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, November 18, 2014

Self Care

I decided I need my home to be clean(er) for the holidays, but the thought is totally overwhelming, so I have this new 31 day house cleaning routine that I'm going to try.

31 Day House Cleaning Routine 

I'm going to have to modify it for my home (which is bigger than the one described), but it breaks the job in to chunks I can handle. I've also decided to treat the children as "bonus" helpers so I don't get so frustrated with them when they don't help.

It may not sound like self care, but I think it will make me feel better and more accomplished.  Plus, Bob has been saying she wants to bring friends home from college, but is too embarrassed.

Wish me luck!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Books and Methods Review - Traumatic Brain Injury - Brain Damage

Traumatic brain Injury linked to ptsd and suicide.

Bear - left parietal and left temporal
Kitty - left temporal

Both my children have brain injuries (called Cerebral Dysrhythmia - the cause and time of injury is unknown - could be birth defects, could be from abuse).  The temporal lobe is definitely damaged in both, Bear also has damage in the parietal lobe.  I always thought it explained a lot, and I bet more than a few of "our kids" have these issues.  I always include the brain injuries when mentioning their issues to people who need to know, because I think it helps people understand that this is PERMANENT not something that therapy or medication is going to "fix."

Damage to the parietal lobe can also lead to Anosognosia - "impaired awareness of illness." Affects approximately 50 percent of individuals with schizophrenia and 40 percent of individuals with bipolar disorder.may not recognize that they are ill. Instead, they believe their delusions are real (e.g., the woman across the street is being paid by the CIA to spy on him) and that their hallucinations are real (e.g., the voices are instructions being sent by the President). Impaired awareness of illness is the same thing as lack of insight. The term used by neurologists is “anosognosia,” which comes from the Greek word for disease (nosos) and knowledge (gnosis). It literally means "to not know a disease." This is more than just denial!

We are often told that brain damage can be "fixed," and I believe that to a certain extent that is true, but at some point we have to acknowledge that some of it isn't going to get better or we'll be blaming ourselves (or allowing others to blame us) for our child not healing.

Some analogies:

The Newborn Kitten - Kittens eyes stay closed for awhile after they are born.  Scientists did a study in which they didn't allow kittens eyes to open when they normally would. When they finally allowed the kittens' normal, healthy eyes to open, the kittens were completely blind. The part of the brain that processed vision did not form. The kittens will never be able to see.

Amputated Limb - If a human being has a limb removed and replaced with a prosthetic limb, then the brain can be trained to use the remaining muscles in a different way that allows movement of the new limb.

So the question is, if a person has brain damage or an injury, can they "heal"?  Can they retrain their brain to work in a new way that circumvents the damage (like teaching a person with dyslexia "tricks" to make it easier to read) or is it permanent?

I assume the answer is that it depends.  On the age of the person, on the cause and extent of the damage, on when and what quality of intervention/ therapy was used, and on the motivation of the "injured" person to heal...

There is evidence that in addition to brain damage and the way the brain forms in utero, a lot of what happens to a child as an infant can also cause brain damage.  I've written a couple of posts reviewing Piaget's child development and Katharine Leslie's take on Cause and Effect and Object Permanence and how it effects children of trauma, but here's a couple of key points:

Cause and Effect - Children with attachment disorders and FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders) often have problems with cause and effect. This may start with the caregiver not meeting the child's physical needs (ex. not changing them when they're wet or feeding when they're hungry). The child doesn't learn that if I cry then someone will come make it better. Instead they might learn that if I cry then someone will hit me, or if I cry then no one will come anyway... this makes behavior management difficult - both self-regulation and parent discipline. If I steal a cell phone, then I will get in trouble. If I yell at my sister now, then she will be scared of me - even 5 minutes (or 5 years) from now.

Object Permanence - We all know that young infants have no ability to understand object permanence. For example, if you hide a rattle under a blanket they don't look for it, it's gone. For them, out of sight out of mind is really true. At about 8-9 months though they "get it." They start to look under the blanket. We often help them develop this ability by playing peekaboo with them. "Wheeere's Mommy? Here I am!"

