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!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dealing with Disrespectful Language

This is a tough one. It's been a little while since we've dealt with it.

First, I hate this answer, but... it depends.

I had one child who needed an excuse to vent/ blow off steam. Until we got him on the right meds and in a structured environment where he felt safe, he just needed to explode every now and then.

You could see it building like a volcano. He'd stuff down his feelings, fears, and anxieties until he was full up (about once a month), and then he'd fall apart (which for him was anger). For about 20-30 minutes after the rage/ meltdown, he was able to access his true emotions with us.

For him, the rages were inevitable and necessary and he used the disrespect to give him an excuse for blowing up at us. I used to back off and try to avoid conflict (I HATE conflict), until I realized that he NEEDED someone who would stand up to him and hold him accountable. He still talks about his favorite teacher's aide. She would stand up to him (difficult to do with a 5'9" 210+lb 13yo with no problem with getting physical with people) and tell him to, "Stop acting like a turd," The important part was that he knew she cared about him. Lots of people would tell him off and not care about him or back off and let him walk all over them to avoid conflict. They were scary. Because she provided both structure and support, he respected her and felt safe with her.

Feeling "safe" is HUGE and has nothing to do with reality for our kids. To feel safe, my son needed control of his environment at all times, and can go to extreme measures to get that control. This is not always logical. For example, if Bear is told he can go on a field trip if he has no attendance issues and behaves pleasantly with everyone for a week, but deep down he doesn’t know for sure he can do that, then he might deliberately misbehave so he has control over the outcome. He might also sabotage himself because the trip actually scares him (he doesn’t feel safe in unfamiliar, uncontrollable environments). If a connection is made at all, he will most likely say he didn’t want to go on the “stupid” field trip in the first place (sour grapes).

Safety - People that don't provide the structure and support our kids need, are not "safe." Christine Moers has a fantastic video called from Chaos to Healing: Therapeutic Parenting 101 That helps explain why our kids don't feel safe, which causes them to act out.

Triggers - There are lots of triggers for feeling unsafe that we as rational adults totally miss - food is a huge trigger for my kids. So if he suddenly lashes over a snack, it may have brought up a memory (smell is a BIG memory trigger). A lot of times our kids don't know how to react to big feelings so they get overwhelmed and drop in to fight/ flight/ freeze mode. Triggers to watch for is HALTING US (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Ill, New - changes are scary!, Guilty, and UnSafe, ).

Help them identify the emotion that's causing the behavior.

My kids chronological/ calendar age is MUCH older than their emotional age. Many of our kids get "stuck" at much younger ages. My 11yo daughter was emotionally stuck at age 4, which was a time of a lot of trauma for her. She was pretty much developmentally on target for THAT age, and unfortunately that meant I had to parent her at that level (really hard to do with a 6yo in a 16yo body or a 12 yo in a 20yo body!). I did find that when I changed my expectations to what was correct for her emotional age, she felt safer and wasn't overwhelmed and dysregulated as often. It also helped her mature. I can't tell you how many times I repeated my mantra, "She's only 6! She's only 6! She's only 6!" And had to explain to my husband why my 16yo daughter's only chores were feeding the dogs and wiping down the countertops (with lots of reminders), when her 12yo NT brother had much more extensive chores.

Even if my child is a total mess, I can't just ignore the behavior - it sends the wrong message to the child (and siblings!).
If my child is dysregulated and/or slipping in to fight/ flight/ freeze - then I try to look at the disrespect as a signal that they need help getting calm and regulated. I might pull the child aside and do some calming techniques.

I don't do anything during fight/ flight/ freeze - the thinking part of their brain is not home. Afterwards, when they're back and regulated, THEN we talk about consequences if needed (a LOT of the time I let it go).

Nothing triggers my kids more than feeling criticized (especially my daughter whose love language is Words of Affirmation). So calling them on disrespectful behavior usually triggers a rage/ meltdown. Instead we try to go about it differently.

My son made the mistake of growling a response at his grandma in front of Hubby (son usually hides this type of behavior toward me and my mom from his dad). My husband called him on it, and my son instantly dropped into fight/ flight/ freeze - it became an hour long shouting match.

