How to Manage Sibling Rivalry at Placement

Sibling rivalry is a common and typical occurrence among siblings. There is an innate desire for siblings to compete, challenge, and squabble. Children who grow up in the same home together, whether by birth, adoption or foster care learn how to manage their future relationships through these early interactions with siblings. A healthy and supportive family environment gives children opportunities to learn to resolve differences and develop stronger relationships that they can use in other areas of their lives as they grow up.

When a child joins a family through adoption they come with a history of trauma, and parents should anticipate and prepare for some difficulties in sibling dynamics. By understanding their trauma history, parents can prepare and make safety plans to address issues that may arise. For example, if a child has a history of physical abuse or has been exposed to violence, a safety plan should be in place to protect all children in the home from aggression and additional trauma.

Establishing a new sibling relationship will not necessarily come easily or effortlessly. Here are a few ways that parents can promote healthy relationships among siblings:

  • Carefully examine the motivation behind adopting and set realistic expectations. The primary reason behind adopting shouldn’t be to provide a playmate for your child. If there are children in the home already, help them to understand there may be some difficulties, adjustments, and struggles to adding a child to their family through adoption.
  • Have a plan and explain to your children how you will manage sharing attention among children. Children in the home may feel like their new sibling requires too much attention from their parents during the transition. Encourage open communication and encourage them to talk to you about their feelings.
  • Focus on creating positive early interactions between children. A good first impressions can set a relationship up for success from the beginning. Take into consideration the time of day and regular routine of the children before introducing them for the first time. Don’t introduce them to their new sibling when they are exhausted, hungry, dysregulated or distracted.
  • Reserve time each day to spend time one on one with each child. Attachment specialist encourage adoptive parents to use the 10-20-10 approach, which recommends giving each child 10 minutes of quality time and attention in the morning to start the day on a positive note, 20 minutes in the afternoon to process through any experiences from the day, and 10 minutes in the evening before bed.
  • Encourage healthy competition, playing fair, and good sportsmanship. Teach appropriate social skills such as negotiation, compromise and emotional regulations when conflicts arise.
  • Practice and model appropriate problem-solving skills and empower children to solve their conflicts independently. As children mature try to intervene less in sibling arguments allowing them to work out issues on their own.
  • If family or friends want to bring a gift for your new child, suggest that they also bring a small gift for the existing children in the home as well. Adoption is a big change for everyone in the household and a special gift or attention can help with the transition.
  • Prepare for possible developmental regression in both the current children in the household and adopted children.

Connection and relationship building takes time. Close, healthy relationships do not develop overnight and relationships change over time. Some siblings are close when they are younger and others do not establish a good relationship until they’re adults. If there are significant concerns regarding sibling rivalry reach out to an attachment therapist.  There may be deeper issues that need to be processed. An attachment therapist can also provide more activities or suggestions on how to promote positive attachment between siblings.

By: Angela Simpson

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.

Bonding with a New Child

When I adopted my then four-year-old daughter from China in 2008, I did not plan intentional ways to attach to her. I thought it would come naturally, like it did with my birth children. I was mistaken to think I did not need to have an idea of what to do. Shortly after bringing her home from the orphanage, I read an amazing book which changed by parenting plan. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years by Patty Cogen (2008) changed my perspective. I was reading it the first few months together and wished I had read it prior to the adoption and the multiple times I have referred back to it over the years.

I used many of the techniques Cogen refers to in her book. I had my four-year-old using a bottle to rock her to sleep and then a pacifier. I sang her lullabies and played silly finger games of Itsy Bitsy Spider. I read story books and played dress up. I pushed a stroller, took pictures, and did many of the things I had with my birth children when they were much younger biologically than four. I rebuilt the foundation to help my daughter to attach, learn the world is safe, and built trust.

There are fun ways for families to build this attachment with children of all ages. Their beginning story in life does not have to be the end of their story. Here are some suggestions for you to put into practice with your child:

  • Play games! Bring out Candy Land, Old Maid Cards, and Trouble. Roll the dice. Play games that call for the child to make eye contact with you. Do peek-a-boo with your young child.
  • Give piggy back rides to your child, play airplane on the floor or bicycle gymnastics with your child. With airplane, have your little one lay across your feet while you are on your back. Holding their hands, move the child through the air as you make sounds. And bicycle? Face each other and touch feet with your knees bent. Cycle your feet back and forth, singing a silly song of “bicycle, bicycle, who’s going to ride the bicycle”.
  • Embrace crazy hair day and let your child do your hair, or make up, or even face paint!
  • Dance & Sing – swirl around holding your child in your arms, your child standing on your feet, or do a fun hip hop. Break out the karaoke machine. Put on a dance video. Use songs that are soothing and quiet. Sing lullabies.
  • Write notes to your child. Leave a sticky note on the counter, put a love note in their lunch box, or mail them a letter. Send a meaningful text to the teen or write a loving post to the child, expressing affirmation to the child.
  • Read together. Make this a daily part of your structured routine. Get a library card and make going to the library a meaningful event for your child.

Whatever you add to your parenting to help your child attach, be attuned. Make things fun, even if they are intentional. Baking, decorating cookies, drawing, coloring, folding clothes, cleaning up their room, Legos and building forts – all activities that increase the time you spend with your child building the relationship they need to become thriving individuals and adults.

 

By: Tina Daniel, Ed.D., LPC

6 Helpful Tips for Bonding With Your Adopted Child

 

Bonding is a critical part of building your relationship with your adopted child and is a precursor for how they will develop in the future, whether it be their physical growth, intellect, or how they form relationships with others. This is why it is important to have a strong foundation in the household when it comes to bonding and attachment. It’s common for adoptive parents to worry whether or not they will be able to form that bond with their adoptive child.

