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!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Detachment Parenting - Including Parenting an Adult Child with Special Needs

Attachment Parenting
There are 2 types of "Attachment Parenting." One is mostly about "crunchy moms," breastfeeding, wearing your infant (sling), cosleeping... which is all great, but not really what this blog is about. 

The other type is more about children with "attachment challenges," kids whose attachment has been damaged by trauma. This type of Attachment Parenting aka Therapeutic Parenting or Connected Parenting is generally the focus of this blog. 

There's a new trend in parenting called Detachment Parenting. When I first heard of it, it sounded like heaven to my burned out, PTSD suffering, guilt-ridden self. I'd been trying to parent my attachment challenged children the way society told me I should, the same way I parented my neuro-typical, totally attached bio-kids - nurturing, child-focused, self-sacrificing... and it was killing me. {Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order}

I once heard a house parent in a residential treatment center for emotionally disturbed girls tell a teen that she was a "bottomless pit of need." At the time, I thought he was a horrible person. Now I get it. If we drain our emotional reserves trying to fill a child who can't be filled, then we're empty. You can't fill from an empty cup. Our kids need a different type of parenting and society's "shoulds" can suck it! {Finding The Joy}

Detachment Parenting: A New Trend in Parenting by JustMommies staff
 On first glance, you would think that a “detached parent” was an uncaring or uninvolved parent. Detachment parenting seems almost as if it was created specifically to rebut the attachment parenting model that has grown to be so popular. However, according to Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., author of Detachment Parenting: 33 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Kids Melt Down, detachment parenting is nothing of the sort.
Luedtke explains in her book, “Rest assured, detachment parenting is not the opposite of attachment parenting. It doesn’t require you to deny your feelings, keep kids at arms’ length or let them cry it out when they’re distressed.” She says, “Detachment parenting does not prescribe choices about how you feed, cuddle or care for your kids." 
What is detachment parenting?  
Detachment parenting has less to do with the lifestyle decisions you make for your family, such as feeding, diapering, or sleeping choices, and more to do with how you as a parent respond to your child’s emotions, as well as your own. It’s very easy to react to parenting scenarios with your emotions, rather than taking the time to calm down or think things through before you respond to your child. In Luedtke’s book, she provides tools that allow parents to “break out of fight-or-flight mode.” Instead of reacting to situations emotionally, she shows parents ways to tune into their bodies’ “natural relaxation response”. Once a parent is calm, she is naturally better able to respond to her child’s needs.
The main premise of detachment parenting is that you become more “detached” from the emotional scenarios that, as a parent, you encounter, and not allow your kids’ or your own high emotions affect how you parent. Some of the methods of detachment parenting are common sense. When you or your kids get angry, you need to take steps to stay calm. You can use simple things to help you get your mind in a calmer place, such as counting to 100, taking a time out of your own, or deep breathing. (Calming/ Relaxation Techniques}
Other ways to keep your family running more smoothly include having structure and rules. {Structure and Caring Support} Routines and rules help children know what to expect. They keep things more predictable, and there is less likelihood of tension or friction when kids have structure. {Structure, Support, Routines, and Boundaries}
Detached parents tend to want their children to be independent and are not completely absorbed in their children’s lives. Of course, they love their kids and spend time with their kids, but they also make time for themselves. They try to make time for “me time” so that they are happier, more relaxed, and better able to deal with the situations that come up with their kids. {Self-Care! Caring for the Caregiver}
What detachment parenting isn’t
Although some detached parents use methods considered to be the opposite of “attachment parenting,” many do not. Being a detached parent doesn’t mean you ignore your child when he cries or that breastfeeding or cosleeping is off limits for you. It just means that you have chosen to use a more structured and less-reactive type of parenting style.
New Trend - Detachment Parenting 

How We Handled It

I wanted/ needed to be a Detached Parent, but the pressure to prioritize my children's needs was immense. Every time I tried to step back, there was someone there guilting me, shaming me, to do more. (I will admit that often that person was myself - like most women, I'd been taught practically from birth that it was my job to be the nurturer). What kind of horrible parent doesn't do everything possible for their child? 

When I decided to choose joy {Finding the Joy}. I was finally able to step back and became a detached parent. I gave myself permission to change my priorities. To put myself first, then my marriage, then the family as a whole (The rest of my children were suffering from my inability to do it all! There weren't enough hours in the day), and then my child. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order 

I had to stop prioritizing based on the "squeaky wheel" principle. It was benefiting no one. Not even the squeaky wheel. 

Parenting with Love and Logic 
Amazon review: Establish healthy control through easy-to-implement steps without anger, threats, nagging, or power struggles.  

This book gives lots of practical advice that is great for helping me stay calm, and stop rescuing and controlling my kids.  It also gave me ideas of consequences and realistic expectations, and I use it to help me devise logical consequences for the FAIR Club (Parenting Teens with Love and Logic is good too!).  HOWEVER!  You have to keep in mind  that these books are written for kids who are attached and capable of feeling guilt (and therefore want to please their parents and care if Mom and Dad are upset with them) and are cognitively able to understand consequences.  {Using the FAIR Club with Kids of Trauma}

Detachment Parenting with Teens
One thing that has really helped me with becoming a Detached Parent with all of my teens, was one of my favorite books, Stop Walking on Eggshells. I still reread it often. It helped me with setting boundaries. 

