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!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Running Again

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 first moved in with biofamily immediately after high school graduation, then discovered that she just couldn't handle it, and came home in less than a month (lasted one week with biomom, and then stayed with pregnant biosister's baby daddy's sister for the remaining 3 weeks. She'd slept on the floor and acted a a free nanny to the girl's 3 kids).

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.

On a positive note (kind of), finally the therapist is seeing why I have started giving "Ultimatums." This time I described the process to the therapist (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). She tells me it's going to be different from last time, because she's going to live with BioGrandma instead of BioMom.
  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 (last time she held 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.

    Kitty stayed "present" for most of the discussion and participated.
  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 and I won't make her stay home, it is NOT possible with 1 week notice - especially with most of that during a major holiday.
  5. The next day, Kitty restates her decision to leave that weekend. *UGH!*
  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 (specifically an 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! I know that's not 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 Kitty's issues with reality, and I don't need it to be any harder.

In a therapy session, the therapist, Kitty, and I came up with a plan together.

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 often stated she is not willing}  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 is only 80% effectiveness due to your meds. The shot has similar effectiveness and the hormones can alter your mood dramatically. -- increasing issues with impulsive, risky choices - especially when not taking meds regularly and making poor choices about safety and environment. {Last time she lived with biofamily, she did not take her medication regularly and became very dysregulated.}
  • 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 (this would be done by picking up medications a few days early or a few later {She's allowed to pick meds up about a week before she runs out). Inching her med pickup time closer to once a month.}
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 suddenly 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 some time at home during extended family's visit (Hubby's mom, our nephew, and nephew's fiancee who is Kitty's age)... Kitty spent the majority of her days and nights at friends' houses, only coming home if we planned to go out to eat.

I believe she will be receiving another ultimatum soon.

And Again...

Summer rolled around and Kitty did move in with her biograndma. We helped her load all her belongings into BioGrandpa's truck and they drove across the country non-stop (approx. 15 hours). Not surprisingly, Kitty was a giant triggered mess by the time she left.

This time was a little more organized than the last time (but not much).
  • Trial PeriodKitty understood that this was to be a 3 month trial period. Nothing would be transferred to her new state until the end of this trial, no matter how inconvenient, because transferring everything back would be more so and lead to time without coverage (insurance, SSI, and other services).
  • Medication. Kitty saw her psychiatrist right before she left, so she had a full month's worth of meds. 
  • Medicaid. We verified with insurance that she could access her TX Medicaid in another state (unfortunately, this turned out to be incorrect information and she ended up having to use just our private insurance and pay co-pays)
  • Closure visit with therapist.
  • Other services were informed she was "going on vacation out of state."
Kitty arrived at BioGrandpa's house late Saturday night. She slept most of Sunday (she was unable to sleep in the truck), but did move in with BioGrandma (BioGrandparents are divorced). Monday morning bright and early, I got a call from the social services office. Kitty was positive this was going to work out, so she was trying to transfer everything up there. *sigh* Luckily, as her rep payee I was able to stop this. I reminded Kitty that this was a trial period for very good reasons and that she had agreed to them.

Kitty was being hit on all sides from biofamily, trying to convince her that I was evil and just out to keep her money. Luckily for me, most of time, I was back on a pedestal (we discovered this "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" feeling the last time she moved to Nebraska --> I was horrible and they were awesome until she moved there, then I was awesome and they were horrible). So in general, she was able to ignore their claims and continue to rationally accept my help.

Medical Expenses
Almost immediately after arrival, Kitty started seeing doctors, even though I repeatedly reminded her that she did not have Medicaid there and did not have money for co-pays from our private insurance.

She'd allegedly injured an ankle a couple of years before, and felt that I hadn't let her see any specialists to get it fixed. Of course, during those last 2 years, she'd worn 6" platform heels almost every day and often gone "hiking" with her friends. Most of the time when she'd seen a doctor, she'd forgotten it even bothered her (so I assumed it was psychosomatic).

Every doctor who'd seen her in the last 2 years (when she remembered it hurt), said it was fine. Right before she left though, she managed to convince a doctor that if it was still bothering her after "2 years" that maybe she should see an orthopedist. She didn't have time to get an appointment before she left. 

After multiple x-rays and a couple of specialists, she found a doctor there that said that she'd not healed properly from an injury and needed surgery. I don't know if this was accurate or not. My point was that she'd waited "2 years," and could wait a couple of months until she had Medicaid there. She's on a fixed income and can't afford surgery without it. From half way across the country and not finding out about the visits until after the fact, there was nothing I could do, but continue to pay the bills as they trickled in. 

Honeymoon is over
Kitty lasted a week with BioGrandma before BioGrandma completely fell off her pedestal.

Kitty had been very mature in recognizing that a lot of BG wanting to "spend every waking minute" (Kitty's description not mine) with Kitty was not BG thinking that Kitty couldn't handle things on her own, but loneliness.

Then Kitty started to feel that BG didn't like a biosister's baby daddy and Kitty's youngest biosister (~8 years old), because they were Hispanic. When Kitty heard that BG had once hit the biosister in the face, she moved in with Biomom.

Biomom lived in a 2 bedroom apartment. She shared her bedroom with the 2 youngest biosisters (~8 and 14) unless she had a boyfriend spending the night. The other bedroom was occupied by the 17yo pregnant biosister and her baby daddy. Kitty stayed on the couch.

Because the apartment was subsidized housing (Biomom and one of the younger biosisters are on SSI), they didn't want Kitty to pay rent because that would jeopardize their housing. Unfortunately, if Kitty receives room and board without paying rent, then she will lose her SSI money (and therefore Medicaid).

Kitty couldn't understand this and kept trying to "contribute" by paying for the rental furniture, junk food for her siblings, gas for the vehicle, and other mostly non-essentials. 

Transfer Services
I got a call for Kitty's SSI annual review (I'm her Rep Payee so they do this with me instead of with her). Managing everything from across the country, constantly being accused of theft and of not treating Kitty like the adult she thinks she is, dealing with constant demands for more money, and watching Kitty put up with this horrible living situation for over 2 months, when I got the review call from SSI, I threw up my hands and told them that she'd officially moved out of state.

I had everything transferred to the new state, including Medicaid. I kept the rep payee status (they'd mentioned suspending her SSI funds if I didn't), but requested that they find someone (NOT biofamily!) to take it over as soon as possible.

Biofamily Neglect
I received more and more calls from Kitty about how "mean" everyone was to Kitty. At first, she talked about how mean everyone was to her biosibs as well, then she started complaining about them too.

She actually called me one day and demanded that I "do something" about the youngest biosister. I told her she needed to talk to Biomom, but apparently Biomom "wouldn't do anything about it." I have no idea what Kitty thought I could do from here, but she isn't exactly rational at the best of times. 

After having the ankle surgery, Kitty was confined to the couch, only getting up to use the restroom. She talked about how the family would make waffles and pancakes and eat them all without offering her any. I think not getting food (a huge trigger for Kitty) was the straw that finally broke the camel's back. 

She decided to come home despite knowing that she'd have to go to a year-long residential vocational school designed to teach independent living skills to people with mild intellectual disabilities. It's a great program, although Kitty things she'll be "wasting her youth" there. *sigh*

We're downsizing (the house is too big now that Ponito is about to graduate high school and go off to college, Bear is in prison, and Bob is in college), so we need to prep our old house for sale. Kitty absolutely cannot live here during this final push to get things done (18 years of "benign neglect" meant I needed to do some major renovations on the house) and while the house is on the market. She is just not able to keep things clean enough.

How to Get Home?
Of course Kitty had spent all her savings rather than keeping some money for a ticket home. Originally Biomom was going to drive Kitty back home, but she backed out. Then Biomom said she would buy Kitty a plane ticket. Again, she backed out. We did not have the money needed to pay for a plane ticket, and Kitty had stated many times she'd rather die than get on a bus. We'd actually traveled to Nebraska for our nephew's wedding mid-July and offered to bring her and all her stuff home, but she hadn't been ready yet.

Kitty discovered that if she didn't spend the money she received weekly for gas, food, and spending money, for a whole month, that she would have enough for a plane ticket. After 3 weeks, she double checked the price, and discovered that the cost of plane tickets goes up the closer you get to departure date! We informed her that sadly, we didn't have the money to make up the difference, and she had spent almost all her savings on medical bills and the few requests for extra money that I had granted. 

We let her know that if our nephew decided to come here for Christmas, we could ask him if he'd bring her home then. Kitty was still convinced that she was capable of going to community college full-time, so I would have preferred that she stay until December so she could try that for a while there. I wanted her to see that it wasn't going to work, instead of me having to be dream killer yet again.

Kitty decided to take the bus. By not spending her gas, food, and spending money, she had just enough money for her ticket home and one bag (she planned to leave the rest of her stuff with my nephew until he came to visit us or we went there). She could make it home... if I gave her a small advance on her weekly allowance. I agreed to advance her the money.

She had some cash she'd received for babysitting that she used to purchase some food to take with her. I let her know I was impressed that she'd thought ahead and purchased food from the grocery store where it would be cheaper than buying food on the way. Unfortunately, her youngest sister ate all the food (Kitty was upset that Biomom was unwilling to reimburse her or replace the food). Biograndma took Kitty to the bus station, and was going to buy her breakfast, but forgot.

When Kitty called me from the bus the next day, she hadn't eaten in almost 48 hours. I immediately put money on her debit card and told her to get food at the next stop. 

Lesson learned?
Kitty got home at the end of September, and we're still fighting to get her services reinstated. Except for me contacting the social security office and changing her address, she insisted that she could do it all herself, and refused my help.

After a month, she was completely out of meds, had no Medicaid, no psychiatrist appointment, and was finally willing to turn a lot of it back over to me. Three weeks later and I'm still working on it. 

She's already taken her medications back to her room, even though I told her that was not an option. *sigh* We need to reestablish the ground rules for her to be able to function here. I'm not looking forward to it.

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 emotionally about 13-14yo) 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.
Children who don't feel safe in infancy have trouble regulating their moods and emotional responses as they grow older. By Kindergarten, many disorganized infants are either aggressive or spaced out and disengaged, and they go on to develop a range of psychiatric problems. They also show more physiological stress, as expressed in heart rate, heart rage variability, stress hormone responses, and lowered immune factors. Does this kind of biological dysregulation automatically reset to normal as a child matures or is moved to a safe environment? So far as we know, it does not.” ~ The Body Keeps the Score, Beseel A van der Kolk, M.D.
For a fantastic explanation of safety and why it is so important - plus what to do about it. I highly recommend the video Chaos to Healing - Therapeutic Parenting 101 which explains Daniel Hughes P.A.C.E concept in an easy to understand and practical way. One of the presenters in this video is therapeutic parent and coach, Christine Moers. If you haven't seen her YouTube videos or checked out her blog, I HIGHLY recommend her.

Kids of trauma are often easily triggered, extremely sensitive to emotions, unable to regulate their emotions... causing them to react as if they are in a war zone.  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.

If the child feels that they are in control instead of us then their world is not 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.

Structure and Caring Support

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.

When I began providing Caring Structure, I thought for sure they would rebel and make our lives miserable. They didn't always like it, but it seemed like their few complaints were based on what their peers thought about it, rather than something they were truly feeling. Unlike my neurotypical, biochildren who understandably would have protested the strict structure their adopted siblings required, most of the time, my adopted children just accepted it and moved on.

Without this structure or when we "lightened up," my son would act out until he had to be returned to the stricter structure level. Somewhere deep down, subconsciously, his brain knew he needed that structure to feel Safe. 


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 (this 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 4-yr-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. -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?


STRUCTURE AND CARING SUPPORT - Helping your child feel safe by providing the structure they need/ crave.

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 the 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 a 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 - a concrete plan used to explain to a treatment team why a 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 also be used to provide a very structured lifestyle for kids of trauma.

MY TOP 10 - the things that helped me the most in this journey!


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/ NEEDED 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 (yet another example of black and white thinking).

Once the kids felt safe and really knew that we "had their back," THEN they could handle having some 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. You Have Not Failed

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

Friday, November 13, 2015

2015 Trauma Mama Gift Swap

2015: Several trauma mamas and I have decided to do a small Trauma Mama gift swap. If you are a trauma mama and interested in participating, please fill out the following form and put it in the comments (it will not be published) or email it to marythemommy at gmail dot com. Please be 100% sure that you are able to participate, remember there is another trauma mama who may be hurt and disappointed if you do not follow through.

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

Last year I participated in a small group exchange and I did a one on one swap with another mom. I was also an "angel" to a trauma mama who could not afford a gift for her child or herself. I'm so glad to be in a place in my life where I can do this.

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

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

**Hint** If you would like to answer the "Getting to Know You" questions, but don't have time to complete the whole form all at once, write out your answers in a word processing program and then cut and paste them into the form boxes when you're ready to send it in. Registration forms are due no later than November 15. All matches will be made on or before November 20. Unless there are special circumstances that need to be considered, packages should be mailed to their recipients no later than December 14. International packages will need to be shipped no later than December 1. We learned from sad experience last year that if they're shipped any later than that, they don't arrive before Christmas, even when they're coming from or going to Canada. .
* Required

Contact and Shipping Information*

Name (first and last)
Shipping Address

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

I am 100% committed to participating in this event. *100% commitment means that I acknowledge and understand there is a very real mama with very real feelings on the other end of this swap. She's also a trauma mama who's been in or is still in the trenches just like I am. She's very likely put much of herself into preparing something special for another mama. I want her to receive something special this holiday season to remind her that she is loved, that the work she's doing is worth it, and that she's not alone. It would be very sad for her to be looking forward to receiving something special from a potential new friend, but not have it arrive. I will make sure that doesn't happen!

What if I need to back out? *If circumstances arise and I'm unable to keep my participation commitment, I will notify one of the organizers as quickly as possible so another match can be found for my assigned mama.

Shipping Confirmation *I promise to ship my package using a method that can be tracked, even if I have to pay a little bit extra in order to make that happen. I want to make sure my mama actually gets my package once I've sent it.

Getting to Know You
These questions aren't required, but the more you share, the more the mama who gets your name will be able to get a feel for who YOU are outside of being a trauma mama. Not only does it help her be able to put together a special gift for you, but it will also help in deciding who you ultimately get matched with. One of the most fun aspects of participating in an event like this is finding others to add to your circles of support and friendship. If matches can be made among people with similar interests or family situations or whatever, they will be. Unless otherwise noted, these answers (along with your contact information) will be shared with the person you are matched with.

Briefly describe yourself and your family. Describe your personality, share your general age, what your profession is, any special talents, etc. Share whatever you want about what makes you you. Also share a bit about your family including how many kids you have, their ages, are they bio or adopted, if adopted, how old were they at adoption, where they were adopted from, and whatever else you want to share.

What type of activities do you enjoy participating in with your family?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you have any dietary restrictions and/or preferences?

What are your 3 most favorite restaurants?

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

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

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

I am willing and able to ship my package internationally if needed

I am willing and able to be an "Angel Mama" if needed. Should the need arise, I can help out by putting together a second package for a second mama. Feel free to contact me if you need some help in this area.

I can help with event coordination and logistics if needed. Should the need arise, I can help with the coordination efforts and logistics of this event. I am willing to help out by working with the other event coordinators, sending emails to other participants as needed, or doing whatever else is needed to make sure the logistics of this event are manageable.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

"If you find out I'm not perfect, you'll leave."

"If you find out I'm not perfect, you'll leave." 
Our kids feel deep down that they are unworthy and unlovable.

When Kitty trusted me enough to admit this fear out loud, I think she was finally ready to start healing. I feel the best thing I did was reassure her that I already knew she wasn't "perfect" and I still loved her. That I wasn't going to leave because she didn't/ couldn't behave, and she sometimes took joy in causing chaos.

I believe that was what both my kids with RAD were the most scared of - that they were unlovable and unworthy of love. That if people found out what they were "really like, " then they would leave him/ her. At the same time, they needed control of the situation so they would push us away, feeling it was inevitable that we were going to leave so they wanted to be the one leaving.
{I think this is also one reason why they try to go back to birth family and at the same time the reason why it terrifies them - they need to prove/ disprove that the people who rejected them were right (or wrong)}

Why Do They DO That?!  


Acting Badly Toward Female Caregivers/ Mom
I believe this is one reason why our kids tend to behave differently (usually worse) with the female caregiver. In their mind, the mother is the person that hurt them the most, that can hurt them the most.

Even when we have never hurt them and never would, sometimes they get stuck in the past! Sometimes with my kids, it was because things that happened to them before they came to us, got their feelings and the events of their childhood mixed up with me as their mother figure. I know some kids talk about things that they remember having happened to them as a child, as though it had happened recently.

Another thing about their issues with mothers is that we're almost always the ones "forcing" them to deal with attachment and feelings,

Why Is Attachment Scary?
The following is the list of common beliefs of children with attachment disorders (Katharine Leslie, When a Stranger Calls You Mom). I have to say Bear definitely believes most if not all of these. Kitty believes a lot of them.

  • Those who love me will hurt me.
  • It is safer to get my needs for closeness met by strangers or those who are not important to me. (Can you say, "Kleenex girls"?! I knew you could.)
  • I have to look out for myself, cause nobody else will.
  • I have to hurt others before they hurt me.
  • I lose myself (I will die) if I become who you want me to be (like you).
  • I might as well lie, no one believes me anyway.
  • I'm forced to lie when people ask me questions.
  • People should stay out of my business.
  • If I want something then I should have it.
  • If I see something I want I should take it.
  • People make me mad.
  • When I'm mad I don't care who gets hurt.
  • People deserve what they get.
  • If I don't get what I want you are to blame.
Damaged/Broken Trust 

The Frozen Lake Story
"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

The Matrix Analogy


For more about Safety and why it's essential to a child's survival -  see this post, 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. Generally, this feeling of being unsafe will fade as our child heals, but there will probably always be times when it comes up again.


My kids tend to behave only because they fear the consequences of being caught (if they understand consequences at all) rather than doing something because it's the right thing. Lying and Stealing. This is not because they're bad, or manipulative, or hate me, it is because they are stuck at the bottom of  Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. Their fear keeps them feeling like they're in a war zone  - focused only on survival.

Maslow’s five levels of hierarchy are:
1.) Physiological or biological needs. These are the survival needs — air, water, food, sleep, and procreation. These requirements are the basic needs of human existence.
2.) Security or safety needs. These needs include health, financial security, shelter and the assurance of living in a place where one does not feel threatened.
3.) Social needs. Maslow felt that once physiological and security needs were met, people start looking for love, friendship, and community. Families, religious groups and social organizations fulfill the need to belong.
4.) Esteem needs. Maslow noted two types of esteem needs — self-esteem and esteem from others.
5.) Self-actualization needs. This is a search for becoming his or her "best self." Unlike the lower levels of the hierarchy, this need is never completely met as there are continuous new occasions for growth. Maslow stated only about 2% of the world population is in the self-actualization state.

These first four levels of hierarchy are referred to as "Deficit needs," sometimes called D-needs. The theory is that if a person doesn’t have enough of something in these four levels, he or she would feel the deficit — or need. If one does have enough, it is oftentimes not noticed. Maslow has also termed these first four categories as survival needs, as humans instinctively attempt to cover all of these. If one of these needs was not properly met when a person was a child, that person may fixate on the particular need throughout the rest of his or her life.

With D- needs, once fulfilled you don’t often notice them. The B-needs, however, become stronger as they are realized. These are the apex of Maslow’s hierarchy and are called the "Being Needs" or B-needs. When the first four D-needs are met, then a person begins to search for becoming his or her best self.

Why they Act Differently When They're Away From Home

My kids have what I call "Charming RAD" officially known as Disinhibited RAD. That means for my daughter, that she would literally rather die than let others see that they are not perfect --- because it feels like life or death to them.

For Bear, it's more about empathy, getting warm fuzzies (and other stuff) from people who feel sorry for him, impressing people so they think he's a "big man" and won't mess with him... misdirecting others so they won't see the real him. He brags about how "badass" he is. He lies about... pretty much everything (He belonged to a gang when he lived in the ghetto in Chicago  (he was only 6 when he lived in Illinois and didn't live in Chicago). He saw someone get murdered in his bed. He spent all of Spring Break drunk in another city. We abuse and neglect him. And on and on...).  

People can't reject him if they don't see the real him.

People-pleasing is one of the strongest defense mechanisms they have. Most have an uncanny knack for knowing what they need to do to make people like them and want to take care of them - even though they have a total lack of empathy and almost no social skills.

With parents, this usually starts as a honeymoon period. Once they start to trust us, we start seeing more of their imperfections. It sucks, but it means they trust us more than they do other people in their life (most of the time I wish they didn't trust me that much!).

At school, in public, or at a friend's house, they appear to hold it all together, convincing you that if they have control over their behaviors there so they should be able to do it at home too! 

Unfortunately, that's not the way it works

Imagine if you have to give an important presentation at work, but you have the flu. You get up, give your presentation, and then go home and collapse. Our kids run out of emotional reserves. (see this Spoon Theory post). They're living in a life and death war zone in public, and can only hold it together for so long,

Mommy Shopping
A common defense mechanism for our kids is to try to leave before what they believe is their "inevitable" abandonment by us. Attachment and people loving them is scary. Especially love from the female caregivers - they push us away the hardest of all. So they try to move on before things get emotional. Demanding that they want to be put into a new family, foster care, group home... somewhere else, where everything will be "better."

They act like they believe that the grass is greener somewhere else, and I know that for me, I often felt like there must be another family out there who could do a better job than I was!

It didn't help that outsiders usually believed my very convincing children who "present well" and often lied so convincingly about things that they seemingly had no reason to lie about. They didn't understand why any child would act like this. It was out of their realm of knowledge.

Many people, especially the "professionals" who worked with my kids,  treated me like I really was the child abusing, over-controlling, money-grubbing, rigid... *w*itch that my kids often claimed I was. (Don't believe me? Check out some of the comments on my posts).

This is why it is so important to find support and validation from people who "get it." It's also important to recharge our batteries so we can hang in there through this. Self-Care!

Sometimes it's the opposite! Instead of pretending they don't care about us and keeping us at arm's length, our kids seem to want all of our attention all the time and act jealous and angry when we pay attention to someone else. Our showing affection toward our spouse or other children (even random strangers) can trigger rages and even "payback" toward us and/or the other person.

Deep down our kids feel they are unworthy and unloveable. Us showing affection or even just being friendly to others triggers feelings of abandonment and they lash out.

Also, my children see the world in black and white. If you're loving on someone else, then you hate them. If you're paying attention to someone else you're saying that your child is not worthy of your attention.

What looks like your child wanting attention focused on them all the time is not them being selfish, it's them being afraid that you'll realize they aren't worthy of that attention. Their insecurity in your love causes them to feel that they need to do anything they can to keep you from leaving.

When They Act Out and Then Demand Your Attention
 Mine seriously don't have the ability to make the connection between their behavior and my feelings toward them. They just don't get why they can't do something fun when they just screamed in my face 10 minutes ago. That was "so long ago" and they don't understand why I'm "holding a grudge." If they remember the event at all.

It makes me so angry that they expect me to be loving and affectionate when they just abused me. I'm expected (not just by the child but by everyone else) to just squash my feelings and continue on as normal. How am I supposed to do that?! Doing so drains my emotional reserves until there's nothing left for anyone. Not doing so makes me feel mommy guilt and I look like a bad parent to others.

It sucks dealing with the fallout, but I've had to learn to prioritize my marriage and relationship with the rest of the family over this individual child.

Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order!
Marriage - Keeping It Together 

Seeing me being affectionate with Hubby, doing fun things with the other kids, taking care of myself... all are hard for my adopted children to deal with at the time (and they've said more times than I can count that I love my biokids more than them) but I hope as they've grown that they've learned that they deserve these things too. That they will expect their significant other to be kind and affectionate with them and that they deserve that respect and love. That children deserve to be treated well and loving one child does not mean we can't love another.

And I deal with the stress of all of this with lots of Self-Care! {Finding the Joy, Continuous Traumatic Stress}

Why kids act differently in RTC (or psych hospitals, school or anywhere else):
  1. YOU are not there. You are the symbol of all mom caregivers, and you dare to try to “inflict” your love on him. In an RTC, our children don’t have to deal with the stress of family and emotions, which may reduce enough of their stress to a point where they can handle it better.
  2. Too “Broken” to Function in a Family. Some kids do better in RTC. They NEED an environment without emotions and long-term consequences, and need people to keep them, and those around them, safe because they are not capable of doing it for themselves.
  3. Trust. The child trusts you enough to “let his/her hair down.” They really do believe that you love them enough to put up with their behaviors. Which is true, but sometimes I wish mine didn’t trust me that much! My daughter “holds it together” all day by cramming everything inside and ignoring it – then she gets home and lets it all out on us. Those feelings have to go somewhere, but they can also hold it for a long time when they know it’s life or death (which it usually feels like it is).
  4. Honeymooning/ Shut Down/ Dissociation. RTC/ schools, etc. are scary places. My daughter will lie, shut down, dissociate, escape by sleeping, “talk the talk” (years of therapy and being in hospitals can teach a child all the right buzz words)… anything to get through this and get out. With the right meds and enough motivation, they can hold it in for months – up to a year depending on whether or not they see that it’s working.
  5. Structure and Support 24/7.  Making decisions and choices is hard for our kids. They NEED structure and support. Concrete expectations make them feel safe. In an RTC, there are very few gray areas for the child to have to figure out. They have fewer decisions to make (bedtime, where to sit, what to do next...). My daughter feels “safer” when someone who knows her issues is monitoring her 24/7 -- so well supervised that she doesn’t have to stress about making bad choices. She can’t suicide, self-harm, use drugs or tobacco (supposedly! – my son found a way to sneak chewing tobacco). My son deliberately acts out at public school until he gets sent back to the special school, because he needs and craves the structure and support provided by the special school. We cannot always provide the structure and concrete expectations that our kids need/ crave, especially over the long-term. RTCs have much better staff to child ratios and back up than we ever could! It is not possible to live real life like an institution (although we sometimes come close in our house), especially when you have other special needs kids and are dealing with life.
  6. Staff is Easily Manipulated. The staff is used to being treated like scum, so any child that is nice to them… They don’t necessarily recognize or care that it is manipulative. Generally “Charming” RAD kids hug and are warm and sweet to everyone (as long as they aren’t family). This helps the child feel safer. The child doesn't actually trust or care about these people, but they are pretty believable so the staff, case managers, teachers… have no clue. They want to protect this sweet, loving child from obviously crazy, overly strict parents with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy. Which feeds right into what the child wants.
  7. Not Their Problem. Short-term focus and our child’s best interest is not the staff's problem, especially in the long-term. Staff can avoid telling the kids what they don’t want to hear (like “no”). So our kids behave better, because they like people who rarely tell them no. No one cares about long-term consequences (except you!).
  8. Closed Environment that is impossible in the "real world." This is a locked campus that goes way beyond child proofing, so staff don’t have to deal with watching him and correcting him when he gets into things that could hurt him. There are no small children or pets running around that the child could sexually abuse, torture, torment, or just be cruel to. They don’t have to protect a whole family, just a bunch of kids who are not exactly perceived as defenseless. 
  9. Concrete, Absolute Rules - Your child KNOWS he has little to no flexibility or “wiggle room” on most subjects so they don’t bother to argue with staff about bedtime, computer time, respectful words…
  10. It’s Not Personal. It’s just a job. Staff can walk away. They go home at the end of their shift. They can quit. They can let someone else take over for awhile… we have to protect ourselves and the rest of the family, and that influences how we handle our child. Staff don’t have to do anything that isn’t in their job description. If someone vomits that’s the job of the cleaning staff. If the staff person has the flu, they can take a sick day. We have to deal with everything our children throw at us, no matter what, and it often hits home and gets personal.