Whether you first hold your child in the delivery room, three months later, or three years later, the same tips of bonding and attachment apply. They include:

  1. Open the lines of communication: Talk to your child often. Be present and interact with him or her. Children need lots of reassurance and you both will learn about each other this way. Keep the lines of communication wide open. Toddlers and young children are full of a million questions. These questions provide a great way to connect and set the stage for meaningful conversations for years to come. And remember that it’s common for a toddler or older child to be shy when being transitioned into a new family. Don’t force a relationship. Be patient as you learn about one another.
  2. Understand that rejection is not about you: Early interactions make a lifelong impact on a child. It is important for children in hospital/foster/orphanage/institutional settings to be cared for by a familiar figure and to make a connection early on. Studies have shown that children who have benefited from a strong early bond in a safe setting will transition more easily, while children who have been exposed to poor conditions and lack a strong connection to a caregiver often exhibit trust issues later on. Most toddlers who have experienced rejection respond by becoming rejecting. For adoptive parent who feel a sense of rejection or distance, it can be a confusing and hurtful process. It’s easy for adoptive parents to blame themselves. While it may feel overwhelming on your end, try to imagine how your child may be feeling, but unable to put into words.
  3. Touch & Eye Contact: Find opportunities to have physical contact with your child. This can be holding your child in your lap, patting their leg, brushing their hair, lotion after bath time, etc. When talking to your child, make eye contact to let your child know you are fully present. But please do not force your child to make eye contact. When possible, get on their level, put your hand on their shoulder, and speak in a gentle voice. Feed your child during meal time if they will allow you to do so (even older kids benefit from being fed). Touch and eye contact will help your child feel safe and wanted.
  4. Create a routine: Children coming from foster care/institutions crave structure and routines. It helps give them a sense of control and allows them to develop trust. Having set bedtime rituals for a younger child, or a weekly family movie night for an older child are great ways to establish a connection with your child.
  5. Establish Permanency: Your child may have a fear that if they misbehave, you will no longer love them. Reiterate to your child that you still love them, even when you are in a bad mood or if they have misbehaved in some way. Send positive messages to your child to let them know that you will love them no matter what, allowing them to heal and attach.
  6. Do activities together: Teach the child how to do something you love: cooking, gardening, fishing, a favorite sport. They may end up enjoying the activity, creating a shared interest! In turn, engage in an activity that the child enjoys. This will show them that you are interested in what they like, and want to be part of their life. You may even want to consider creating a new tradition together that involves the whole family that everyone can enjoy together.

written by Hannah Tatman & Stephanie Muth

 

 

Learning the Attachment “Dance”

 

 

Attachment is the secure bond that is created initially between an infant and their caregiver. This attachment process will begin in utero with a child’s birthmother and then be formed again with other caregivers, specifically their adoptive parents. Children have the capacity to form several attachment relationships, the important thing is those are formed with adults who will remain consistently, and lovingly, in the child’s life. Even for children adopted in infancy, there is an element of loss that the child will feel when receiving new caregivers after their birthmother. In order to have healthy, intimate attachments later in life with family, friends, and spouses, an individual has to learn healthy attachment as a child.

 

This article discusses the styles, or ways, an infant attaches to a parent as well as the ways that a parent attaches to their child. Attachment is often called a dance, corresponding movements and counter-movements between both the child and parent. Both have to participate and move in order to make this a real dance. When the child is securely attached and the parent is securely attached, this dance moves as it is supposed to. Often times because of our own difficult childhoods and the experiences your child has had with caregivers in his life, one or both parties may not have the ability to attach in a healthy and secure way. Below is an outline of secure and insecure attachments and how those impact us as adults.

Attachment Styles – Children

There are four identified attachment styles in children that predict the way they attach to their caregiver. In observational experiments in children age 18 months, called The Strange Experiment, these four styles are demonstrated and can be matched with a corresponding attachment style in their caregiver. We will first examine the four styles in children to understand these attachment styles and how that impacts the child as an adult and their attachment style.

Secure

A child who is securely attached has a caregiver that consistently responds to the needs/cries of their child. This child regularly has their physical and emotional needs met and they are confident when they have a need (hungry, upset, tired, diaper change), crying will result in their needs being met.

Anxious – Avoidant

A child with anxious-avoidant attachment has a caregiver who does not respond when the infant is upset. The parent may shush their child to stop crying without meeting their needs (the reason for the crying in the first place). This child learns not to cry to get needs met and that they have to meet their needs themselves.

Anxious-Ambivalent

A child with anxious-ambivalent attachment has a caregiver who inconsistently responds when the infant is upset. This parent sometimes responds to the cries and needs of their child and other times does not. This can be for a variety of reasons, but some may be mental health issues or substance abuse in the parent. When the parent is in a good place, they respond well to their child, but they do not respond well when they are in a bad place. This child cries and is difficult to soothe in an effort to stay in the caregiver’s direct attention.

Disorganized

A child with disorganized attachment has a caregiver who is frightening/traumatic. This typically happens in situations where a child is in an abusive home. The person who is supposed to be their source of comfort when they have a need or are upset is also the person that is hurting them. The child has no clear strategy when upset and you will see very erratic behavior from them when they are upset.

Attachment Styles – Adults

It is important to understand the attachment style that we developed as children because this will directly impact our attachment relationship with our children. The duty to attach is not placed solely on a child’s attachment to you, but it is also your ability to attach to them. In studies done on attachment styles, 81% of the time a mother’s Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) classification (listed below) predicted their classification as children. This shows a direct correlation with your childhood attachment style and your corresponding adult attachment style. When looking back through generations, 75% of the time the mother’s classification predicted their grandmother’s classification. Attachment styles can be passed down from caregiver to child to caregiver to child through a generation. You usually parent your children the way your parents parented you, good or bad. If that generational line of descendants are not securely attached, then they are passing on insecure attachment relationships to their children.

Secure

A secure adult is 1) able to give care, 2) able to receive care, 3) able to negotiate their needs, and 4) able to be autonomous. These skills are developed as infants/children in healthy attachment relationships with our caregivers. For example, if our cries were appropriately attended to, then we learned that when we speak a need, a loved one will meet that need and we can trust them to do so. If we learned that our needs are not met, then as adults we will not voice our needs or trust anyone will meet them if we do.

Avoidant – Dismissing

A dismissive adult is closed off emotionally. They are able to give physical care to a child (feed, clothe, bathe, etc.) but do not connect emotionally. They can be described as not a “huggy, touchy, or feely” person, as physical affection does not come naturally. These adults put energy/interest into objects/things rather than people.

Ambivalent – Entangled

An entangled adult can be described as intrusive with care and in relationships or they get emotionally close to someone very quickly. They do not have good and healthy boundaries in their relationships and can be seen as controlling or overbearing. They may carry anger or resentment toward their own parents that is unresolved as an adult.

Unresolved – Disorganized

A disorganized adult may engage in mental “checking out” behaviors/disassociation. They commonly have behavioral or emotional disorders or another mental health diagnosis. Their personal relationships are chaotic/confusing.

 

In the general population, among adults you will find that 60% are categorized as Secure, 18% Avoidant, 12% Ambivalent, and 10% Unresolved. Interestingly, among the foster/adoptive parent population, you will find that 15% are categorized as Secure, 40% Avoidant, 15% Ambivalent, and 30% Unresolved. There is a much higher percentage of Avoidant and Unresolved adults among foster/adoptive parents. Reasons for this could be that these adults grew up in homes where their parents did not connect/attach with them emotionally (Avoidant attachment style) or were abusive/unstable (Unresolved) and their attachment style corresponds to their parents (remember, 81% have the same attachment style as their parents.) These parents want to provide a different experience for a child that has been orphaned or placed for adoption, so they are drawn to serve and love this population of children. However, without intervention, these adoptive parents will struggle in attaching with their child, especially if their child has their own attachment insecurities, and perpetuate the cycle.

Intervention

Dr. Karyn Purvis says that we cannot take a child to a place of healing if we have not gone there ourselves. Even with children adopted at infancy, impacts of stress, substance use/abuse, or traumatic experiences in utero or during delivery will leave lasting impacts on a child in development and attachment. There are great resources to read and digest in the areas of child and adult attachment and impacts of trauma on the brain to children, especially in adoption. Three authors we highly recommend are:

 

If you would like to have an evaluation done of your adult attachment style, you can get an Adult Attachment Inventory (AAI) completed by a trained and licensed counselor or psychologist. One professional we recommend is Jim Harlow (http://www.jimharlowlpc.com/) but there are other counselors around Texas that can complete this evaluation. There are online inventories you can do, but the best results will be received by an in-person interview.

 

We encourage you to seek a path to healing for yourself if you grew up with a difficult childhood or relationship with either of your parents. Any impacts or wounds from your childhood will have lasting results that will be brought up in you as you become a parent. A child knows exactly how to find the right buttons to push in you, especially if your child has any struggles. The best thing you can do for your child is to seek healing for yourself. Our staff are here to support you and your path to healing. Everyone has some negative impacts from their childhood and openly admitting these will not disqualify you from adoption. We know counseling is used by the Lord to make you the best individual, spouse, and parent you can be and we encourage you to seek this as needed while you are adopting.

 

written by Heather McAnear, LBSW | Inquiry Specialist | Post Adoption Connection Center Coordinator 

Back to School for Adoptees With Childhood Trauma

Children who are adopted often come with an early history of trauma. Children with such a background can find the school setting difficult, which then affects their academic performance. Often this background of trauma can lead to such problems as sensory issues and being over or under stimulated; difficulty with controlling emotional responses (e.g., outbursts, anger); difficulty in forming and maintaining relationships with friends at school; little sense of boundaries; and a lack of appropriate trust and “felt” safety. Your child may be bright but at times uncooperative, easily distracted, and “hyper.” Do these symptoms sound like ADHD? Yes, they do. Often a child with such symptoms may be labeled as having ADHD, but the child may be reacting to triggers in the environment due to the child’s past experiences of abuse or neglect. Medication most likely will do little to alleviate the symptoms. Instead, other measures will be needed to help your child feel safe at school instead of out-of-control and afraid.

First, public school may not be the best option, especially if your child is newly arrived from another country. School can be a battleground for children who have limited English language skills. Your child will need to be nurtured in a safe environment before learning can begin. Children who have experienced trauma can be in a “flight or fight” mode, and they are operating in the lower brain where their emotions are working overtime. Without proper nurture and attachment, your child may have difficulty using the frontal cortex—the thinking part of the brain. If the child cannot move to the upper brain to perform school-work, your child will most likely underperform academically.

Some private schools may be appropriate. Often because of lack of funding, they do not have the resources for giving children the individualized attention and special services needed. However, if the atmosphere is calm and nurturing, the private school may be a good option, especially if your child is brighter, has a command of the English language, and does not struggle with serious learning disabilities.

If possible, home-school your child. While home-schooling is not an option for many parents, if at all possible, have your child home with you. Even a limited period of time can help your child do catch-up work while adjusting to being in a family.

If your child is in public school, the type of classroom your child is in can be critical for your child’s long-term well-being. If your newly adopted child is school-age, you will need to consider the child’s academic skills as well as your child’s emotional and social age. Of course, in a regular public school system, you cannot place your 11-year-old child whose English is wobbly into a first grade class. Your child should be placed in a grade close to the child’s age, and, as needed, provide the child with extra supports.

Children from the foster care system, who are not legally adopted, usually cannot be home-schooled. Therefore, how the child is treated in the public school system is even more critical. Your foster child may appear bright, certainly speaks and understand English, but the early trauma can still greatly affect school work. Special provisions may still need to be made even if your child appears “normal.”

Whether your child has newly arrived from the foster care system or was adopted years ago, you will most likely need to be an advocate for your child. Often children can become overwhelmed with the noise, expectations, and school schedule. If you feel your child is struggling—even if academically doing well—you need someone who can help you speak the language of school personnel to get the special services your child may need. Janie Dickens, an adoptive mother who understands the special considerations of adopted children ( [email protected]),  provides consulting services with Nightlight through our Post Adoption Connection Center. You do not have to be in the post-adoption phase to reach out to her, as you may want to prepare yourself and your child’s school environment before your child arrives home. The first consultation is offered at no charge to Nightlight families.

Janie Dickens  of  Pass Advocacy can help you determine if your child may need academic and psychological testing, including an evaluation for any sensory issues or learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. These tests can be expensive if taken outside of the school but are offered at no cost to students in public schools. Again, you most likely will need to advocate for your child to receive such testing, and it may take several months before the assessments are administered.

For children without special educational needs but who have a history of trauma and need certain accommodations, a 504 Plan may be more appropriate. If your child has special educational needs, then your child may qualify for what is called an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP). This article regarding children affected by trauma provides info about the 504 Plan and IEP as well as tips for helping your child during the school day.

Furthermore, be sure your child is well-fed and well-hydrated. Children need to eat regularly and take frequent water breaks. Many children eat very early in the morning, before the bus arrives, and then may wait four or more hours before having lunch. Other kids have lunch in the late morning and then must wait until school is out and the bus arrives home to eat again. That is entirely too much time for most children to go without food or a drink. For children who have a history of food-depravation, which includes most children adopted internationally and many from the foster-care system, such a time span can cause a calm child to be out-of-control.  It is essential these children have a substantial snack every two to three hours. In addition, they should have some water or diluted juices just as frequently. Without regular snacks, children are more likely to be frustrated, “hangry,” and behave more impulsively. Without sufficient hydration, our brains—and your child’s—can have a decreased cognitive function of up to ten percent.

Children need to have regular breaks to stretch and move throughout the day. One recess a day is probably not enough.

Many foster and adopted children struggle with anxiety due to not feeling safe or being overwhelmed by the teacher’s expectations. Teaching your children how to use the 4-7-8 breathing can help alleviate some of this anxiety. In addition, this type of breathing can help children—and adults—fall asleep more easily and reduce angry outbursts.

Another area in which parents have difficulty with their children is after school. Some kids come home exhausted and may need some downtime. This is not a time for videogames, unless your child can play for only 15 minutes. Your child will need a snack and perhaps play board games or engage in other quieter activities. Some may need a short nap.  On the other hand, some kids come home wired to run around and play outside. This is fine. Homework can wait. Trying to get tired or boundless energy kids to do their homework is fruitless. Let them play for an hour or so and then approach homework if they must do it.  There are matters more important than homework—creating family bonds.

 

written by

Laura Jean Beauvais, M.P.H., M.A., L.P.C. | Director of Counseling

Attachment Specialist I | Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner|  Counselor/Coach

Grieving the Loss of a Child After an Adoption Dissolution

 

 

 

For the last 10 years, I have worked with families who sought to dissolve their adoptions. When I tell other people about the work, they are astonished adoptive parents would place their child for adoption. Often desperate parents think about such a decision but then wait months to years to actually put anything into action. These are parents who often have saved and spent tens of thousands of dollars, traveled overseas, stayed in flimsy hotels, left other children behind –often for weeks at a time–to adopt a child in a desperate situation. Parents have said to me, “We both prayed about this adoption, felt it was God’s call on our lives to do this, and now we cannot parent this child. Did we not hear the voice of God?”

No one sets out to dissolve an adoption—just as no one sets out to enter marriage with the goal of divorcing. Yet there are circumstances that may lead to a dissolution of a marriage as well as to the dissolution of an adoption.

So where do adoptive couples go when they consider a dissolution? Finding literature on the topic is not easy. What agency wants to say to their clients, “If this does not work out, here is how we can help you end the adoption” Of course, agencies provide resources and counseling to help preserve the placement of a child. Likewise, churches provide pastoral counselor or other resources to help struggling couples reach a healthy marriage. Yet for those who do find themselves divorced, there is open support through such times. Yet, in the adoption or faith community, there is little to no support for those whose lives are so fragmented that they see no way out except to find another family for the child.

There are essentially two broad reasons for a dissolution: the family does not like the child or the child’s behavior is so destructive that anyone would have to find another place for the child. Of course, these reasons overlap.

For children and parents who have a difficult time attaching, the children can do well in the next home. What causes the parents and children not to attach? The first adoptive parents often get into a cycle with their child in which the child’s negative behavior leads to the parents’ shutting down. This is natural. Some of these children have experienced so much trauma that they give nothing back. A parent can pour an incredible amount of love and attention into the child, yet the child shows little response. Parents can only do this for so long.

Other times, the parents’ dismissive attachment style leads the child to act out and, in turn, the child then behaves even more poorly. Once the cycle is broken, the child can begin to heal from trauma and attach to a caregiver. Only then can the child’s negative emotions and behaviors begin to diminish.

The next typical scenario of children who are placed for adoption, is one in which the child’s behavior is dangerous and could lead to injury of others in the home. These adopted children usually need to be placed with well-experienced and trained foster parents.

Regardless of the reason, parents often delay making the decision to relinquish a child. Of course, this is a serious decision, and unlike a birth parent, who almost always place a child at birth, the point at which a parent makes the decision to place a child for adoption has no exact timeframe. With this in mind, the parents must also realize that the younger the child, the easier it is, in general, to find a new family for the child.

Parents often delay the placement of a child into a new home, knowing the embarrassment and shame they and their other children may face. How do you explain this to your neighbors, people at church, or your other kids? Just as people continue in a marriage for the same reasons, when there are clear sins and grounds for divorce.

When anyone experiences such an extreme loss of a child, there must be a healthy way to grieve. As with so many hurting people who have experienced loss, many do not talk about it. The more shame involved in a loss, the more people are prone to hide their grief. Because we as a society are given permission to end a job or a marriage, there are obvious resources to help cope with these losses or transitions. However, there is no “permission” to end a relationship with our own children. So special measures must be taken to grieve this loss.

Have people on your team. To expect everyone around you to agree with your decision, is hoping for the impossible. Share your burden with a few close family members and friends who are supportive. They may not understand all of your reasons, but they should be there for you.

Make sure you and your spouse are on the same page. Making such a life-changing decision means you must grieve together. There may be ways you each could have parented the child differently yet recognize this is not about blaming each other—or even blaming the child. Make sure that you give each other time to talk about the topic. If one spouse finds it difficult to talk, set a time limit such as 30 minutes, four times a week.

Recognize that biological parents make the decision also to place their children in other homes, such as grandparents or aunts and uncles. In adoption circles, we applaud birth mothers who place their babies for adoption. Most birth mothers are not teenagers but women in their 20s. They often make the decision because they have limited resources or it is not a good time in their lives to be parenting. We judge not but rather support such a woman for this decision.

Get some personal counseling. There are probably other losses in your life that compound the pain. Learn how you can grow through this.

Understand the reasons why you are dissolving the adoption. Everyone reaches capacity. If your spouse dies and you have three other children with medical needs, most likely the sibling group, whom you just adopted, would do better in a family that can provide the nurture they need. While this is an extreme example, the needs of the adopted children and the adoptive family all factor into an adoptive family ‘s “reaching capacity.” One mom said she had a personal history of trauma and the child triggered her own issues. Granted the child’s behavior was very negative at times. However, this is a mom who was able to share her own history with grace and demonstrated tenderness toward the child and his history as well.

Create what is called a story or a “narrative.” This story needs to make sense to you and give you a framework in which to tell yourself and others about your decision. Such a narrative will take time to develop.

Find an online support of others who have also placed a child for adoption.

Recognize that there will be what Denalee Chapman calls “trauma-verseries “ after the child leaves your home. Allow yourself to have many emotions and feelings. One such feeling is that the child will fail in the next home. While very few parents want the child to come back after such a circumstance, it is understandable how parents feel this way.

Talk with someone who understands what you have gone through. Carrie O’Toole provides such services through phone coaching and retreats. She has written a book, Relinquished, in which she tells her own story of placing her adopted son for adoption. Three other children from the same orphanage in Viet Nam, where her son had resided, also dissolved from their adoptions.

Recognize you could have been truly in the middle of God’s plan for your and the child’s life when you made the decision to adopt. Your bringing the child into your home is what can lead the child into another family. Many times I have seen children adopted by families who never could have adopted from a specific country due to the country’s restrictions or the next family’s own life circumstances. While none of us sign up to be the conduit to bring a child into another family, this may be part of your child’s life plan. Recognize that you were faithful to God’s call and you will continue to be in His will.

Once a child is placed, give the next family and your relinquished child space for at least at six months. If appropriate, send the child a letter or small gifts. Maintaining some level of openness allows the child know you still care. This balance of allowing the child to attach to the next family while having limited ties with you is a delicate balance that varies by each case. Counseling would be best for such decisions.

Laura Jean Beauvais is the Director of Counseling for Nightlight and provides services to families struggling with a variety of adoption –related issues.

Resources:

The Myth of the Forever Family: When Adoption Falls Apart

http://www.carrieotoole.com/author/lifecoach/

https://adoption.com/adoption-dissolution-from-a-mothers-view-part-one

 

Older Child and Sibling Adoption: A Good Fit For Your Family?

 

 

I have had the blessing along with my husband to have adopted 6 school aged children over the past 24 years. We knew we wanted children and as we had an active life style and both worked, we decided sibling, school-aged children made sense for our family. We enjoyed spending time with our friends who had children and as they were all school-aged, it made sense for us to adopt children in the same age range as our friends. That would ensure our children would have ‘readymade’ friends and our social group would remain the same. We also knew we wanted more than one child, so it made sense for us to pursue siblings.

We found life was much easier with siblings as they helped to entertain one another. Our children were attached and protective of one another, and because they were adopted altogether this helped them to focus on attaching to us, as their parents.

Another consideration when thinking of adopting an older child is that there are many siblings that are available for adoption. Adoption Agencies and child welfare organizations try to keep sibling children together.

We found there were many benefits of adopting siblings.

One of the most important benefits is that the children already have a bond with one another. Knowing that they have an attachment already makes it more likely that they will be able to form other attachments.

When entering the family, they will always have a buddy, someone to play with, someone who talks the same language and has shared similar experiences. If you are interested in more than one child, it truly makes sense to adopt siblings. Siblings often have a very close relationship with one another that can help them as they make the adjustment into your family. Typically one of the siblings adjusts or takes a leadership role and helps the other sibling or siblings along with their adjustment to the family.

It is less expensive to adopt siblings at the same time rather than at separate times. We adopted two sets of siblings. Our children all developed a close relationship with one another. However their relationships differ according to personality, mutual interests and distance from one another. They became siblings to one another through adoption as well as genetics.

My youngest daughter who is in her late twenties, shared with me that she was glad to have been adopted with her sister as there was someone who shared her same genetics and they would always have one another, particularly if there were any sort of medical issue. It does not take away from the relationship she has with her other siblings, it is just something special shared just between them

Interestingly, most people express the concern that an older child might struggle more with attachment, however, older children CAN attach. I’ve had people tell me an older child, “can’t attach!” That has always puzzled me, as that comment often comes from an individual who is happily married. Certainly that couple met at an ‘older’ age and then fell in love, forming a lasting attachment called marriage. Why is it so hard to consider adopting an older child?

Although attachment takes work at any age, our eldest daughter, at age 16, was absolutely the quickest of all our children to attach, as she truly wanted parents and believed that we would be able to give her what she wanted, a family who would love and care about her. I’m sure she did not account for the fact that with parents, come rules, but she accepted them. I felt at the time and still believe that rules were part of the process that let her know that we cared about her. We explained that we had rules in place, so that there were no surprises. We had our expectations and she knew what we expected from her. More importantly, we gave her unconditional love and acceptance. We acknowledged that she had a life prior to coming into our family and that was in part, what made her so special to us.

We went into our adoptions knowing a bit more about our children. All of our children came with very special gifts, unique to them. Their personalities were evident. I knew our eldest was very smart and wanted to study science and math. I knew our son was not a great student, but loved building things and was very creative. Two of our children were very athletic and enjoyed playing soccer. It helped us to build a relationship fairly quickly as we had a good idea of each child’ likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. We were able to go into their adoptions already having a bond through our shared interests.

We found there were many more benefits of beginning parenting with older children. Our children were toilet trained, slept through the night and could eat the same food we ate. They were able to go to the beach, go hiking or sailing without much planning. We took a lot of road trips and they were good about packing up their clothes and toys, and enjoyed listening to classical books on tape, playing road games and exploring the country. We never could have gone on our many family adventures if we had adopted babies. As my husband and I both worked, it was also helpful that our children were in school. We were able to adjust our schedules around school hours and holidays. However, had we adopted a baby, it would have been far more challenging.

Our sons joined our family after they visited our family through one of the nightlight summer hosting programs. We had the experience of having them in our home for several weeks, realizing during that time, that we also enjoyed parenting boys (after having successfully parented four girls). Hosting gave us the opportunity to see what it was like to have a boy in our home. Hosting is a fantastic way to have an older child in your home for a period of two to six weeks, allowing both you to experience what it might be like to add that child to your family. It also gives the child an idea about what it might be like to join your family or a similar family. As a single children without biological siblings, our sons both appreciated coming into a family where they would have several siblings.

I certainly would encourage any parents who might be open to adopting an older child or siblings to consider the many amazing older children and siblings who are waiting eagerly for a family to call their own. In our family we refer to our adoptions as part of our family adventures. Could you be that family willing to take that exciting adventure of adopting an older child or sibling children?

 

–by Rhonda Jarema

Lessons Learned as an Adoptive Mom

 

When my husband and I prayerfully decided we would like to adopt, I was one of those people who read all the blogs, and did my best to “master” this journey in advance. We ultimately narrowed things down to foster adoption as the best fit for our family.

Fast forward through a home study, lots of education, certification, and waiting in matching for about 6 months for the right placement to come along, I suddenly became a mom to 4-year-old twins.

I say suddenly, because the wait feels agonizing, things just HAPPEN, all at once.

So “suddenly” I was meeting the twins first foster family in an Ikea parking lot, loading up all of their belongings, and driving them through a couple hours of traffic to our home, where my husband was nervously waiting. This was a little over a year ago, and we have finalized our adoption with the twins since that time. I am still on this journey of learning as an adoptive mom, but I have picked up some lessons along the way.

You will love them, in your own time, in the way that you love: Moment of honesty here, I don’t bond quickly with anyone. I signed up for adoption knowing that I would not be that person who saw a picture of a child and immediately feel “this is my child”. I hoped for it, none the less. All of the adoption stories I read or listened to had that moment. That time where an adopter walked into a room, or saw a picture, and felt to their core that everything they had done up to that point lead them to their child. I have so much appreciation for people who are able to have that moment. Also my heart hurts for the individuals that don’t, and think there is something… wrong.

Our twins came into our home, and it mainly felt like babysitting, which was not helped by the fact that I needed to record the exact minute of which I gave them a gummy vitamin, each day. Going through all of these mothering steps felt so off, because there was a mother out there grieving the loss of her children, and they were grieving the loss of her. I was grieving for both of their losses. I was in an incredibly tricky state of mind.

I didn’t feel like a parent when they came home, or even many months afterwards. This was not a failure on behalf of anyone; myself, my agency, the kids. There wasn’t something wrong with me. People just bond differently, and some more obviously and quickly than others.

This could be true for yourself, your spouse, or the child(ren) you bring into your home, and it is not a disaster when it happens. When it comes down to it, I made a choice to love these strangers as my children. I acted out what I knew love to look like, and I told myself (sometimes daily) my feelings will come. Not the feelings someone else experienced in their adoption story, but the ones that are true to me. This ended up serving me well, when things got hard, it did not change the fact that I was still simply acting out what I know love to look like. It kept my feet planted.

To keep it simple, don’t compare. Pray daily to love the children in your home just a little bit more than you loved them the day before, regardless of where you started. The feelings come, they continue to grow, sometimes they ebb and flow. Just like the ending of a story book, “happily ever after” in marriage is much more complicated than we once believed as kids. The same is true for adoption.

Love for kids is spelled “TIME” I feel like most parents probably know this. However, I was really surprised at the results that come from playing with my children individually for just 5 minutes a day. Play that involved letting them lead, and either complimenting, celebrating, or repeating back what they were doing during those 5 minutes. This is not naturally my personality, but I learned, and it worked. Not simply time next to them, but concentrated time loving on who they are at exactly that moment. Not who you want them to be some day, just letting them be them, in all their messy imperfect glory.

Also, that TIME can mean taking time to work on yourself. Parenting really puts you under the microscope and brings out some things that you may have never realized were there. Things like a child that reminds you of someone that caused emotional damage towards you in the past. Maybe it’s opposing personalities that you don’t know how to navigate, or a button that they really learned how to push. Let me be brutally honest with you when I say that taking time to work on your own stuff is one of the most effective ways to love your child.

Do not be afraid to get counseling, it’s worth the financial cost. Your house doesn’t need to be figuratively “on fire” for you to drag yourself to an office for therapy. I tell my kids that a therapist is simply a doctor for their emotions. If it’s normal to do a checkup with your physician, why not an emotional check up too?

Be intentional about relationships, they are key to success I’m not talking about with the kids, but your personal relationships, as they are the ones that will help hold your head up when things get HARD.

Adoption, especially fostering or international adoption, will be isolating. Not everyone will understand trauma, even when you try to educate them. They won’t understand cocooning, or therapeutic parenting strategies. If you are like me, and adoption is the way you first became a parent, people will assume you have no earthly clue what you are doing. To be honest, I didn’t! More specifically, I hadn’t mastered a lot of really basic things that parents normally learn through years of trial and error. We got judged harshly on our little mistakes, and that opened the door for strangers to make a lot of assumptions about our parenting in general. I’m not into oversharing my kids personal story for the benefit of a stranger, so taking criticism or ‘tips’ silently is often what makes adopters feel so isolated.

