Saturday, August 27, 2011

Preparing Kids for Emergencies (such as Hurricane Irene)

Are you in the path of Hurricane Irene or other possible emergency?  Talk to your kids about what to expect.  Do it as soon as you know there is a strong possibility of something unusual happening.  Don't wait for them to hear about it on TV or school.  Make sure you get to them first so you can control the way the information is presented.

We are on the east coast and have already had our brush with Hurricane Irene this week.  It looked like it was heading right for us for a couple days, but has ended up heading north.  We did have two days of heavy wind and rain, though.  I talked to Princess about it early in the week.  They don't do hurricane coverage on the Disney channel, so she wouldn't have come across it on TV, but I didn't want her to overhear something at school and get in a panic.  I told her that there was a hurricane out in the ocean and we'd probably getting some wind and rain, but it was too early to tell how much yet.  I told her that no matter what, Dad and I would make sure she was safe.

Luckily, I was able to tell her the next day that it looked like the hurricane was going to "stay in the ocean and drive right by us".  I told her there would be rain, wind and maybe even thunder and lightening, but she'd be safe.  She verified with me that she'd be safe from the hurricane that day as I dropped her off at school each morning last week.  She wanted to be sure that I'd come and get her if things changed.  She said her classmate said her house is closer to the ocean than ours and so she is in big danger.  I assured her that her friend was going to be just fine; we were all going to be just fine.

So if you are hunkering down for Hurricane Irene, talk to your kids about it.  Explain to them what a hurricane is.  Show them a map of the path she's taking.  Let them help you gather up supplies and make preparations.  Tell them what to expect (lots of rain, loud wind, thunder, lightening, banging of branches against the house, things flying around outside).  Tell them what might happen after the storm (possibly  no electricity, standing water in the streets, trees blocking the roads). 

Most of all, tell them that you are going to be right with them and that you are going to keep them safe.

As GI Joe used to say during Saturday morning cartoons in the 80's, "Knowing is half the battle."  Telling your children what to expect, how you are preparing for it and the ways you will keep them safe will go a long way in easing anxiety.  Hopefully it will help you avoid being trapped inside with a kid in meltdown mode!

(from Last Mom

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Not So Therapeutic Moment

So you're reading this blog..
And seeing that we cuddle, console, reassure and even coddle our Adopted and/or our Foster Children

And thinking:
"Wow, they are perfect and wonderful people to take on these children and their issues and to handle them so delicately."

I am going to set the record straight, yes we do coddle them and console them and treat them with care.  But there are days that aren't so therapeutic... well that isn't completely accurate.  There are days when coddling and wearing kid gloves won't get through.  There are days when you just need to be blunt, direct, honest and to the point.

We have an issue with rules, following them to be exact.  Our children's birthmom didn't have rules for them, they stayed up all night, ate junk food (if they ate) and did what they pleased.  "C"indy will regularly remind us "Well our birthmom would let us do it.  We didn't have rules with her.  I want to live with her."  This has been going on over week, mostly due to some recent events and we have discussed it therapeutically about why she can't live with her BirthMom.  So last night when it was dinner and "C"indy decided she didn't want to eat what we were having (which then incites a riot with the other two children.. because "C"indy is the oldest).  She pulled the BirthMom card again.  (mind you this converstation is not verbatim, but the context is still there)

My response, "Do you say that because you think it hurts our feelings? Because it doesn't.  So you still need to eat your dinner." 

"C"indy... a flow of tears ensued.

Me, (more calmly) "Why can't you live with your BirthMom?"

"C"indy, "because we need to be safe and have rules"

Me, "That's right, what happens when you don't follow the rules as an adult?"

"C"indy, "you get in jail"

Me, "And is that something you want?"

"C"indy, "No" (tears have subsided)

Me, "You know we all have rules, even adults.  I can't wear flip flops to work and Daddy can't wear jeans to his work.  You think that's silly don't you?"

"C"indy, "Yah"

Me, "But it isn't, its a rule that we have to follow.  So you have to eat your dinner because its heathly, and you need to be healthy and safe."

"C"indy, "Fine"

So there are times, when all the coddling and consoling won't have the same results and we just need to be honest, straightforward and a little bit blunt.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Transitional weekend

Soothe and ease. Soothe and ease. That's how we prep for transitions.

When an attachment challenged child must attend school, there is a new set of challenges presented to the family.

As a single parent, who is also a teacher- I haven't found a secure way to make working from home work- YET- but I do advocate homeschooling and wish it were an option for us.
My hope is that perhaps as she gets older we may have more varied options. Esp. at the entry of middle school.

But right now the best option for our family is public school. And so- high ho, high ho- its off the school we go.

The weekend has been a massive prep and womb of security.

