I'm Julie, otherwise known as Mamita. I'm married to the greatest man on earth. His name is Steve, or Daddy. We have 4 kids, three homegrown and one heartgrown from the beautiful country of Guatemala. This blog is about our family, our faith, adoption, therapeutic parenting, and anything else I feel the need to talk about. It is both a family record and free therapy for my crazy life. Come along for the ride if you want.
Sugar was traumatized when Cupcake came home and brought her trauma with her. She has seen a lot of crazy behavior. Deep in her soul, she remembers that stuff and has held it against her sister for nearly 3 years.
We've had occasional moments of actual sweetness between the sisters. We've seen Sugar fiercely protect her little sister at times. But much of the time, they live in an uneasy truce. Forced civility. Or we have outright war between the girls.
I can't blame Sugar. She is only 12 and has to put up with a lot - way more than normal pesky little sister stuff, and the normal stuff is exacerbated by the deep resentment of her painful memories.
So, imagine my surprise, when, yesterday morning, we found this next to Cupcake's bed!
Dear Cupcake, I love you and I hope you know that. You are way sweeter than I give you credit for. Have a good day at school.
Read this note when you think I don't love you.
Proof that things are getting better!
(I feel it's only fair to tell you that, by bedtime, the note was seriously in danger of being ripped to shreds by both girls. We are making progress, but we certainly have not arrived.)
Yesterday, Cupcake was supposed to spend the night with the neighbor girl. They had been planning this birthday celebration for over two weeks. The night before, she picked out her outfit. She woke up that morning and started packing. At 8:30 AM, she was asking how much longer until the "party". At 10:30, I let her go knock on the door to see if the girl could play, but I wouldn't let her bring her overnight bag yet. We didn't want to seem too eager. ;-)
At 11:00, I talked to the mom. Everything was a "go" for the night. In fact, she offered to watch Cupcake in the afternoon so I could work at our church garage sale.
So, at 11:30, Cupcake comes home with a look on her face. She says, "I can't stay this afternoon and the sleepover is canceled. D's dad called and he's picking her up now." (D's mom and dad are divorced and this is spring break. We'll just say it was a breakdown in communication.) I wanted to cry for her. I told her how sorry I was and how I knew it hurt. She dejectedly said, "It's okay." Then, a few minutes later, "I feel.....really sad."
That's it! Did you hear that?
"I feel...really sad.", No screaming, no rages, no nothing! Just sad!
I was SO PROUD of my little girl!
One year ago, this kind of disappointment would have lead to nuclear meltdown lasting at least a week.
Two years ago, the possibility of a sleepover with a friend was out of the question. Under no circumstances could I ever, ever, ever imagine a sleepover being possible.
Yesterday, I was reminded of those first few weeks when Cupcake was new to us, nearly 3 years ago. Truthfully, in those early days home, I did not have any hope of her ever being able to enter her grandmother's house, with all it's crystal and fine china. (We did reach that goal within about 4 months.)
The story of yesterday was actually WAY more crazy than I can even explain, but, in the end, Cupcake handled tremendous disappointment with aplomb. God has really done a wonderful thing in our lives!
We have come a long way, indeed! I'm so proud of my baby!
Lisa asked the question on her blog: "For those of you with older adopted kids, have you had success and healing?" The question was coming from a mom who had been working with her child for 10 months and was discouraged. Boy, I've been there. There are still days....but....
I've had a couple of big "WOW!" moments with my little Cupcake. I just need to share them with you. :-D
The first one happened a few weeks ago. Her counselor at school returned to me a survey that I had filled out in March of last year. She asked me to go over it and make any changes that have occurred over the past year. The first page was address, phone number, blah, blah, blah. The second and third pages were a list of behavioral issues, about 60 questions. Included were things like: is able to focus on a task, displays aggression toward peers, responds appropriately to ___, becomes frustrated easily, answers when I call, etc. For each issue, I could check the box.
Not a Concern
Sometimes a Concern
Well, last year, maybe 60% of the issues were "A Concern", 30% "Sometimes", and 10% "Not a Concern". This year, almost everything moved up to a lesser category! Only about 10% remain a concern for us.
I marveled over that piece of paper. All that progress was recorded right there in ink! So many baby steps had gone unnoticed. Many tiny things had been celebrated with tiny joy, but the overall progress she's made has been stunning. It makes me want to throw a party. I plan to ask her guidance counselor for a copy of that paper just to have. It will be something to refer to on the hard days.
I just read a very thoughtful post today over at My Mind on Paper. Kevin, the author, was adopted trans-racially. He is now an adult and reflects on his life and family.
Today, he wrote about the effect of his adoption on his siblings and the long-term outcomes. I see the danger he writes about. We have poured our lives into the healing and stabilization of our adopted daughter, but it has cost us precious time, energy and enjoyment of our older kids. I pray that we can keep them connected and that all four kids become friends as they grow up. I want them to be close to us and close to each other.
If you are an adoptive mom, please go over and read his post.
(I learned something new about Blogger last night. If you are changing the title of a post, and you accidentally hit "Enter", Blogger will publish your post. I'm sorry if you got the rough draft before I could remove it. This is the complete edited post.)
This is my understanding of Dr. Karyn Purvis's information. She's a genius. I hope I don't butcher it.
Your voice communicates volumes about how you feel about misbehavior. It either shows the child that you are firm, safe and loving (which means your child is lovable) or that you are angry, not safe and your love may be in jeopardy. All with your voice and body language.
Scary. I know.
The key is to control your voice precisely according to the level of behavior.
Girls spend our whole lives practicing the control of our voices. (Note the shrieking, whining, whispering, talking, singing, and dramatizing that girls do.) We all can actually control our voice, if we want to. Taming the tongue. Not easy, but vitally important if we want our kids to find healing.
Somewhere along the line, I misused my voice and got the reaction I wanted. Then I jumped to yelling or sarcasm or growling or staccato for daily discipline. :-( I hate that.
So Dr. Purvis gave us a plan to change the way things are.
There are four levels of confrontation. Level 1 includes a wide range of general disobedience or foolishness, including lying, stealing, backtalk, not sharing, etc. Level 2 is a sustained challenge, when the kid refuses to comply even though she understands what is required. Level 3 is threatening or acting aggressively. Dr. Purvis didn't cover Level 4, but I'm sure it means serious aggression or violence. (State laws vary on how to handle that.)
So for a Level 1 offense (General Disobedience): Your tone should be light, high and playful. Volume should be low. Cadence should be quick. This combination tells the child that you are not a threat, you are the leader, and he has the opportunity to make things right on his own. Say things like, "Are you asking or telling?", "Who's the boss here?", "Is that your toy?", "Did you ask for a snack?" or "Would you like to try that again?" Many times, the child will self-correct with a re-do at this point.
For a Level 2 offense (Sustained Challenge): This is a situation where the kids says, "No. I'm not going to do it." Your tone should go down just a little, not so playful this time, but not threatening. Volume gets slightly louder and your cadence slows down a little. Give the child two choices. Say things like, "You can ask me politely, or you may put away the toy.", "You can give that toy back or I can do it. Would you like me to do it?" Especially if you have a kid from hard places, you must have a third choice available. If you notice the child is either not processing the choices or jumping into fight, flight or freeze, offer the choice to think it over a minute. You'd be amazed at how often that diffuses the situation. A lot of times, I just say, "I'm going to let you have some time to think about that," and walk away. But not too far away, just far enough that I'm not seen as a threat or a tyrant. Make sure you are available when the child has made up her mind.
For a Level 3 offense (Threat or Aggression): Move quickly between the aggressor and the other person, or , face the aggressor if you are the target. Plant your feet shoulder-width apart. Place your arms in an "X" in front of you. Your tone is low and serious. Volume is loud (but not yelling). Your cadence is very slow. Still, you do not want to appear threatening. Say things like, "We. do. NOT. say. kill." or "We. do. NOT. hit." Then softer, "Give me words to tell me what you need." Try not to get physical with the aggressor. (I know this is really hard, since your systems are ramped up, too.) Keep in mind, that you are trying to bring the threat alert down a notch. Diffuse the situation first, then deal with correction.