This may make you want to back away from relationships altogether, but in fact it is the reason they are so important. I found that the people who DID understand, listen, and learn with us, were my rocks in the hardest moments. They let me vent when some well-meaning ‘advice’ made me feel extra insecure. I also realized very quickly how vital it is to get to know other adopting families, and pursue relationships with them intentionally. We had none of those relationships to start, and had to start pursuing them when our lives were busy, crazy, and imperfect. The beauty was, those adoptive families were not fazed by imperfection. Life-giving relationships were so key to our journey, that I would recommend pursuing them with the same passion in which you may currently be pursuing an adopted child.

While this is not everything you could possibly need for your adoptive journey, I have found that being aware of each of these has provided the fuel we needed to get through our harder moments, and ultimately lead our family to overcome some tough times. They also made life a lot more fun in the good times.

–Deb Uber | Snowflakes Adopter Inquiry Specialist

Down Time & Special Activities for the Summer

 

Your child also needs some “down time” to become more regulated and calm.  Just as with movement activities, these quieter times include structure, engagement nurture, and challenge. So what are some downtime activities that promote connectivity with your child?

  • Eating and drinking together can be a bonding experience. You can look at each other while you eat, make pleasant conversation, and, as already noted, even have fun feeding each other.
  • If you are outdoors and your child is just eating a snack and is ready to get back on the playground, then spend about five minutes in some hand-clapping games while you are sitting.
  • Reading together provides an opportunity to ask your child about the characters in the book and what each character may be thinking. If there are parent figures, you can ask your child, “What is the Daddy doing here?” What are some other things daddies do with their children?” What do you like to do with your Daddy?
  • Putting together puzzles can challenge your child while you talk and create something together.
  • Playing board or card games—remember those?—allows for challenge and engagement with your child. Of course, you have other things to do, so encourage your children and their friends to play simple board and card games together. This can promote sharing, winning and losing, as well as cooperation.
  • When your child is resting, you may want to engage in body touching activities such as backrubs or just putting lotion on each other’s hands. When you do such activities, take notice of your child’s hands and count the freckles or other features, such as the nails. You can say, Phili, what cute little freckles you have; I can count three of them on your hand today. Tomorrow we will see if we can find more.” Encourage your child to also put lotion on your hands.

Screen Time is NOT Downtime:

A couple of times per day, you want to make sure your child has about 15-60 minutes of downtime—depending upon your child’s age and ability to have such low-activity. Playing on an Ipad , however, is NOT downtime. Yes, screen-time is definitely a break for you. And, let’s face it, every child is going to spend some time on their screens. So there is probably no need to feel guilty if your child spends less than one hour a day on electronic devices. However, the average child spends more than seven hours a day with these electronics. This amount of time is downright damaging. In addition, the games they play, no matter how innocent, can have an addictive nature and tap into the child’s brain’s pleasure center, increasing your child’s dopamine. Your child’s brain feels like it is getting a reward each time your child plays on the Ipad. So instead of getting pleasure from human interaction, your child gets pleasure from the online games. If that is not bad enough, research shows that the area of the brain where processing takes place, can shrink. A child from less than ideal circumstances already has more difficulty using their frontal lobe of the brain for such higher level functions such as planning and organizing. If this area of the brain is further compromised by the extensive use of video games, then your child can be further dysregulated—leading to angry outbursts, temper tantrums, and impulsive activities. In addition to the gray matter in the brain being compromised, the white matter in the brain is also compromised leading to problems in the connections in the brain. Children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) can already have diminished brain function between the left and right brain hemispheres. Video games can further deteriorate this connectivity.

Initially, it is easy to have your child happily playing away on the Ipad while you get chores and other work done. However, there is a longer-term price to pay. For more information about the dramatic positive effects coming off of electronics can have for your child read https://drdunckley.com/2015/11/11/screentime-making-kids-moody-crazy-lazy/

 

And while we are discussing screen time, please put the phone away.  Even if you are not looking at it while your children are around, just the fact that your phone is out and within sight causes anxiety in children.  They know you could be interrupted any minute.  Somehow our parents and grandparents were able to go to the pool and beach without them.  Put yours away in a plastic Ziploc bag.

 

Special Activities for Special Kids:

 

Many of our adopted children who come from difficult places, have sensory and other issues that make it difficult for the child to engage. Attachment enhancing activities can still be done with your child’s special issues being considered. While I do not like to diagnose children, knowing what types of behaviors your child has (e.g., “My child is hyperactive at times and sometimes has difficulty paying attention.” instead of, “My child has ADHD,”) can help you gear activities with your child’s needs in mind.

For a child with attention and hyperactivity issues, try games such as “Mother May I.” Your child needs to focus on what is being said, (“Jump forward three times”) as well as actually following the instructions. For children who are newly adopted, this game can also reinforce listening to mom and obeying her as well as recognizing her as the “real” mom. The instructions can be playful and funny. Make your child laugh. You will too!

If your child has trouble sitting down, allow the child to have sensory gadgets to squeeze and hold while engaging in an activity. So while your child is being read to, let him hold one of these objects.  Some kids also need chewing toys as well.

For a child who tends to be anxious, any exercise that encourages breathing can be calming. You may want to listen to some muscle relaxation on YouTube such as Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  Calming music is also helpful if you can talk to your child about relaxing her body and helping her breathe slowly and deeply. If your child (and you) can actually do this five to ten minutes a day, twice a day, this can make a great impact on your child’s anxiety level.

To make these relaxation exercises more kid friendly, you can give your child a lemon and encourage her to squeeze the lemon enough to “make” lemonade. As your child squeezes the lemon, your child can also tighten different areas of the body, starting with the neck, chest, and working down to his toes.

If in the pool, you can blow bubbles for a certain period of time. Your child’s taking big breathes, holding her breath, and then exhaling is very calming and helps your child relax. Your child can blow while you count and then you can blow bubbles while your child counts.

