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!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Katharine Leslie seminar - Secure Attachment

Katharine Leslie and Mike the founder of Advocates for Children of Trauma (ACT).

Katharine changes her hairstyle almost as often as she does shoes (and she loooves shoes!). It was my job at the seminar to check people in as they arrived. A woman walked up and I asked her her name.
Me: "Last name?"
KL: "Katharine Leslie"
She sweetly mentioned that she'd changed her hair color and style since the last seminar. I'm still a dork.


Secure attachment requires the development of Object Permanence and constancy.

There are three basic steps to this process:
  1. Building Safety. You 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.
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 what he did 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.
  1. 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 (Kitty likes to randomly come up behind me when I'm sitting and "hug" me. There's no way for me to hug her back or even make eye contact. To me, that's not "appropriate" affection).
  • Draw attention to the "giving and taking" that is part of every interaction. {Reciprocity}
  • Give and allow consequences that will evoke caring behaviors. {Therapeutic Parenting and 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 vs Negative 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.
A 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.
    Tip: Role modeling does not work with our children!

This is the hard part for me. I had never heard of RAD or any of this when we first got Kitty and Bear. We had two bio children. We felt it wouldn't be fair to not treat the new children exactly like we treated our own. We lied to these two children we just met, and told them we loved them when we didn't - couldn't.

We started with claiming and belonging and didn't realize the full-extent our children needed safety and security. It's been three years of giving our children the luxury package.

Both the children and myself are not benefiting from or satisfied with the relationship. I feel used up, resentful, angry... all the things mentioned by Katharine Leslie. The kids are unable to reciprocate and be part of a relationship. Kitty is better, but Bear... not even close.

My interactions with Bear have become punitive... the thought of him giving me a hand massage (one of the reciprocating suggestions by Katharine), made my skin crawl. I do not want him to touch me. I do not want to be around him. I do not like him.

So now what?

Katharine told me to take a few months break from Bear. Umm... not sure how to do that, but I am going to back off for awhile and finish reading When a Stranger Calls you Mom, then most likely reread Coming to Grips with Attachment. If that isn't enough, then I'll call Katharine Leslie and ask her advice.

  • No matter how much healing my child does, if I've allowed myself to become completely drained, then I have no emotional reserves left. You can't fill from an empty cup. Self-Care! Caring for the Caregiver!
  • It took me a long time, but I finally realized I needed to change my priorities or I and my whole family would suffer. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Marriage, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order! 
  • Understanding WHY my child is acting this way helps me be more empathetic and provide my child with the most effective support {Why Won't My Child Just Behave?}
  • I'm working hard to remember that I didn't cause this and it most likely isn't "fixable," especially this late in his life. {You Haven't Failed }
  • Pouring everything I have into him doesn't work so I shouldn't feel guilty for not wanting to do it anymore. {Relationships and Relationships (cont.)}
  • I have a right to grieve the child/relationship I thought I was getting. {Finding the Joy}
  • He doesn't "deserve" all the privileges of being part of this family... they're hurting him not helping him. I need to provide the structure he actually needs and the caring support that I hope will lead to attachment.{Structure and Caring Support}
  • I need to set up fun times with positive interactions so we have the opportunity to fall in love instead of focusing on punishment and chores.
  • This post has more information about how the Basic Plan vs Luxury (Family) Plan looked as the kids moved into their late teens, and we decided to revisit it to remind them of the difference of living like a boarder vs the privileges that came with being part of the family.. 
Anyway, I learned more at the seminar so expect more posts!


GB's Mom said...

Sounds like a great seminar!

Kerrie said...

Ya know, I KNEW all this stuff once upon a time, but somewhere along the line it left my radar. This is all a great refesher, thank-you for doing these posts. I looked at this today and saw I'm right where I should be: basic accommodations with two perks that match her attempting-to-attach behavior. Takes away sooooo much guilt!

Marty Walden said...

You have to do whatever allows you to survive and hopefully eventually thrive. If distance is what you need don't feel an ounce of guilt. Sometimes you just have to shut off. The seminar sounds great!

Lorraine Fuller said...

Wish I could have gone to the seminar! Hopefully I can go next time she is in Texas. I have read "when a stranger calls you mom" and I am now half way through the second one. It makes so much sense!

Mama Drama Times Two said...

I am so impressed with the work you are doing - and appreciate how you are sharing your insights with us at home. I wish I knew some of this before with Bobby's sister (had RAD and we didn't realize it)and with our RADISH.

Anonymous said...

Good Lord, *everything* DCF tells you to do as a pre-adoptive parent is WRONG! Thank you for spelling it out like it is.