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, January 17, 2016

My Child Is Raging

Recently, a trauma mama asked, what do I do when the rages of an older (10+) child become violent? What about keeping the other children in the home safe?

You said, "he won't make the choice to stop." Just to let you know, that's probably not a choice he is capable of making at this time. Once our kids slip in to "Fight/ Flight/ Freeze" mode, the thinking part of their brain literally stops working. They react instinctually.

Fight/ Flight/ Freeze - A child who is dysregulated and/or in fight/ flight/ freeze mode is “thinking” with the reptilian part of the brain (survival!). Their behavior is a purely instinctual response to what the brain believes is a life or death situation. The rational part of the brain just isn't online. Their eyes frequently glaze over, they are out of control, and it is like the child isn't "home." Afterwards they do not remember what happened just before or during an episode. Holding a child responsible for what happens when in a true fight/ flight/ freeze is pointless- it’s better to just move on after it's over and try to figure out what triggered it so you can avoid it in the future.

A “meltdown” is different from being in Fight mode which usually looks more like a rage. During a meltdown, the child has some control over how far things go. It is still possible to "reach" the child and de-escalate the situation and calm him/her down.

Our bodies' nervous system is very basic - it doesn't know the difference between say, excitement and anxiety. Medications, calming techniques, and maturity can help the body stay calm and keep from sending "AiieeeAiieeeAiiee" signals to the brain stem. Bear tends to go into "Fight mode" when he's upset, worried, anxious, afraid... Whereas Kitty tends toward "flight" or "freeze" and she dissociates (distracts herself).


Documentation helps protect us, get services for our children, and refreshes my memories of past issues so I can see progress and make sure chronic issues get addressed correctly. It can help you get a higher level of care (like RTC) or if you need proof that you're not a child abuser (most people with kids like ours will get accused of child abuse at least once), or even just so you don't have to repeat a treatment technique that didn't work.

When dealing with police, CPS, getting your child services and treatment, trying to get people to understand and believe what you're going through... it's amazing what they'll believe when it's in writing, versus hearing it from the parent - even if you're super calm and logical about it. For this reason, I always carry a one page summary of my child's current meds and diagnoses.

One of the main things to remember about documentation is to do it as SOON as possible after an incident. Adrenaline and time really alter memories quickly.

Our children are especially prone to false reporting for many reasons - one is an actual distortion of the events in their mind (they remember the feelings and often associate it with things that happen in the past) - their perception is off when they describes events that led up to a meltdown. My daughter will say "Daddy was yelling at me," when all he said was, "Who left the butter out?" in a totally normal voice. They don't remember anything when they're in "fight/ flight/ freeze mode."

To protect all involved, I recommend writing an "Incident Report" and keeping it in a log, sending it in an e-mail to the child's therapist or whomever might keep track of the info, and/ or on the child's timeline:

Antecedent - what was going on before the behavior or possible/probable triggers.

De-escalation - what we said/ did to try to prevent the event (if we had time) - calming techniques

Behavior/ Event - with as much detail as possible
Intervention - what we we did during and immediately after the event - how we tried to calm the child, confrontation, redirection, distraction, sitting with them, time-ins, holding, rocking..,

Follow-up - how you processed what happened with the child. Injuries, damage, repairs needed/ made (emotionally and physically)... What consequences were given (if any). Agencies contacted. Reports filed.

Contact Log:
Especially when dealing with bureaucracy (like insurance or school!), try to keep as much communication as possible in writing (e-mails, notes). If the person insists on phone calls and face to face meetings, take detailed notes and IMMEDIATELY type up a transcript afterwards with as MUCH detail as possible. Include names, titles, agencies and affiliations, DATES and TIMES! When you need documentation you can use these transcripts and they are MUCH more admissible then saying, "Well Ms. So and So said he was doing this a few weeks ago." Once again, people believe what they see in writing.


Our kids were big when they came to us, and our biokids were younger and smaller, so we had the same concerns about protecting the other children (and ourselves).

We put in place a lot of regrettably necessary rules, like:

  • No physical touches between siblings - this included hugs, tickling, wrestling...
  • If someone says, 'Stop.' then you HAVE to stop.
  • You cannot be in the same room with your siblings without an adult present. This might mean that if I had to go to the bathroom, then they needed to be in their room. If I was cooking in the kitchen then they needed to hang out with me (I tried to make Shadowing seem like a reward).

