Saturday Seven

1. I have to admit something. I stopped reading the blog that hosts 7 Quick Takes Friday a long time ago. There is nothing wrong with it but it just didn’t make it when I cut my blogroll by fifty-percent. But I like doing these short, quick posts every-once in a while so I kept participating but it felt wrong. Thus, for 2011, the Saturday Seven is born.

2. I almost didn’t even want to look back at last year’s resolutions. I already know they were not all accomplished but here is a run-down:

  • Become parents: done. And I don’t think we are doing too bad a job (but I’m always open to learning how to do it better)
  • Read thru the Bible: Not so much. I read half of the Old Testament and the Gospels. It just did not happen this year.
  • Eat at home: Mostly done. We enjoyed our CSA this summer but it was way more food than we could handle. I still need to figure out how to cook for four people, including one with a food intolerance (me) and three with very limited food preferences.
  • Read five books: Well, I did not read all the ones I listed but I did read To Kill a Mockingbird, I’m Down, Cringe, Love & Logic Magic for Early Childhood, The Help, Growing Up Black in White, The Girl in the Orange Dress, and The Connected Child. Plus, a lot of children’s books (notable mentions go to Grace for President, Corduroy, The Hello, Goodbye Window, The Jesus Storybook Bible and Bear Snores On).
  • Get in shape: Hah! Our elliptical machine stopped working and we gladly said goodbye to it last week via Freecycle. I ran like four times. I took many walks pushing a two-year-old and large baby this summer. But, no, I did not get in shape.

3. Things that did happen in 2010 that I did not predict:

  • I got my nose pierced (after wanting to do so for nearly 10 years).
  • We bought a mini-van. We are now one of many, many silver mini-vans on the streets of the suburbs of Detroit.
  • We cared for six children in our home – five boys and one little girl. I didn’t expect to have this many placements our first year of foster parenting. And I didn’t expect to love being a mom to a little girl so much (after years of saying I only wanted boys, M changed my mind).
  • Enrolling a child in preschool at the private school my husband and I attended. Eating my words.

4. Goals for 2011…

  • A new wall color for the living room, hallway and kitchen
  • Finally watch the tutorial DVD that came with my camera
  • Memorize 24 Bible verses
  • Connected and happy boys
  • More prayer, more Bible reading, more journaling/writing
  • Cook one new recipe per week

5. Some things I am really looking forward to in 2011…

  • The arrival of my best friend’s baby boy (any time now!)
  • A new niece in March…or February ūüôā
  • Preschool soccer games
  • Reading books on our new iPad (I’ve already started with Same Kind of Different as Me). Our house is being overtaken by books – I am happy to have this space saving way to read.

6. My favorite television shows of 2010: Mad Men, Parenthood, 30 Rock and Modern Family. My favorite movie on 2010: The Social Network (although, most others didn’t stand a chance because I could not stay awake for them).

7. Here is my first verse for 2011…

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

The Connected Child (Chapters 11 & 12)

Chapter 11 is entitled Handling Setbacks. I guess I have sort of been expecting some setbacks. The boys came to live with us six weeks ago. Most foster and adoptive parents know that there is a honeymoon period where behavior is not too bad. At six weeks, we are approaching the end of the honeymoon. The two boys are processing this whole move in different ways. D2 seems generally more flexible, grown-up, and able to roll with things. Before moving in with us, he had been asking his previous foster mom a lot about moms and dads. He seemed to realize that he didn’t have them and that it was something he wanted. I think A was a lot more content in his previous situation. Life was working just fine for him. He is generally happy here but yesterday he woke up from his nap pretty sad and stayed that way for a while. I am hoping the time that D2 is in preschool will be beneficially times for me to spend giving my attention to A. I think both of them are doing great behaviorally. We will see if that progress continues in the coming weeks.

The process of stumbling and getting back on track has therapeutic value. On a neurological level, self-correction and repetition help the brain cement pathways involved in learning new skills. And the process of a parent and child briefly disconnecting and then reconnecting again can actually contribute to a child’s emotional resilience.

Chapter 12 is called Healing Yourself to Heal Your Child. You can tell how cynical I am because when I read the title of the chapter it sounded like an episode of Oprah to me (and, well, I’m not a fan.) But I think Dr. Purvis makes a lot of great points in this chapter about how our own issues can interfere with how we parent.

