safe."

I think me staying, no matter what they did, was a big part of what helped them heal, but I think a bigger part of that was providing the structure and support needed to make them feel safe and know that someone else was in control. That was, I think, one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was not the way I had parented my other children, most of the people involved in the kids' life thought I was overbearing and controlling, and it was NOT my personality (I'm a pretty laid back unstructured person), but they NEEDED that structure and loving support to heal.

But things were going so well!

My child finally starts making progress or is doing well, then suddenly seems to sabotage their success. Sometimes I think when things are going too well, my child gets scared and pulls back.

This could be due to:
  • A traumaversary, birthday, trauma trigger, holiday, change in routine...
  • They run out of emotional reserves. Spoon Theory. This is why a kid can appear to hold it all together at school, in public, or at a friend's house, convincing you that they have control over the behaviors so should be able to do it at home too. 
  • They know things are going to "go wrong" so they self-sabotage things to take back control - by controlling when it happens it makes them feel in control and safe
  • The need to protect themselves from what they consider your inevitable rejection by rejecting/ pushing you away. 
  • They don't feel they deserve for good things to happen.
  • Historically when good things happen, they are followed by bad things (usually involving great loss) - so our kids avoid the good things to make losing them hurt less. 
  • They're afraid that if they're doing well, then you'll raise the bar on your expectations and expect them to keep it up (which is a lot of pressure).
  • They "know" they're going to mess up, so they go ahead and get it over with.
  • Good behavior, often leads to higher expectations and more freedom and privileges. Privileges that the child may be afraid they can't handle (actually may not be able to handle!).
    {Bear NEEDED a high amount of structure and support to feel safe - he did very well in a structured, supportive environment and there was a lot of pressure put on us as parents to "reward" that success by putting him in less restrictive environments - where he inevitably failed. I personally believe that failure was often (sub-conscious?) self-sabotage to get put back in the more restrictive environment.}

I have had so many doubts about whether what I was doing was right and how to change things as they got older and more securely attached:
Slowed/ stopped progress
Justifying structured, (emotional) age-appropriate parenting
FAIR Club with "adult" children

I still believe Therapeutic Parenting was the best thing I did for my children
Therapeutic Parenting
The FAIR Club 

Friday, May 20, 2016

Dysregulation and Meltdowns

We've all experienced it. A child demands something he/ she knows we won't allow. When we say, "No," out comes the attitude, the meltdowns, the whining, the demands, the picking (on, at, over...). It's not a RAGE (although the reasons behind it are often similar and it can quickly escalate to one). {Dealing with Rages} It's more like a meltdown or a tantrum.

The child in a meltdown usually has some control over how far they will go. They can still escalate in to fight, flight, or freeze mode easily, but instead of physical aggression we see mostly verbal threats, (although Kitty's still been known to kick cabinets and bite and scratch in a meltdown). We can usually reach her and calm her down fairly quickly (Calming Techniques), if not actually de-escalate her, before she “melts.”

Sometimes when Kitty is especially dysregulated she deliberately picks a fight with me so she can have somewhere safe to express her emotions. She can't let others outside the family see that she has issues, that's not "safe." So she processes them with me. Which SUCKS!

We rarely know what trigger starts an individual meltdown. A test. A bully. A holiday. A traumaversary. HALT (Hungy, Angry, Lonely, Tired). A "life changing event" (positive or negative). Even the let down after a good day or worry that they can't keep up the positive behavior so they self-sabotage.

{BTW, we're going to pretend I handle meltdowns like the perfect therapeutic parent  every time}

Dysregulated - When it's not just a single meltdown

For whatever reason, there are times when my child gets stuck in dysregulation. We see things like:

  • The RAD Stink {You've heard of the "smell of fear"? Well, the smell of dysregulation in attachment disordered kids smells like feces and the worst body odor you can imagine.}  
  • Acting Out - physical or verbal threats and/or aggression, picking fights
  • Suicidal threats/ ideation
  • Acting In 
    • Manic/ Hyper: agitated; overly-sensitive; loud, pressured speech; over-zealous in relationships; loud, barking laughter; "vibrating" leg(s); popping knuckles (only does this when under stress); impulsive; difficulty concentrating

    • Self-Harming: gouging skin with finger nails; stabbing with pencil; burning skin with eraser... technically this is an "acting out" behavior, but Kitty has been known to do it secretly in public and often expresses concerns that she might self-harm and asks for supervision to prevent it.

    • Depressed: Statements she wishes to die; statements or acting as though she wishes to "give up;" statements that others "hate her;" belief/ statements that she is worthless/hopeless/unlovable...

    • Escape/Dissociate: physically leaving room or "checking out;" unfocused; changing subject (often apparently at random); distracting (asks question or makes comment that changes the subject); napping/head down; appearance of being exhausted; "shutting down"

    • Somatic issues: aches; pains; exhaustion; hunger. Has difficulty identifying correct emotional and physical feelings so is prone to emotional eating and ascribing real or perceived aches and pains to incorrect sources. Ex. If Kitty is feeling depressed or suicidal (possibly because she forgot to take her meds, skipped a meal, hormones, chemical imbalance, was triggered by a traumaversary or event...), she might blame this on a recent event (such as a fight with her sister) that may or may not actually be related.