For many years, I had so much angst about how to handle my son turning 18. There is a LOT of pressure to "lighten up" and give our kids the "freedom" to make mistakes, because "he's going to have to deal with the real world soon."  18 Is Not The Finish Line 

At What Point Do You Let Go?

Detachment Parenting Children in Adult Bodies

With my son, it was easier to detach once I accepted that I hadn't failed. {You Have Not Failed} I didn't have a relationship with my son anyway. It's not possible to have a relationship with someone incapable of having a relationship. {Relationships, Relationships (Cont.)} Of course I didn't just decide this and give up, but I worked hard to stop stressing out about it.

I admit, it was validating when he was quickly incarcerated after leaving our home. He finally got the structure that I'd been saying all along that he desperately needed. There are really only 2 ways to get the type of structure that he needed, and he wasn't eligible for the military. He will most likely be in and out of prison for most of his life. (He was arrested almost immediately after graduating high school, and has only managed to stay out of jail/prison for a few months since then - He is 24 and currently incarcerated). 

Now I'm struggling with my son's sister (11 when she came to us). She IS attached (anxiously attached, but attached). I'm really interested in Detachment Parenting, because this is what I've been struggling with for the last few years with her. Emotionally she's only about 11 years old, but in the eyes of the world (and the law) she's 22. 

The world says she's an adult, but she is not. How do I detach from a young child? {Giving Until There's Nothing Left - But My Child NEEDS Me!}

9 years of attachment therapy, me providing most of her emotional regulation (and being her frontal lobe!), accommodating the world for her, being her case manager...  And now I'm having to redefine what our relationship should look like.

Therapeutically Parenting the Adult Child - I tried to continue to be a therapeutic parent after my daughter turned 18 and it worked somewhat while she was in high school (she graduated a couple of months after turning 19). 

After graduation, she still desperately needed the structure and support of therapeutic parenting, but society was telling her she was an adult and therefore had a right to have all the adult privileges (driving, living in her own place, being able to come and go without telling anyone, getting a pet, handling her own money, going to college, drinking, sex..) even though she could handle none of the responsibilities (paying bills, dealing with insurance, budgeting, housing, health and hygiene...). 

I've struggled for years with where to draw the line. 

Adult Boarder vs "Family GirlWhen I try to step back, it triggers her feelings of abandonment. She feels rejected and lashes out, usually by doing things she knows I wouldn't approve of (unprotected sex, drinking, running to birth family...).

How To Get Treated Like An Adult

Boarder Agreement Because of her disabilities, she has almost no understanding money, basic hygiene, protecting herself from those who would take advantage of her... she believes that I am controlling her and have only put this structure in place because I'm "mean." 

Unfortunately, most people around her don't understand her limitations, they only see the good-natured, slightly immature, young adult that we worked so hard to help her present. She would literally rather die than let others see her "issues" and struggles. She comes home to fall apart. 

These people encourage her self-esteem by telling her she can do anything she puts her mind to. They reinforce her desire to be "normal," by telling her that I'm the one preventing her from being/ doing all the things she wants to do. I understand their motivation, but they have no idea how detrimental it is to her to be told she can do things she doesn't, and will never, have the skills and abilities to handle. 

All the desire in the world will not overcome her low IQ and learning disabilities (she doesn't even have basic math skills or the ability to read contracts or handle complex paperwork), FASD (you can't "fix" or outgrow permanent brain damage), Bipolar Disorder (she will always need health insurance to cover her expensive medications - which means she needs to stay on SSI since the type of jobs she can get don't offer health insurance and even if they did, she can't afford co--pays), Anxiety Disorder (she needs someone to help her emotionally regulate and talk her down when she's suicidal and/or having a panic attack), ADHD (she has no executive functioning abilities - she needs someone else to handle organizing and planning)... 

Legal Guardianship
We've looked at Legal Guardianship, but it is too expensive. 

SSI (Social Security Income for people with Disabilities)
I have worked hard to get and keep my daughter on SSI. It requires almost constant case management. I am her Rep Payee, which means I handle all of her finances including managing her living expenses. I am also her landlord, which means I provide her food and housing.

While she has managed to find and keep a part-time, minimum wage job, I'm the one that handles her finances there too.

The Little Red Hen
Recently, I have decided to back off. To be a Detached Parent.

It's frustrating as hell, because I know I'm making more work for myself in the future (when she's pregnant, when I have to deal with yet another marathon session of helping her through an emotional breakdown, when I have to completely strip and remodel her room again, when she possibly burns down the house or we get overrun by bugs and rodents...).

I don't feel I have much choice.

My biggest fear is that she will get pregnant and I will be raising her child (a child for whom there is a strong likelihood that he/she will have most of the same issues/ and diagnoses that she does). I have tried to convince her to get an IUD (most birth control isn't effective with her medications), but have had no luck.

I still handle her case management. I make and take her to doctor appointments; I handle her SSI and Medicaid; I buy her groceries, clothes, hair products...; if we eat out, and she's home, I'll ask her what she wants; I take her to get her hair cut; I take her and pay for her dentist bills (it's not covered by SSI); I fuss at her once when she leaves the kitchen and or bathroom disgusting, then I clean it myself; I no longer request she does chores...