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes a child’s improved behavior makes a parent uncomfortable. As the child gets healthier – capable of making eye contact, giving genuine hugs, and wanting affection – the more these parents distance themselves. The child’s new capacity for closeness puts these parents’ own intimacy skills to test.

I think most people can relate to struggling with hurt and loss in their past in some form. Things that we don’t even know affect us may come up later in life, especially when parenting children. When D and I decided to officially start the process to become foster parents, I’ll admit, I freaked out just a bit. It was my heart’s desire to be a mom and to be a foster parent, but I was hit with an overwhelming sense of insecurity and inadequacy in the face of parenting children who may have difficult behaviors. I’m not ashamed to say that I sought help through therapy. After a few months of discussing some things with a great, Biblical counselor, I felt much better about becoming a parent.

A parent’s attachment style and emotional health both have significant implications for children. If you are preoccupied with old wounds or subconsciously coping with past traumas, you have less energy to give the full emotional support and nurturing that your at-risk child desperately needs.

I think Dr. Purvis gives some really excellent advice for finding a good therapist.

If you do seek a therapist, here are some signs that he or she can benefit your family:

  • The therapist is kind and has a sense of humor about everyone’s foibles.
  • The therapist points out the hurt in the child more than the misbehavior.
  • You come away from counseling feeling more warm and compassionate about your child’s behaviors (and your own).
  • You come away from therapy feeling as if you and your child are a team against the child’s harmful past (and it’s not you and your child against each other).

To this list I would add, that (if you are a Christian) to seek therapist who come from a Biblical perspective.

I love these last few sections from the book. I think this first one sums it all up really well:

The quality of being fully present is what we want to provide for our children. We want to be a safe audience and eager cheerleaders for them. We want to let children know that we truly hear their concerns, and that it’s okay for them to have their feelings. We want to encourage them to be the most that they can be. When we can achieve that, we lay the foundation for true healing and growth.

The book closes with encouragement and hope…

If you haven’t been reaching your child as quickly as you had hoped, go easy on yourself. As we’ve said before, mastering any new skill takes time. Both you and your child are learning together….

Be patient with yourself and your child as you learn the new steps. Applaud yourself for having the courage and heart to bring healing and love to a child who needs you so. Learn to celebrate small successes and recognize everyday miracles.

That is it. Overall, I am so thankful for the tools I am daily using and learning from this book. I am sure we will be referencing it often.

Happy New Year!

The Connected Child (Chapters 9 & 10)

I’m determined to finish this before 2011. ¬†Right now, I have a three-year old boy who had a rough day. And right now he just can’t seem to fall asleep and is instead making lots of noises. I wouldn’t really mind except that his brother would actually like to sleep on the bunk above him.

And so, Chapter 9: Proactive Strategies to Make Life Easier…practical advice from Dr. Purvis (and her co-authors):

  • Give choices: we’ve got this one down. As fans of Love & Logic, we have done this since our first placement with S. D2 & A often ask, especially at meal time, “What are my choices?”
  • Rehearse for what’s coming: I find this is great not only to prepare the boys for what to expect and who we might meet, but also to let them know how we expect them to behave.
  • Avoid Overload: Our boys hit meltdown mode at Christmas celebration #4. We should have planned better for some down time.
  • Practicing self-awareness: Throughout the day, remind your child to “stop and breathe” and ask them, “What they need?” Dr. Purvis also suggests a designated “quiet space” for a child to go “listen to your heart.”
  • Work toward behavioral goals: I would say for both our boys, their number one behavioral goal is to listen. I already feel like we are moving in a positive direction with them on this. D2’s secondary goal should probably be learning to be respectful. He certainly loves to tell us when we are wrong (or when he thinks we are wrong). A’s secondary goal needs to be to use his words. If something does not go his way, he tends to go straight to whining/crying rather than using words. Dr. Purvis recommends reviewing the goals daily and using the “sandwich technique” of beginning and ending with positive feedback.

On to Chapter 10: Supporting Healthy Brain Chemistry

This chapter talks about the benefits of good nutrition and the behavioral effects of what is going on chemically in a child’s brain. The whole nutrition thing is a bit tricky as Dr. Purvis urges parents to tread lightly on food issues. Our boys would gladly eat hot dogs, chicken nuggets and french fries. Right now, I’m sneaking veggies into their food when I can. There are a few fruits that they are happy to eat – oranges, grapes, and apples. We limit juice and milk to once a day usually and the rest of the time they are getting just water. I have not really noticed any significant effects on their behavior based on the diet yet but I probably need to pay more attention.

There is also a lot of interesting information on neurotrasmitters and therapy done with amino acids, however, I’m not scientific enough to do justice in explaining this part of the chapter.

The Connected Child (Chapter 8)

I’m way, way behind. But we are daily using things I’ve read in The Connected Child and I’m determined to finish the book soon.

Chapter Eight is called Nurturing at Every Opportunity. In this chapter, Dr. Purvis gives lots of practical tips on how to better nurture your child and cultivate a healthy, positive self-perception. I remember in elementary school, there was lots and lots about “self-esteem” which has made me little skeptical of this kind of stuff. However, we know that harmed and adopted children often suffer from negative self-image due to feelings of rejection or failure. It is our job to help them.

Dr. Purvis talks about the power of play and fun, something I need to continually work on. It just does not seem to come to me very naturally. However, the other night, the boys and I had a little dance party (in all honesty, this is something I love to do). It was playful and we got to do it together. I just need to remember there are things like this that I can do easily. Often times, I am less willing to “play” because I want to get something done but I am working on leaving chores for later.

This was a really practical exercise that the book lays out for parents:

Let Your Child Lead: A Nurturing Exercise

Here is a joyful, nurturing, and fun exercise for families.

Set a timer for fifteen minutes. During this period:

  • Turn off your phones. Take no phone calls.
  • Do no dishes, cleaning or other chores.
  • Focus your full, undivided attention on the child.
  • Let yourself be directed in play by your child.

Allow the youngster to lead in whatever game or play activity he or she chooses. While you participate, practice being affectionate and warm. Make many positive comments and offer praise and soft eye contact in a way that shows the child how much you value him or her. Become attuned to your child’s guidance and delight. Let your child lead the activity, and subtly match his or her physical motions and speech patterns. For example, if your child sits on the floor and plays with his right hand, you do the same. Relax and enjoy the moment, following the flow of whatever play satisfies the soul of your child.

So simple, I totally have at least 15 minutes (if not more) per day to do this with each boy.

Other things I found really helpful:

1. A reminder to redirect your child gently when they lose focus on the task at hand, rather than irritated nagging.

2. Filling your child’s “trust bank” with lots and lots of positive statements about who they are.

3. Considering the timing of things when trying to talk about feelings. In the middle of a meltdown, is not the time.

Dr. Purvis also talks about how critical touch is for children. Dr. Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute is quoted in this chapter.

Our studies show that most children are just not getting an adequate amount of touch during the day. They need hugs and carrying around and kisses and pats on the back. It would be very healthy if a child got a normal dose of touch, plus a massage a day.

From having cared for a baby this year, I know how much time I spent in contact with T. Babies from day one, in healthy homes, get lots of touch. I don’t know a lot about what our boys’ early lives were like. They are comfortable with hugs and kisses. At times they still want to be carried, which may be silly for kids their age (and size). However, I’ve kind of decided as long as I can carry them, I’m going to take the opportunity to do so. I didn’t get to do that with them as babies and I’m hoping to make up for a little lost time with them. It may look funny to see us carrying around our forty-pound, almost-five-year-old but it seems like a positive thing for him right now.

Avoidant parents sometimes have the mistaken assumption that they’re teaching independence by keeping their distance. However, many adopted and foster children have already endured too much distance and were required to be prematurely independent, to their detriment. Ongoing, close nurturing is critically important for them.

Okay, on to chapter nine.

The Connected Child (Chapter 7)

When I opened up my book tonight and saw the title of Chapter 7, Dealing with Defiance, I thought, “Oh yes, we definitely need this chapter.” At ages three and four, the boys definitely like to assert their will.

The chapter explains that most parents fall into two categories: too lenient and too controlling. I know my own personal nature is to be too controlling. At three and four, I know they are going to misbehave. I think my desire for them to behave has less to do with them are more to do with me. I need to be happy because they succeed and make the right choices, as opposed to being happy because they obey me.

The goal is to be a good balance between the two extremes.

You’re Achieving the Right Balance if…

  • Once you make a rule or promise, you enforce it.
  • You use the minimum “firepower” necessary to correct misbehavior. Whenever possible, you use kindness and playfulness to make your point.
  • You use praising and positive statements with your child five times more often than you use corrective statements.
  • You catch your child doing things right.
  • Several times a day, you say how precious and dear your child is to you.
  • You let your child decide between choices.
  • You compromise with your child.
  • You accept and respect your child’s expressions of sadness or disappointment.
  • Your child recognizes that you are “the boss” and have the final say, but he isn’t scared of you

I have to say that D does a really good job pointing out when they boys are doing things right. He is such an encourager. This chapter gave me a lot to think about and to learn from. We are still getting to know our boys and learning what triggers certain defiant behavior. It does feel like we are saying “no”, “don’t” and “stop” a whole lot.

When M and T were getting toward the end of the reunification process and their visits were getting longer, it occasionally seemed like M was just having a tough time emotionally. She didn’t have the words to express it but it came out in her behavior. Dr. Purvis says it is okay to take a “nurturing detour” when parenting kids who come from the hard places. I remember offering M a hug instead of a time out at one point when she was acting up. Her emotions seemed to be getting the best of her and a cuddle was what she needed.

I need to keep this in mind with D2 and A. We don’t have the full story on them yet. They appear “typical” and “normal”. They are well behaved often but they are still two boys who have been in the foster care system for the majority of their short lives. I think it will require us paying a great deal of attention to their needs and personalities to understand exactly when they may be reacting out of fear or anxiety rather than just typical pre-school-aged misbehavior.

Parenting (of any kind) is not an easy task by any means. It is easy to second-guess your decisions. But I can tell you each of the six kids we have had in our home this year have been well worth it all. I don’t know any parent who would not agree with that.

*The Connected Child book club is hosted by Sarah Thacker.

Sweet & Scrappy

The boys moved in on Thursday night. D was in class and the evening was hectic but pretty manageable. The rest of the weekend went pretty well considering they met lots and lots of new people.

Meeting new people usually sends them both into a nervous frenzy. They get loud and chaotic. It usually only lasts a few minutes. And then they return to their “regular” level of noisiness.

We implemented the three rules from Theraplay and they can already repeat them. We have to explain them quite a bit but it is pretty cute to hear A say, “No hwurts, stick-agether & have fun.

We have had some great moments…

  • “Mommy, you’re pute.” – A (that’s “cute”).
  • After pointing out how nice is was for their past foster mom to throw them a party , D2 said, “It was nice of your to take care of me, Mommy.” He wasn’t feeling well during the party and we got to do a decent amount of cuddling.
  • D2 sweetly sharing with our niece, Ellie, when they came to visit.
  • Neither of them wanting to play in the McDonald’s PlayLand because it was “a wittle cary” (scary).
  • Teaching them to pray. D2 always prays for his cars while A gets a bit more creative, “Dear God. BOOKS!”

They are pretty sweet at times, generous with hugs and have embraced our dinner prayer song to the point we often hear them singing it when they are playing.  On Friday night, we all sat down to watch a VeggieTale Christmas movie, each with out own little bowl of popcorn and it was just awesome.

But we’ve also had some rough moments…

  • I left to go shopping and D was in charge of nap/rest time. A decided he didn’t really want to cooperate and there was a bit of a struggle to get him to comply. He finally did but he woke up pretty mad at D, which is tough for someone who is used to being the “good guy.” He was refusing to even look at him at first but he seemed to forget that he was mad after about ten minutes.
  • D was at work last night and the social worker came over to fill out some paperwork. The boys had been calming down but having her show up, just a bit before bedtime, seemed to set them off. They could not calm back down for bedtime. I tried the best I could to reason with them – as much as you can with a three & four year old – but the end result was bedtime with no story. And, therefore, them both in bed sobbing. Not exactly how I want to end my night with them.

Sending kids to bed crying is not fun. I immediately questioned if I made the right decision or if I should have been more patient with them. After I heard them calm down, I went in and asked them if they knew why I took story-time away. They both understood that it was because they were not listening. We decided we would all have a better day tomorrow and they fell asleep soon after.