Most important thing we did was try to de-escalate before things got to the point they were out of control - Calming/ De-escalation Techniques

When a child started getting dysregulated and threatening themselves or others, it was usually difficult if not impossible to get them to leave the room (plus we preferred "time in" versus "time out" techniques, so we usually used the 4 Foot Rule (also known as line of sight supervision).

My daughter knows this is what we do, so I think she initiates it deliberately sometimes so she feels safer. The "4 Foot Rule" means an adult must be within (approximately) 4 feet of the child at all times (usually just means line of sight). If I know she can't hurt herself (like if she's holding the door shut then she can't hurt herself without moving away from the door), I might sit outside the door.

A more ongoing (rather than crisis mode like the 4 Foot Rule) line of sight technique that we use is Shadowing – Have the child stay close to you and follow what you do or you stay close to them.  It is not a punishment- it’s an opportunity to help the child regulate safely.  To get compliance, it can even be presented to the child as a reward.  “You can be my special helper and help me pass out snack.”

We've been known to send the other kids to another room (scary as all get out to them, but we've had them lock themselves in our bedroom to watch a movie on our TV). If one of your kids hurts another, YOU are legally liable for failure to protect. It's important to keep the other kids safe.


For a 10yo who still cannot get himself under control, I would:

  1. Make a safety plan with the child's therapist. Look at worst case scenarios, make a decision about how to handle each of them. Reassure your child this is to keep the child and all the family safe. Mine were convinced that this was a precursor to being kicked out again (it always had been). Words were not totally convincing, but that combined with the fact that we ALWAYS took them back helped a lot. 
  2. Have a serious talk with your psychiatrist about a PRN medication for calming the child - if there's a possibility the child will take it. Mine were pretty med compliant. Hopefully, you've been working with your psychiatrist on medications already. Definitely keep the pdoc posted on all changes and behaviors.
    I found that it's a fine line with meds. Sometimes whatever triggered my child just overwhelms the meds. That's why I like to have a PRN, something they can take when the meds aren't enough, but don't need all the time. I have to admit, we never really found a good PRN. My kids needed massive doses of everything to even function on a daily basis.
    Finding the right combination of meds is what finally stopped the rounds of hospitalizations for us. Once their brain was calmer and under control, their window of tolerance was bigger and they could handle things without becoming violent as a first option.
  3. Have a crisis counselor on speed dial (our local MHMR equivalent had one - 24/7 availability and they would come to us to do an assessment).
  4. Call the cops - In my county I'd ask for a Mental Health Deputy, but everywhere calls them different things. I have to have a regular officer come out first and then they'll call the MHD. I'd contact your local non-emergency police department, and give them a "heads up." Explain your situation and ask for their advice on what you should request next time. It will probably make that emergency call go smoother, because they know a little about you and your situation - they're less likely to get the "scared straight," "just smack the crap out of him," you're a "bad parent," "boys will be boys"... kind of stuff that cops who don't "get it" might do/ say. 
  5. Psych hospitalization - it's tough, but if your child is suicidal, homicidal, or psychotic - take your child to the nearest ER (if you can safely transport), call the psych hospitals on your own asking about a bed, crisis counselor can make recommendations and even call ahead, call the cops and ask for transport...
  6. Residential Treatment - this is why you document, document, document. If your child cannot be in your home safely then they may need to go to residential treatment. This could be for a few weeks to find the right med combination. It could be a few months to try to learn some coping strategies (like DBT). It could be for years for a child who is not actually capable of living in a family environment safely. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

"Adult" Boarder vs Family Girl - Maid Service

Maid Service
For years, I've been arguing with Kitty trying to get her to do chores.

Why do we want children to do chores? To learn responsibility, a feeling of accomplishment, how to take care of themselves... 

Recently, I acknowledged that Kitty is pretty much maxed out on how much changing/ learning she'll be doing. Still, I've been frustrated that she's demanding adult privileges, but barely managing to do some basic 5-6yo level chores. When Kitty chose to no longer be a "family girl," I decided she no longer needed to do the few basic family chores I'd been trying to force her to do for years (feed the dogs, cat litter and fill the dishwasher).

Almost 2 weeks ago, I decided that Kitty's room was so overwhelming that there was no way for Kitty to get it back to an acceptable level of cleanliness, so after giving her some time to do it herself (set a deadline of January 1 and gave her several reminders, suggestions, and encouragement) I did it for her.