Now imagine the child who's infancy is not the norm. Who never "gets" this concept. So what? Maybe they never put their toys away because if you can't see them they don't exist. Might not even be so bad because when they are put into foster care they "forget" about all the things left behind... but it's not just things the child doesn't remember. It's people.

You can't attach to someone who isn't there the second they step out of sight. Mommy doesn't exist anymore.

There's a weird movie with Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore called 50 First Dates. Because of a car accident that damaged her short term memory Drew's character is unable to remember anything that's happened in her life the day before. Adam meets her and courts her anew every single day. They introduce a character called "10 Second Tom." He can only rememember things for 10 seconds. Drew is able to fall in love with Adam because she has the ability to create attachments. Tom would be unable to attach to anyone.

Even though I'm here and not going anywhere, my kids' ability to attach is severely damaged, and for Bear, maybe permanently. Katharine assures us that even a child/person older than 8 who's brain is pretty much hardwired now, can learn these skills and abilities (or approximations of them), but just like learning a foreign language, the older you are the less perfectly you'll be able to learn it and the the more effort it takes (think of people who learn to speak English as a second language as a child versus as an adult).

Thursday, November 13, 2014

75 Positive Child Behaviors and Attitudes - Katherine Leslie

75 Positive Child Behaviors and Attitudes 

from Katherine Leslie's Coming to Grips with Attachment

The survey contains a list of positive child behaviors and attitudes. Please put a check mark under the column that best describes whether each of these behaviors or attitudes is generally true (GT) or generally not true (GNT) of your child.  Please fill out a different survey tool for each of your children.

1 Cares about self
2 Cares about others
3 Takes care of the pets
4 Good work ethic
5 Is kind and giving
6 Has a positive outlook
7 Enjoys learning
8 Loves spending time with family
9 Adds to family unity and peacefulness
10 Wants to do what is right
11 Friends and relationships are important to him/her
12 Is polite and respectful
13 Is conscientious and accepting of others
14 Is remorseful when he/she makes mistakes
15 Stands up for her/ himself
16 Is grateful and appreciative
17 Asks me to play with him/ her
18 Asks for compliments
19 Wants me to share in his/ her successes
20 Tells me things he/ she's learned or seen
21 Appreciates my efforts
22 Responds respectfully to my discipline
23 Does things/ chores to help me
24 Wants to please me
25 Hates to disappoint me
26 Demonstrates behaviors we've talked about
27 Looks to me for approval
28 Listens to me when I give directions
29 Shares ideas and feelings with me
30 Asks for help and advice from me
31 We talk together about life
32 Looks up to me
33 Talks to me about his/ her problems
34 Is interested in hearing my life stories
35 Enjoys my hugs and kisses
36 Tells me his/ her fears
37 Is natural and authentic
38 Cares about what I think
39 Knows I will be there for him/ her
40 Wants to be cared for by me when he/ she is sick
41 Comes to me for comfort after being scolded
42 Falls asleep in my arms
43 Feels sad when I leave or if I'm not around
44 Is excited/ happy to see me after a separation 
45 wants to be near me
46 Seeks me out for comfort I he/ she is hurt or feeling bad
47 Lets me teach him/ her things
48 Looks for me if I'm watching his/ her sporting events/ activities
49 Wants a hug and a kiss from me at bedtime
50 Wants to spend time with me
51 Gives me support and encouragement
52 Compliments me
53 Wants to be like me
54 Pays attention to me
55 Seems to like me
56 Shows concern when I am upset
57 Talks positively about me to others
58 Makes things for me
59 Gives me gifts
60 Tells me I am the most important person in his/ her life
61 Tells me I'm great
62 We play, tease, and joke around
63 We enjoy doing activities together
64 We cuddle and giggle together
65 We rough house together
66 We share the same sense of humor
67 He/ she is funny and makes me laugh
68 Gives me hugs and kisses every day
69 Isn't afraid to show me affection in front of others
70 Tells me he/ she loves me
71 Responds to my affection with warmth and happiness
72 Smiles at me many times a day
73 Writes me cards to tell me he/ she loves me
74 Hugs and kisses me out of the blue
75 Looks to me for protection

I loaned out my Coming to Grips with Attachment book years ago and it never came back, so when someone mentioned this checklist, I was curious how my kids rate now. It was really depressing until I decided to look at it for ALL my children and realized that some of it is probably the fact that my kids are teens. 

