Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Before I start in on today's post about attachment, I'd like to give a shout out to a bloggy friend of mine named Denise.

Denise is author of the blog Fostering a Blessing, and she is a single foster Mom to two boys. And she is struggling. She is new to parenting. She is new to adoption issues and trauma issues and attachment issues. It has NOT been a walk in the park for her.

When I write my pieces on attachment, she is right there in the front of my mind as I write, although I wasn't sure if she was reading them or not.

But last week, I was catching up on her blog, as I had missed a few posts, and I saw this:

On Tuesday mornings I so look forward to reading my friend Anne's blog. On Tuesday she writes about a topic that is near and dear to me...attachment. Today I love her post...love it. It is about parenting a kiddo with RAD. I could have written it...except for the part about how to parent through it. My natural instinct is the type of parenting where I throw gas on the fire. I am learning...slowly learning.

Here is Anne's post....Attachment.

Thanks Anne for enlightening me every single week. For being a constant reminder that these kids need something "different". God....thank you for bringing Anne into "my life". I hope to one day meet her in person. Through you all things are possible.

Wow. Denise, I'm so glad that my blog has been helpful to you. Having never met you, this will sound strange, but I am so very proud of you. I think you're doing an amazing job with these boys. Please know that even if you don't hear from me (I often have trouble commenting on your blog), you are always in my thoughts and in my prayers. God bless.....

Now then. Today's post on attachment. I'd like to touch on the cyclical nature of attachment with traumatized kids.
When parenting a child with attachment issues, you go through some pretty tough, very intense times. Times that make you question whether you can continue in this role. Times when you wonder how much longer you can make it the way things are. And then suddenly, it's better. And you think, "I MADE IT!!!!" You crossed the finish line and you're lying in an exhausted heap, but your child is lying next to you and you're both breathless, but you hold hands and your heart rate begins to return to normal. And you think that easy days are stretched before you and you can breathe again, and you pat yourself on the back for having made it.

  Cue sound of needle scratching across the record.

Sadly, this is NOT the way of it. With attachment disorders, it's two steps forward, one step back, and parents need to be prepared for this. Because generally speaking, the timeline goes a little something like this:
1) Adopted or foster child joins family.
2) Everyone enjoys a nice, comfortable honeymoon period.
3) Child starts to feel safe enough to scare himself.
4) Child begins to act out and push away. There is an "epispode".
5) Everyone is stressed and things unravel a bit.
6) It ends and things settle a bit. The calm after the storm.
7) Parents feel a false sense of security. Child begins to feel safe and secure, b/c he just went through the Tunnel of Stress with his parents, and yet he's still with the family, and there are still feelings of affection.
8) The safe and secure feelings scare the bejesus out of the kid. When he's felt this way in the past, it hasn't ended well for him, so yeah, he gets scared.

Numbers 4 - 8 get repeated on a loop. Hopefully, if things are going well, and learning is taking place, there will be more and more time in the calm after the storm phase, and fewer and fewer incidents, with less intensity.

With any luck skill and patience and love and support, the acting-out behaviors will eventually be extinguished.

So. Bottom line: when you hit a smooth stretch, enjoy it, but don't let your hair down. Appreciate it for what it is, and turn up the volume on the attachment activities, but don't fool yourself into thinking you've hit the homestretch. Chances are, that's still a long ways off.

If you'd like to read the other posts in my series on attachment, you can find them here:
Attachment The Attachment Tree
Attachment.2 I Love You
Attachment.3 Keck and Kupecky
Attachment.4 Control

Hey everyone, guess what? I'm guest-posting on Scary Mommy today! She's featuring my post "I am My Mother, and...." today, so go check it out. And above all? Share, share, SHARE! Much love!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Adoption Tuesday - Attachment.4


A common theme for kids with attachment issues is control, and that's what I'm going to touch on today.

These kids have lost so much in their lives, and it's always been out of their control. Because of that, they love to hold on to control wherever they can, and they do not react well when control is imposed upon them by others, be they parents, teachers, caseworkers, you name it.

Many of the behavior problems we see with RAD kids are based on their desire to be in control. When James' Reactive Attachment Disorder first began to surface, I treated his behavior problems the same as I treated any other behavior problems exhibited by my kids. In short, I tried to exert MY control over HIM. Each time, I was basically just lighting his fuse. And it was a short one.

Wrong move.

He would engage in an inappropriate behavior.

I would attempt to impose a consequence immediately.

He would refuse to submit to whatever consequence I was handing out.

I would get angry and up the stakes, piling a bunch of "if - then" consequences on top of our already out-of-control emotional brush-fire.

Emotional responses ran amok for the both of us, and the rest of the family suffered the effects of an out-of-harmony home.

Through therapy, reading, and the support of the RAD community, I have learned to not react so strongly and emotionally to his misdeeds.

Instead, if he goes against household rules, I let him know, with as little emotion in my voice and on my face as I can pull off, that what he did was wrong. I then tell him we will talk about it later, and I try to remove myself (and any involved in this "conflict") from his vicinity.

When the stars are aligned, he will continue to perform some reaction-provoking behavior for awhile. I/we will ignore it. After some time, he will go up to his room of his own accord. Next day, he will apologize, and we will talk about consequences (losing his phone, for example).

Of course, it didn't always (and currently doesn't always) go this smoothly, because part of the control for him is getting reactions. We're mostly past it now, but when he didn't get the reactions he was looking for, he would often just up the ante. At different times in our past, police have been to the house, trips have been made to the ER, furniture has been upended.

The trick to parenting kids with attachment disorders is to know the difference between simple reaction-provoking behaviors that can usually be handled by not getting drawn in, and the more serious behaviors that can lead to injury to family members if not handled expertly, which may involve professionals, or possibly hospitalization for the child.

If the child is able to have a discussion (later that day or next day) about his behaviors and the consequences, I have found it's a good idea to let him help choose what the consequence will be by giving a few choices. This, again, goes to letting them hold on to some of the control.

Couple nights ago, James wanted to watch a movie with my husband. Fred was pretty fried, and he had other plans which involved an early bedtime.
B/c of James' history, he didn't take to this well, and started getting antsy. He began accusing his Dad of favoritism and being self-centered, and being old and just all manner of things.
Fred went back and forth with him a bit, then realized what was at play and simply dropped himself out of the conversation.
James lay on the sofa and kept slamming his arm against the couch. Very annoying, when done repeatedly, but really no harm, no foul, so we just ignored him.
Luckily, there were no other kids in the room, or that would have been a whole other ball of wax.
Every now and then he would resurface to say something more about Fred being self-centered, which we would just ignore.
After awhile, he went up to his room, but not before telling Fred that he hated him.
We ignored.
Next morning, he still had a little troubling behavior going on with his sibs, but soon settled down.
A few hours later, I had a talk with him. The conversation remained calm, and it spoke to why he is likely feeling these things towards Dad, as well as to why the things he said are inappropriate.
Finally, it touched on consequences. He had three choices: lose his computer for the day, lose his phone for the day, or clean out dad's garage. He chose to lose the phone. Plus, of course, an apology.

If we had demanded ANY of those things last night, I can tell you it would have ended up VERY differently. Very differently, indeed.

Now, I know this is a very mild example, and pretty easy to deal with. Almost a no-brainer. But I use it to underscore the differences between a child with a troubled past, and a child who has grown up in a loving household his or her whole life. If one of my birth kids (or for that matter, my securely-attached adopted kids) had acted/spoken in this way, you can bet they would not have waltzed off to their room unchecked. That kind of disrespect would have been dealt with swiftly. But with traumatized/poorly-attached kids, this reactionary method to discipline simply does not work. It not only doesn't work, it makes the situation worse. By far.

So to summarize, when dealing with milder (non-threatening) behaviors with your RAD child,

1) Keep emotion out of it.

2) Give space, either by the child removing himself, or you removing all other family members from his vicinity.

3) Do NOT give out consequences in the moment, but wait until the child has completely calmed down about it.

4) When giving out consequences, always start the discussion with why the behaviors were wrong to begin with. Table-turning can be very helpful: "If I were mad at you, do you think it would be OK for me to tell you I hated you?"

5) Let the child have some choice in selecting the consequence. Present 2 - 4 choices of appropriate consequences, and let him have some say in which it will be.

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, feel free to use the comment form, or message me on FB, or email me.

If you'd like to read the other posts in my series on attachment, you can find them here:


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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adoption Tuesday - Attachment.3

For today's post on attachment, I'm going to share part of an article written by my heroes in attachment, