When Love Isn’t Enough for Children Who Experienced Trauma

Love is in the air as we celebrate Valentine’s Day! We often associate Valentine’s Day as a ‘Hallmark holiday’ with the cards, chocolates, and red roses. We celebrate with lavish gifts and expressing our love to our loved ones. Yet how do we express love in a way that matters to our children from hard places? More than simply saying, “I love you” or giving a tangible gift, children who have experienced trauma require something different. They require connection.

We know that the brain that has experienced trauma needs more than just love to grow, develop, and heal. TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) offers us three foundational principles for raising children who have experienced trauma: connection, empowerment, and correction. I often find that it is difficult to follow these principles in the moment and it does not always feel intuitive to parent in this way. Sometimes expressing love to our children feels easier when we can just buy them a new toy or tell them how we love them instead of showing them how we love them. As humans, we are hard-wired for connection and children who have experienced trauma crave connection in a variety of ways. What works for one child to feel connected does not always work for another. Love does not “fix” a history of trauma, but connection can help establish trust and create nurturing bonds.

Below are some great ways to connect and show love to your child:

  • Connect by playing a game by making intentional eye contact and copying each other’s facial expressions. This is also a great way to discuss feelings and emotions and how to define them.
  • Connect by mirroring each other’s body movements as if looking in a mirror. This is a great way to connect through body awareness.
  • Part of being able to connect is ensuring that the child feels safe in their environment. Connect by using “I wonder” questions. It takes the pressure of the child needing to have a direct response and gives a safe space to answer with multiple options for responses. For example, reword the sentence of “What were you thinking?” with “I wonder what you were thinking about?”
  • Connect by preparing and cooking a meal together and discussing the importance of nutrition. Talk about how you feel when you eat a balanced meal and how you feel when you do not.
  • Connect by doing a mindfulness activity together. Take a nature walk and point out what you notice about the sounds you hear, the colors you see, the smells you smell, or how being outside makes you feel.

Showing our children how we love them instead of just simply telling them that we love them helps establish deeper bonds of trust. What are your favorite ways to connect with your child? How do you show them that you love them?

By: Amanda Arata

Let’s Talk About Transracial Adoption

For some, adopting a child of another race can be intimidating. Fears like lack of identity between your child and their racial heritage, getting intrusive questions when you are out as a family, or not bonding well because you look different than your child may come up. While these are valid fears, they should not inhibit you from considering transracial adoption.

Let’s talk about 4 word that can help ease your worries about transracial adoption:

Let’s talk about LOVE

Think about the people in your life you love and who love you. Are they all genetically connected to you? Probably not. Easy examples of this include spousal relationships, deep friendships, and of course—adoption! Love knows no bounds. Adopting parents who have both adopted and biological children repeatedly say that their love for their adopted children is no different than the love they have for their biologically-related children. In the same way, adults who were adopted as children (or embryos!) love their parents deeply! Race does not impact the powerful bond of love.

Let’s talk about CONNECTION

Both connection between an adopted child and her parents and connection between an adopted child and her racial heritage are both important. Connection can be built by having shared experiences, asking questions, being open-minded, and having a listening ear. If you are adopting a child of a race different than yours, we encourage you to be intentional about having shared experiences with your child related to her racial heritage. Ask questions and be open to learning about a culture that may be different than yours. Be willing to listen to your child’s thoughts and feelings as you both learn and grow together.

Let’s talk about REPRESENTATION

Representation matters. If you are pursuing a transracial adoption, be intentional about having community around you of the race of your future child. Find mentors who can encourage and support your child as he explores his racial identity. By creating a safe space for exploration, you are communicating to your child that you value and appreciate his differences.

Let’s talk about PURPOSE 

When you began your journey of adoption, what was your purpose? Was it to give a child a loving home? Was it to fulfill your dreams of having a family of your own? Whatever it may be, hold on to the purpose behind your adoption. Remembering your “why” will help overcome fears as you step into the unknown of adopting, especially adopting a child of another race.

 

Fear can be deceiving. When it creeps in, remember these four words: love, connection, representation, and purpose.  And always remember: transracial adoption is a beautiful gift to both you and your child.

By: Sage Vincent

The Best Therapies for Your Adopted Child (And You)

Adoptive families know that therapy will benefit their child, but it can be difficult to know where to turn. Maybe you thought it was called “counseling” but then you started to see words like “trauma-focused” or “eye movement desensitization” or question the effectiveness of art/animal/music/sand in therapy. We’ve created this guide below to find the right fit for your child or yourself.

