Monday, March 12, 2012

Have a Kid With Attachment Issues?

Third in a series of articles sponsored by the Adopt America Network.

Have a Kid with Attachment Issues?

Since the diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder has become so popular for children who have spent some of their lives in foster care or institutions, there are hundreds of resources out there for living with children with these issues. It is important to remember that nearly all children coming from these backgrounds have attachment issues, regardless of weather or not they have an official diagnosis.

Parenting kids with attachment issues is hard work. The reason it is so difficult is that they do not inspire the kinds of responses that they need. Let me explain.

A child or teen with attachment issues has a goal to keep people as far away as possible because they are afraid of emotional intimacy. Their behavior is ugly, nasty, rude and mean. They push people away by disobeying, cursing, or being consistently oppositional. After a while, parents just want to STAY AWAY from their attachment disordered kids.

So when a therapist like Dan Hughes suggests that what parents need to do is to practice playfulness, love, acceptance, curiosity and empathy, our internal response as parents is “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!!!!” After weeks or months or even years of being barraged with negative energy from kids, the idea of being playful and loving seems it will take more emotional energy than we can find within ourselves.

But it’s what they need. Unfortunately, we did not cause them to be this way but in order for us to help them heal, we need to practice very intentional parenting. Here are three tips that will help you be able to give your kids what you need.

1) Make sure you take care of yourself. You’ll need to be in the best emotional shape possible in order to continue to give when not receiving in return. Hang out with people who support you. Get enough sleep. Exercise and eat right. Consider yourself to be in training for a special mission – because this is harder than almost anything else you will ever have to do.

2) Pick your battles wisely. If you are consistently arguing about small things, there won’t be time to engage positively. Arguing with a child who has attachment issues simply gives them what they want. Distract them by changing the subject. Do unexpected things to make them laugh. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in an argument that has no end in site. It’s not easy to be playful, loving, accepting, curious, or empathetic when they have gotten you to a place of anger and frustration. So be the adult. Don’t let them take you there.

3) Find things that you really like about your son/daughter and focus on them. Bring to mind positive memories you have shared. Focus on them as people, not their behaviors. Challenge yourself to make positive moments in each day that will create memories to look back on tomorrow.

If you have met me in person you know that I seldom get this right, but I do understand the importance of doing it. It’s not an issue of having the right personality or temperament. It’s about reframing the way you see things, and changing your response to your kids – because it is going to take a long time for them to change, if they ever do.

In conclusion, living with a kid with attachment issue requires living by the principles found in the revised serenity prayer, which I repeat to myself and quote often (even though I’ve never seen it attributed to anyone except “anonymous”):

Lord, give me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change;
The courage to change the person I can;
And the wisdom to know it’s me.

YOU CAN DO IT. Believe you can and start making small changes today.

Tired of Waiting?

Another article sponsored by the Adopt America Network. Please check out their website.

Tired of Waiting?

In the adoption process there are several waiting periods, but the two most difficult are:

the time between the completion of training, paperwork, and homestudy and the match of their child, and;

the time between when the match is made and the child or children actually move into the home.

Here are some suggestions for you as you participate in each of those two stages:

From Homestudy Completion to Match:

The temptation before being matched is to spend time thinking about the house and how to prepare it. But the issue before being matched with a specific sibling group or child is preparing yourself as a person and as a parent-to-be. Here are some suggestions:

1. Read, read, read, read, read. Books, magazines, articles, online blogs and websites, anything that you can get your hands on about children in the system. A special focus should be given to attachment disorder and fetal alcohol issues as you will most likely face them.

2. Volunteer to do respite care or be involved with children in some way. A crisis nursery, a headstart program in a low-income neighborhood, a Big-Brother or Big-Sister program, or spending time with teens at a Residential Treatment Center can provide invaluable training and also will make you more matchable.

3. Spend time attending support groups, conferences, and other events where you can meet parents of adopted children. Talk to them about their experiences and get to know their children.