Kitty 15-20 if I'm feeling generous. 

Nope, still depressing.  *sigh*

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Caring for the Caregiver Ideas

We HAVE to "fill our buckets." It's not selfish (no matter how many people tell you otherwise!). It doesn't mean we don't love our kids or are "bad parents." If we give and give until we're completely drained, then there's nothing left! You have to find little ways (or a few big ones) to carve out something that's just for you.

When people said stuff about Caring for the Caregiver to me early on in this journey, I just looked at them like they were crazy. Who has time for that?! I needed to believe that if I said, did, taught... just the right thing(s) that my child would heal, and I knew that if I didn't... then it would be my fault that my child was broken.

So put your foot down and DEMAND that you get time for yourself. Fight for it. Carve it out. Put a priority on it.

What fills your bucket is unique to you.  For me, it helped knowing my love language.  Since my primary love language is Words of Affirmation then I tend to lean toward finding ways to fill that need.

  • Splurge a little on a treat just for you. Remind yourself that if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!
  • Buy your favorite kind of chocolate (or other treat) and hide them for when you need them.  (Tell someone or write down where you put them!  Nothing worse than not being able to find your special treat when you absolutely need it right now!
  • Pay someone for a mani/pedi or have your own little homemade spa. Can be a fun thing to do with a regulated child.
  • Keep a little jar with reminders of the times you've done something right.  It can be a quote from someone else, a thank you card, a note you wrote yourself about a recent achievement.  It can simply say, "I'm good enough. I'm smart enough. And doggone it, people like me."  (I have a Positive Affirmations folder in my e-mail for when I get a positive comment on my blog, or my boss tells me I'm doing a great job, or my kid has a special achievement that I know I had a hand in -even if that "hand" is raising an amazing kid....  Sometimes if I'm feeling down, attacked, or judged, I open that folder and remind myself that I am a good person and I'm not the only one who thinks so.)
  • After everyone is in bed, I love a bubble bath, a good book that has nothing to do with trauma or adoption or anything (my fav is the funny,romance novels by Katie MacAlister), and maybe some candles and/ or a glass of wine.
  • Turn on Spongebob. Let the kids zone out in front of the TV while you take a break.
  • Have your kids come up with a list of things to do when they're bored (check out this example) and then encourage them to do one or more of the activities while you take a break.
  • Tell them that room time is at 7pm, whether they're tired or not (and change the clocks if need be). 
  • Buy a cheap alarm for their bedroom door so you don't have to worry about where they are. 
  • Sing along to the radio!  It's amazing how much better you feel after singing. 
  • Find something to laugh about - watch a silly video, read something funny 
  • Call the friend that is always saying, "let me know if I can help," and say, "YES! Please come by my house at 7pm and watch my kids for 2 hours." 
  • Call a fellow trauma mama who "gets it."
  •  Join the annual trauma mama Christmas Gift Exchange. 
  • EXERCISE - Turn on an exercise video and work out - if the kids want to do it too, great! If not, then they can sit on the couch and watch. I love Richard Simmons for the low impact work out and easy to learn routines. Try Christine Moer's (Welcome To My Brain) hoop challenge (30 minutes for 30 days)
  • Start a snowball fight in the backyard (or if you're in Texas like me, a water fight or run through the sprinklers!). 
  • Find a regulated kid and cuddle (borrow a neighbor child if you have to!). 
  • Read Healing from Hazardous Parenting by Brenda McCreight PhD.
  • FIND A SUPPORT GROUP of people who "get it." If you don't have anyone local, try online. You can find anything on the internet these days!
  • Start a co-op with other trauma mamas. 
  • GET ENOUGH SLEEP. Take a nap whenever you can. Go back to sleep after the kids leave for school.
  • EAT WELL. 
  • Make something special just for you, and let them eat cheap boxed pizza on paper plates.
  • Give the kids the "burned" pieces. Don't always take the bad stuff for yourself.  I always have my own bowl next to me when I cut watermelon and the best pieces go in MY bowl.
  • LAUGH! Find whatever makes you lol and check it out daily.  Whether that's  People of Walmart, an iFunny app or Spongebob.  One of my personal faves is 99 Ways to Drive Your Child Sane by Brita St. Clair - This short little book is full of wild ideas and hysterical humor to bring the laughter back into a home with an emotionally disturbed child.  It includes lots of "one liners" and silly, fun ways to help parents avoid anger around tough topics. Written by a very experienced and loving Therapeutic Mom with years of success helping tough kids heal.