 

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

PCIT is a combination of play therapy and behavioral therapy for young children that will involve you as the parents. Parents learn techniques for relating to their child struggling with emotional and behavioral problems, language issues, developmental disabilities, or mental health disorders.

Who this best serves: Children ages 2-7 and their parents with experiences of trauma or have diagnosis on the autism spectrum.

 

Play Therapy

Children are able to examine and express their thoughts and emotions in an age and developmentally appropriate way through play. The goal is to help children learn to express themselves in a healthy way, learn respect and empathy, and discover positive problem solving techniques. This will work for children still learning English as well. General play therapists will be appropriate or you can consider Theraplay®, which is a specific type of play therapy, and you can look for a practitioner in your area.

Who this best serves: Children ages 3-12 who may have social or emotional deficits, trauma, anxiety, depression, grief, anger, ADD, autism, learning disabilities, and/or language delays.

 

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Often used to enhance other therapy the participant is engaged in, this therapy gives a sense of calm, comfort, or safety and diverts attention from stressful situations. They may keep an animal at home or by their side during the day or engage equine therapy at a ranch or equestrian school. Bonding with an animal can increase self-worth and trust, stabilize emotions, and improve communication, self-regulation, and socialization skills. Equine therapies have been very successful with adopted children.

Who this best serves: Children with behavioral issues, trauma histories, depression, autism, medical conditions, schizophrenia, or addiction.

 

Art/Music Therapy

Artistic therapies are typically nonverbal and allow the participant to process difficult feelings and express them when they cannot with words. This may be due to difficulties with expressing themselves or still learning English when other talk focused therapies may not be helpful. Music focuses on listening to, reflecting, or creating music to improve health and well-being. Art uses drawing, painting, collage, coloring, or sculpting to help express themselves and “decode” the nonverbal messages behind the art. Sandplay uses sand/toys/water to create scenes of miniature worlds that reflect their inner thoughts, struggles, and concerns.

Who this best serves: Children, adolescents, or adults who have experienced trauma, abuse, or neglect. They are useful for anyone struggling with anxiety, depression, trauma, or on the autism spectrum.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Trauma Focused- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

This therapy is short-term and focused on intervention in the way an individual thinks and feels and how that affects the way they behave and problem solve. It works on changing thought patterns as a way to change behavior. Trauma-focused is for focusing specifically on effects of early childhood trauma.

Who this best serves: Adolescents and adults but school age children can benefit from this therapy if they are developmentally able to do so. It takes participants who are engaged in therapy and works well with depression, anxiety, PTSD, anger, panic disorders, phobias, or eating disorders.

Trauma-focused is best with adoptees or adoptive parents with abuse histories, PTSD, depression, or anxiety as a result of incidents in childhood.

 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy

This is a specialized therapy that diminishes negative feelings associated with particular memories of traumatic events. It focuses on emotions and symptoms from the event and uses a hand motion technique causing eyes to move back and forth which engages both sides of the brain. This physical and emotional connection can bring deeper healing, particularly with individuals with significant trauma.

Who this best serves: Adolescents and adults with PTSD, anxiety, phobias, depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and stress. It can also be used with younger children with therapists who have this experience and training.

 

Special notes for adoptive parents: The adoption process can bring up difficult emotions, thoughts, or experiences from your own past. While this is painful, it is also good that this is surfacing so you are able to seek healing. You may find your adopted child is pushing buttons you did not know were there and counseling will benefit you and your parenting. We encourage you to also consider the therapies listed above for yourself while you seek services for your child.

 

This information is sources from Psychology Today. You can learn more about these types of therapies and search for counselors on their website.

 

By: Heather Sloan, LBSW

How to Protect Yourself from an Adoption Scam

When I first began working as a member o the adoption community, I imagined that many twists, turns, ups and downs could be part of the adoption process. However, adoption scams were not something that I anticipated coming into contact with. Adoption scams can affect adoption professionals and hopeful adopting parents alike, and can be frustrating, hurtful, time consuming, and exhausting.

The very first case I had when beginning work at Nightlight was with a fraudulent expectant mother. After many weeks of twisted truth and manipulation, she left everyone involved hurt, confused, and absolutely blindsided. After this case, I was determined to go above and beyond learning the signs of an adoption scam, and work to put an end to this issue.

I did much research about forms that adoption scams can take, and how to recognize the signs. Many of these scams come from social media. Just recently, I received a call from an expectant mother who had gotten the expectant mother cell number from an adoptive family via Instagram. Initially, things seemed fine. However, once I began to gather more information, ask more questions, and look into who she was, things did not add up and began to feel ‘off’. Over the next three days, this expectant mother displayed many of the telltale signs of a fraudulent expectant mother, and grew very aggressive over text when I did not give her what she wanted. After I utilized online groups dedicated to stopping adoption scams and saw numerous reports about her, I told her our agency would not be able to move forward. Though it was exhausting to deal with, I was so thankful to recognize the signs and stop our involvement in this scam early on. I have read story after story of lovely adopting families getting strung along by individuals like this, only to result in loss, confusion, and heartache. These stories are happening across the country, but adoption professionals across the country are coming together and joining forces to mitigate this issue, helping each other and our adopting families not stumble into the snares set by these fraudulent individuals. Social media can be an effective way to promote your adoption profile, but many adoption scams can come from these sites and it is important to be prepared to recognize these for what they are.

There are many different forms that an adoption scam can take: an expectant mother who is truly pregnant but has no intentions of placing her baby with a family, an individual who may not be pregnant but claims to be, or an individual who has essentially stolen the identity and photos of a real pregnant woman – all for the purpose of gaining money and services, or manipulating the emotions of adoption professionals and adopting families. So, how can we prepare for this and know when an expectant mother is fraudulent?

 

Learn to Recognize the Signs. There are ways to recognize an adoption scam, both subtle and obvious. If the texts seem odd, trust your instincts. Scammers are often persistent and demanding with their texts, and often times will grow very agitated or aggressive when asked to do things that verify their identity or when told information that could potentially mean they won’t get what they want. They often provide a lot of information upfront, and will often send photos or ultrasound images almost right away. It is also common for them to bombard you with many texts, and get upset if you do not respond right away. It is unusual for moms who are truly placing their baby for adoption to behave in this way.

Utilize Resources. There are many pages and groups online specifically dedicated to recognizing adoption scams and reporting fraudulent individuals. If you intend on connecting with expectant mothers online or utilizing social media as a means to show your profile, I would highly suggest that you join at least one group that is used for this purpose, such as “Ending Adoption Scams” on Facebook. On these pages, you can either search the expectant mother’s name who has reached out to you, or make a post with her first name, last initial, and state to see if any other agencies or individuals have heard from her or reported fraudulent activity or suspicious behavior.

Research and Learn from the Past. Blogs, articles, videos – look into them all. A known adoption scammer to be aware of is Gabby, who made an appearance on Dr. Phil and has continued to harass and deceive hundreds of adoption professionals and hopeful adoptive parents alike. Gabby does not stop creating numerous identities and stories, stealing the photos, names, and due dates of real expectant mothers via Instagram and Facebook. I myself have heard from Gabby and spoken to her on the phone. Learning what she does and what her communication is like will help you recognize if you are being “Gabbied” by her or a similar scammer. Many adoptive parents that have experienced an adoption scam have shared their stories online, and these create perfect opportunities for prospective adoptive parents to learn from these experiences and be prepared.

Report Fraudulent Individuals and Block Numbers/Accounts. In the adoption community, we are all working diligently to do our part in mitigating this issue. If you encounter a fraudulent expectant individual, be sure to report the individual to an adoption professional. In addition to this, do not be hesitate to block scamming expectant mothers’ numbers or social media accounts immediately. Scammers emotionally manipulate to keep the conversation going and make it more difficult for adoption professionals or hopeful families to cut off contact.

How to Ask the Right Questions Without Being Accusatory. Ask questions in an open-minded way, and cast the “blame” on the adoption agency’s policies or recommendations. As an adopting family, it is best to try to avoid getting into in depth conversations with expectant mothers, and instead redirect the interaction and get them connected to your office’s Pregnancy Counselor for a match to be officially made. Our team is here for you, and are trained to recognize scams. If you do end up in a conversation with an expectant mother, try to avoid assuming that every expectant mother may be scamming but still proceed with caution and wisdom. If I suspect that an expectant mother may be fraudulent, I ask if they’d be willing to do a Zoom call and let them know that I, their pregnancy counselor, will need proof of pregnancy (medical records, a statement from clinic, or ultrasound verified by a doctor) before we can proceed with any services. An expectant mother who is truly pregnant and interested in considering adoption will not have a problem with this.

Remember that not every expectant mother who reaches out is fraudulent. The adoption and matching processes are beautiful and delicate, and I encourage you to not be fearful or jaded, but just to be prepared. If you choose to utilize social media as a platform to show your profile or reach expectant mothers, I encourage you to become well-versed on how to protect yourself from the ways of adoption scammers. Be creative, have fun, and be wise as you create your online profiles!

 

By: Winter Baumgartner

Parents Education Beyond Required Training Hours

Fourteen hours… That is the number of training hours that the state required of my husband and me before adopting our first child from foster care. In fourteen hours we learned why children come into care and how that experience may manifest in the behavior of the child. We learned that there is loss, grief, and trauma in adoption and we learned about A LOT of policies and procedures.  What we did not learn was how much we didn’t know.

 

Thirteen years later I can assure you that fourteen hours could not possibly have adequately prepared us for the job of parenting, particularly parenting an adopted child.

 

Those fourteen hours did not prepare me for the tough questions that always seem to come from the backseat of the car. They did not prepare me for knowing when and how to share the tough parts of his story. They did not prepare me for the identity issues he would face as a bi-racial child living in a white family. Though they taught us about trauma, they did not prepare us for it to manifest years later or how to explain that to others. They did not prepare us for handling the effects of prenatal exposure that did not manifest themselves until adolescence and puberty. And NO training of any kind for any parent could adequately prepare you to parent through puberty and the teenage years! (Oh the smell of teenage boys!)

 

Fourteen hours gives you just a glimpse into your journey as a parent and most importantly lets you know that you still have a lifetime of learning ahead.  There is no easy path and no magic manual that spells it all out for you, however, there are a few things I have learned over the last thirteen years that have helped tremendously.

 

  • Find your community. From day one of our adoption journey we have been intentional about surrounding ourselves with other adoptive families. Some of these families have privately adopted and some have adopted from foster care. Many have children in the same age range as our son and some are farther along on their journey. We have learned from each other and supported each other. Sharing resources, having an ear to listen, and a shoulder to cry on have been some of the biggest blessings of finding our adoptive community. They remind me that I am not crazy and I am not alone.
  • Every age and stage is different. As our adopted kids grow and mature, so do their questions. Not only do the questions change, but our responses have to as well.  What my son could understand and emotionally process at age five is very different from what he can understand and process as a teenager. Educating yourself about the emotional development of children will help you know what to share and when. It is their story and they have a right to know, but sometimes they need just enough for right now.
  • Trauma is real. As beautiful as adoption is, the reality is that there is real grief and loss. Even if your child came to you as a newborn or infant, they have experienced great loss. To be the best advocate for your child, adoptive parents need to understand trauma and the effect that it has on their child. Educate yourself about trauma!
  • Give yourself a break! Don’t reinvent the wheel. Parenting is hard!  None of us have it figured out. Read, read, and read some more. Find blogs that you connect with. Find print or online magazines that share both professional and personal articles about adoption. Follow adoption agencies like Nightlight. Glean from those that have been there.

Fourteen hours… That is how long it will take you to figure out that this journey will be a lifelong learning experience.

Gratitude in the Face of Struggle

November heralds our Thanksgiving celebrations and festivities! I know many people who love this celebration because they describe Thanksgiving as the least commercialized holiday. Just as many people approach this time with a bit of dread…because the “thanksgiving” and “gratitude” in people’s lives seems all too manufactured, inauthentic and painted on.

I see both sides. Especially during times of struggle and strife in our lives. Each of us individually are probably well acquainted with struggle. Our nation as a whole has also experienced a kind of collective struggle as we continue to grapple with the pandemic that never seems to end. It is during these times that I have to actively discipline myself to remember those stunningly bright spots in my life so that I can truly be authentic in my gratitude.

Here is my stunningly bright story that inspires my authentic gratitude –

My youngest child has a tweak in his DNA that puts him outside the spectrum of what we call healthy. We make at least four visits a year to Children’s Hospital where we are given our marching orders for the next three months. Sometimes these visits remind me that this is not what I imagined as a young pregnant mama. A friend told me that having a baby is like planning a trip. You think you know where you’re going…perhaps Ireland…and you pack accordingly, but somehow your plane lands in an equally beautiful place – New Zealand. But everything you packed is wrong for this trip. That is how I felt when I was adjusting to parenting a chronically ill child with a life-abbreviating disease. I had not packed for this trip, and I wasn’t even sure I wanted to pack for this trip. But here I was…in New Zealand.

I arrived at our next visit to Children’s with my 7-year-old in tow. I had a clipboard in hand with our daily schedule. My overflowing notebook with the last five years of medical visits and lab results was tucked under my arm. My little guy had his bag stuffed with his favorite “buddies” and games for when the day dragged on. I was laser-focused: Don’t get in my way; I am a mom on a mission. Before our first appointment, I made a quick pit stop to the ladies’ room. Then the question, “Mom do I have to go in there with you? I am 7…

“Okay, stay here, I’ll be quick”

I step back into the hall where my little one is waiting for me, and that is when I see the stunningly bright moments that can only happen in the struggle of the unexpected arrival in New Zealand. My fuzzy-headed guy is sitting on the floor with his new bald-headed friend. There isn’t really much more to see than their two heads bent close together. I cannot interrupt. I wait. After a little while my sweet treasure looks up at me and simply says, “Okay.” He stands up and I take his little hand in mine. “What was that about?” I ask. “Oh, we were just praying for his chemo treatments.” And we walked on.

Press into your authentic gratitude this season.

 

By: Dawn Canny

Resources for Encouraging a Good Night of Sleep

Sleep is essential. I think all of us can attest to the havoc that ensues when we are unable to get a good night’s rest. We find ourselves struggling to stay awake and alert. We may be a little more on edge than usual. We have trouble focusing and making decisions. For kids in foster care, problems with sleep are very common. Why is that you may ask? Simply put, kids who have experienced trauma have brains that are over-functioning and on high alert. Thus, they may have trouble falling or staying asleep. Their brains just don’t “shut off” as easily. When these kids are repeatedly unable to get enough sleep, problematic behaviors can arise, such as impulsivity, irritability, and inattentiveness. Thankfully, there are several ways foster parents can encourage good sleep for kids in their care. Dr. Kendra Krietsch, a pediatric psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, presented on several helpful strategies, which are summarized below:

  1. Gather information about the child’s past sleep patterns.

Make contact with the child’s previous caregivers and ask about the child’s typical bedtime routine, whether they struggled with falling asleep or waking up at night, and any items that brought them comfort while sleeping. If you learn, for instance, that there was a really special teddy bear or a book they enjoyed reading before bed, this can be a good opportunity to provide consistency in an otherwise unpredictable situation.

  1. Create a sleep environment that promotes comfort, safety, and health.

Within reason, allow the child to have a voice in regards to how their room is set up so that they can help create a space that feels comfortable to them. As long as it is safe, provide access to stuffed animals, soft blankets, and pillows that the child can snuggle with at night. For children 2 years and younger, ensure that the ABCs of safe sleep are followed. They should sleep alone, on their backs, and in an empty crib.  Other suggestions include keeping the temperature in the home 70 degrees or cooler, turning on a white noise machine to eliminate some other noises in the home that may be disruptive, adjusting lighting based on the preferences of the child, keeping phones and tablets out of the bedroom, and incorporating, instead, things that the child finds relaxing, such as soft music or special blankets or keepsakes.

  1. Create a predictable daytime schedule to encourage good sleep.

Ensure the child eats three meals a day at predictable times. Have the child change from pajamas to daytime clothes after waking. Encourage the child to stay out of bed until bedtime, unless naps are appropriate. Provide opportunities for the child to get outside and increase their exposure to light during the day. Allow the child to spend an allotted amount of time on electronic devices during the day and set a curfew for when they are turned off at night. If the child in your home finds comfort from watching a show before bed and has not yet found alternative ways to calm down at night, provide opportunities for them to watch shows that are calm rather than overly stimulating and try increasing the physical distance between the child and the device (i.e. watching television rather than a tablet that is right in front of them).

  1. Establish a bedtime routine that is predictable and enjoyable.

Choose a specific time to start a bedtime routine and stick with it. Dim the lights, play some calming music, use quiet voices, and avoid conflict if possible. Find and incorporate a couple activities right before bed that the child really enjoys, such as taking a bath, playing a board game, or reading books. Consider utilizing a visual cue card so that the child can see what comes next. Be intentional about following the same routine each night. All of these tips promote predictability and help give the child a sense of control before bed.

  1. Model a healthy sleep culture within your home.

Consider your own sleep patterns and make adjustments when necessary. How do you talk about sleep in the home? Are you getting enough sleep? Have you created a bedtime routine for yourself that you feel good about modeling for a child placed into your care?

Here is a link to Dr. Krietsch’s full presentation, as well as some other resources with additional tips for recognizing problems with sleep and encouraging healthy sleep patterns for kids in your care:

Sleep Issues with Adopted Kids (Creating a Family)

Effective Ways to Deal with Sleep Issues (Karyn Purvis, Empowered to Connect)

Is it Disobedience or Lack of Sleep? (Honestly Adoption Podcast)

 

By: Kara Long

Six Adoption Misconceptions

As with many other topics, there are several misconceptions when it comes to adoption. Below are a few of these myths and truth about why these are inaccurate.

Myth: “I can adopt from any country internationally”.

Truth: This is not true as first, the country must still be open for adoption. Each country has their own specific eligibility requirements (i.e. age of parents, age of children in the home allowed, income requirements, previous mental health history preferences, etc.) that you must meet in order to be accepted as waiting adoptive parents by that country.

 

Myth: “If I adopt an older child, they are not really considered a child anymore”.

Truth: They are still children. Research from Health Encyclopedia states that  the teenager’s brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25.

 

Myth: “Older children do not want to be adopted.”

Truth: The majority of older adoptive children express the desire to be adopted. Although older children sometimes have more trust issues with adults due to their trauma history, this does not mean that they don’t wish to be adopted.

Older children that are eligible for international adoption have to consent to the adoption. Each country has their own requirements as to what the age of consent is and how that consent is either legally given or processes that have to be completed to be sure that the child wants to be adopted however, older children are to consent to being adopted and would not be placed for adoption if they did not wish to be.

 

Myth: “If I adopt an older child, they will not be able to experience healthy attachment.”

Truth: Healthy attachment is not connected to a child being “older”. Rather, attachment is determined at infancy. When adopting any age child internationally, prospective adoptive parents will be given as much background information that is available about the child’s early years. Your home study coordinator will provide you with education materials that will promote healthy attachment with your adopted child no matter what age they are at the point of their adoption.

Most older adoptive children are able to adapt well to their family’s culture when the family is committed to learning and incorporating their child’s culture into their home and lifestyle as well.

 

Myth: “Children do not need to know that they were adopted ”.

Truth: Keeping adoption a secret from your child creates the tone that adoption is shameful and negative.

Not discussing that the child has been adopted creates trust issues in the future between the parent and child as the parent(s) were not fully open and honest with them.

When a child grows up knowing that they were adopted, they have a stronger sense of identity. They have the opportunity to know all of who they are and not made to feel like they must hide it or that they have anything to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Also, logistically, the child’s biological family could have a helpful medical history that the child should know about.

 

Myth: “Open adoption confuses children.”

Truth: Open adoption helps a child feel secure in their identity, gives them access to their heritage and creates a stronger sense of belonging, and allows them to navigate through the diversity of their family history.

 

These are just a few of the common misconception associated with international adoption and adoption in general. If you have concerns or questions regarding our adoption programs please do not hesitate to reach out with questions. Our Inquiry Specialist would be happy to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have about our adoption programs. Email us at info@nightlight.org!

 

Written by Jordyn Georgi

Book Review: The Connected Parent

A Book Review by Dana Poynter of “The Connected Parent: Real-Life Strategies for Building Trust and Attachment” authored by Karyn Purvis, PhD and Lisa Qualls with Emmelie Pickett

 

Several Nightlight employees, including myself, through a grant from Show Hope, had the privilege of becoming TBRI trained in 2012 by Dr. Karyn Purvis herself!  Nine years later, this continues to be a highlight of training as an adoption professional.  It is our intention that all Nightlight clients become familiar with the letters “TBRI” which stand for Trust-Based Relational Intervention and receive an introduction and understanding of what it means to be TBRI trained as they begin their adoption journey.  As part of our Parent Education process, we require Nightlight clients read The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross, the best-selling book in the category of adoption.  It is our belief that much can be learned from their thorough research and resources on attaching with and parenting children from “hard places”, a term coined by Dr. Purvis.

When Dr. Purvis passed away in the Spring of 2016, after a long hard-fought battle with cancer, we at Nightlight, along with others familiar with her research, mourned her loss.  When The Connected Parent was released in 2020, so many of us were excited to get our hands on a new resource backed by Dr. Purvis.

Lisa Qualls had approached Dr. Purvis about co-authoring a book wherein Ms. Qualls would explain how she used TBRI principles with her own children who were adopted.  What transpired was a wonderful parenting guide for families who are parenting children who come from difficult beginnings.  By combining Dr. Purvis’ research and strategies and Ms. Qualls (and others) real life situations, even more practical information is given for handling difficult parenting moments.  The book not only shares advice on how to approach and direct children, but also how to help them heal.

The book is easy to read with short chapters ending with key takeaways and simple ideas of strategies to try “today”.  The chapters are organized into three parts. The first part delves into understanding attachment.  As always, TBRI focuses on a child’s cycle of attachment while also encouraging parents to consider their own history of attachment and the effects on current relationships.  The second part addresses real life strategies, which include but is not limited to using scripts, nurturing practices, teaching respect, recognizing sensory concerns and adapting the strategies for all age groups.  Part three reminds parents the importance of caring for themselves and applying the Empower, Connect, Correct strategies in their own lives to maintain hope and strength through the journey.

This book will remain in my personal collection of adoption references to be used as a guide in parenting my children from hard places.

Misunderstanding Development

A child’s development is a long process, with many ups and downs that can feel impossible to predict, and adoption will most certainly affect that process. How much of your child’s behavior is typical, and how much of it is a result of your unique family circumstances? Here we will explore what average development looks like. We encourage you to learn more in each stage of your child’s development to help you normalize what are typical behavior and feelings and what may be complicated by their adoption story. Here is one site to reference for child development: https://www.childrensneuropsych.com/parents-guide/milestones/

 

Infancy

         In this period of life, the adoptive parents have the opportunity to build a foundational emotional attachment with their child. Learning your baby’s unique temperament and reactions to things that upset them can help you shape your parenting style to meet their needs. At age one, they will seek more independence as they learn to move about. This means you will see the beginnings of disobedience. Shape behavior by rewarding good actions rather than punishing bad ones.

 

Toddlerhood

         As language develops in ages two and three, children will begin to appreciate narratives, including that of their own life. Though they can learn and repeat the story of their adoption, they will not understand what it means to have a birth mother and an adoptive family. Using make-believe play may allow them to work through emotions they do not yet understand, as well as the concept of past and present. Greater pushes for independence combined with little knowledge of emotions can lead to tantrums when children are denied something. Though they may be stressful and embarrassing, tantrums are completely normal. Sensing their needs before they arise and having meaningful conversations about emotions can reduce their occurrence.

 

Preschool

Beginning in preschool, children spend more and more time away from home, and their worlds will rapidly expand. They will begin to compare themselves to their agemates on the basis of sex, race, family, and interests. Where the answers are too complex, it is normal for them to assume magical explanations, like baby-carrying storks. Be open and honest if your child comes to you with questions about these comparisons, similarities, and differences; being honest sooner will prevent confusion later.

 

School Age

         As children’s logic centers develop, they will spend more and more time puzzling through their place in the world. They may still struggle with the concept of adoption and what it means for your family and their future. They may even fear abandonment or wonder what they did wrong to be “given up” in the first place. This may result in angry or defensive behavior as a way of distancing themselves from potential hurt. You can help to positively shape their identity by reaffirming your love for them, as well as the love of their birth mother or family.

 

Adolescence

         This period is characterized by two forms of development: identity and independence. Now, more than ever, your child will be trying to find themselves outside of your family. They will want to reconcile their birth and adoptive families, a process that can be made much harder if they have little information about or connection to their birth parents. Self-image is also a vital factor of this time, and turbulent changes of adolescence can quickly lead to declines in mental health. Encourage them to explore and connect with their past, making sure they know they can ask questions without judgement from you.

 

It is always going to be hard to see your child struggle with their identity and relationship to you. They may need your help to work through their complex feelings at first, and later it may be enough just to tell them you are there for them as they grow on their own. Building a support system with other adoptive families, such as through your agency, can give both you and your child a head start on dealing with these feelings.

 

written by Ashley Conner