    • Depressed: Sad; crying; whining; begging to go home

    • Overwhelmed: low frustration tolerance; disorganized; needs others to "chunk" assignments (break down into smaller more manageable pieces); forgets assignments or needed materials; hurries through assignments; requires frequent breaks to relax and regroup; frequent requests to leave the room; needs frequent redirection and individual attention; difficulty remaining focused and on task - needs frequent assistance/ reminders.

    • Anxious: hyper-vigilance; worry; hurries through assignments; obsessed with following the rules

    • Poor Boundaries: inappropriate interpersonal interactions. Inappropriate sharing/ venting with peers and others, particularly about abuse and perceived abuse (past and present); participating in or allowing physical and/or emotional teasing/ bullying; inability to recognize other's "boundaries" and bothering them; perceives others as threatening or abusive; tattling about rule breaking; verbal lashing out; gossip (has spread vicious rumors regarding siblings/ friends and accused them of doing the same); threatens or hits peers (yes, this is an "acting out" behavior, but it is one that Kitty has acted on in school and the community).
  • Chronic Anxiety at a level 3 or above  
  • Fidgeting, chewing/ sucking, tapping, can't sit still...
  • Constant visits to the nurse - or other means of getting out of stressful situation
  • Verbal diarrhea - cannot stop talking - usually about irrelevant nonsense
  • Dissociated - can't stay focused. Not always functioning in reality. Easily distrac- SQUIRREL!
  • Cycling between sensitive, emotional, and fragile or aggressive, angry, and frustrated sometimes within minutes.
  • Disturbed sleep patterns - chronic insomnia or sleeping all the time (shutting down to avoid dealing with life)
  • Etc.

Many times a child won't actually exhibit these behaviors anywhere but at home, because only home feels "safe" (this is a perceived safety not physical safety). Kitty would literally rather die than let others see she has "issues." I try to remind myself this means she trusts me more than everyone else, but that doesn't really make it easier to handle. (Why Does My Child Act Differently Away From Home?)

Getting a Child Regulated

Sometimes etting a child regulated can involve psych hospitalizations, med changes, increase in therapy, possibly even residential psychiatric treatment. In the meantime, I try to remove as much stress as possible and do what I can to make my child feel safe.

When Kitty gets dysregulated, I make her world smaller. We cocoon. We have a letter party (shopping at a time of day when no one is there because crowds are stressful!) or some special treat (pizza, homemade comfort food, fast food). We veg in front of the TV with a favorite video (or something I pick up at Red Box).  No chores. No school work. No company. No expectations. 4 foot rule. Line of sight supervision. Lots of calming techniques.` Childproofing instead of consequences and punishment.

Believe me I get that it's the last thing you want to do. I get so mad at her that I just want to pinch her head off. I try to repeat my mantra - "She's only 6! She's only 6!" and remember that there are only 2 emotions (love and fear - Beyond Consequences) and she's so scared that this feels life or death to her. She's so terrified, that she drops into fight, flight, freeze. Hopefully, if I can get her regulated again, she'll go back to being my sweet kid, and stop asking for stupid stuff we both know she can't handle.

Then I do a LOT of self care to refill my bucket after pouring all that support into her.

I work with the school to try to make my child's world less stressful there too. Anything I can do to get my child regulated again.

I wrote this for a fellow Trauma Mama whose children are reacting to school starting.
When my children acted out, which was always worse around holidays, traumaversaries, starting or ending school..., when I wasn't so frustrated at them I could scream, I pulled them in. I reminded myself that they were terrified. This was life or death to them, and they couldn't really handle change or added stress (this has gotten better as they healed). Even my bio kids reacted this way, just not to this extreme. Some insight into why kids act the way they do. Our kids need a LOT of structure and support, especially when they are overwhelmed.
I reminded myself that they were really so very much younger than they looked, and I was expecting a lot from them. I tried to change my parenting to better match their emotional age.  I tried to remind myself that they were SCARED and punishment for something that was out of their control was not just mean, it was pointless. What they needed was to feel safe and loved. That meant I couldn’t take away all fun stuff (even though I wanted to!!!)
Most of all, I gave them a LOT more structure and support. We went back to line of sight supervision, time ins instead of time outs, removed as many overwhelming events as possible (not just avoiding throngs of hyper children in places like sporting events and the park, but also the grocery store and Sunday School). Yes, there were things I could do nothing about (school/ daycare), but I could talk to the teachers and minimize as much stress as possible.
I tried to find calm, quiet, but still fun, things to do so they wouldn't feel punished (taking a walk, letter parties … ). This wasn't about being in trouble or loss, they'd had enough of that; this was about making their life smaller. So they would feel SAFE.
At home, I did things like strip their room (helping me was overwhelming so I did it when they weren't there, although I let them know ahead of time) to a bed, a book/ quiet toy, and a stuffed animal, at one point I even had my daughter's dresser in her room, and she "checked out" her clothing by bringing me the dirty ones, THIS WAS NOT A PUNISHMENT. I tried to find ways to help them understand that. I pointed out that now cleaning their room would be a lot easier!    
When stress was high, my kids’ life was like being in the FAIR Club (our family discipline method  ), but without actually being in the FAIR Club.