At midnight on paydays, I access her account and remove the portion of her paycheck that she needs to pay her bills. Leaving the rest, knowing that she's blowing it all on crap, despite saying that she wants to save it.

I usually listen when she vents about her boyfriend, friends, and co-workers, and give her my advice, but just as often, I cut her off and let her know I'm busy.

I try not to let my resentment color our relationship.

Housing and the Future
Because she is both mentally ill AND borderline intellectually disabled, she does not qualify for group homes or other residential facilities. At the same time, she is not high enough functioning to live independently.

We're in the process of remodeling, and the current plan is that when it's done, she will have a little apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. She will be living "independently," but under our roof.

It is not ideal, but we're still searching for alternatives.

Trying to Shed Lght on the Reality

Trying to shed light on the reality 
a guest post by a fellow trauma mama (posted with permission)

Dear friends and acquaintances, 
I'm hoping to share some of the things our Adopted families face when our kids have spent their first 1 to 8 years (in our case) in and out of the child welfare system. 

There is no shortage of factual research and evidence of many of our family's extra challenges that are specific to the developmental process and specific needs we face everyday. The problem is in denying both the parent and the children avenues for coexisting within the same social structures that cause many of these injuries. 

The abuse/neglect is due to both the actions of the biological families as well as the foster care system - so our families have these origins because we became a family through adoption. We did not cause the harm. 

In our case, I was never given any case file or factual history, but we are the ones stepping up to be the other Mom or Dads who can do better by them and help them work through their grief and the troubles bestowed upon them pain & confusion, unaddressed and long mishandled. My children experienced things early in life that had and continue to affect them and in turn affect us - we are a family who faces extra challenges in our lives that most people do not understand. 

We are fortunate that a long time ago we were brought together permanently as a family, We are able to work through things when others just let us do our thing and do not interfere. 

The purpose of this post is this issue of intolerance. As their Mom, I dedicated myself long ago to work as hard as necessary to help reverse the effects of experiences that NO child should have to go through because of the careless abusive, neglect and absence of conscious, nurturing, comprehensive child care by the adults in charge at the time. 

The harm and the damage from the maltreatment caused a few things to happen that changes things for us and you are not expected to fully understand these issues. They do affect you as you are a part of our society but not in the way that you think. We parents of children dealing with the affects of complex early childhood trauma do work on this additional aspect of development daily - for us its part of our norm. 

We are not a broken part of society or a part who is looking for your pity, we are an amazing and beautiful aspect of society that your ignorance is not seeing correctly and you are missing our blessings. 

We are the Adoptive Parents of a sibling group. We are real parents like you - but few people are willing or able to make the type of commitments we consciously accept along with our gifts (our children ❤️ ). I), It is enormous and it is a lifelong commitment labor of love that not many biological parents are capable of seeing through to the end. I look to the way in which we are treated with a constant lack of care, constantly being criticized and misunderstood as the clear evidence.

The time is past due for the people in our communities to generally understand a few things and in our communities to become more informed. 

We are acutely aware of the complex nature that early childhood trauma had on our children’s development. Please just take a step back and see our families as normal but different then yours, not better or worse just not the same. 

It would be a huge help if others in our world did not judge us based on beliefs that are simply incorrect. Basically just because you are a parent or have had classes in early childhood development it does not mean you know what you are looking at when you see our families acting up. 

Please respect our families right to privacy and our right to have a fighting chance, and pray for us to keep the faith. Support us without judgement, the parents above all else, because we DO know our children. We believe in them and we are in the front lines with them fighting. 

Secrets and lies breakdown their faith in us and most of the time we are protecting them from their dangerous behaviors. In the more complex cases, like ours, we are studying and learning and praying all day everyday for better tools and for the public to stop negatively impacting our fragile families. 

Our kids often learned to lie, cheat, steal, manipulate and play people against one another from their abusers. We are trying to teach them that it's OK to trust a loving mother or father even though that concept has been hard - literally beaten out of them. The abuse was taught to them since birth ( often when the parent was under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol) and then again by them being continuously shuffled around like property. The layers of trauma are not easy to explain. 

Outside chatter that interferes with our ability to reach them and keep them is very possibly permanently harming and re-injuring our children.
This “help” often reverses healing and reinforces the beliefs that all people are selfish and no one really does care. 

Please realize that this applies to every single adult that comes into contact with our children (who usually appear healthy).  Your attempts to "rescue" them and "help" is actually causing more harm.

Sadly these people do exist. As a parent, I'm often offended that its perfectly OK for everyone to cause more harm to my children day after day. 

Many of our kids “need,” or think they need, to control every aspect of their lives because they had none when the hurt happened. It's usually the reason they manipulate all the so called experts and adults. 

The adults all but encourage this too, with the loaded questions and the desire to be a hurt kid's hero. Taking responsibility for these controlling and manipulative behaviors is apparently near to impossible for both the outsider and our children. (We know about our kid's issue with this but the outsiders - not so much) 

I personally find it unbelievably careless for the adults that make up our society and the public at large to "wing it" with personal bias and false beliefs. As long as the truth stays suppressed, everyone can happily blame someone else and not face reality - all the while perfectly satisfied being the biggest part of the problem. 