I threw away several garbage bags of trash and garbage and anything ruined beyond repair (4-5 trash bags). I washed about 10-12 loads of laundry. I removed all the stuff that wasn't hers (ex. literally 5 feet tall stack of sheets and comforters and another foot and a half of towels). I put everything else in trash bags in the closet.

A couple of days later, we spent 2 hours going through the stuff in those bags (mostly clothes, toys, books, makeup and jewelry). We didn't agree on everything (she prefers clothing that makes her look like a homeless hooker and I don't), but I generally let her keep things we disagreed on or we found a compromise.

I did use an old trick I had when the kids were little - I told them they could keep x number of items of whatever we were talking about. For example, I told her she could keep 10 stuffed animals (totally arbitrary numbers, but for some reason the kids accept them). It is totally her choice what to keep and what goes in the giveaway pile for "kids who will love them." (Post with tips about de-cluttering)

She got it down fairly easily to about 15. I got rid of 2 more because when she waffled on them I took that as a sign she wasn't that attached (which she accepted so I assume I was correct). Then she started begging to be allowed to keep the extra 3. We talked about each of the 13 and why she wanted to keep it. One of them was because it was fairly new and she said she would feel guilty if she got rid of it, but she wasn't actually attached to it. It went in the give away bag.

The last 2 stuffed animals, I put in her "Memory box" (a medium size box we kept in her closet, that she understands once it's full, it's full. She'll have to take something out to put something else in).


To keep Kitty's room at a level she can handle, after cleaning her room to within an inch of its life less than 2 weeks ago and seeing it heading right back to how it looked before, I decided to present a new idea:

Maid service

When Bob lived in a dorm, they were fined if their room wasn't spotless on inspection day (like $.50 if something spilled over in the microwave and they hadn't wiped it out). I decided to accommodate Kitty's issues and actually provide the cleaning services rather than just fines, since otherwise she would probably just let the fines accumulate and leave the room like it is.

Kitty gets $11.50 a week in "allowance." There will be a maximum weekly fine of up to $10. Hopefully that will get her attention.

How It Works

  • Cleaning must be completed by Friday evaluation at 5 pm or account is charged. 
  • If client is present at the time of evaluation then client can complete any tasks free of charge.
  • A maximum charge of $10/ week will be made for maid services. 

{I made the list below based on current issues: like the trashcan that has something brown and disgusting coating the inside that she's been "going to" clean for almost 2 weeks and the special food (she's gone Vegan) that she's made and left on the counters with the sink piled high with mixing bowls, pots and pans.}

$0.50 Clean trashcan
$0.50 Put furniture where it belongs
$.10/each All trash in trash can. Emptied if full or has garbage in it.
$0.25 All clothes off floor
$0.25 Bedding on bed (Doesn't have to be made, but not hanging off the bed)
$0.10 Drawers closed
$0.25 Toys put away
$0.25 Makeup put away
$.05/each All glasses/ dishes/ utensils in sink

$0.25 Empty trash can
$.05/each Only one razor out
$0.25 Floor swept
$0.25 Mirror clean
$0.50 Wipe out sink and counter
$0.50 Wipe out tub and shower area
$.25/each Only using 1/3 to 1/2 of the shelves and drawers {shares the bathroom with others, doesn't make sense to have ALL the shelves covered in her things}

$0.25         Medicine bottles put away
$.50 each         Counters and Stove cleaned off and wiped down
$.25/dish         Food stored properly (Baked goods in fridge)
$.10/each         Unwanted food disposed of
$.25/items Items used for making and cooking food washed and put away

$.05/each        Personal items (ex. eye glasses) out of common areas
$.05/each        Dishes and trash out of common areas

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Letter Parties

 "Letter Parties"

We used to have these parties when the kids were younger. It started as a way to help the kids learn their letters, but became a fun way to spend some time together - planning, shopping, preparing, and partying! It also helped when we got stuck in a rut with the kids complaining about everything I cooked.

These letter parties make planning meals a lot easier. The kids get involved and there is more thought to it than - "start a big pot of water boiling and I'll decide what to throw in it when I get home." We've had very little leftovers too.

So here's how it works:

We would choose a letter, and that would be the theme of our party. Getting to choose the letter was a reward, not necessarily one you won - sometimes it was something you got just because mom loved you.