  11. Nurturing is Optional. Unlike an RTC, when a child is rude, horrible, scary, threatening, tries or succeeds in hurting us and/ or a family member, we have to continue living with this child. If a stranger, or even our significant other, treated us the way our child does, then most likely that person would go to jail, and everyone would be encouraging us to leave him, but when it’s a child, we’re expected to handle the emotions and stress, not show it in any way to our child, and be warm and loving all the time.
  12. No Social Skills Needed or Required. No one expects the child to care about anyone else’s feelings. Empathy, sharing, cooperation is rewarded as something above and beyond. 
  13. School is Easier in an RTC. Lower expectations and lots of one-on-one instruction. No one knows or cares about your child's actual capabilities. The child is not expected to live up to his or her "potential."
  14. Blank Slate. If the child messes up, they get to start all over again with a blank slate the next day. No one cares what he/she did last year, last summer, or even last night. No grudges, no expectations, no hurt feelings, no holding the child to a higher standard….
  15. No Personality Conflicts. If someone doesn’t like your child, or the child doesn’t like them… the child can just wait, they’ll leave and/or go home soon. Our kids don't expect people to stick around.
  16. No One Knows the Child's Family - Staff. They mostly only know what the child tells them. They tend to believe the child if he tells them that you beat him daily, or “hug him too much” (Yes, my son told the staff that was one of the main reasons he was in RTC – we’d known him less than 6 months at that point… let’s just say that was NOT why he was there). Most RTCs are not used to working with kids with loving, involved parents. They’re also not used to working with kids with attachment issues. If the child says, "My dad beats me every day," "My mom doesn't feed me," "My parents won't let me have a cell phone because they are unreasonably strict,' "I'm a poor little abused orphan that no one cares about"... well, to the staff, it's entirely possible. The staff and other kids will validate your child's every entitled feeling, and will most likely try to "make it up to the child" by giving them things and special treatment. We also got a lot of pressure to give our child the same privileges a normal teen "deserves." Example of how we handled this.
  17. No One Knows the Child's Family - Peers. The kids in RTC and school will reinforce your child’s beliefs, and make the child feel better about him/herself (usually at your expense), based on whatever the child chooses to tell them. Ask my daughter how many of her “friends” (and biofamily) think we are evil, strict parents, and have offered to kidnap my daughter and let her live with them – most of them call us names (which she loves to share with us) and some of them have even offered to hurt us for her.
  18. RTCs Can Be Fun. Tiny successes are celebrated and rewarded. Even with almost no positive behavior they get to go on field trips, go to the playground, have dessert… get to go out to eat with parents (who are expected to be sensitive to their feelings), and can eat all the fried foods they want. ...things they get to resent you for for not doing all the time when they're home again.
  19. Chaos Feels Normal. Even children adopted at birth can be used to high levels of stress hormones from the womb. An environment of chaos, can feel normal and familiar. RTC’s feel normal. Nice, quiet homes feel abnormal and “boring.”
  20. It's Not Safe to Act Out. Tranquilizers, lock down, intimidating staff, big scary kids who fight back… RTC’s are scary places. It’s not safe to fight or draw attention to yourself.
  21. What's Normal for your child? Staff don’t know your child’s history or what is normal for him or her. They don’t recognize his/ her anxious behaviors or what Acting In looks like. We were told our daughter was “a little homesick,” but other than that was doing great. On the same day they gave her an anti-anxiety med PRN because she told a staff that she wanted to hit a girl for telling her to “shut up.” They don’t know this is totally out of character for our daughter.
  22. Compared to Whom? I always forget that staff’s definition of “normal” and “sweet” needs to be taken with a truckload of salt. Remember what they are comparing him too – NOT neurotypical children his age! My son is the best behaved kid in the school... a highly structured program for emotionally disturbed youths. They’re always trying to promote him back into regular public school, but that’s because they don’t even notice his “minor” behaviors, like crying, cussing, punching lockers, being rude and oppositional to staff but complying in the end… because they have kids that are listening to the voices in their head that tell them to kill, are spitting in people’s faces, constantly screaming and cussing in the middle of class at other students (because he broke up with her to date her twin – yes this was my son *sigh*), destroying property…
  23. Like Attracts Like. ALL the kids in RTC have poor social skills, so no one will notice that your child is not “good friend” material. So he can have lots of friends if he wants. Plus my kids are naturally attracted to other kids with issues (probably because kids with issues are more tolerant of the poor social skills or maybe because they crave chaos since that’s what they grew up with) so they have a large pool of choices… who can’t escape! It's all short term too, so they can even appear to be popular. {Kleenex Girls}.
  24. No Self-Entertainment Required. Self-entertainment is often difficult for kids with attachment issues to do - it usually requires imagination, which can be very difficult for concrete thinkers. In an RTC, there’s always something to do and people to entertain you. For example, if we try to stick to a schedule that says we have dinner at 6pm then we have to leave the child(ren) to their own devices for ½ an hour or so while we make the dinner. In an RTC there is staff with them entertaining them all the time, and then they get up and walk to the cafeteria where dinner is magically ready. The child rarely has to self-entertain in an RTC.
  25. Medications and Round The Clock Staff. RTCs can make dramatic med changes, whereas we as parents have to work with small incremental increases to a therapeutic level, and don’t have access to 24/7 nursing/ psychiatric care if our child has an adverse reaction. We have to deal with a raging or dysregulated child while the right medication cocktail is found. 
They don't feel Safe (Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?)