I used calming techniques a LOT.

A lot of time I screwed up. I lost my cool. I gave up.  Then I did a lot of Caring for the Caregiver because this is HARD WORK. I forgave myself, which was REALLY HARD. I put on my big girl panties, tried to find the joy, apologized to my child for not keeping them safe, and started over. Being a therapeutic parent SUCKS, but it does get better.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Help! It's Summer!

Summer plans. What do you do with YOUR kids during the summer?

Some of the things we've done when our kids got too old for daycare and summer camps:

  • Week long theme camps at the local MUD.
  • Counselor in Training program at the local MUD or summer camp.
  • Volunteer work with programs that provide a lot of structure (animal shelter, local equine therapy places are always looking for sidewalkers, horse handlers and stall muckers - my kids love horses and outdoors) we found one program that often works with people needing to do court-ordered community service so there was a lot of supervision.
  • Summer Job (for those that could handle it).
    Freelance - Through my work, I was sometimes able to hire the kids to do things like data entry or research. They got paid as contractors by the company I was working for, or I "subcontracted" some of my tasks to them.
  • Intensive Outpatient (aka Partial Day Hospitalization)
  • Hire a Nanny - a friend of the family with kids with special needs who "gets it," Grandma, Someone you hire from or the like - Here's some interview questions for caregivers/ respite providers
  • Vacation Bible Schools - (with a heads up to the administration) my kids are actually really good with younger kids.
  • Summer school  
  • Structured days. For example:
    9am -9:30am aerobics,
    9:30- 10:30am chores,
    10:30am - 11:30am Free time
    11:30-12 Help make lunch
    1pm -3pm Quiet activities (nap, study, reading, quiet play)
    3pm - 5pm Get ready and go to pool or park or craft store...
    5pm-8pm TV/Movie/ Electronics/ Quiet Time/ Dinner
    8-8:30pm Bedtime Routine (showers, stories)
    8:30/ 9pm (depending on age) Room Time (Quiet activities or sleep)
  • (Mostly) Free Activities. 108 Alternatives to being bored and Trapped in the House 
  • Attachment Challenge 
  • Integrity Study or similar
  • Hang out at work with parent (obviously only works if an option) - my kids had Homeschooling Workbooks (summer assignments, PACE workbooks, or just a grade level appropriate workbook that we found at the local teacher supply store) that they could do while I worked. We also had a lounge they could watch TV in if they got their work done. We'd go for walks on my lunch hour.
Leave a comment with what you do with your kids!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Contact with Biofamily

Why do kids want contact with biofamily? 

There are lots of theories. I think this article and my response, Five Hard Truths About Adoption Adoptive Parents don't want to Hear - A Response, answer some of these.

1.  There is not one 'real' mother. 
I totally agree with this one. Both biomom and I are my children's "real parents." This generally isn't an issue in our house unless my child is mad at me, at which point I may hear, "You're not my Real mom." I try to take this in the spirit it was intended (a way to strike out because my child is feeling upset).
"You're not my real mom."
"That's funny, I feel real. Honey, do I look plastic to you? Believe me baby, this is not a Barbie body!"
Do be aware that even though our heads understand this, it still hurts to hear it.

2.  No matter how good our childhoods are, most of us fantasize about our origins.
I think EVERY child fantasizes about their origins. I remember wondering if I was adopted or really an android or an alien... and wishing it were true!  This is a hard line to walk with my kids though. I firmly believe that it is vitally important not to hit my kids over the head with the realities (or suspected realities) of their family of origin (or allow them to vilify them either - which Bear liked to do), but at the same time we need to keep it real so that they don't focus all their energies on the dream and miss out on being a part of our family. This is especially hard with their black and white thinking.

NOTE: One thing I firmly believe is one should never criticize bio family to the children, something I learned from my mother, who never criticized my father in front of me, despite a nasty divorce.  Knowing my children are idealizing their bio family doesn't change my belief, but it is a little frustrating to know that my lack of reality checks makes some of their fantasies possible.

I think they want to go back to biofamily to live the fairy tale/ fantasy they have used to escape over the years.  That little Orphan Annie reality  that my "real family" is perfect, rich, will never make me do chores or be held accountable for anything I do (not that I'll do anything wrong, because it was everyone else's fault)... I also know that deep down, the thought terrifies them! Kitty especially - she fantasizes that her biofather (who doesn't even know she exists) in his shining armor will ride in on his white horse and carry her off to his castle and make her a princess. While at the same time, she's afraid that this stranger will come in and take her from her family and the life she's finally allowed herself to trust enough to want.

4. My reunion will most likely be disappointing because reality never lives up to dreams. This does not mean it isn't needed.

I firmly believe that whenever possible kids should have a reunion with their birthfamily, but when they're adults --> a chance to explore their origins and imagine what their life might have been like, when they are hopefully emotionally stable, and secure in the knowledge that they have a loving family which they are very much a part of and that any relationship with this other family is a "bonus."

Especially with social media, more and more kids are being reunited with birth families when they are not emotionally ready, often causing additional trauma.  The waters got "muddied" in our case, because the children had sisters that stayed behind with biomom, and we wanted to keep that door open so they could maintain that relationship.

Because of their black and white thinking, my kids felt torn by massive loyalty issues -- that if they allowed themselves to be a part of our family then they were betraying their birth family. Bear always had one foot out the door anyway, to avoid being abandoned again. It wasn't rational, but he felt that if we weren't forcing him to stay (which we would never do!), then we were kicking him out. He never allowed himself to come all the way in to try and see if he wanted to become part of our family, because that other door (with the tempting fantasy that everything would be perfect if) was always dangling just outside his reach. I think that "escape hatch," especially during those volatile teen years, kept him feeling abandoned  over and over again - constantly picking at a raw, open wound and preventing any healing.

Not allow contact?
I often wish that we'd done what a lot of my friends have done: Not allow the child to make contact with bioparents until they are 18. It sounds harsh, but I'm not saying we should deny the connection or feelings -- just stop the contact until the child is old enough to have established his her identity and place in the world. Torn loyalties are hard enough for adults to handle. We tried to do this to some extent. We let the children know that the courts (not us!) have said that contact should not be made by either party until the child is 18. Unfortunately this is hard to do in today's world (phones, texts, IMs, social media...).

Bear's issues were more about "loyalty." In his black and white world, he felt that to attach to our family was betraying his biofamily. I think he also has a "sour grapes" philosophy - he's afraid that if he does trust us enough to get close - then we'll reject him (because we'll find out he's not perfect). So he uses his fantasy of biofamily as an excuse to not get close to us and therefore reject us before we can reject him.

{Bear reached out to his biofather repeatedly over the years. Each time, his biofather would indulge Bear for awhile, then Bear would abuse this by calling and texting multiple times a day (often every 5 minutes), causing issues at biofather's work. Until at last the biofather would just shut down all communication. Every time this happened, Bear felt abandoned all over again. We didn't know about all of this - all we saw was that every now and then, Bear would shut down and retreat in to himself. He would also push us away even harder.

The last time, Bear's biofather showed up while Bear was in jail. Biofather apologized for not being there for Bear, promised Bear he was clean now and going to be a part of Bear's life. Bear never heard from him again. Months later, Biofather and his mother were killed, and Bear's half sister was seriously injured, in a car accident. All the papers only mentioned Bear's 2 half-siblings that his bio-father had custody of, when he let Bear go in to foster care and terminated parental rights. }


1.  The biggest is that they want to negate the rejection/ abandonment.  They don't want to believe that the family didn't want them, because that means the child is unworthy and unlovable. They may believe that contact with biofamily will "prove" that their family really loves and wants them.

2.  Extreme denial.  My kids can dissociate from reality, and distort it to the extent that they rewrite history, and BELIEVE the new version.  They don't remember, or want to remember, the real past - good, bad and everything in between.

3.  Black and white thinking.  People are either evil or on a pedestal.  Our kids literally don't see the shades of grey that describes all humanity.  Most people are wonderful, caring, supportive, relationship possibilities (best friend, girlfriend, new mom..)... until Bear or Kitty flips a switch and ALL they can see is the person's flaws.  My son is especially bad about this.  He goes through girls like Kleenex, discarding them when they show the tiniest sign of imperfection (I believe my son thinks that love means they are instantly and totally devoted to him, anything less and he's afraid they will abandon him, so at the first sign of independence, he rejects them before they reject him) or they get too close (and he runs before they can see his flaws and reject him).

The kids have idealized many members of biofamily, and literally don't remember any of their flaws.  When Bear went to live with his bio Grandpa, real life quickly took over, BioGrandpa became human (worse, a human who had some authority over Bear), and Bear couldn't accept that.  In less than a month, he was ready to move on.

4.  Escape.   "My adoptive parents and everyone else are the reason things aren't going right.  If I can get away from them then my life will be perfect."  Hubby and I tell our kids that they have to work on their issues instead of running away from them, because the issues are inside of them, and will follow them everywhere.  They don't want to believe us.

Obviously these characteristics are all linked to each other.

Our Story
When our kids came to us from foster care at ages 11 and 13, relationships with biofamily were "complicated." Bear was old enough to have phone numbers memorized, so we really had very little control over his contacts with biofamily. Although physically 11 years old, emotionally Kitty was only about 4 (on a good day) so she didn't understand why she needed a new family (Kitty's bio on the online adoption site where we found her specifically said that Kitty didn't understand why she needed to be adopted).

I have been told by the kids' former therapist that Biomom was not allowed to see the children in foster care because she determinedly blamed them for what happened. Both kids felt they were sent to foster care because they were "out of control." In therapy, we worked hard on helping Kitty understand that going in to foster care was not her fault – mostly successfully I think.

I know better than to run down a birth parent in front of the kids (from my experience as a child of divorced parents) so I’ve always avoided making Biomom look bad to the kids, and even tried to help the kids understand why she may have done the things she did. This sometimes came back to bite me in the butt as Kitty has “forgotten” all the "bad stuff" and desperately wants to go “home.” Still, we have been dealing with this as it happens, and through EMDR and attachment therapy we’ve been trying to help her process her severe PTSD.