The kids especially loved the letter P. We'd have a Pajama Party, an indoor Picnic of Pizza, and watch a movie starting with P - usually the Pirate Movie. And of course Pie for dessert!

M was also popular. Movie, Meatballs, chocolate Mousse cake... or Mexican, Milk chocolate chip cookies (ok, some of these are a stretch, but that's not the point!)... This dinner is brought to you by the Letter M.

E was fun but hard. We had an Elegant Event (everyone dressed up in nice clothes). We had eggs (deviled were eggcellent), and... never could figure out anything else to eat (eggplant was not popular!). The kids loved Eclairs though!

B - How about a  Barbecue Birthday Bash? It doesn't have to be someone's birthday - it's just a good excuse to eat a birthday cake!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

"Adult" Boarder vs Family Girl

Trying something new. Had relatives coming in so I asked all the kids to help me get the house ready. Bob,  19yo daughter home from college, helped a lot. Ponito, 16yo son, helped some. Kitty did about 3 things (like "clean the tiny half bath" - which to her apparently meant shaking out the rug and sweeping a little in the middle of the room). I had to finish cleaning it.

When the relatives got here, she took off. She was gone for 3 days. I didn't even know she was back home, until I was telling the other kids we were going to eat lunch out with my sister and her kids. She started to get up to get ready to go, but I told her she wasn't invited. I've decided she doesn't get to pick and choose which family members she hangs out with or what activities she participates in (like eating out).

There will always be food for her of course, but she will no longer be eating out with us. She wants to be treated like an adult boarder instead of a family member, then that's what she'll get. A long time ago, I went to a seminar and the presenter (Katharine Leslie) talked about the Basic Package vs Luxury Package.   I decided this is what I'm going to do. {This is not the first time I made this decision, but the last time, we and the therapist decided it wasn't in Kitty's best interest yet.}

No more chasing her down to do family chores and no more family activities. She doesn't want to be a family girl. So be it.

She told me today that she wants to go Vegan (I predict that will last about 18 hours once she tastes the food and feels any deprivation - food is a trauma trigger for her). I told her she can use part of her food allowance to pay for any specialty items - up to $25/month. I see no reason to spend a fortune on food no one else will eat.

I had given her until the 1st of the year to clean her disgusting room or I'd clean it for her (strip it down to something she can handle). Then I'd start weekly inspections (like they do at Bob's dorm) with a fine if it's dirty. I will clean it tomorrow with or without her help, preferably without.

I was dreading this cleaning the room thing, but I woke up with a great idea. Trading Spaces. 48 hours to convert her room to a more "grown up" version. For Christmas, I got her a "big girl bed" (queen size) with more sophisticated bedding. I'll paint the walls the same neutral color as the rest of the house (we're planning on selling the house in the next couple of years), but we can have fun with the rest.

Follow-up: As expected, Kitty was unable to do the clean up on her own and kept refusing my help. One day as she was walking out to hang out with a friend, I informed her I was working on her room today as it was convenient for me then. It went from this to THIS in 4 hours. I put all non-trash items in her closet and told her we would go through them together - knowing this would be hard, I let her put me off for 2 days. 

I posted the AFTER pictures on FaceBook and tagged Kitty. All her friends saw what a good job I did and told her how awesome it looked and how sweet it was of me to do that for her. That way she couldn't get away with blaming me and complaining to all her friends about how mean I was.

Here's what happened next.


 "The Basic Package" Accommodation.

Provide a "structure and rehabilitation" environment (vs. "love and affection" environment).
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.
Give and allow consequences that will evoke caring behaviors.
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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Running Again

And she's running again,

I'm not sure which comes first, Kitty getting frustrated and unhappy so decides to run to biofamily, or thinking about running to biofamily stresses her out so much she gets more easily frustrated and unhappy. (Why Do Adopted Kids Go Back to Birth Families?)  Probably an escalating combination of both.

Kitty moved in with biofamily immediately after high school graduation, then discovered that she just couldn't handle it, and came home. Now, almost 2 years later, we're going through the same thing again. Kitty is impulsively (less than 2 weeks notice) wanting to move back in with birth family again. They've been applying a lot of pressure for years, and right now Kitty is dealing with a lot of friend and family drama.

It is so hard watching my kids self-destruct and wondering where to draw the line. I know I should let Kitty go again, but I sooooo don't want to be the one to pick up the (probably pregnant) pieces.