If we'd listened to Katharine Leslie (my fav attachment guru - he might have said,
"Hey bud, would you like to try that again? Your response did not match the situation so I know something else is going on with you. This is where you say, 'Grandma, I didn't understand what you're talking about and I'm really tired right now.'" Then, if Bear chooses not to "try again" and continues to argue defensively, then maybe Hubby could have said something like, "I can see you're not able to talk about this right now. That's OK. We can talk about it later." And walk away.

We use, "This is where you say..." a LOT!. We say things like, "And this is where you say, 'Mom, This is not my favorite snack food, but thanks for making it for me. Could I have something else?,' Now you say it." and asking them to repeat the more respectful version. "This is where you say, 'Oops! Someone made a mess. Let me clean that up.'" I remind them that cleaning up a mess is not a confession. It is just helping. Now I don't have to tell them what to say. Sometimes I'll just say, "This is where you say..." or even just give them a "look."

GIGO - If my children start using disrespectful and/or foul language, I explain to them that I'm going to help them, by removing the bad influences that are teaching them that these words are acceptable. We stopped watching Cartoon Network, anything but G-rated movies, switched their MP3 players to all Christian Rock... if they slipped and used a word I didn't find acceptable, I'd say, "Language!" and sometimes there were consequences (usually removing media or going in the FAIR Club).

Another thing I do is define the words for them. I use it as a "teachable moment" for sex ed. Makes my kids crazy! Mom talking about sex is soooo embarrasing. I talk about what "That sucks!" is really referring to, F*ck, B*tch, even 'jacked (it's not all about sex! lol)."

If they're whining, we often pretend we don't understand them, because we don't speak Whinese.

Once we worked through some of the bigger stuff. I moved on to grammar. Makes my daughter crazy when she says, "Me and SoandSo are going to the movies." I pretend I don't understand her. All I have to say is "Who?" and she corrects it to "SoandSo and I are going to the movies." She even gets it right on her own some time.

Honestly if it's going to lead to a rage/ meltdown, sometimes I just let it lead to a rage/ meltdown, document, document, document ( ), do some self-care for me ( ), and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trauma Healing Goals

Just had to share this!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to get some sleep

Some common causes for issues with sleeping:

  • Mental illness - Bipolar disorderADHD...
  • Trauma - PTSDNight Terrors - Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream and may remember details, but a person who has a sleep terror episode remains asleep. Children usually don't remember anything about their sleep terrors in the morning. Adults may recall a dream fragment they had during the sleep terrors. Also, nightmares generally occur in the last half of the night, while sleep terrors occur in the first half of the night. 
  • Sleep Disorders - Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder - a family of sleep disorders affecting, among other things, the timing of sleep. People with circadian rhythm sleep disorders are unable to sleep and wake at the times required for normal work, school, and social needs.
Some techniques for getting sleep:

  • Bedtime routine. Have a set bedtime routine and stick to it. (Bath, brush teeth, "room time," quiet activity in a dimly lit room, parent reading a book, singing a song or rubbing the child's back...).
  • Room Time. This was for both the kids and the parents. Room time was 1/2 hour before bed or 9pm whichever was earlier. Even my older kids had room time. Especially as teens most of my kids didn't really go to sleep at 8 or 9pm anymore, but if they were up running around, the kids who needed more sleep would want to be up too. Plus, Hubby and I wanted some adult time (Get your mind out of the gutter! We just wanted to watch non-Disney TV shows and talk about our day!). 
  • Avoid stimulating activities between dinner and bedtime. This is not the time for a rousing game of tag or scary movies/ stories.
  • Eating and drinking. Avoid eating a heavy evening meal and caffeinated beverages.
  • Avoid overstimulation - bedrooms should not be playrooms. Our therapist suggests bedrooms should have a bed, a dresser (even this can be too much for some kids!), a stuffed animal or two, a book or two and a quiet activity if the child doesn't read independently. No TV or other electronics with screens belong in a bedroom.
  • Give your child tools to overcome his worries. These can include a flashlight, a spray bottle filled with "monster spray," or a large stuffed animal to "protect" him.
  • Screen time ending 2 hours before bedtime - Screens – found on computers, cellphones and TVs – emit blue light that is found in the light spectrum present during daytime hours. Acting as artificial sunlight, blue light decreases your production of melatonin.
  • Melatonin - a mild herbal supplement available over the counter that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycle. A small does is usually given near dark to signal the body that nighttime is coming (does not really work during the day). 
  • Sleep meds - children taking sleep meds should do so only under a doctor's care. If an adult requires sleep meds more than a few days in a row, it's probably a good idea to discuss it with a doctor.
  • Set bedtime and wake time. No matter what time I went to sleep the night before, I get up every day (even weekends) at the same time. This helps force my body to keep my circadian rhythms more regular. For children past the age of napping. Avoid naps during the day.
  • Sleep time. People generally need 8 hours of sleep a day. Kids and teens usually need closer to 10. Especially when my kids are dysregulated, I move their bedtime earlier.
  • Daylight Savings time and school holidays. Changing your body's sleep schedule takes time. I usually start getting the kids back on schedule 2 weeks prior to school starting again after winter and summer vacations, and avoid letting the kids stay up too late or sleep in too much on weekends and holidays.
  • Biofeedback - Practice biofeedback and other calming techniques at other times of the day. Then you can use them at bedtime.
  • Counting to 100. I use this one a lot. I get comfy, close my eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, and count to 100 in my head - each breath in and out is a count of 1 (deep breath in, deep breath out - "1", deep breath in, deep breath out - "2"... If I move for any reason then I have to start over with 1. If I reach 100 and I'm still awake, then I roll over and try a new position - and restart the count.
  • 4-7-8 Breath. I use this quick and simple breathing every night. It works!
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation - The link gives a good tutorial, but basically PMR teaches you how to relax your muscles through a two-step process. First, you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. This exercise will help you to lower your overall tension and stress levels, and help you relax when you are feeling anxious. 
  • Sleep Phase Chronotherapy (SPC), which progressively advances sleep time by 1–2 hours per day until you've gone all the way around the clock to your preferred bedtime. The idea is that it's almost impossible to make yourself get sleepy and go to sleep early, but it is possible to stay up a little later every night until you move your bedtime all the way around the clock to the right time.
  • Nightmares - One thing my mother taught me is that we can take control of our dreams and nightmares. When I have a recurring nightmare (such as being chased). I try to think of what's going on in my life that might be making me feel this way. Then I rewrite the dream in my head (might be right when I wake up, might be later in the day). I imagine every detail of what I want to have happen instead. (Turn and confront the person chasing me. Have the ability to fly. Whatever.) Think of defeating a bogart in a Harry Potter movie.
  • How to have good dreams. My "secret trick."
    Kitty wanted to have a good dream, and I told her I knew a secret trick.

    I asked her what she wanted to dream about -"getting married and having kids with Jesse McCartney" (Bleech!). But I decided to ignore the gross factor, so we both could get some sleep seeing as she'd had a tough day.

    So to have a good dream you tell yourself a story or write a play in your head while you're laying comfy in your bed. Your story is about what you want to dream about, but you have to imagine EVERY detail. Where are you? What does your house look like, is it a 2 story or a one story, are you in the living room? Where is Jesse? Is he at work? Do you go with him? Do you work? What do you do? Picture it in your head. What are you wearing when you go to work with Jesse? Are you wearing an evening gown? What color is it? Do your heels hurt your feet? Are you in a crowded club or a private limo? What color are the seats in the limo? Is it moving or are you stopped? Does Jesse take your hand as you get out? What does his cologne smell like? Can you feel his hand in yours?

    All of this was done in a quiet, calm, monotonous voice, and I didn't usually wait for answers for most of the questions. I just wanted her to visualize the picture. I did biofeedback when I was her age so I tried to mimic the method of painting imagery.

    In the morning she said it worked!

Sleep Phase Chronotherapy

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder - a family of sleep disorders affecting, among other things, the timing of sleep. People with circadian rhythm sleep disorders are unable to sleep and wake at the times required for normal work, school, and social needs. They are generally able to get enough sleep if allowed to sleep and wake at the times dictated by their body clocks.

Anonymous Commenter: Circadian Rhythm disorders are a research interest of mine. Almost everyone's internal, natural circadian rhythms are slightly over 24 hours. These rhythms are kept in check by bright light every morning coming in through a person's eyes. This turns off a person's melatonin production (the sleep signal). She is likely not receiving this signal {commenter was under the mistaken impression that Kitty was blind}. A more effective treatment would be for her to take .3 mg of melatonin every day at 6PM. This very small dose would signal her body that nighttime was coming. This would keep her regular and in phase with the world.

Most of the people I know with bipolar disorder have chronic issues with insomnia. It is probably also an issue with PTSD and the hyper-vigilance that goes with that. Bear often had bouts of horrible flashbacks or night terrors that caused his whole body to react as though he were reliving the trauma (which he probably was). Understandably he fought sleep and while most sleep meds didn't work, the one that helped (also an anti-psychotic) he usually refused to take.

Kitty and I both have the sub-type -
Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), aka delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), characterized by a much later than normal timing of sleep onset and offset and a period of peak alertness in the middle of the night. Like babies who get night and day mixed up!

When Kitty did a sleep study in April, we realized that sleep medicines just don't work for her, and were told that the only treatment left was Sleep Phase Chronotherapy (SPC), which progressively advances sleep time by 1–2 hours per day until you've gone all the way around the clock to your preferred bedtime. The idea is that it's almost impossible to make yourself get sleepy and go to sleep early, but it is possible to stay up a little later every night until you move your bedtime all the way around the clock to the right time.

The doctor told us that few people attempt this treatment, because it's so disruptive to real life (how many people can miss 3-6 weeks of work?) and of the few of his patients that do attempt it, a substantial portion fail.  Even worse, if something happens to disrupt the process then Kitty's sleep schedule could end up even more horribly distorted.  At the time, we decided that all of Kitty's compliance issues would make this treatment impossible.

When nothing else worked, we did attempt Sleep Chronotherapy. I'm not sure how we ended up deciding that it could be done in 1 week, maybe we were so tired that we misunderstood the doctor.

Kitty and I did it together - for many reasons, but primarily because Kitty doesn't have the ability to do it on her own. If you're going to try this, I highly recommend having a partner to help both of you stay awake.

I wrote out a schedule of sleep and awake times for the entire week. This is important! When your sleep schedule is off, you'd be amazed at how complicated and confusing it all gets trying to remember what time to set the alarm for and when not to make appointments.

If I had to do it again, which I WON'T!, here's some things I would do differently.

  1. Figure out a meal schedule.  I think I lost 2lbs because I never remembered to eat, and I'm guessing Kitty gained quite a bit, because she ate continuously (she tends to turn to food when she's upset and/or bored).
  2. Have planned activities, especially with other people involved (since Kitty and I are both extroverts). For times when others are asleep or busy, try doing something active, like taking a walk.
  3. Extend the time to make the transition (2-3 weeks?). It takes a full month for your body to accept a new circadian rhythm. 
  4. On the first night, be sure your new bedtime is at least an hour after the latest time you tend to fall asleep.  We've both stayed up until 4am many times before.  I didn't schedule it this way, because we had something to do at 1pm, and I wanted to give us a full 8 hours plus some time to wake up and get ready for an appointment. Kitty wasn't able to fall asleep until 5am.
  5. Avoid driving (or operating heavy machinery) and making life altering decisions. 
  6. You might want to avoid deep conversations with people you care about - you will regret a lot of things you say when you're sleep deprived and cranky.
  7. Remember sleep deprivation is a common means of torture and brain washing.

Honestly chronotherapy did not help either of us. We were both back to having chronic insomnia within weeks. If you attempt it, please do so under the supervision of a doctor and take longer than a week to make the transition.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

But My Child NEEDS Me!