Adults are too lazy or jaded or whatever to take a few minutes to understand things better. Maybe someday you could give the adopted parents the benefit of doubt and just listen carefully to our requests. They are usually simple but very specific. 

For us, comprehensive care is make or break and our system has across the board failed us in creating support that works. 

We do know what our children need though and it's referenced in part above ❤  

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trauma Mama Gift Swap 2017

Several trauma mamas and I have decided to do a small Trauma Mama gift swap. If you are a trauma mama and interested in participating, please complete your registration form (there's a copy in the comments) and email it to marythemommy at gmail dot com. 

Please be 100% sure that you are able to participate, remember there is another trauma mama who may be hurt and disappointed if you do not follow through.

One of my favorite things to do at Christmas time over the last few years is to participate in the Trauma Mama Holiday Gift Swap. Unfortunately over the years, the people sponsoring it found that doing this for large groups quickly became too much for any one person to organize. For one reason or another, many people did not honor their obligations (which I totally understand as we are all trauma mamas and Christmas time is HARD!) so many mamas did not receive gifts. Many others tried to step in and fill the gaps, but a lot of needy mamas were hurt and disappointed.

Over the years, I have participated in a small group exchanges, one on one swaps with another mom, and been an "angel" to a trauma mama who could not afford a gift for her child or herself. I'm so glad to be in a place in my life where I can do this.

If anyone wants to organize their own gift swap or just exchange with a friend, here's a form I adapted from the From Survival to Serenity 2012 trauma mama holiday gift swap. I found it to be particularly helpful in finding just the right gifts. I hope this will inspire you to start your own group or just a one on one swap with another mom. Moms deserve special gifts under the tree too!

Trauma Mamas Holiday Gift Swap Registration

Please complete at least the required questions marked with an asterisk. All other "Get to Know You" questions are optional, but please do keep in mind that the more questions you answer, the better the person who gets your name will be able to connect with you. It will also help us in creating matches based on similar situations, geographic areas, interests, etc.

**Hint** If you would like to answer the "Getting to Know You" questions, but don't have time to complete the whole form all at once, write out your answers in a word processing program and then cut and paste them into the form boxes when you're ready to send it in. 

Registration forms are due no later than November 21. All matches will be made on or before November 22. 

Unless there are special circumstances that need to be considered, packages should be mailed to their recipients no later than December 14
International packages will need to be shipped no later than December 1. We learned from sad experience that if they're shipped any later than that, they don't arrive before Christmas, even when they're coming from or going to Canada.

* Required

Contact and Shipping Information*
Name (first and last):*
Shipping Address:*

Other Contact Information:
Examples: Blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, etc. You are also welcome to include a phone number or whatever other contact information you wish and/or feel comfortable sharing.

Getting to Know You
These questions aren't required, but the more you share, the more the mama who gets your name will be able to get a feel for who YOU are outside of being a trauma mama. Finding a gift that will be enjoyed by the recipient is a big part of the fun.

Not only does this information help her be able to put together a special gift for you, but it will also help us in deciding who you ultimately get matched with.

One of the most fun aspects of participating in an event like this is finding others to add to your circles of support and friendship. If matches can be made among people with similar interests or family situations or whatever, they will be. Unless otherwise noted, these answers (along with your contact information) will be shared with the person you are matched with.

Briefly describe yourself. Share whatever you want about what makes you you.

  • Your personality
  • General age
  • Your profession / how do you spend your time
  • Any special talents

Share a bit about your family.

  • How many kids you have and their ages
  • Bio or adopted? If adopted, how old were they at adoption? Where were they adopted from?
  • What special needs do they have?
  • What type of activities do you enjoy participating in with your family?
  • Are you married, in a relationship, single?

If you had spare time for hobbies or interests, what would they be?

What are your top 3 favorite movies?
...the ones you could watch over and over again and only love them more each time you see them.

What are your favorite colors?
...both for decorating and for wearing?

What is your decorating style?
funky, contemporary, eclectic, shabby-chic, country, traditional, minimalist…

Do you collect anything in particular? 
(coins, figurines, butterflies, angels, snowmen, etc)

What are some of your favorite things?
These would be things you love and enjoy having in your life and in your space

What type of gifts would you most like? 
things to pamper yourself, accessories, crafts, soft cuddly items, inspirational items, food treats, things you collect…

What types of things do you dislike?
This would be things you smile sweetly at initially, but then they secretly end up in the trash bin later on.

Do you have any allergies? Gluten free? Caffeine free?  Include food, chemical, metal, etc

What are your favorite foods and/or beverages? Do you drink alcohol?

Do you have any dietary restrictions and/or preferences?

What are your 3 most favorite restaurants?

What stores do you like to shop at when looking for a little something special for yourself?

Is there anything else you'd like to share? ie: a particular religious affiliation, perhaps you celebrate a holiday other than Christmas, any unique life circumstances or situations, etc.