Finally the therapist is seeing why I have started giving "Ultimatums." This time I described the process (and Kitty confirmed). It doesn't start with ultimatums - it ends with them, because nothing less works (and even the ultimatums only work on occasion)

  1. Kitty informed me that biomom would be coming to pick her up in a week and a half. She comments that she'd actually planned on waiting until after Christmas to tell us (which would be less than a week's notice).
  2. We have a calm discussion (Kitty confirmed this to the therapist) about the issues with moving across country without time to make needed doctor appointments, plans for meds, psychiatrists... We talk about the way Medicaid works (cannot get more than 1 month medication at a time and she takes 6 psychotropic meds - which run out at random times throughout the month). We talk about the fact that she has no way back since she refuses to get on any type of public transportation (bus, plane, train) - biomom has been known to be less than reliable and does not want Kitty to leave again (she's been known to hold Kitty's things hostage to get her to stay). We talk about Kitty's current financial obligations and how much money biograndma would need to cover the cost of Kitty's food and rent. I let Kitty know that with someone with her chronic, major medical issues traveling across country with less than a week notice... was irresponsible, irrational and not an adult decision and that I do NOT support it.
  3. The next day, Kitty restates her decision to leave. 
  4. We have another calm, discussion. Kitty doesn't like what she's hearing, but again participates and stays "present." We discuss options to make this work. I make it very clear that while this is possible, it is NOT possible with 1 week notice - especially with most of that during a national holiday.
  5. The next day, Kitty restates her decision to leave that weekend.
  6. I tell Kitty I think this is an irresponsible decision and I cannot support it, because it is not in her best interest. I then tell her that despite this belief, I will help her, IF she gets on birth control (IUD) before she leaves. Kitty refuses, because she doesn't like the thought of putting something in her body (but piercings and penises apparently don't count!).
  7. The next day, Kitty restates her decision to leave that weekend.

This time the therapist stopped saying I needed to change and let Kitty know that my "ultimatum" is not unreasonable. That Kitty is not making a rational, adult decision and is not accepting any input or being part of a discussion. Without using those exact words, the therapist told Kitty she is WRONG.

Finally, validation for me! Not that that's the point, but it makes it easier for me to quit feeling so frustrated and angry, because someone is validating Kitty's belief that I'm "mean" and therefore EVERYthing I say can be discounted. Maybe that's petty, but it is hard enough living with someone with Borderline Personality Disorder and I don't need it to be any harder.

Plan/ requirements for Kitty moving across the country:
  • Make an Exploratory Visit (at least 2 weeks but less than 4).
  • Guaranteed way there AND back – $ for a bus/ plane ticket is fine – doesn’t have to be the actual purchased ticket. You do have to be willing to get on the bus/ plane/ train (has stated she is not).  Counting on someone giving you a ride is not sufficient.
  • Verify where you will get your services (psychiatrist, therapist, medical, pharmacy transportation). All will need to accept Texas Medicaid until you get your insurance transferred (which may not be for 6 months to a year – depending on how hard it is to transfer).
  • Have a psychiatrist appointment and annual physical before you go.
  • Find out how much money you are expected to pay.  Count on your SSI money to not be transferred for approximately 6 months (give or take) after you move there. Will $100/ month (not including your $11.50 weekly allowance) be enough?
  • Get on birth control. IUD is really the only option - the pill requires taking it consistently AND it has only 80% effectiveness due to your meds. The shot has similar effectiveness and the hormones can alter your mood dramatically. -- due to issues with impulsive, risky choices - especially when not taking meds regularly and making poor choices about safety and environment.
  • Set up a plan for getting your medication. You can take up to one month's worth with you (the limit with Medicaid) for the exploratory visit, but will need another method after that. To get on a schedule that allows you to pick up a full month of meds on one day will take at least 6 months.
I still believe this is a totally rational plan, but we're not dealing with rational.

The day after therapy, a cold front hits (gets down to the high 50s). Kitty remembers how much she hates to be cold.

Kitty decides not to move/ visit - until the Summer.

I'm sure some of her decision is "cold feet" (an excuse not to make the move), but I'm beyond frustrated.

Now we're back to needing to discuss what it looks like to live in our house, but despite being asked to spend most of her time at home while family is visiting... Kitty has spent the majority of her days (and nights) at friends' houses. 