Here's a peek:
- she met the teacher on Friday (so far it seems like a great match!)
-purchased perfume for us to wear each day so she can "smell" me
- painted nails
- watched "Chrissa" an america n girl movie about a new girl who deals with bullies
- she hand wrote out her morning routine and evening routine and hung it for reference.
- she hand wrote out her chores for reference
- her room was cleaned by the two of us
- all uniforms and supplies have been prepped for several days now.
- packed her lunch
- got up at regular wake up time (about 30 minutes earlier than summer schedule)
-peace music through house during cleaning and relaxing
- she's playing outside in the yard- looking at grass and collecting rocks :) brain building "wondrous curious" time
- I am fixing her favorite dinner and prepping her favorite breakfast
- we will be having bath and a big snuggle after dinner

- I am drinking a pouch of strawberry daiquiri.

Here's to us trauma moms- creating therapeutic environments, one drink at a time!
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Monday, August 15, 2011


My sweet angel heads to the third grade in the fall.

She is headed to public school for the first time since adoption.

When she was in foster care she lived in a very rural area. She was over medicated, and under stimulated. She was placed in a life skills class and diagnosed as moderately mentally retarded. This was seriously a disservice to her. My greatest fear is that this will happen to her again. That the school will fail her because she doesn't fit the desired "mold".

The state of Texas is facing unprecedented cuts in education funding. Classroom size can reasonably up to 30 kids per class.
Its a scary time be entering the public education arena. Alas, private schooling is no longer financially feasible. Its near impossible to be a teacher and home school as a single parent. So it is the choice we make. It also provides the opportunity to regroup financially so that when she enters middle school in three years, we will have more varied options again.

So as we take on this journey part of my responsibility is to prepare her, and part is to prepare the school.
Its a delicate thing. I neither want to overwhelm them and make them shut down NOR want to leave them unprepared for when she breaks down.

So I have taken a cue from fellow blogger Diana at

She made a school presentation template to introduce the world of trauma to unsuspecting school officials in a way that inspired compassion, clarity AND confidence.

She will sell it to you, or you can be inspired by her plan to create your own.

I have been working on my book and how I want to present it. Because this is our first foray into the public school system, I don't have a strong foundational relationship with the school. The principal and I have exchanged emails over the summer and he very kindly called me shortly after my first email and we talked for about an hour.

Here's my general outline:
1. Intro- meet us, pre-adoptive history

2. PTSD- triggers, and management

3. RAD- anxiety and control issues, avoiding power struggles

4.Academic issues- spatial reasoning and math deductive reasoning concerns

5. Summary- growth and support

A lot of information. But vital information for both the teacher and my girl to feel successful.

The teacher MUST be compassionate, yet consistently strong and safe.

My sweet girl MUST learn to express fear and frustration through words instead of aggression.


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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Creating Calm

There are images of Fall I've always seen on TV: children headed back to school, kicking leaves, and wearing long sleeves.

As a lifelong Texan, I have NEVER gone back to school like that. Here in the heat and humidity, our leaves won't turn until late October or even November.

However, return to the school year we must. I met my daughter on a friday night, and monday was the first day of school. That was almost two years ago. The first year home, she attended the small private Montessori school at which I am a teacher. The second year she attended a therapeutic private school where she learned to be trust that I would return to get her each day. This year she will attend a public school in our neighborhood.

I assure you there will be more posts about that to come.

Part of her success will be determined by her love sandwich. Each day I can assure that she gets to school feeling loved and honored and that she returns home to a safe nurturing home.

Here's what that looks like for us:
6:00- mom gets up/dress/etc
(Soft music begins playing through the house)
6:15- Sweet Angel gets up/dressed
6:30- breakfast/medication
6:50- teeth/hair care
7:10- Ten minutes of strong sitting together as a family
7:20- family words of affirmation
7:25- leave for school
7:50- school starts
4:20- pick up sweet angel
4:30- 30 minutes of silent reading (soft music playing, aroma therapy candle lit)
5:00-dinner (I usually pack lunch while making dinner)
5:30- homework/ educational/ therapeutic games
6:30- back pack check
6:45- bath/teeth
7:30- tuck in to bed/ tomorrows clothes set out (uniforms!)

On nights when this schedule is disrupted, I expect her to be upset. At least twice a month she will have therapy that will interrupt. She will be getting back to EDMR soon, so hopefully the benefit will outweigh the cost of the disruption.

This schedule is similar to our routine in previous years and is only slightly more structured than our current routine.

Having a peaceful home is a vital part of her internal sense of calm. She has less ability to self regulate than most 9 year olds (ok less than most 6 year olds) and she relies heavily on external supports.

I hope each of you is also feeling a sense of calm as the routines of fall return to your home.

Yay for the return to school! Yay for the return to routine! Yay for learning!

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Notes to a pre-adoptive parent

Success for traumatized children is a hard thing to achieve.

Especially if you believe what you read in your child's files.

As I have mentioned before my dd had many misdiagnosed conditions before she came home. I don't mean to say disregard those all together. The opposite in fact. If your child was dx'd with bipolar at 4. At 4, she was probably exhibiting signs of bipolar.
Every diagnosis means something about the child's life at that time.

Can we properly diagnose children who are mentally ill while in foster care? Here are some thoughts on the challenges:

1. Symptoms of multiple issues overlap. Symptoms like: tantrums, inability to self regulate, manic episodes, sad, etc.

2. Our children have experienced the worst treatment anyone can imagine- they are traumatized. This makes it so hard to get a clear picture on what's happening.