Almost every Monday for the last 2 years, I have met a friend at IKEA for breakfast.  We met casually in a fabric store one day and started chatting. She is not a Trauma Mama, and we have very little in common. She's about 15 yrs older than I am. Has grandchildren the same age as my kids.  She's an artist (makes beautiful art dolls). Grew up in Germany.  Living green is very important to her... She lives about 1/2 an hour away from me, and we almost never meet or talk at any time except for these couple of hours once a week. We vent, talk about our kids and husbands, and shopping, and religion and family...  I consider her one of my best friends. Sometimes you just need a person to go to, who is not part of your everyday life, but never judges you.  Who is always glad to see you and always willing to listen.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Parenting Biokids and Adopted Kids Together

FYI, this picture is for illustration only. These are the 192nd Fighter Wing kids. Not an adoptive family.
See also this post, Biokids with Adopted Siblings

Adopting Out of Birth Order

My adopted children were older than my biokids, and that caused some extra issues because the biokids were able to handle tons of things the adopted kids couldn't.  Here's a good post I did for a lady adopting a RAD child older than her bios (different age, but kids of trauma are often younger developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially).

Adopting Children Developmentally, Emotionally, and/ or Socially Younger
This could also apply to parents with kids who are not technically out of birth order, but are close in age or younger (for example giving birth to biokids or adopting a child(ren) younger than the older adopted child(ren) but with fewer issues). The problems come when this younger child(ren) pass up the adopted child(ren) developmentally, emotionally, and/ or socially. Parenting often appears to not be fair, like you're choosing favorites, and/ or that you're criticizing or punishing the delayed child.

{My adopted children were both delayed and older than my oldest biochild (Bob, biodaughter). Bear (adopted, 3 1/2 years older than Bob) was very aggressive and intimidating to everyone and Kitty (adopted, 1 year older than Bob) was aggressive toward Bob (jealousy, pushing to get kicked out like everyone else has done to her in the past, delayed emotionally and socially - so tended to be more like a toddler who uses her hands not her words...).}  

All Children are Not Created Equally - Nor Should They Be Treated That Way
For a long time, we tried to treat the children equally, especially the girls who were close in age and in the same grade at school, but we finally figured out that was not going to work. Life got smoother when we started using age-appropriate, therapeutic parenting.
Post:  Chap. 1 Parenting based on Developmental/Emotional Age

Here are some of the things we did (or I wish we had done sooner!):

1. SELF-CARE!! Self-care!! Self-Care!!! 
This is a tough life and if you're "bucket" is empty, then you're no good to anyone.

2. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order
Not only do we tend to put ourselves last, but we also tend to listen to the "experts" and focus on the needs of one child (or two). First priority needs to be yourself, then your significant other (after all, hopefully, he/she will be around long after the children are out of the nest) {How We Keep Our Marriage Strong}, and then the family as a whole. The needs of the "squeakiest wheel" need to be last

Believe me, I regret how little priority my other kids got and we're seeing some of the negative effects now that they are grown. Especially when I realized that my son, Bear, (the squeakiest wheel) was not able to heal {You Have Not Failedbut even with my daughter, Kitty, who was able to heal and might not have if I hadn't poured so much energy and time into her. Sacrificing the family as a whole for one child was a mistake that I deeply regret. 

3. Finding the Joy 

Once I finally had enough emotional reserves to be able to function, then I had to figure out boundaries, priorities, support... the things I needed to be able to keep going and keep my "tank" full enough to be there for my family.

