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

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Therapeutic Parenting
Disclaimer:  Most of this information is not my own, a lot is from my favorite attachment guru Katharine Leslie.

Parenting based on the child’s developmental/ emotional age

We need to parent our children based on where the child IS versus where they “should be.”  When trying to determine your child’s emotional age, and therefore your expectations, it helps to be aware of the typical development stages (6- young adult developmental stages)

Parent your child where they ARE, even if that means treating a teen like a 6 year old.  Or a 4 year old like a toddler.  They may find normal kid stuff overwhelming - we had to keep our children's rooms stripped to the essentials, avoid overwhelming places like grocery stores and birthday parties, and avoid letting them get tired or hungry...  

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.  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... 

It is important to remember that a child in a fight/ flight/ or freeze state is not thinking at all. They have dropped into their instinctual/ reptilian brain. I find that you must find ways to get them out of this part of the brain, before any consequences can even be discussed. Nothing is getting through in f/f/f (threats or consequences will have no effect). In fact, most kids won't remember what happened at all.
Some things to do during a F/F/F meltdown or rage:
Foster Care and multiple moves effects on emotional developmental age - There are many theories on how long it takes to heal to an "earned secure" attachment or for a child's emotional developmental age to "catch up" to their physical age. Some say it depends on number of moves and/or the child's age when entering the system. Unfortunately, the formulas seem to change depending on whom you speak to and seem to be totally anecdotal.

Preoperational Stage
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.  

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!   Object Permanence

Tip: If your child is emotionally a toddler than you need to “childproof”– set your home up like you would for a young child, giving them lots of opportunities to safely explore without hearing a lot of “No”s.  

Toddlers don't play with other children, but instead do what we call parallel play.  It's not until empathy develops at age 3 or 4 that they start to be aware of their playmates' needs and feelings.  

It's a fact that toddlers, especially 2yr olds, are perfect examples of pretty much every major mental illness -

  • Megalomania - it's all about me.  MINE!
  • Bipolar Disorder - happy one minute, sobbing the next.
  • Schizophrenia - distorted reality
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder - Food can't touch!
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder  - NO!!!!!
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (ADHD) - I'm going to play with... oooh shiny!  Squirrel! Get it!

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 think they even remember that wasn't how it happened. More info on 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 (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 went into “fight, flight or freeze mode” because they felt they were being punished for this past transgression.  If I tried using an example of someone else, 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.

  • Abstract ThoughtInstead of relying solely on previous experiences, children begin to consider possible outcomes and consequences of actions. This type of thinking is important in long-term planning.
  • Deductive Reasoning Deductive logic requires the ability to use a general principle to determine a particular outcome. Science and mathematics often require this type of thinking about hypothetical situations and concepts.
  • Problem-SolvingIn earlier stages, children used trial-and-error to solve problems. During the formal operational stage, the ability to systematically solve a problem in a logical and methodical way emerges. Children at the formal operational stage of cognitive development are often able to plan quickly an organized approach to solving a problem.
  • "Hypothetico-deductive reasoning" - thinking about abstract and hypothetical ideas. "What-if" type situations and questions, and thinking about multiple solutions or possible outcomes.

6 Years - Young Adult 


  1. Understand why they act the way they do.  It helps me a lot to know that my child’s behavior is not personal or malicious and when I’m empathetic toward my child it’s easier to deal with even their more difficult behaviors.  It helped to understand that my aggressive son is a scared little boy acting out of fear.  A lot of times with my teenage daughter I repeat my mantra, "She's only 6.  She's only 6.  She's only 6!" The books , Beyond Consequences, Katharine Leslie's books and seminarsCan This Child Be SavedThe Explosive Child, and Stop Walking on Egg Shells, really helped with this.
  2. Change expectations.  REALLY change them.  Quit waiting for _______ to happen before you allow _____________(something fun).   Stop expecting them to grow up and change, or even be able to do all but the most basic of tasks.  It’s easy to be mad at the child for not acting their age, and “punish” them by not letting them do the fun stuff, but if you’re constantly resentful and holding the child to some, at the moment, unattainable standard then both you and your child will miss out on some great memories and bonding moments. 


For us, Kitty was 11 years old when she came to us, but emotionally stuck at age 4. After about 1 1/2 years in attachment therapy, she progressed to an emotional age of 6, where she remained stuck until we finally got her through puberty, got her medications stable, and got her emotionally regulated. At age 16, she had progressed to an emotional age of about age 10 or 11 - just starting to grasp abstract concepts. 

At age 19, when she graduated from high school, she had progressed to an emotional age of about 14, and has remained there (she's now 21). Due to her intellectual delays, brain injuries (causing difficulty with emotional regulation, processing abilities, memory...), and lack of significant progress/ changes in several years, I do believe that this is where she will stop. The brain usually continues to mature until about age 25, so hopefully I will be proven wrong.
Therapeutically Parenting the "Adult" Child

Bear came to us at age 13.5 and physically fully mature, however, emotionally I would guess he was a young toddler. After a year to get his diagnoses and medications correct and stable, he was able to focus on attachment and emotional growth. By age 15, he was emotionally in many ways a young teen; however, probably due to his brain injuries, he has never been able to grasp anything beyond concrete concepts and we've seen several areas where his emotional development is still Pre-operational.

Bear is totally unable to understand abstract concepts such as examples, generalizations (if he's not supposed to steal an MP3 player, he doesn't understand that he's not supposed to steal an iPod either). Since I tend to give examples for everything so that my kids will understand how things apply to them... this makes things difficult. We also still see a lot of issues with Magical Thinking, particularly when it comes to Lying and Stealing

Additional Posts: 

Sample Level Chart on Expectations - Responsibilities & Privileges
Talking to your child about age appropriate parenting
More info on development including why kids Lie and Steal



1 comment:

LB said...

Interesting stage when the kiddo finally knows the rules and can tell you when other children are not complying, but kiddo doesn't think the same rules apply to him / her. Reminds me of this super cute book about MElvin the Squirrel (Title: You get what you get.) (says ages 4 to 6, but we read it from ages 7-9). There's a little of the specific and generalizing idea in the book.