3. Have you ever met a woman (or man!) Who spent the last 10 yrs in an abusive relationship? Assume that person had some sort of love as a child. You could still imagine it being years before they were ready for their next marriage right? Our kids don't have the basis of love at all. No matter how great the foster parent seems, or if they were in the "best" orphanages. Why do we expect them to understand family, love, respect etc in the first year? Some may come to understand, some may take 10 yrs, some may never trust again.

3. Foster children are in a constant state of flux. Permanence matters. Even those in long term placements can sense the possibility of being moved at a whim. Can you imagine living like that? As if any day you could expect to see the bank man at your door ready to put you out and foreclose on you? Constant state of fear.

4. We know that abuse and neglect can change the brain. This is why so many families find success with neuroreoganization, and edmr. Literally retraining the brain to function can work for some children.
Its hard to know what parts of your child's brain have been effected.

5. Over medication runs rampant in foster care. Who is your child under all the medication can be hard to find.

So let's assume- the file is a reflection of your child's life before you. The brown box does not define her, but gives massive insight to her challenges. There very well be a diagnosis in there that is right. My dd's file said RAD. And we are positive that is correct. So maybe somewhere your childs file is too. Or maybe not.

No matter what- when you adopt, you are bringing home a child with the potential for issues related to adoption and trauma.

These are some things I believe every pre-adoptive family should know (and you probably won't learn in training):

Therapeutic parenting begins before your child comes home. And every child deserves the benefit of therapeutic parenting. EVERY ONE.

My 2 favorite books:
Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson
The Connected Child by Karen Purvis

I also liked many others, but in terms of "how-to" therapeutic parent- those were the most two vital.

Find a parent mentor who has been where you are. A margarita girlfriend. My dd and my mentor friends daughter squabble like sisters. All the better. We let them swim too long, play video games too long, and stay up too late: while we commiserate and remind ourselves that we are not alone! We are both single moms. We both have daughters. Our dds are very are similar. Its a vital relationship.

Prepare for the worst. Hope for the best.

Less is more. You don't have to entertain or impress your new child. You are more than enough to process. Have fun, enjoy, but don't over do.

As you begin, so shall you continue. Don't start as a push over, set boundaries and expectations from the beginning. With compassion and care, but firmness and authority.

Therapists that have worked with attachment issues should be lined up. See them the first week.

Pediatrician, dentist, etc. Should all been known before you bring your child home.

A maid for the first 6 months to a year is awesome.

No matter how old your child is- its still "new parent" mode. Less sleep, more worry and "new mom brain" (you will remember nothing! Unless it is about your child)

If you have "baggage" or "hard places" in your past- get yourself help before your child comes home. Parenting triggers stuff and drags up old hurts- parenting traumatized kids is WORSE.

Turn off the TV, computer, and other electronics. These can detract from your relationship with your child. While a fun movie night can be a great bonding time- daily noise and distraction can draw on precious bonding time and brain functioning.

Play play play. Your child has missed pieces of their childhood. PLAY can help heal. You may have to teach them how to play.

Assume no knowledge. There is no assurance that your child will know what you would expect a child their age to know. At 7, though she'd been in a "christian" foster home- my dd knew no information about christmas. Not a carol. Not who jesus was. No who santa was. Not what a stocking was. And I have photos of her by a tree every year she was in care. She was taking in nothing- she was being exposed to minimums- and was too busy surviving to internalize meaning.
Set your child up for success. Making small successes helps them build the confidence to make big success!

Practice positive talk. It takes a long time to switch from thinking in the negative to thinking in the positive. Its ingrained. Every year with my class I have an experience of discussing class rules. Every year my 3, 4, and 5 year olds start "no running. No hitting. No kicking." To children from the hard places- "no" can be a huge trigger. Instead tell them what they CAN do. "Walk. Keep your hands and feet to yourself." Help your child see the positive in every interaction with positive talk.

Its ok to mess up. Its ok to screw up. Its ok to blow it. You are teaching valuable lessons when you can say to your child "remember yesterday when I asked if you needed a spanking? Yeah. I didn't feel good about that. I felt upset that you were kicking the wall, and didn't do my best at responding." You can teach your child how to repair mistakes. You can teach them how to grow as a person. You can lead by example.

(Warning-this one isn't going to be popular) please consider carefully before you bring home more than 2 traumatized children. I believe siblings should be kept together whenever possible. But ONE traumatized kid is equal to 5 neuro-typical kids. 2 is 10 kids. A stay at home parent is optimal. Though I am not one of the people who can do it- it would be best if I could. Parenting a traumatized child will affect your other children, your marriage and your pocketbook. It takes a special person to parent trauma in multiple kids. They are out there, and do it successfully. So are those who bit off more than they could chew.

Anyone can do this. But not everyone will. This trauma mom thing isn't for the weak hearted. Its not for "savior" mentality people. Its for MOTHERS. MOTHERS who will do ANYTHING for their kid. I hope its for you. I really do. There are wonderful deserving children who need you.

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