Contact with Biofamily/ biosiblings before 18
We've always allowed contact with biofamily, except for my children's birthmom. We especially wanted our children to have a relationship with their biosisters, even though they still lived with Biomom. We did set up some ground rules so everyone would feel safer.

We encouraged the kids to write letters and send birthday cards, but they didn't really like to write. We allowed phone calls, but tried to only have the kids talk to their sisters when the girls were visiting Biograndma.

We had a big problem with Biograndma sharing a lot of information (usually negative) with Bear and Kitty. I had to specifically ask her to be careful about the information she shared with the kids, because it was extremely upsetting, especially for Kitty, to hear about Biomom's most recent abusive relationships, among other things. Sometimes Biograndma complied with my request, sometimes she didn't. I know she felt that Bear could handle it so shared more with him - unfortunately, he tended to pass on the information to Kitty.

My Contact with Biomom
Bear had been emailing the half-sister of one of his biosisters. Although not related to Biomom, this older teen was living with Biomom as her "nanny." The girl had been communicating with Bear on MySpace before he lost his internet privileges, and he asked me to contact her. She seemed willing to answer some questions and gave me some insight into many of Bear's "stories" about his childhood. Unfortunately, I decided to use e-mail to send her some current pictures of the kids - and that's where it got sticky. The girl gave my e-mail address to Biomom and included some of the questions I'd asked her (about gangs and drugs for Bear, why they were both behind a year in school, whether or not Bear had been in treatment facilities...).

The great part about it was biomom answered some of the questions, and was willing to share baby pictures(!) and some information about the biofathers. This was especially important for Kitty whose father left after only a week-long stint with biomom, I'm assuming because the carnival moved on - he never even knew she was pregnant as far as we know. Kitty had no pictures or information. Biomom also told me more about things like who they were named after, and how much Native American blood they had.

When Bear heard that biomom was pregnant again. I confirmed it with her, and presented the news to Kitty in attachment therapy (only because she was about to have a phone visit with her younger sisters and I didn't want her to find out from them).

In the beginning, I was talking to biomom every couple of weeks. I sent her a picture of Bear and Kitty at Christmas and on their birthdays. It made Bear crazy to know that I was communicating with Biomom and he asked me not to tell her anything about him. I respected his wishes. I also told her that the kids were unable to handle direct communication with her, and asked that anytime their younger sisters were visiting grandparents or something to please let us know so that Bear and Kitty could talk to them on the phone without having to be concerned that Biomom was present.

Over the years, Biomom would send a message that she was planning on giving the kids a gift (birthday, Christmas) and maybe include something from their childhood (Bear's wrestling medals, a blanket that Kitty had loved...). We only ever received one package. The continuing disappointment was traumatic for the kids.

Biomom Visit
And then she requested a visit!

My first instinct is to say, "h*@#  NO! I did NOT sign up for this!" We never agreed to anything but a closed adoption, and had been told that this was definitely in the children's best interest.

After much deliberation, I decided to leave it up to Bear. After years of saying he hated her and didn't want any contact, Bear surprised me by agreeing to the meeting (I discovered later that he'd been in communication with her all along).

Kitty's therapist reaction
I talked to Kitty's attachment therapist and we went back and forth about whether or not to allow Kitty to see Biomom during the visit. Kitty had been having lots of issues and had recently been in a psych hospital. We had decided to pull Kitty out of private school (they couldn't accommodate her special education needs any more and we couldn't afford it anymore). Biomom's visit was the day before the new semester starts, which is when Kitty would start public school for the first time in 1 1/2 years. Great timing, huh?!

We had a lot of reasons why Bear should get to see biomom and Kitty shouldn't. (He's older, he didn't just get out of a mental institution, his therapist agrees that he's at a stable point in his life and can handle it...). I worried that she wouldn't forgive me if I said no. It felt like a lose/lose situation.

finally, I told Kitty in therapy that Biomom was coming and gave her a choice on whether or not to see her. Kitty chose, big shock, to get to see Biomom. We told Kitty that we had many concerns, and listed a few of our reasons this might not be a good idea. No effect, but at least we got them out there.
Kitty stated, "I know it's strange, but I still love her." We reassured Kitty that that is not strange at all!

We asked Kitty what would she like to get out of the visit. Kitty asked about Bear's rules and goals. I told her that Bear wanted to confront Biomom about putting him in foster care, and ask questions about Biodad. Kitty didn't understand why Bear was angry at Biomom. When we asked her what questions she had, she mentioned Biofather (although she had no ideas on specific questions) and at one point wanted to know if the Grandmother she was named after (birth name) was dead (Bear had told her that she was). She had no intention of asking anything "controversial" or confrontational.

Ground Rules:
We informed Kitty that there were some things we wanted her to understand.

  1. This does not mean she is going to start seeing or talking to Biomom all the time - maybe not until she is 18.
  2. This meeting is for closure.
  3. We do not want to share a lot of personal information about our family (although biofamily sisters, grandmother, aunt, cousins - know almost everything and have most likely shared).
  4. If we feel that she is getting overwhelmed we will stop the meeting immediately or change the subject (we made that part of the ground rules).