It is a fine balance between wanting to be sensitive to what they have been through and also wanting them to understand what is not acceptable behavior. Certain things we are willing to go easy on (like not making them eat certain foods since we are still getting to know their likes and dislikes). Overall, I think they are doing really well considering all the transitions going on (and all the ones they have been through before us). It is fun to get to know their little personalities and quirks each day.

Brothers

Saturday we met the boys for the first time. They were pretty shy at first but after a few minutes they were ready to play. We spent about two hours at their current foster home playing with toys and just letting them get comfortable with us. On Sunday, we picked them up and brought them over to see our house. Our basement (full of toys and “designed” for play) was a huge hit. We spent most of the time there before taking them back to their current foster home.

Their ages are such a huge change from what we were used to with M & T. At three and four, they play pretty well with each other. From what I’m learning by reading The Connected Child about bonding through play, I am realizing we are going to have to be very intentional.

On Sunday evening, their foster mom explained to them that they would be coming to live with us. She told them that they could call us mom and dad (we had discussed this with her). She told us that they were very excited and were saying things like, “Our new mom and dad have a basketball hoop in their basement!”

We picked them up on Tuesday evening and they spent the night at our house. D2 (age 4) ran through the living room when we walked in shouting, “Hi Mom & Dad!” I know it seems sort of crazy that they are already calling us this. D and I are still getting used to it ourselves. What I need to remember is that just because they call us mom and dad does not mean they really understand those roles. They really do not have a great understanding yet of what parents are and more important than what they call us is that we can demonstrate to them good, reliable, safe parents.

I spent all day on Wednesday with the boys including taking them a doctor’s appointment for A (age 3). Taking kids in foster care to doctor’s appointments is always interesting. I don’t have any information they want on family history and what their early years were like. I feel awful saying, “I don’t know” to all the questions – “When did he start walking? Was he born full term? What was the pregnancy like?”

My interaction with the doctor was also interesting:

Doctor: So, you are their foster mom?

Me: Yes.

Doctor: How old are you?

Me: 27.

Doctor: Do you have any biological kids?

Me: Nope.

Doctor: Are you capable?

Me: As far as I know.

Doctor: Is your husband capable?

Me: As far as I know.

Doctor: Well, it is really nice of you to do this for these boys. It is not typical that someone your age would make this decision. What is your religion?

I explained to him that we are Christians and that D is a youth pastor at a non-denominational church. I told him we felt called to foster care and that all the kids we have had have been great. I guess since he is a doctor he is used to asking personal questions (even though they had no relevance to why A was there to see him). I didn’t really mind too much since he was phenomenal with the kids who were bouncing off the walls most of the time during the hour and a half appointment. Also, I felt like he was giving A extra special attention since we are lacking so much family history on him. There is nothing too medically serious going on but this doctor seemed to be extra sympathetic to their situation. Plus, his questions seemed much less forward compared to the one A asked me when I took him to the bathroom:

A: Mommy, do you have a penis?

Me: No.

A: Oh, okay!

On that note, I have to say having two boys is pretty awesome. I’m sure we have our hands full in the weeks and months to come but we are enjoying getting to know them.

The Connected Child (Chapters 5 & 6)

We have new kiddos! That is one of the reasons I’m so late on this post.

These two chapters were full of so much great information. Chapter Five is called Teaching Life Values. Something I can definitely see myself implementing is the Life Values from Theraplay.

  • No hurts – A short phrase making it easy for kids to remember to be kind and gentle
  • Stick together – Reminding kids (and parents) to work together as a family
  • Have fun – Interacting playfully and productively; having fun cannot happen without no hurts and stick together coming first

I love these three simple rules to follow. They are broad enough to apply to many situations.

Dr. Purvis asks parents to be consistent, listen and make eye contact, give your child support, encourage and give lots and lots of time and attention.

Once physical needs for clothing, food, and shelter are met, it’s far more beneficial to share activities together than to give a child gifts and be stingy with time. By giving children our focus and time, we demonstrate their value and plant the seeds of caring relationships.

Chapter Six is called You Are the Boss. Honestly, I find the role of “the boss” pretty natural but need a lot of help in learning how to be “the boss” to kids, especially those coming from difficult situations.