By the time most women reach out I think we have hit rock bottom. Maybe it only seems that way because we don't find what we think we need and just keep reaching and reaching. Like most moms, especially moms of special needs children, I gave and gave and gave until there was nothing left. No reserves. Nothing. I was completely empty. That's hard to come back from. There were some things I did to try to help myself: One, avoid toxic people as much as possible. I belonged to some groups that had nothing positive to say. Anytime someone gave some practical advice or even tried to offer hope that things will get better, everyone jumped in and said, "No! You're wrong! Everything is going to end badly! It's too late! There's no hope." When I was in a good place I went back to some of those places to try to offer hope and "rescue" some of the newbies and direct them to more positive supportive groups, but eventually I realized I couldn't even tolerate that. This is one reason the FaceBook group I moderate is only Closed instead of Super Secret like most online groups- meaning you can search for it and don't have to know someone already in the group. I wanted to reach out to newbies and those who still have/ want hope. Two, I really do believe my post about Finding the Joy There is a point where we realize that we have given too much. I once overheard a teen like mine being told she was a "bottomless pit of need." I was a college student at the time and thought the caregiver was mean, but now I know what he meant. We give and give and give, and they are so broken that they not only can't give back, but they're probably never going to be able to pick up the torch and take care of themselves. It's like they say in airplanes, you have to put the mask on yourself before you can help your child. I gave too much of myself and had nothing left. I wasn't a good mom to ANY of my kids and there was nothing left of me as a person either. Once you prioritize yourself, set boundaries, and give yourself time to heal... ONLY then can you help your child. Caring for the Caregiver. The problem is that there is no good time to take that time. 

You're always up to your neck in your child's troubles. At a certain point you have to stop throwing on bandaids and patches trying to keep things afloat and realize that it's only you holding everything together and there is no end in sight. 

How long can you hold out? I finally stopped. I felt hopelessly guilty about it, and I got a LOT of pressure from everyone around me to pick everything up again, but now that I'm in a better place I can pick up what needs to be done again (and it's MY decision what "needs" to be done). I'm still helping my child (and of course I often feel guilty about not doing more), but I will no longer sacrifice my other children, my family, my marriage, ME! for my child. I think we're all in a better place because of that. No, my children will never be independent, responsible adults, but I can't be one for them either. I can only carry one person at a time - me.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dear Friend or Family Member

Dear Friend or Family Member Who Just Doesn't "Get It,"

You are receiving this letter because you are someone we love and value as part of our family.

Parenting children is one of the hardest tasks we can take on as humans and doing so in the best of circumstances has many challenges. We have had challenges and have tried always to put them before God and wait to receive His guidance and then commit ourselves to following that direction.
We don’t pretend that we have always done the best job of that nor that we always acted in a Godly manner. We will answer to our creator for our mistakes, just as anyone else will have to.

One of our greatest challenges, parenting in our unique situation, is the fishbowl effect of it. Our family’s challenges are often played out in more public ways than others’ may be. With that brings the opportunity for those other people to watch and formulate an opinion without necessarily having all the facts. Those ill-informed opinions in and of themselves may be harmless (we don’t believe
they are – they negatively affect relationships) if not acted on. When they are acted on, at the least they cause pain and hurt feelings, at the worst they undermine our parenting and do harm to our child.

What we ask is this: “let no word proceed from your mouth but what is profitable for building up.”
  • Understand that the decision you are judging is not yours to do so. 
  • Understand that we laid it before God and are acting on the guidance we received. 
  • Understand that we don’t know what will happen next year or even the next minute, but we are being obedient in this minute and leaving the future to God. 
  • Lastly, understand if you cannot do this, we will have to pull back from our relationship with you.
We have always needed your support, but if you can’t give it, please don’t tear us down.

A Trauma Mama (3/15)
Shared with permission

A letter to grandparents of children with RAD - written by a grandmother

Letter to friends and family hosting holiday parties

Preparing the school (and others) for your child - includes lots of links to good articles

Trauma-informed approach for teachers and other team members

Other good letters and articles are in this post about School.

 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