I have all kinds of great wisdom. Sometimes that wisdom flies out the window.
We had a family implosion last night. All four of us (the parents and the daughters) had had a high stress day. All four on edge. It started right after dinner and quickly escalated into a full-blown verbal melee. It was awful. We all sinned against each other.
Which brings me to a teaching point. :-)
Naming your sin and asking for forgiveness is incredibly restoring.
I ask my kids, "What did you do wrong?" They will try to say ,"She did ...", but I keep interrupting until they can say what they did wrong.
Of course, I have to ask myself the same question.
In a perfect world, we would go to the person we sinned against and ask forgiveness for the named crime. (I guess if it were a perfect world, there would be no crime.) As it stands, some family members have apologized to some family members and received forgiveness.
We're still untangling our feet from the wreckage, but Steve and I have spent a while trying to figure out where we both went wrong.
It is good to reflect on mistakes and strategize for the future. It's good to say, "I'm sorry." and have relationships restored.
This builds resilience in our children and it's good for us, too.
Therapeutic parenting is a whole different ballgame from the parenting style that most of us know. We've been forced to examine deep within ourselves to determine why we do the things we do. We've had to pitch all the ineffective ideas and start over with new skills. My last post listed some of my new parenting tools. This is a continuation of that list. This is what works for us.
Treat the Whole Child
There is no doubt that adopted kids are a puzzle. We don't always know where behaviors are coming from. We try to study our kids to figure out what's going on. We have sought out specialists in attachment/trauma, sensory, hearing, reading, ESL, and speech therapy. If Cupcake comes home from school irritable, I have several things run through my mind.
It may be nutritional. - She might be hungry. It may be emotional. - Maybe she was embarrassed at school. It may be attachment. - Maybe I gave her a look that shook her to the core. It may be physical. - She may be coming down with a cold. It may be sensory. - She may need some rough-housing.
All of these things come into play, and it takes more wisdom than I have to figure this out. But if I always keep these things in mind, it helps to keep things in perspective.
For instance, her teacher wants her to read every night. I'm all for reading. I am excited about the progress she's making with it. BUT, if she is an emotional wreck, I must work on getting her back into regulation before we can even attempt to read. Some nights, we just don't read.
When things are going well, we remind Cupcake that we love her and are family forever. When we see the downward spiral, we remind Cupcake that no matter what, we will still be her parents, that she is lovable, and that she is a good girl. Over and over and over and over. We remind her of all the good things we've done for her, because we love her. In fact, it's a game we play. I'll ask in a playful voice, "Why did I give you ice cream last night?" She answers, "Because you love me." When she's in that not-so-good place emotionally, I will play this game and remind her of all the things I did just today to show her my love.
Cupcake has a story. It's not pretty. She needs to tell it. Telling our story brings healing. (Remember the first time you had a baby or lived through a traumatic experience. The first person you told your story to probably got every gory detail. By the hundredth person, you were able to just give the highlights.) Letting her tell her story through play therapy is SO good for her. She has worked through some really tough stuff in the "play room" where we pretend whatever is on her mind. We do not edit the story, even if we believe parts are not true. Just being heard is healing.
We give her voice through her words. When she asks for something, we try to immediately meet her needs. Every time we do that, it speaks to her heart, "Your needs matter to me. I will meet your needs. Your voice is a powerful tool to express yourself." Sometimes Cupcake expresses her feelings with behavior. If I have the presence of mind to do this, I will say, "Wow! You seem to be really mad. I wonder if you are really ________? (worried about Daddy's trip next week, embarrassed about what happened at school, jealous of your sister's new shoes, etc) This helps teach her to express her feelings more exactly (and less physically).
This follows giving voice. Saying, "I'm listening," then shutting up is powerful good stuff. That part about shutting up is the hard part for me. I'm a born teacher and I want to get my lesson in. :-) Just listen.
"Do You Trust Me?"
When I see the beginnings of a meltdown, if I can make eye contact and ask this question, I can head it off before it ramps up. Sometimes she just needs to remember that we're a trustworthy bunch of people. Sometimes, she's doesn't trust me and she says so. Then I remind her that she can trust me. I'm a good mom. I will take care of her needs. I know what's best.
I can't emphasize enough the need to go to the Lord on behalf of my kids. This is especially true when we are in total meltdown. I ask God to calm her heart with His Spirit and remind her of our love, to reach into the depths that I cannot reach and give her Life and Hope. In the carpool line on the way to school, I pray that God would bless her and help her to be kind and obedient. I ask God to help her hear the teacher and listen carefully. In my quiet time, I ask God to make my girls really love (and like) each other. I pray for her heart to be open to the love of Jesus and for God to heal all the broken places. At bedtime, I thank the Lord for giving me such a wonderful daughter. (I also pray for my wisdom, patience, endurance and for my own heart to be soft and teachable.)
These things don't even seem like "effective disciplinary techniques" because their not. They are connecting strategies. When a child feels safe, loved and connected, the correction is easy (or easier, anyway).
In a previous post, I listed all the things that no longer work when correcting our children. My parenting toolbox has become quite empty. I am rebuilding my skill set a little at a time. It feels like I traded in my garage full of power tools for that "first apartment" toolbox. You know the one - it contains a hammer, screwdrivers, a tape measure and some picture-hanging nails. Just the basics, but everything you really need.
So what works for us?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: Everything has to be done with a heart of love and compassion, with gentleness and respect. It's hard being a kid. It never hurts to extend compassion for the people you love most (especially if you don't feel like it.) Anything done with a "baditude" is not going to work.
Most of this came straight from Karyn Purvis and the Empowered to Connect Conference. Some of it was just inspired from her ideas.
We must be in the same room, on the same level with the offending child. (Also, we need to make a point of spending pleasant time in the same room, on the same level, and engaging in happy play so that our relationship has something to build on.) We cannot lob instructions from the kitchen and we can't correct behavior if we are not with our child, physically and emotionally.
Gently, I say, "Let me see your beautiful eyes.", "Where's your eyes?", or "Are my eyes polka-dotted?" Anything to get Cupcake to look at my eyes of compassion. My eyes must communicate that I'm on her side and I care.
I wish I'd have learned this one years ago. Kids need practice doing things the right way. (Especially kids who learned the wrong way.) Physical memory is powerful. Think about when you get in a different car and your hand goes to the wrong place for the ignition, shifter, and lights. Your physical memory usurps your thinking. So, if it's that powerful for us intellectual grown-ups, how much more powerful is it for kids who need practice doing things the right way. Instead of "getting in trouble", simply take them back to the scene of the crime and ask them to do it the right way.
Being proactive in parenting is essential. Giving a heads-up before transitions is helpful. Anytime we are facing a new or unusual situation, it is best if I can sit down and explain what will be happening. Reinforce that we are a family and we all stick together, no matter what. Calm and nurturing morning routines make for a good start to the day. As Cupcake jumps in the car after school, I joyfully ask how her day was as I hand her a piece of gum, candy, or protein.
A Spoon Full of Sugar
Mary Poppins was right. If we can have fun while correcting, it's, well...fun. This one requires me to be on my game. If Cupcake is upset at dinnertime, I might say playfully, "Oh man! I was hoping you'd join us. We're having your favorite...shoes and underwear. And for dessert...mulch." Whatever I do, it has to be unexpected (and usually corny). I use the old, fake-frowny face as I say, "There will be NO smiling around here. Are you smiling? Hey! STOP THAT!" Of course, it has to end in a giggle-fest. The biggest thing here is that the fun has to be mutual. If I make a funny and she growls, then I have to step back and try another tack because she is perceiving this as making fun of her and not laughing with her.
We have a coach friend who has told us about and modeled the Oreo for years, but I'm a slow learner. The Oreo is simply this: Say something positive. Gently slip in the correction. Follow it up with a positive, preferably giving hope for the future. For example, "I love the way you asked, but I'm afraid I can't swing with you right now. But maybe we can do that after dinner." or "That sounds like fun, but I have to work with your sister right now. Maybe you could play with your dolls until I'm free."
So what do you think? Have you used these? What works for you?