I am 100% committed to participating in this event. *(Yes/ No)
100% commitment means that I acknowledge and understand there is a very real mama with very real feelings on the other end of this swap. She's also a trauma mama who's been in or is still in the trenches just like I am. She's very likely put much of herself into preparing something special for another mama. I want her to receive something special this holiday season to remind her that she is loved, that the work she's doing is worth it, and that she's not alone. It would be very sad for her to be looking forward to receiving something special from a potential new friend, but not have it arrive. I will make sure that doesn't happen!

What if I need to back out? *(Yes/ No)
If circumstances arise and I'm unable to keep my participation commitment, I will notify one of the organizers as quickly as possible so another match can be found for my assigned mama.

Shipping Confirmation *(Yes/ No)
I promise to ship my package using a method that can be tracked, even if I have to pay a little bit extra in order to make that happen. I want to make sure my mama actually gets my package once I've sent it.

I can help with this event by...
If you have the time, sanity, and desire to help make sure this event continues to be a fun and fulfilling experience for everyone, please let us know.

I can help with event coordination and logistics if needed.
Should the need arise, I can help with the coordination efforts and logistics of this event. I am willing to help out by working with the other event coordinators, sending emails to other participants as needed, or doing whatever else is needed to make sure the logistics of this event are manageable.
•  Yes/No

I am willing and able to ship my package internationally if needed
•   Yes/No

I am willing and able to be an "Angel Mama" if needed.
Should the need arise, I can help out by putting together a second package for a second mama. Feel free to contact me if you need some help in this area.
•  Yes/No

If you have a question or want a copy of the form emailed to you, please feel free to leave a comment on this post (Comments are moderated. I will not publish any comments with personal information like emails).

There's a form in the comment section. 
To participate you must email this completed form to marythemommy at gmail dot com. 
Be sure to add this email to your safe senders list so you will receive updates.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Why Won't My Child Just Behave?!

Kids do well if they CAN. This has nothing to do with whether or not they want to
Our role is not to make him want to, he already does. Our role is to figure out what is getting in his way, and help him. Changing our focus to finding out what is challenging him, helps both the child and ourselves. - Dr. Ross Greene
I know that, for myself, understanding why my child is acting this way makes it feel a lot less like a personal attack. It's  much easier to feel empathetic, and I'm less likely to be personally triggered by it. (For help figuring out how to achieve this state, check out this post - Finding the Joy)

Identifying the Challenges 

We don't always know why children (especially children of trauma) act the way they do.  It’s possible that they just want to watch adults get all agitated, maybe they want adults to fight to distract them from the child (and thus avoid conflict), or they're trying to recreate the chaos that their brains are used to - often they are "pickled" in adrenaline (or alcohol) en utero.... 

Age-Appropriate Parenting

Trauma can cause significant delays in development (emotionally, socially, intellectually...).  Frequent moves and other traumatic life events can also cause delays or even get them stuck at the age the trauma occurred.  Emotionally "triggering" events can cause a child to regress to a much younger age.  Most kids with PTSD (and brain damage from RAD) have a tough time with processing, memory, object permanence, emotional regulation...  

Expecting a child to "act his/her age," can cause frustration and anger for both of you.

From age 2-6, children are in the "Preoperations" stage which means they create meaning through fantasy.  They are very visual and must touch or feel everything.  

Object Permanence
Kids with arrested development at the Preoperations stage (which is common for children of trauma), are not able to understand how we can infer things without seeing them. If you can't see it, Mom, it didn't happen. You can't know.  Let me say that again, if you can't see it, you couldn't know!   (More posts on Object Permanence and Object Permanence (cont).} 

  • Toddlers (~2 - 3 years)
    Toddlers don't play with other children, but instead do what we call parallel play.  
  • Pre-schoolers (~3 - 4 years)
    It's not until empathy develops at age 3 or 4 that they start to be aware of their playmates' needs and feelings.  
  • Early School Age (~5 - 6 years)
    Magical thinking/ Distorted Reality
    Around age 5 or 6, children go through the "magical thinking" stage.  They can want something so badly that they believe it, so it is true. I firmly believe that they could pass a lie detector on this. It becomes their reality and I don't believe they even remember that wasn't how it happened. (More info on brain development including why kids Lie and Steal)

Concrete Operational Stage
6-10 years
Concrete/ Black and White Thinking – Children under age 10 are concrete thinkers, and their brain is not yet wired to grasp abstract concepts at all.  I tend to try to teach using examples and analogies (especially when natural or logical consequences don’t work).  My kids could NOT get it.  If we tried to talk about how they handled or could have handled a previous issue then they instantly were triggered into “fight, flight or freeze mode” because they felt they were being punished for this past transgression.  If I tried using an example or analogy, like the “Boy Who Cried Wolf, ” they just couldn’t generalize it to the situation. 

Children with arrested development at the Concrete Operational Stage (which is common for children with trauma issues), may not be able to learn from peer or role modeling (watching others to see how they handle situations) or natural or logical consequences, because often they can't generalize one situation to another). 

Formal Operational Stage
12 years - young adult
Thinking becomes much more sophisticated and advanced. Kids can think about abstract and theoretical concepts and use logic to come up with creative solutions to problems. Skills such as logical thought, deductive reasoning, and systematic planning also emerge during this stage.