4. Explain Why They're Treated Differently
We sat the adopted children down and tell them that they were being treated differently because of their trauma, not because we loved them less or loved biokids more. They absolutely did not understand this or believe it, but it needed to be said if only so we could refer back to the conversations.
Posts: Trust Jars/ Love Jars post;
Choosing Joy - Explaining Age Appropriate Therapeutic Parenting to Child(ren)

          The younger biochildren did not have the same childhood and there were going to be areas where they got to do things the adopted kids didn't, even though they were older.   None of this solved anything by the way, but it gave us a reference point that we could keep pointing back to,

"I know it doesn't feel fair that your sister gets to spend the night at your friend's house and you don't, but you're not at a place to do that right now, because it's hard for you.  Your sister didn't have the trauma that you did so she can handle it.  
You'll get there!  Just not today."

5. Stop treating them equally.  
They are not equal! They have different life experiences, different interests, different abilities, different needs...  My mom always emphasized that with my sister and I.  We both got a Christmas present, but it wasn't matching dresses (which is one thing my dad liked to do)!  Neither of us would want what the other wanted! Our gifts were chosen with our unique likes and dislikes in mind.

^^This is actually how the FAIR Club got started.^^ 
My kids were constantly whining, "That's not FAAAIIIRRR!!!" I needed a way to discipline and structure each child's life that was appropriate for them.  Structure for the adopted kids, but not really punishing them for things that were out of their control (fight/ flight/ freeze reactions for example) - while avoiding letting the biokids feel that the adopted kids were "getting away with" behaviors that we didn't want the biokids to start thinking was OK for them to do!

6. Emotional Age

Remember that developmentally (emotionally and socially) most kids of trauma are a LOT younger.   If we expect them to "act their age," we're all going to be disappointed.
Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/ Developmental Age
Developmental Stages

7. ABSOLUTELY no touching of other kids!  
None.  Ever. My violent child especially, literally had to be out of arms reach of the other kids at all times.  If I had to be in another room then that child came with me or was in his/her room alone. They weren't allowed to sit next to each other on the couch or in the car.  They were NEVER allowed to be alone in the same room.

8. Separate rooms. 
Originally the girls shared a room.  BIG mistake! They giggled all night keeping each other up. Our adopted daughter stole things from her sister. One child was a "neat freak" the other was not. The smells and dysregulation of our adopted daughter, plus disagreements between the two girls created a resentful/ hostile environment that often made things worse.

We converted the playroom to a bedroom to separate them.  For example, when I was a kid, my bedroom was the breakfast nook with some slatted closet doors bolted in to make a wall (this was because I moved in with my dad unexpectedly, not for any trauma/ safety issues).
8a. Children were not allowed in other family members' bedrooms. Ever (although exceptions were made if a parent was present). This was to prevent thefts and potential abuse.
8b. Cameras, alarms, and locks. We never installed cameras but I often wonder if we should have. There were alarms on the exterior doors and windows that helped let us know if a child was going outside without permission but I sometimes wish we had put one on the interior door of our son's bedroom so we would know when he was wandering at night. We did end up locking the pantry to prevent issues with stealing food but I realize we were very lucky that our son was not interested in physically or sexually abusing his siblings (just stealing from them).  

9. ABSOLUTELY no parenting.  
The adopted kids felt they had a right to boss the other kids around. The biokids just handled it.  Kitty expected it and was terrified of Bear so she often tried to anticipate his wishes.

EVERY time we heard it, we reminded everyone that WE are the parents and that was not their job.  We NEVER put the kids in a position where they got to tell the other kids what to do.  Not even relaying a message, like, "Mom said to come downstairs and do the dishes." At most, they were allowed to say, "Mom is calling you."

10. Individual parent time.  
Just me (or Hubby)  and the child doing something together.  Could be making a meal, going shopping, a "date," sitting next to their bed and chatting, telling a story or singing... I tried to make it fun, even when they were being obnoxious, awful, or in trouble.  It was an attachment activity and necessary. I did this with all the kids- adopted and bio. Try to squeeze in a combo of activities -  If you're at the school for an IEP meeting, have lunch with a biokid. 

Figuring out your child's Love Language can really pinpoint what will make your child feel the most special and loved. 