I believe she will be receiving another ultimatum soon.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Therapeutically Parenting the Adult Child

So how do you live with an adult child with Borderline Personality Disorder

I've been trying to continue to age-appropriately (Kitty's probably about 11yo) therapeutically parent Kitty, with allowances for her legally an adult status, and it has NOT been easy.

For the last few weeks, I've been making Kitty do family therapy every session instead of alternating with individual therapy, because we're both extremely "dissatisfied" with family life right now. Kitty's therapist has been OK with this, but is frustrated, because she believes that unless both Kitty and I want to change, nothing is going to change and we're going to keep talking in circles.

Our biggest issue:
Kitty feels I'm being too controlling and I should let her do what she wants to (hang out with friends). She doesn't feel she should have to do household chores**, because she's "rarely home to make the mess." She's rarely home, because when I do see her I end up spending our very limited (her choice) time together telling her to do her few household chores (and asking if she's remembered to take her meds). It's not what I want our relationship to look like, but maybe she can't handle more. When we are having fun as a family (something I have to work hard at to make happen), Kitty usually just leaves, but if we catch her leaving and ask her why, she claims she's tired or doesn't feel well.

We both trigger each other. Kitty runs away (usually hides in her room or spends as much time as she can with friends). I get frustrated, because I know that nothing I say makes a dent, so I find myself making passive aggressive comments and simmering most of the time - which I hate, since that's not my personality.

The therapist has been saying we both need to compromise and be willing to change. She's said I need to be "more therapeutic" and back off... a lot. She wants me to go back and try all the therapeutic things I've done in the past and that I see no point in doing any more, because they haven't worked. At one point, the therapist said I needed to "find someone to talk to about my anger" so I can change (this made me fume). She told Kitty that Kitty needed to change too, but Kitty has already said that's not going to happen, and was so triggered and shut down that she admits she never even heard the therapist's comments.

The therapist has pretty much said that we're both refusing to change so there's nothing she can do to help. Right before Christmas, I walked in to therapy more mad and frustrated than other times - my nephew and his fiancee will be visiting for a week as of December 26th. I've been really focused on renovating the house as we get closer to our planned selling date (we're downsizing) so the house is a mess. I needed a little help from the kids. Bob and Ponito were not excited about helping, but completed the to-do lists I wrote. Kitty doesn't want to help so she's only home when we're going out to eat.

The therapist said we need to communicate - sit down and talk together. She said Kitty and I need to get together and talk about what chores I want done and deadlines.

I'm so tired of explaining that I don't think Kitty is capable of handling more.
I really want a way of holding her accountable and giving her consequences, but I'll settle for her to quit acting like she's entitled to all the adult privileges and being told I'm a a horrible person for treating her like the child she is.

After MUCH discussion with a LOT of people. I think what I've decided is that I'm going to stop feeling guilty about my unwillingness to change. I don't care how old she is, I'm the parent and this is MY house. She agreed to follow the completely reasonable  rules, but she's not.

I think I've been sending her the wrong message. That she has the right to tell me I should change. I'm done.

Now I have to figure out what that looks like. Probably something like the Basic vs Luxury plan. I definitely plan to reread Stop Walking on Eggshells.

Spaghetti and meatball from 3 days ago

Not keeping her room clean - 
I recently went in to Kitty's room and discovered a container of 3 day old spaghetti and meatball on the floor (food is not allowed in bedrooms); 20-30 glasses many 1/2 filled with liquids (1/2 of these were in a plastic sack with some silverware in her trash can!); my shoes she'd borrowed and not returned; dirty laundry and trash so thick you couldn't see the floor... The room smells so badly that the hallway reeks even if her bedroom door is closed.

Possible Consequences - 
  • In the past, I would strip her room to be less overwhelming and within her abilities to handle.
  • Bob's dorm does a weekly room inspection, and fines up to $10/week for violations (ex. $.50 if the inside of the microwave isn't clean). 
We have let Kitty know that her room and the bathroom she uses MUST be clean and organized. I gave her a deadline of having it to this standard by January 1st - and when she asked if I would help, I said yes. If it's not clean by then, the I will strip and clean her room. There would be weekly inspections with fines.

I hate this, but this is a health hazard, and we cannot sell the house with her room like this.