How We Handled Age-Appropriate Parenting:

I try to parent based on the child's emotional age 
Chapter 1: Therapeutic Parenting Based on Developmental/Emotional Age
Explaining Age-Appropriate Parenting To Your Child

Age-Appropriate Therapeutic Parenting for the Adult Child

Discipline Versus Behavior Problems

Trauma, especially Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can cause permanent brain damage and the brain has to be taught how to work around it 

(Think of someone learning English for the first time - if they start learning before age 3, they will probably have no accent.  Before age 10, maybe a slight accent, but they will have a lot of the nuances and colloquialisms.  As an adult?  You will always be able to hear that English was not their first language.)
Discipline problems (noncompliance, misbehavior) occur when the caregivers have not structured the child's environment for success or when parents are inconsistent (expectations or consequences), non-responsive, or inaccessible. When adults adjust their behaviors and attitudes, often children with discipline problems can be brought under control in as few as 3 to 7 days.
Behavior problems on the other hand lie within the child. These are persistent behaviors that do not disappear even with the best parenting (although good parenting can help to control the behaviors). These can include impulsivity, inattentiveness, and other behaviors like ADHD, FAD and immature behaviors associated with missing capacities in object relations.


Let me say that again.


Having behavior problems is like being born with poor eyesight. No amount of punishing or controlling is going to fix this problem. Glasses will help. However the parent will be responsible for taking the child for regular eye check-ups, teaching him how to care for his glasses, and restricting activities where glasses might break. The goal is that by the time the child is 18, he will be ready and able to take full responsibility for the care of his own eyes and glasses.

How We Handled Behavior Problems:

I try to remind myself that my kids are SCARED, and punishment for something that was out of their control (Chap. 2 Discipline vs. Behavior Problems), is not just mean, it is pointless. 

As children emotionally heal, you will most likely start to see some improvement in behavior problems. Therapeutic parentingTherapyMedications can help a child heal. In the meantime, we need to focus on empathy

I can hear you thinking, "My kid's behavior was horrible today! He doesn't deserve to go on a fun outing. He'll think he's won.
I get it, but he may not deserve it, but he needs it. We tried to balance this so it didn't feel like a reward and wasn't a "blank slate" we're going to forget it ever happened. Plus, if we stayed home, or one parent stayed home, then the family couldn't go anywhere or do anything together, because one of the kids was in trouble (always!). 
Our solution? All the children were allowed to go on "family activities" (or we found something else for that child to do with a trusted adult if he or she couldn't handle the activity, because it was overwhelming or triggering). If the whole family was doing something together, like going to the park, or the movies, or out to eat... then the child could go. We wanted there to be obvious rewards to being part of our family.

Not Feeling Safe

Children NEED to feel safe to 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.

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

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! 

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. For a good explanation of why kids with trauma issues don't feel safe see: The Frozen Lake Story (at the bottom of this post) by Nancy Thomas.

Children who don't feel safe in infancy have trouble regulating their moods and emotional responses as they grow older. By Kindergarten, many disorganized infants are either aggressive or spaced out and disengaged, and they go on to develop a range of psychiatric problems. They also show more physiological stress, as expressed in heart rate, heart rage variability, stress hormone responses, and lowered immune factors. Does this kind of biological dysregulation automatically reset to normal as a child matures or is moved to a safe environment? So far as we know, it does not.” ~ The Body Keeps the Score, Beseel A van der Kolk, M.D.
For a fantastic explanation of safety and why it is so important - plus what to do about it. I highly recommend the video Chaos to Healing - Therapeutic Parenting 101 which explains Daniel Hughes P.A.C.E concept in an easy to understand and practical way. One of the presenters on this video is therapeutic parent and coach, Christine Moers. If you haven't seen her YouTube videos or checked out her blog, I HIGHLY recommend her.

Kids of trauma are often easily triggered, extremely sensitive to emotions, unable to regulate their emotions... causing them to react as if they are in a warzone.  You can't learn, attach, and heal if you don't feel safe and you're living in a war zone! 

How We Handled Not Feeling Safe: 

Our kids need to feel safe and loved (Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?). That meant I couldn’t punish them by taking away all fun stuff (even though I wanted to!!!) A post on Consequences vs Privileges.

Our kids NEED Rules, Structure, Support, Routines and Boundaries to feel safe.

Additional Challenges

Attention Seeking? 

At first, my daughter's the nonsense questions and babbling about TV shows or the latest drama at school - things and people I know nothing and care nothing about, seemed like she was trying to keep all the focus on her and/or drive me crazy. I found myself starting to avoid her. Then I noticed a pattern. When she was feeling anxious and overwhelmed she started doing what my mom called "pressured speech." 

Great YouTube video by the awesome Christine Moers about why they do this - Nonsense Questions and Chatter)

When I realized this behavior was caused by anxiety, it made it easier to provide Calming Techniques and fight to make her world smaller and less overwhelming (by providing Structure and Caring Support). 

Empty Bucket
It makes me crazy that my kids can behave all day at school, and then come home and be  whiny, require my constant attention. demanding (especially to me), picking fights, picking on siblings, getting into arguments with everyone, refusing to do even the simplest chore or task... (For more information about why they act this way, check out the post - If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect, You'll Leave).