Dr. Purvis suggests this method for disciplining children:

  1. Respond quickly
  2. Clarify expectations
  3. Offer simple choices
  4. Present consequences
  5. Give immediate retraining and the opportunity to “re-do”
  6. Practice, practice, practice
  7. Offer praise for success

It seems easy and logical but I know that I often lose my cool when dealing with difficult behaviors. Dr. Purvis encourages parents to be a “good boss” by responding quickly, not debating with the child, using as few words as possible and being instructive and corrective. This means walking a child who has misbehaved through a re-do, step-by-step in the correct way. Additionally, instead of a “time-out” kids are given a “think-it-over” space (near the family or parent).

There is a lot of other great, practical help in this chapter and I can see myself using a lot of it with the two boys who just came into our lives. I don’t have any examples yet of how we have used these techniques but I have a feeling I will be getting plenty of practice in the weeks to come.

*The Connected Child book club is hosted by Sarah Thacker.

The Last Few Days

Well, I haven’t done my summary of The Connected Child – Chapter 5 yet (sorry, Sarah!) We have been a bit busy the last few days but I am definitely planning to get to it, hopefully this afternoon.

Monday afternoon our agency called us about two boys, ages 3 and 4. They are in a foster home now and, due to no reason having to do with them or their behavior, they need to be moved to a new home. After getting some more questions answered yesterday at a meeting with their current foster mom and social worker, we decided to move forward with the placement.

We are meeting them on Saturday and the plan is to transition them living with us by the end of the month. We are really, really excited. In fact, I’m headed out with my mom this morning to buy an second twin mattress and a few other things we might need.

Also, last night, we attended a foster parent appreciation dinner that our agency hosted. At first we were not planning to go but thought it might be a good time to meet other foster parents. We heard from the president of the agency and one foster dad during the program. Both talks were inspiring and just what we needed to hear. We were definitely the youngest foster parents there but we had a great time talking with a few others (including our boys current foster mom some more) and hanging out with the social workers we interact with at our agency. There was another couple sitting at our table and I basically decided they should be our new foster-parent-best-friends. I was hoping to talk with them more but they had to rush out at the end of the program because they were actually placed with a child during dinner! Seriously.

We hope to podcast this weekend after meeting the boys and will keep everyone posted. Thanks!

The Connected Child (Chapter 4)

I am a day late on this post. We must have had too much fun this weekend because I totally forgot to read this chapter on Sunday. We trick-or-treated with Ellie and Shay (our niece & nephew)  also known as Raggedy Ann and Andy.

I was sort of hoping we would get a new placement by now but no such luck. Maybe tomorrow.

I did finally sit down tonight and read Chapter Four: Disarming the Fear Response with Felt Safety. Adopted and foster child may display behavior – tantrums, aggression, hyperactivity – all triggered by fear. As parents, we must do our best to make them feel safe and secure.

A lot of this chapter is so logical. The steps that Dr. Purvis encourages to promote a child’s sense of security and safety make sense immediately but they require consistency and commitment. Parents should can reduce stress by sticking to a predictable¬†schedule and teaching their child coping skills. We saw the benefits of a schedule with M & T while they were with us. I think older kids would benefit from a visual chart-like schedule that shows them how each day will look through words and/or pictures.

Dr. Purvis gives a lot of great advice on how to help you child feel safe. Pain and fear can cause children to be overly independent. Dr. Purvis encourages parents to be approachable.

One way to accomplish this is by getting down to their height level, either by crouching or kneeling, before speaking to them. Once there, use a nonthreatening voice that is calm and modulated.

Another strategy is to pair ourselves with things the child enjoys and likes. So offer toys and gum, for example, in a gesture of friendliness. Rather than sending the child off to play alone with the toy, join him or her in play or watch and compliment their efforts.

When a child does begin to approach voluntarily and open up, reward the behavior. Respond with affection, interest, a warm voice, and smiling eyes – never scolding.

See what I mean? It is so simple yet we struggle to do these things. We need to be so intentional in parenting these children.

We can also help children feel safe by honoring their emotions and respecting their life story. These kids are dealing with a lot on top of the everyday difficulties of growing up. We need to respect their feelings and help them learn how to express them in a healthy way.