**Kitty and Chores:

Over the years, I have lowered my expectations of what Kitty is capable of achieving. Due to her ADHD, brain injuries, attachment issues, IQ... Kitty does better when she has achievable goals that are not overwhelming. It also helps me better able to parent her if I'm not comparing her to other kids her physical age. Kitty knows (and enjoys) this, but claims to resent it when she wants to feel justified in being angry at me. She says my lack of belief in her abilities makes her want to not do any thing and pull away. She has no answer for the therapist who questions why she isn't trying to "prove me wrong."

Kitty's Current Household Chores

  1. Feed the dog in the morning and at night - with reminders and assuming she's home to do so.
  2. Clean the cat's litter box every other day - happens once a week or two - if I put my foot down.
  3. Keep the shared bathroom clean - she's now the only one that uses it because the other kids feel it's too disgusting (even Ponito who only showers on a weekly basis).
  4. Load the dishwasher - she refuses to empty it.
  5. Keep her room clean - she doesn't even attempt this.

Kitty wants me to praise her for the chores she does do. I'm resentful that I had to nag, push, and tolerate a half-assed job. A lot of times, I'll walk past a job that I asked her to do days or even weeks before, see something blatant (like an overflowing trash can) and assume she hasn't done the job. I'll then tell her (again!) that she needs to do the job. She gets angry because I criticized her so she shuts down and pulls away.

Words of affirmation is both of our love language. A few months ago, Kitty randomly decided to give me praise daily, by telling me how pretty I am. 2 to 3 times a day. That sounds lovely, right? But I have asked her to stop (repeatedly), because the whole point of it being my love language means that it's a way of telling me you love me. She admits that right now she doesn't like me and doesn't want to be anywhere near me, so why would I want her superficial compliments?

Follow-up Post

"Adult" Boarder vs Family Girl

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

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. For a good explanation of this see: The Frozen Lake Story (at the bottom of this post) by Nancy Thomas. 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 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.

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

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!

Hypervigilance (obsessively monitoring her environment) is super common among kids with PTSD.  It relaxes when they start to feel safe, but probably doesn’t ever really go away.

Who's in Charge Here?
Our kids need to know we're in charge. If the adults aren't in charge then they can't keep the child safe . When we back down - let our kids argue, intimidate and manipulate us into changing our minds, we are sending a mixed message to our child. That message is that we cannot keep our child safe.

I said "safe" a lot. That's because I believe it's one of the most important motivators kids with trauma issues have. They do not trust and they do not feel safe. An insecure, scared child behaves in increasingly bizarre and scary ways to get control of their world. When they have the control, instead of the adults, then they get more afraid and things cycle even farther out of control.

It took me a long time to believe it, but my children actually craved caring structure. Their favorite teacher at school was a behavior staff person who always called them on their behavior - if they were acting like a turd, she said so, bluntly, BUT, unlike the teachers who let them do whatever they wanted, or were super strict, but didn't actually care about my kids, my kids knew that this teacher legitimately cared about them.


The time to talk about rules and consequences is NOT in the moment. In the middle of a meltdown, our kids are most likely in Fight, Flight or Freeze mode and feel like this is a life or death situation. The thinking part of their brain is not online.

The premise of the Beyond Consequences books is that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear.  For example, when a traumatized child shows anger it is because he or she is scared.

It helps me to remember that during a meltdown, my child feels like a cornered or injured animal and is lashing out to protect himself. He is a scared little boy. This helps me be empathetic, which makes it easier for me to be therapeutic.


Rules are like fences. Kids need them to feel safe. If the child feels that they are in control instead of us then their world is not safe. 

Children NEED rules, routines, and boundaries – these are like fences, they keep children safe.  Think of children as researchers.  Some children are very aggressive researchers; they will continuously test the rules over time to see if they are still firm and clear. Rules make children feel safe.  Only when a child feels safe can they trust enough to feel loved.