My Spoon Theory The original Spoon Theory is about a woman with Lupus explaining to a friend, that she gets a finite number of physical activities per day (represented by spoons) and that every task costs her one of her spoons. She often runs out of spoons before the end of the day. 

I believe that this happens with our children too. They work so hard behaving in front of other people, that when they get home, they have no emotional reserves (spoons) left. They trust us enough to let us see that they're not perfect (And yes, I often wish my kids didn't trust me this much! That's why I do a LOT of Self-Care.) 

Small Window of Tolerance/ Easily Overwhelmed
Overreacting to things you or I might consider minor. 

Window of tolerance is a term used to describe the zone of arousal in which a person is able to function most effectively. When people are within this zone, they are typically able to readily receive, process, and integrate information and otherwise respond to the demands of everyday life without much difficulty. This optimal window was first named as such by Dan Siegel.
During times of extreme stress, people often experience periods of either hyper- or hypo-arousal.
  • Hyper-arousal, otherwise known as the fight/flight response, is often characterized by hypervigilance, feelings of anxiety and/or panic, and racing thoughts.
  • Hypo-arousal, or a freeze response, may cause feelings of emotional numbness, emptiness, or paralysis.
People who have experienced a traumatic event may respond to stressors, even minor ones, with extreme hyper- or hypo-arousal. As a result of their experiences, they may come to believe the world is unsafe and may operate with a window of tolerance that has become more narrow or inflexible as a result. A narrowed window of tolerance may cause people to perceive danger more readily and react to real and imagined threats with either a fight/flight response or a freeze response.
A child who is Dysregulated and/or in fight/ flight/ freeze mode is “thinking” with the reptilian part of the brain (survival!).  In other words, they are not thinking at all.
Their behavior is a purely instinctual response to what the brain believes is a life or death situation.

How We Handled Dysregulation: 
Helping my dysregulated child feel safe and calm was the best way to help them return to their window of tolerance. (See posts - Dysregulation and Meltdowns; Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?Calming/ Relaxation Techniques, ). I found that Structure and Caring Support was the most helpful long-term in helping them widen their window of tolerance.  

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder 
Be prepared for your child to blame you for their past (usually the mom gets the brunt of this). My daughter recently admitted to seeing one of her past abuser's face everywhere - on walls, and particularly - over my husband's face. She hates "him," rages at him, tells him he is mean and evil, accuses him of yelling at her (even though Hubby isn't even raising his voice), and she dissociates.When in a meltdown, Kitty mentally shuts down - we call it freeze. She acts instinctively to protect herself. It's difficult not to hold her accountable when she rages during these times, but we've learned to wait until she's calm and then process what led up to the event so we can help her prevent re-occurrences. There are times when she doesn't remember the event at all.

Kids in a PTSD flashback are overwhelmed and in fight/ flight or freeze. It’s difficult to learn math and spelling when you’re in the middle of a war zone! 

How We Handled PTSD: 

Get a good therapist who understands and has experience working with adopted/foster kids with trauma. We love our EMDR therapist for our daughter, but still use a good attachment therapist too. Don't be afraid to "fire" the therapist if it's not a good personality match.

EMDR therapy is the most recommended therapy for people with PTSD. It is most often used by soldiers and victims of trauma (like rape or being in a natural disaster), and usually only requires 2-3 sessions.  Obviously people who have suffered from long-term trauma (Complex PTSD), such as child abuse, would most likely require more sessions.  

There are no medications specifically for treating PTSD, but with good therapy and meds that help with the symptoms, the child can recognize the effects of the trauma, learn to cope, and move on to dealing with the cause of the trauma.

Holidays, Birthdays, School, and Other Traumaversaries

At our house, the acting out and meltdowns, were always worse around Holidays, Traumaversaries, Starting or Ending school Birthdays... 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. (Helpful post - Handling Meltdowns and Dysregulation)


Puberty sucks. Those hormones rushing around adds a whole new layer of fun. The good news is that while ages 13 and 14 were horrible for my kids (biokids and adopted kids), things got better after that. More info in this post - The Teen Years

Co-Morbid Diagnoses

Children with trauma issues usually have more going on then just one issue - attachment disorders, physical and sexual abuse, PTSD, RAD bipolar disorder, ADHD, FAS/FAE... caseworkers will not or cannot tell you all of what caused these issues, and often symptoms overlap and appear to be other things. I don't think I've ever heard of a child with RAD that didn't also have PTSD. Here's a good chart for Overlapping Behavior Characteristics.

Some Things That Helped Us Handle Behavior Issues

Advocating for Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order

My Top 10ish Things I Couldn't Do This Without

STRUCTURE AND CARING SUPPORT Helping your child feel safe by providing the structure they need/ crave. Most of all, I gave my kids a LOT of structure and support (Structure and Caring Support). Our kids need so much more than other kids, especially when they are overwhelmed and Dysregulated.

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 little about (school/ daycare), but I could talk to the teachers and minimize as much stress as possible.

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 tried to find calm, quiet, but still fun, things to do (Trapped in The House: Activities for Kids) 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.