To help your child feel more in control and to further reduce anxiety, let your child be a special hero who is able to conquer all sorts of “monsters.” Give your child a towel gently knotted like a cape and let your child play superhero around the pool. Make up the names of various monsters that your child can whack with a pool noodle. “I am going to whack the pretend boogie man who lives under my bed.” (Of course, if your child has never mentioned such fears, do not introduce the thought into your child’s head.)

For children prone to angry explosions, help them to recognize what their body feels like when they “blow up.”  Do not try to discuss the situation in the middle of  your child’s outburst. However, during a time when your child is calm, encourage your child to “explode” like a volcano in the water. He can jump out of the water and then growl. You can do this also. Laugh about your explosions. You can do this with waves in the ocean as they come over the child’s feet. Discuss how angry feelings can take over—just like ocean waves. Or you can make a volcano out of sand and fill it with water. Ask, “What does an ‘angry’ volcano do?” Let your child either have water spill over or perhaps destroy the volcano. If in the pool, have your child splash their arms in the water and make big splashes that represent anger. Then talk about what anger feels like. Then talk about the things that cause your child to feel angry. Share some of what presses your buttons as well. From there you can discuss things that the child can do when he is angry so that he does not feel like the hot lava coming down a volcano. You can ask your child if going to another room, talking with an adult, or holding a stuffed animal helps with angry feelings.

For children with disruptive behaviors, such as those who refuse to follow rules and who refuse to accept “no” for an answer, you can use a bottle of soda water as an illustration of what it is like to hold onto anger too long.  Talk with your child about the things that make a bottle of soda water bubble up and then explode when you open the bottle (e.g., shaking it, turning in upside down). Then talk about ways to open the bottle so that the soda does explode. Then have your child talk about ways that make his bubbles get very excited and ways that he can settle down those bubbles so he does not explode (e.g., punching a pillow, talking with mom, or reading a good book).

For children with annoying behaviors, such as repetitive motions, getting into others’ space, or making inappropriate sounds, you can play games of things that annoy people and ask your child what annoys him. For example, you can both hum loudly and talk about how humming can be very annoying. Make fun of yourself. You can eat noisily and slurp your coffee extra loudly. Then discuss how these noises can be funny but they can also be ver….y annoying. Then get your kiddos to do the same. You may also want to write down some of these behaviors on a beach ball (see below),  in which you put down other social skills  on the ball (e.g., “chew with mouth closed”) and have your child talk about ways do the right behavior instead of the annoying one.

If your child has obsessive compulsive thoughts and behaviors, you can place beans, seeds, or marbles in a bucket, and these can represent the OCD thought or behavior. If at the beach, you can put wet sand in a pail. You can say, “These beans/marbles/ beads/sand are what sometimes takes over your thoughts.” (Do not say to the child she has OCD.) Then have the child put her hands in the bucket and feel the OCD problem taking over her hands. Describe how easy it is to get buried in the thoughts and feelings. Now, you, the parent, are going to protect the child from these beads. Put your hands over your child’s hands so that the beads or other materials cannot touch your child. Another way to do this exercise is to put little toys in the beads or sand and tell your child the objects are the OCD. Then you will put your hands into the sand and help your child’s hands not to get “attacked” by the objects that represent OCD. You, as the parent, can remove the OCD objects.

While keeping the exercise “light,” and even have moments of silliness, let your child know you take her thoughts and feelings seriously. The idea is for you, the parent, not to be the enabler but truly be the protector of your child and to help your child control her thoughts so she does not engage in ritualized OCD behaviors.

Almost all children from difficult circumstances have experienced trauma. Some of this trauma is not remembered or was more subtle. Serious outward trauma may be played out or discussed over and over again by your child. Your child may feel at times that he is re-experiencing it. Other children avoid talking about the incident, no matter how safe they feel with you. Often these children will be clingy and won’t want you out of their sight.

You can make a special box for your child and put things in there that represents part of your child’s history. Your child can take these items out and talk about them. The story your child tells may not be about the specific trauma but about other events that took place. As your child becomes more comfortable, she may begin to share with you. Mellenthin,* recommends watching  “Boundin” –a short film on YouTube that shows a lamb who faces adversity (getting shaved each year). After watching the video, you can have your child get a puppet or stuffed animal to replay what happened and how the  little lamb (and your child) can bounce back.

You can have fun using  beach balls to address many other issues including expressing feelings.   Blow up a beach ball and on the ball , using a Sharpie pen, write as many feelings (e.g., sad, mad, glad, excited, disappointed) on it that your children can name. Then toss the ball. Whoever catches it selects the feeling closest to the right thumb. Have the child share what makes the child have that feeling. Of course, the adults who play also share their feelings. The rule should be that a new feeling is selected each time and each child has a turn. The game can be varied by hitting the ball with your heads, your thumbs, passing it like a volleyball punch, or hitting it with the feet or knees and then picking up with the hands.

A new ball can be blown up and on it you and your children can put on it social skills such as saying, “Thank you,” giving compliments, asking a question nicely, and staying in your own space. As noted above, you can also put down the opposite of annoying behaviors (e.g., quietly chew food).

The third ball can have coping skills on it, which may include deep breathing, doing jumping jacks, pushing the wall down, blowing bubbles, talking to someone, hitting a pillow. It is better if your children can be involved in coming up with their own coping strategies. Playing with the ball can be used to address other issues as well.**

Remember, you only have to get it right with your kids about 30% of the time to be a good and effective parent.  Also, the more playful you are, the more you will enjoy your kids, and, in turn, you will be creating fun summer memories.

 

* Play Therapy: Engaging and & Powerful Techniques for the Treatment of Childhood Disorders, by Clair Mellenthin, LCSW, RPT-S, 2018.

** This was developed by Robert Jason Grant and is called Feelings Beach Ball: from Play Based Interventions of Autism Spectrum disorder and Other Developmental Disabilities.