From Match to Placement: When you find out you will be welcoming a child into your home, use the waiting time to prepare for that specific child or sibling group. Ask your questions carefully so you can use your waiting time wisely.

...Again, read, read, read but this time more specifically. Focus on the issues of the children who are coming to your home.
...Decorate a room.
...Plan a schedule.
...Enroll the kids in school.
...Purchase bedding.
...Get insurance information.
...Alert your doctor/dentist.
...Identify their therapist or psychiatrist.
...Calendar their currently scheduled appointments.
...Begin a scrapbook for them.

There are many things that you can do to make the time go fast. It is important to think through how your schedule will change when a new child enters your home. You are not adding a child to your existing life; you are welcoming a child who will change the way you and your family functions. Decide early on what are foundational values and practices of your family’s life together so that you can maintain a sense of stability in the midst of necessary changes.

Kids in care find security in structure, whether they are able to identify this or not (and with some diagnoses “structure” may initially create some challenges). The clearer the structure – and do not mistake clarity for rigidity – the better. Thinking through each day will help not only you, but also your children to get a sense of what to expect each day and each week during their stay with you. This kind of structure alleviates anxiety and provides a more secure sense of calm.

Don’t waste your waiting times. Take full advantage of the extra time because it won’t be long before you feel like you never have a free minute!

Online Support Groups

The following article is sponsored by the Adopt America Network, a non-profit that has been working for nearly 30 years to match waiting children with families.

Online Support: The Perfect Answer for Many Adoptive Parents

Support can come in lots of ways for people who have adopted children who have special needs. Talking to someone who “gets it” is one of the best things that we as adoptive parents can do to normalize our experience and feel like we are not alone. However, some types of support just aren’t possibilities for us during our most trying of days.

Here are some reasons why “real life” as opposed to virtual, online support aren’t possible for adoptive parents:

1) Traditional support groups require us to leave our homes. This requires child care. Many adoption support groups do not provide child care.

2) Traditional support groups that meet in person sometimes offer child care. However, sometimes our children simply cannot function in that setting -- even if it is geared to special needs children.

3) Sometimes we are simply to exhausted to make ourselves look presentable. Even if we want to get out and go to a group, it would require having time for a shower and ttime to find clothes that match and don’t have holes in them, perhaps makeup or perfume... you get the idea. Sometimes we’re just too tired at the end of the day to get there.

4) If we can’t meet in person, phone calls are the next best thing. However, it is quite embarrassing to be talking to someone with the noise of a kid raging in the background or while being called a variety of interesting and colorful names by an angry teenager. After we’ve said, “wait, hold on a second” five or six times it just gets too frustrating to try any longer.

5) Having visitors would be another natural way to connect with others, but I know you can think of 30 reasons why THAT isn’t going to happen. At least I can.

6) Meeting another adoptive parent for coffee or lunch is a great idea IF all the kids are in school and IF the school isn’t calling to interrupt the lunch or coffee time to say that we have to come to the school to intervene, give advice, or bring them home.

So, naturally, those of us who have interesting children at home often can’t find support by going to a “real life” support group. We can’t have people over, go out to meet someone, or talk on the phone. Fortunately, there is the internet and now even those of us in the midst of the battle in the trenches can participate in an online group.

So obviously, after reading the paragraphs above, you should already be able to articulate these reasons why online support has been my favorite type in my fifteen years as a foster and adoptive parent:

I don’t have to get dressed up. In fact I don’t have to get dressed at all. I don’t have to go anywhere. I can do it any time of day or night, it doesn’t matter if everyone is awake, or nobody is. Nobody can hear the noise and chaos in the background. I also find that the ability to write down what I am feeling (which often is required for online support) helps me understand myself more.

So if you are finding a need to “talk” to “someone who gets it” during the next weeks, why not check out online support options? List servs, message boards, blogs, and other avenues of online connections can be just what you are looking for.