Some "rules" on Rules:
  •  Rarely say “No” – Provide lots of structure from the beginning.  There is nothing wrong with saying, “No," but it's better to set up the child’s environment so that he/she doesn't hear a lot of "No"s.  There just shouldn't be an option of doing things that need a “no.”  Think of it like childproofing.
  • "4 Foot Rule" and "Shadowing" used when the child is dysregulated, threatening harm to him/herself or others, and being intimidating and/or aggressive… or just seems to need the additional emotional support. The child must be within (approximately) 4 feet of a caregiver at all times (usually just means line of sight).
  •  Rules should be simple and few.  Make sure rules and consequences are very clear and consistent.  Go over rules with the children often!  It only takes 2 minutes to tell the children (or have them tell you!) the rules, and the consequences if they are not followed.
  • Positive and Concise!  Try to keep the rule to no more words than the age of the child (3 words for a 3 yr old, 4 words for a 4yr old...) and phrased positively.  Instead of saying "No running!"  For a 3 yr old you would say, "Use Walking Feet!"  Instead of, "Shut UP!  Why are you always screaming?!  You're making Mommy crazy!  Why can't you just play quietly for 5 minutes?!...."  Keep it short and simple, and quietly state "Inside Voices."  Instead of "Quit standing on the furniture!"  Try, "Chairs are for bottoms (not feet)."
  • Don't say “DON’T” – When you tell a child “Don’t” you just increased his chances of doing what you’ve just asked them not to do tenfold.  Instead of telling a child what not to do, we need to tell them what to do.  Create a positive picture.  The more enthusiastic and happy you are the more likely they are to listen!  Really!
  •  Clear, consistent communication – When delivering consequences, make sure your message is clear and direct.  Be firm, consistent, and FOLLOW THROUGH!  Stay calm and pleasant.
  •  Fresh starts - Fresh starts should be soon – a whole week is ineffective.  “I’m sorry you forgot the rule.  Tomorrow (after nap time, after dinner…) we will try again.”
  • Blank Slate - Forgive, but do not forget. If your child's life becomes one endless punishment ("You're grounded till you're 35!") then they have no motivation to continue. However, if you continually give them second chances with no qualifiers, then they will continually make the same (or worse) choices. Instead, change your expectations to ones that are developmentally age appropriate and allows them incremental steps to earning whatever privilege they want but can't handle yet.
  •  Choices – Never give a child a choice you don’t want them to make.  Give them one or two options (both of which are acceptable to you).  If you ask a child if they want to get in the car or continue to lie on the floor and throw a fit, guess what they’re going to pick?!
  •  “Okay?” is not Okay, okay? - By ending a statement with “Okay?”, you are asking their permission and sending them an unclear message. Drop "Okay?" from your vocabulary, okay?


CHAOS TO HEALING - Therapeutic Parenting 101 video which explains Daniel Hughes P.A.C.E concept in an easy to understand and practical way.

CHRISTINE MOERS, therapeutic parent and coach. See her YouTube videos and check out her blog,

ATTACHMENT THERAPY and THERAPEUTIC PARENTING - As the child heals and attaches to you he/ she feels safer.

CRISIS PLANS - 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.

ANXIETY SCALE - a concrete method of determining how child is feeling.

CALMING TECHNIQUES - some effective techniques for helping a child calm down or stay calm.

CONSEQUENCES - Thinking outside the box (letting the kids help)

DEVELOPMENTAL AGE APPROPRIATE LEVELS - 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 - This can be used for discipline, but it can easily be used to provide a very structured lifestyle for kids of trauma.

MY TOP 10 - the things that helped me the most


My kids used to say they wanted to be in charge and often manipulated people so they were in charge, but underneath, the belief that adults were "stupid" and could be manipulated easily, TERRIFIED my kids (especially my son). They NEEDED the structure and caring supervision.

When we felt Bear was doing well and gave him more freedom and choices, he usually reacted by acting out. For a long time, we thought it was because the freedom gave him the opportunity to get into trouble. Eventually, we realized that it was because that was the fastest way to get us to reinstate the restrictions so he could feel safe again. He WANTED to know exactly what was going to happen next (structure) and being closely supervised made him feel cared for. If we "weren't paying attention to him," then we didn't love him (very black and white thinking).

Once the kids felt safe and really knew that we "had their back," THEN they could handle having choices and being in charge of themselves.

Unfortunately, Bear was never able to trust others enough to feel safe. That's why he needs the structure that we were no longer legally able to provide when he became an "adult." He could have gotten this structure in the military, but he wasn't eligible (due to his mental illness and medications), so he got it in the only other place he could, prison.

I felt like a bad parent, until I realized that this is how he's wired and there's nothing more I can really do at this point to help him heal. I still have hope that his brain will continue to heal and someday he'll be able to maintain relationships and trust enough to not need this much support.

THE FROZEN LAKE by Nancy Thomas

"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