I worked with the school to try to find ways to reduce my child's stress there. (Anxiety Scale)

At home, I did things like strip their room (Decluttering), because even with me helping them clean, it was overwhelming. So I did it when they weren't there, although I let them know ahead of time.  I left nothing but a bed, a book/ quiet toy, and a stuffed animal, at one point I even had my daughter's dresser in my 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! (Explaining Age-Appropriate Parenting to Your Child)

Effective techniques for helping a child calm down or stay calm. 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.

As the child heals and attaches to you, he/ she feels safer. Being a Therapeutic Parent SUCKS, but it does get better.


Setting up a plan with child's school, caregivers, treatment team... to determine ahead of time, what to do if the child starts feeling unsafe and acting out or acting in.


concrete method of determining how child is feeling.


Thinking outside the box (letting the kids help)


concrete plan used to explain to treatment team why child is being given privileges and responsibilities more appropriate to a younger child (hint: because they are dysregulated and don't feel safe!)

THE FAIR CLUB - At first, we used the FAIR Club for discipline, but then we discovered that it could be used as a starting point for the structured lifestyle our kids with trauma issues needed.


Secure attachment requires the development of object permanence and constancy.

There are three basic steps to this process:

  1. Building SafetyYou cannot attach or love if you do not feel safe. Safety for kids of trauma comes from routines and security (which can be things like physical holds and alarms on the door, but also regular meal and bedtime routines). Parents MUST proved for basic needs (food, shelter, warmth) routinely and predictably, BUT feeling safe takes time. It took many years for them to feel unsafe and not trust, You can't expect them to trust just because you know they're safe now. It takes time to unlearn those defense mechanisms that once were necessary for survival.  {Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?}
  2. Falling in Love. Dopamine is the brain chemical that makes everything seem more fun and interesting. We cannot fall in love without positive fun and interaction.

    Think about this. You would not walk up to someone and say, "Hey, what's your name? Hi Larry, you're going to be my new husband. You will live in my house, take my last name, and do all the chores on this honey-do list. You are not allowed to talk about your other life. Your wife was mean and she does not love you like I do. You love me and I love you.... say it! Say you love me!" ---------------

    ---------- Of course you wouldn't do this! You get to know each other. You date. You have fun, conversations, and play together.
  3. Claiming and Belonging. This cannot come first! You need the other steps to come first. You also must honor the child's choice to be a member of the family or not and shift roles accordingly. 
Until a child is a member of the family they should receive "The Basic Package"Accommodation.
  • Provide a "structure and rehabilitation" environment (vs. "love and affection" environment). {Structure and Caring Support}
  • Meet the child's basic needs for food, shelter and warmth.
  • Provide affection in response to the child's demonstration of affection, but only if it's appropriate.
  • Draw attention to the "giving and taking" that is part of every interaction. {Reciprocity}
  • Give and allow consequences that will evoke caring behaviors. {Therapeutic Parentingand The FAIR Club}
Katharine suggests no chores or family expectations until your child is part of your family. Even the names "Mom" and "Dad" are nicknames that grow out of love and can wait until later to be used.

"The Luxury Package" Accommodation
Basic package plus "family perks"

  • All things that children don't need but come out of the goodness of a parent's heart (ex. extra-curricular activities, chauffeur services, vacations, parties, dinners out).
  • To qualify for this package a child has to mutually satisfy parental needs in some ways, most of the time.
Earning the Luxury Package
A child can "upgrade" by performing certain family-friendly behaviors.
How do you know whether or not your child has given enough to deserve an upgrade and is ready to be part of the family?

Close your eyes and picture a child. How do you feel when you look at this child? Do you feel happy and loving? Do you feel warmth?
Any time you wonder if your child is ready, close your eyes and picture your child. Does the thought of your child make you feel warm and happy. A joy to your heart as opposed to sadness, emptiness, rejection, or fear. {Positive Behaviors}

Until the child makes you feel this way he or she is not ready to be part of the family. It cannot be earned or forced. It is a feeling.

relationship is defined as a MUTUAL satisfaction of needs.
  • There is no mutual well-being if a parent is providing luxury accommodations and the child is not earning the perks.
  • The child will be momentarily happy (as long as the perks keep coming), but the parent will not.
  • The ramifications to your child's development and the parent-child relationship go much deeper than happiness.
So here's what happens:
  1. The parent receives little or no positive response from the child and often the child is neglectful of and abusive to the parent. Without either one's needs being met, and unable to "exit" the relationship, there can be little to no feelings of attachment (leaving resentment and apathy).
  2. The parent's natural frustrations, disappointments, feelings of being used up, resentments, and demands from the child... are viewed as weaknesses, even emotional disabilities (unresolved issues) that require therapeutic interventions. Therapists blame the parents for their bad feelings about the child or might switch to the more willing "client" ignoring the elephant in the room.... which causes a lack of faith in therapy for the parent.
  3. Everyone presumes that if the child's needs are met he or she will naturally begin to reciprocate. Loving the child and satisfying his or her needs is not enough. The child MUST be taught how to be in a relationship. Role modeling does not work with our children.

 If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect You'll Leave 
Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?

CHRISTINE MOERS, therapeutic parent and coach. See her YouTube videos and check out her blogCHAOS TO HEALING - Therapeutic Parenting 101 video which explains Daniel Hughes P.A.C.E concept in an easy to understand and practical way.

 "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."