Our ground rules for Biomom (most of these came from the therapist and I and/or Bear):

  1. No lies (Bear specifically wants the truth about TPR - Terminating Parental Rights).
  2. Biomom acts like the adult (no cussing, no yelling, no blaming)
  3. This visit does not mean ongoing contact.
  4. The therapist, Hubby, and I can change the subject or end the session at any time.
  5. Bear added: No hugging or touching, and
  6. No talking about the future (he believes it is none of her business).

I think Kitty was more excited about the fact that she gets to eat out then the actual visit. She is disappointed that their younger sisters will not be coming.

Letter to Biomom: 
Hi (Birthmom),

As two people who love (Kitty's birth name), I need to discuss something with you. I probably shouldn’t talk to you about this, but I’m not sure what else to do. I’ll be honest and tell you that I have almost cancelled this visit several times, and I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing for (Kitty). I haven’t told (Kitty) about your visit yet for many reasons. One being that she is going through an extremely difficult time right now and we’re not totally sure why – it could be some recent med changes, it could be hormones, it could be the holidays, it could be a lot of things. Over the last two years she has made a lot of progress. She has slowly bonded to our family, and although she is still very hurt by all the abandonments (perceived and otherwise) that she’s had in her life, we’ve seen her slowly begin to trust us and believe that we love her and won’t send her away – even when she’s acting up.

I know you never intended to hurt her, and she loves you loyally. I have always tried to explain to the children that it must have been so hard for you dealing with their issues as well as your own troubles. I have always made it clear to the children that I fully expect them to always love you. You were their first mother. My problem is that (Kitty) has never really understood why she can’t just go “home.” She has unknowingly built a fantasy about her life before foster care and adoption. She only remembers the good things, and denies any hurts or problems. Those concerns are of course still there, affecting her life and relationships. We work hard to get her to address them in therapy so that she can deal with them now instead of allowing them to fester and negatively affect her.

January 1st - 5th, (Kitty) went into an inpatient mental health facility. This is the first time this has happened since we’ve known her (about 2.5 years) - although I understand she has been hospitalized for similar issues a couple of times when she was younger. She is so emotionally fragile right now. I am VERY worried about her.

I plan to tell her about your visit at her next therapy session (Tuesday). I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place on this, and I am hoping you can help us. The way I see it I currently have 3 choices.

One, is to stick to the original plan, and let her know you are coming, but that her therapists and I feel she is not at a good place for meeting you. That Bear is older and more emotionally stable. I know she will not understand and will completely disagree (she usually ignores and denies her feelings). I feel that most likely this will damage my relationship with her, possibly permanently (I hope I don’t sound overly dramatic here, but I know you must remember being a teenager and fighting for your independence and identity with your parents? I know how rejected I felt by my parents who had a nasty divorce. My father tried to manipulate me and use me as a pawn to hurt my mother. I still have never really forgiven him). We had planned to have her write a list of questions and things she wants us to ask you about, but I doubt this will be sufficient to make up for not getting to see you.

Two, to allow her to see you and just deal with the inevitable fall-out. I’ll be honest, what terrifies me about this is that she will ask you to take her home or something similar. That you will (of course) tell her that you love her and that you never wanted to give her up, or worse, that it was her fault she was placed in foster care because she was out of control. She will blame my husband and I for keeping her from you (I know it’s not rational, but very likely), and the damage is still done to our relationship. Plus, she feels abandoned/ rejected by you when you have to leave her here.

So, as one mother to another, I’m begging for your help with this. Do you think that (with the assistance of her attachment therapist), you could help us give (Kitty) the closure she needs, and ask her to honor the bond that she has with us? I’m not asking you to tell her you don’t love her, just to encourage her to know it is OK with you for her to love my family too and be loved by us. That there is room in her heart for both of us, and that she belongs with my family now. I fully believe that if we work on this together that we will both benefit from the abundant love this child is capable of. I know that (Kitty)’s therapist (different from Bear’s) has offered to help us with this.

Please be honest with me. I feel that Kitty is in a very dangerous situation here and that we will need to walk a fine line to help her. If you do not feel that you can do this, then I will just stick to the original plan and hope that she doesn’t hate me too much. Can you tell her that you love her, but that she is where she needs to be?

Just to make things more difficult, Kitty starts public school on the 20th (the day after your visit). We’ve had her in a tiny private school for the last year and a half, but cannot afford it now because of the economy. She is excited about this, but it will still be VERY stressful for her.


Biomom Agrees to Ground Rules:
Biomom's Response

Planning the meetings:
Letter - Therapists' opinions
Kitty's EMDR therapist's concerns

The meetings:
Our meeting with Biomom and therapists (no kids)
Biomom - Kitty visit
Biomom - Bear visit
Biomom's letter after first visit.

Second Biomom visit - 3 years later with siblings
Second Visit - Biomom with siblings

Other Contact with Biomom
Letters with Biomom about reading my blog

Going Back to Birth Family (after age 18) 
Like many adoptive families with a closed adoption from foster care, we never intended our children to have contact with their birth parents until after age 18. We had been told by the kids' "Team" that this was definitely in the children's best interest. We always let the kids know that we understood that they still loved the bioparents (even the ones they'd never met). Of course they did! We encouraged them to talk about their feelings and let them know we accepted them. This post talks about why this is so important to our kids.