11. Family and individual activities. 
Don't skip that family vacation because one child can't handle it. Find an alternative for the child having issues (preferably something fun for them), and GO! Make time for each child's school events and activities. Go to your biokids' art show, soccer game, whatever. Sign them up for dance classes that their adopted sibling isn't a part of (this is when it really comes in handy to have a spouse so you can divide and conquer!).

Try to find ways that all the kids can participate without overshadowing the other's fun. While watching your son play T-ball, let the other kids play on a nearby playscape or spread a blanket behind the bleachers and play with toys they don't always get to play with. Have a Letter Party and each child gets to do something different to help (pick the letter, shopping, helping cook, pick the movie, set up the picnic area...).

12. Individual time - 
Give the kids a break from their siblings and family life sometimes. There were summers where Bob went to live with her grandparents. She remembers them as some of the best summers ever. 

13. Squeaky wheels - 
Be very aware that our natural inclination is to take care of the squeaky wheel first. The problem is that biokids tend to be less squeaky (well, except during puberty when all of my kids went insane). I still feel guilty that my adopted kids were so squeaky that my biokids were often ignored. Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order**

14. Provide structure and reduce overwhelm.  
Our adopted kids needed LOTS of Structure and Caring Support.  Their insides are so chaotic that we had to make the rest of life as calm and as simple as possible. That means stripping their rooms of all but a bed and one toy.  It means for them, chores that biokids could handle with ease, have to be simplified and fewer.  Multi-step directions were overwhelming and impossible.  They usually triggered Dysregulation and Meltdowns.

15. Make it OK for biokids to complain and vent. 
Living with mentally ill siblings is HARD. It is for parents too of course, but there are rarely support groups and people teaching Self-Care for kids. As long as it wasn't in front of their siblings, and they didn't share it with friends who knew their siblings, then I made sure that they knew it was even OK to resent/hate their sibling.
{I probably let the venting/ complaining go too far and let the biokids feel that it was OK to be totally negative about their siblings all the time without encouraging them as much as I should have to look for the good stuff too. Please be aware of that yourself and don't do what I did!}
15a. Preventing abuse. We also had frequent conversations with all our kids individually about personal safety and who was allowed to touch their "private parts" (parents and doctors and only if necessary). We made it very clear that they needed to come to us if they felt threatened or hurt in any way. We also watched carefully for "grooming" behaviors (abusers will often "woo" potential victims to build trust before actually abusing them).

16. Avoid over-sharing
I'll admit that as Bob got older, it was easy to confide in her and sometimes vent or bounce off ideas. She knew the people involved and the situations, much better than any other friends and family members outside of our immediate family. She often had great insight, and I knew she wouldn't judge me for being upset/ angry with the adopted child or the situation. I often worry that I laid too much on her shoulders because she seemed like she could handle it. I forgot that she's still a kid and going to have to have and/ or establish some kind of relationship with this sibling for the rest of their lives.

17. Down the Road? 
As our biokids get older, they might have to take over the care of their sister, Kitty (and possibly even their brother, Bear), when Hubby and I can no longer do it. I'm not sure how I feel about asking that of them, but I don't foresee any alternatives.

Reluctant Keepers of a Brother With Autism:We have always believed that Nick and Grace should take responsibility for their brother when we no longer can. We have worked to engrave that duty on their hearts, but they accept it grudgingly. I wonder if we failed as parents to instill compassion in the twins, if we somehow hardened their hearts instead of softening them. [My husband] reminds me that few people accept familial duty with joy.  
Nick and Grace, meanwhile, at 23 are now busy young adults with romantic relationships and promising careers. They rarely ask after their brother, but when we all get together for holidays, they treat Jeffrey with detached kindness rather than the resentment of the past.  We sometimes remind the twins of their duty to care for Jeffrey, and with the optimism and confidence of youth, they say they will handle it, and anyway, it is far in the future. But I know that the future has a tendency to arrive sooner than expected, and that it will not be easy.
Are we asking too much of the twins? What is the responsibility of a sibling for a sibling?  When we are both gone, the burden will be passed down, along with the silverware and the photo albums, and Nick and Grace will be forced to take up where we left off. And we can only hope that we have done right by all of our children.