But things were going so well!

I think this is related to why a kid who is doing well, suddenly seems to sabotage their success. Sometimes I think when things are going too well, and my kids get scared and pull back.

This could be due to:
  • A traumaversary, birthday, trauma trigger, holiday, change in routine...
  • They run out of emotional reserves. Spoon Theory. This is why a kid can appear to hold it all together at school, in public, or at a friend's house, convincing you that they have control over their behaviors so they "should" be able to do it at home too, right? 
  • They know things are going to "go wrong" so they self-sabotage things to take back control - by controlling when it happens it makes them feel in control and safe
  • The need to protect themselves from what they consider your inevitable rejection by rejecting/ pushing you away. 
  • They don't feel they deserve good things to happen to them.
  • Historically when good things happen, they are followed by bad things (usually involving great loss) - so our kids avoid the good things to make losing them hurt less. 
  • They're afraid that if they're doing well, then you'll raise the bar on your expectations and expect them to keep it up (which is a lot of pressure).
  • They "know" they're going to mess up, so they go ahead and get it over with.
  • Good behavior often leads to higher expectations and more freedom and privileges. Privileges that the child may be afraid they can't handle (actually may not be able to handle!).
    {Bear NEEDED a high amount of structure and support to feel safe - he did very well in a structured, supportive environment and there was a lot of pressure put on us as parents to "reward" that success by putting him in less restrictive environments - where he inevitably failed. I personally believe that failure was often (sub-conscious?) self-sabotage to get put back in the more restrictive environment.}

What we did: 

Reassurance/ Trust-building

I constantly reassured my kids that I would help them deal with these feelings (and find others to help) and that I wouldn't allow them to push me away. I also reassured them that I knew these behaviors and feelings were caused by their "issues," and that as they healed the behaviors and feelings of fear and wanting to hurt us would get better.

Structure and Caring SupportAt the same time, I set up boundaries/ rules/ structure that let them know they were safe (this is a perceived sense of safety - nothing to do with real-life physical safety). I let them know that while they were healing, I would be there to keep them and the rest of the family safe. That hurting me and the family was not OK, and that I would not allow it.

I took away most of their control (even about little stuff like when they would be eating and where they sat in the car), and by doing so they knew that I was strong enough to handle them and love them despite their issues. It took me a long time to understand that they didn't just need someone to love them unconditionally - they didn't believe in that, they needed someone to make them feel safe. Their favorite teacher was the strictest teacher, one of the staff in the behavior unit at school. She tolerated no-nonsense, but they knew she really cared about them.

They were afraid (deep down) of the teachers/ people that they could manipulate, that they could fool into not realizing that the child was not perfect and was "unlovable and unworthy of love." People that gave them a blank slate every day, that forgave them every time, that didn't hold them accountable for their actions... those people weren't strong enough to keep them "safe."

I think me staying, no matter what they did, was a big part of what helped them heal, but I think a bigger part of that was providing the structure and support needed to make them feel safe and know that someone else was in control. That was, I think, one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was not the way I had parented my other children, most of the people involved in the kids' life thought I was overbearing and controlling, and it was NOT my personality (I'm a pretty laid back unstructured person), but they NEEDED that structure and loving support to heal.

I have had so many doubts about whether what I was doing was right and how to change things as they got older and more securely attached:
Slowed/ stopped progress
Justifying structured, (emotional) age-appropriate parenting
FAIR Club with "adult" children

I still believe Therapeutic Parenting was the best thing I did for my children
Therapeutic Parenting
The FAIR Club 

Other helpful posts:
Structure and Caring Support
Why Won't My Child Just Behave?