We made a lot of mistakes. We did a lot of things right. Every family's experience is going to be as unique as they are. I wish you much luck in whatever you decide.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Interview Questions for Caregivers and Respite Providers

Interview questions for caregivers and respite workers. 
Compiled from various sources and adapted by Sarah Hedge.

  • Look for people who are willing to work with kids with special needs. 
  • Do a full interview process (phone screening, in-person interview in a public place, opportunity to meet kids in your home for those who pass everyyhing else).
  • Don't forget to ask questions about how the person would handle specific situations that you think may come up. 
  • Do background checks, reference checks, and drug screening. 
  • Look for two people, one preferred and a back-up person too. 
  • She used, but this would work in other situations.

Phone Interview Questions:

1. First, I want to tell you a bit about what we are looking for and what we can provide:

We are a very active family who is involved in a wide variety of activities. We are looking for a consistent caregiver so that we can meet each of our kids' individual needs more directly, have some time together as a married couple, and to have some time for parent self-care. Our family is looking for a non-smoking, college-educated caregiver who is comfortable with a friendly cat and an energetic dog. To best fit our family's needs, the caregiver is relationship-oriented, with a warm and fun personality, but who is also comfortable following established routines and maintaining established boundaries in an empathetic manner. We are looking for someone who is communicative and reliable, active, creative, and willing to be trained in how to best meet the special academic and emotional needs of our kids.

2. Given this information, is this a position you might still consider?

3. Tell me about yourself.

4. Why do you enjoy taking care of children?

5. Why are you interested in this position with our family?

6. What are you seeking in your next position?

This summer, our family needs a consistent caregiver NUMBER OF DAYS PER WEEK. Dates and times may change as activities do. We are mostly looking OUR PREFERRED DATES AND TIMES FOR RESPITE.

7. How many hours are you available per week?

8. What are you looking for in terms of schedule?

9. When are you available to start?

10. The role would depend on the day and time, but may include any or all of the following:

  • supporting kids in following through with our family's established routines, 
  • academic help, such as listening to kids reading aloud, or help with math work, 
  • supporting the kids in cleaning up after themselves or helping the kids complete their assigned chores, 
  • simple meal preparation and resulting dishes, 
  • using your own safe and reliable car to drop off at or pick up from kids' activities, and 
  • having fun, of course! 

We can be flexible with these roles and times with the right caregiver. Is there anything on this list that you would prefer not to do?

11.  We are happy to provide $10-$20/hour depending on your experience and the roles you play, training to address the academic and emotional needs of our children, and established routines and expectations so there isn't any (or much) guesswork involved. What hourly rate are you looking for?

12. What are your key skills and strengths as a caregiver? If you were hired, how would you propose to use those skills with our family?

13. Of course, everyone can always improve their skills. What do you want to do better when taking care of kids? What is your plan to improve your skills in that way?

14. Now, I’m going to ask specific questions about your background:

  • Eligible to work in the U.S.?
  • Valid DL? Car insurance? Clean driving record? Safe & reliable car?
  • Ever been convicted of a crime?
  • Ever had involvement with Child Protective Services?

15. What questions do you have?

Phone Interviews through DATE
In-Person Interviews through DATE (bring DL, proof of work eligibility, references)
Checking references, background checks, drug testing
Kid Visits through DATE
Hiring Decision ASAP after that!

16. Given our conversation today, is this a position you would still consider for yourself?


In-person Interview Questions (in a public place):

1. What do you enjoy most about working with kids? What do you find most challenging?

2. What are you most proud of as a caregiver?

3. Could you tell us a bit more about your experience working with kids who have emotional and/or academic needs?

4. Do you have any formal education or training that would be relevant to working with our kids?

5. How would other parents describe you? How would kids describe you?

6. What types of kids would you enjoy spending time with for hours at a time? Who would enjoy spending time with you for hours at a time?

7. If hired, what would you do especially well?

8. What is your view of disciplining children, and what should be the caregiver’s role?

9. Describe the most challenging child you have worked with. How did you address the challenge?

10. How do you handle kids that are pushing boundaries? Being sassy or talking back?

11. What would you do if one of our children begs for something we say is off limits?

12. What are your personal interests and/or hobbies?

13. If you had 5 hours to spend with our children, and no particular agenda, how would you organize your time and day?

14. Do you view your personality as flexible and easy to roll with change, or do you need more structure and ability to plan ahead?

15. What’s your five-year plan?

16. Why should we hire you?

17. What questions do you have?

In-Person Interviews through DATE
Checking references, background checks, drug testing
Kid visits through DATE
Hiring Decision ASAP after that
Nanny Contract
Tax Forms
1 month trial period to see if it’s a good fit

18. Given our conversation today, is this a position you would still consider for yourself?

LOGISTICS: Take photo of driver’s license, proof of car insurance, proof of work eligibility, references


Reference Check Questions:

1. What were the starting and ending dates s/he worked for you and what were his/her responsibilities? What were the ages of the children s/he cared for?

2. What are her strengths in working with children, and what are her weaknesses?

3. Did you ever do a performance review with her? If so, what areas was she working on? What were your goals for her?

4. What were the circumstances of her departure? (If there are two sides to the story and you feel like there’s a red flag, probe the issue further.)

5. Would you hire him/her again?

6. How would you describe his/her personality and temperament?

7. On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate each of the following: his/her maturity ______, initiative _____, responsibility _____, ability to communicate _____.

8. How did you supervise him/her and what kind of style worked with him/her?

9. Did s/he like to get feedback? How does s/he handle feedback? Is s/he open and approachable? Give an example of when you asked him/her to do something differently. How did it go?

10. Did s/he feel comfortable bringing an issue up with you? Give an example, explain how you worked through it.

11. Is there anything I need to know that would help me supervise him/her better?

12. Did you and s/he share the same philosophies on things like discipline, or how neat to keep the house?

13. Can you give me an example of when s/he had to manage a challenging behavior with a child? What was the situation and how did s/he handle it?

14. Did you ever have a concern about how s/he handled a behavior issue with a child?

15. Did you ever suspect that s/he had a drug or alcohol problem?

16. Did you notice anything – personal or professional – that interfered with his/her ability to do his/her job? Was there any specific safety-related feedback you needed to give him/her?

17. Did s/he come to work on time? If s/he was late, what do you think the reason was?

18. Did s/he ever take the kids any place without your permission? Did s/he let friends or a significant other come to the house without permission?

19. How did s/he respond to a real emergency? What happened and how did s/he handle it?

20. Is there anything else that I should know about him/her?


Edited to add:
Don't forget to ask questions about things that are specific to your household / lifestyle:
Pet allergies or fears?
Ok with going up and down stairs in a 2 story house?
Comfortable supervising kids in a pool?
Can drive kids to sport or club activities?
Willing to handle unusual or aggressive behaviors?
Willing to administer medication?
Comfortable with the child having friends over? 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Books and Methods Review - Therapeutic Parenting - Ross W. Greene

Marythemom:  I really like this book and found that it describes my kids pretty well.  I’ve found a lot of the techniques he uses are easily incorporated into what I do with my kids, and the understanding into why they act the way they do is invaluable in helping me stay calm and better deal with my children’s behavior. Review -  Flexibility and tolerance are learned skills, as any parent knows if they've seen an irascible 2-year-old grow into a pleasant, thoughtful, and considerate older child. Unfortunately, for reasons that are poorly understood, a few children don't "get" this part of socialization. Years after toddler tantrums should have become an unpleasant memory, a few unlucky parents find themselves battling with sudden, inexplicable, disturbingly violent rages--along with crushing guilt about what they "did wrong." Medical experts haven't helped much: the flurry of acronyms and labels (Tourette's, ADHD, ADD, etc.) seems to proffer new discoveries about the causes of such explosions, when in fact the only new development is alternative vocabulary to describe the effects. Ross Greene, a pediatric psychologist who also teaches at Harvard Medical School, makes a bold and humane attempt in this book to cut through the blather and speak directly to the (usually desperate) parents of explosive children. His text is long and serious, and has the advantage of covering an enormous amount of ground with nuance, detail, and sympathy, but also perhaps the disadvantage that only those parents who are not chronically tired and time-deprived are likely to get through the entire book. Quoted dialogue from actual sessions with parents and children is interspersed with analysis that is always oriented toward understanding the origins of "meltdowns" and developing workable strategies for avoidance. Although pharmacological treatment is not the book's focus, there is a chapter on drug therapies. --Richard Farr 

Lost at School: Why Our Kids with Behavioral Challenges are Falling Through the Cracks and How We Can Help Them
Psychiatrist and Harvard professor Greene follows up The Explosive Child with an in-depth approach to aid parents and teachers to work together with behaviorally challenging students. Greene's philosophy is driven by the recognition that "kids who haven't responded to natural consequences don't need more consequences, they need adults who are knowledgeable about how challenging kids come to be challenging." Greene's "Plan B" system, which is fully and clearly explained in the course of the book, emphasizes identifying challenging behaviors-acting out, hitting, swearing, poor performance in class-and then working with students to find actual, practical ways to avoid them. Helpfully, Greene uses a fictional school for examples, devoting several pages to illustrative anecdotes in each chapter, greatly increasing the material's accessibility. Greene's technique is not fail-proof, principally because it requires the good will and hard work of all participants; a section on implementing Plan B in the face of real disagreement or apathy would have been helpful. However, Plan B has all the qualities of accessibility, logic and compassion to make it a solid strategy for parents and educators. 
The first comprehensive presentation for clinicians of the groundbreaking approach popularized in Ross Greene's acclaimed parenting guide, The Explosive Child, this book provides a detailed framework for effective, individualized intervention with highly oppositional children and their families. Many vivid examples and Q&A sections show how to identify the specific cognitive factors that contribute to explosive and noncompliant behavior, remediate these factors, and teach children and their adult caregivers how to solve problems collaboratively. The book also describes challenges that may arise in implementing the model and provides clear and practical solutions. Two special chapters focus on intervention in schools and in therapeutic/restrictive facilities.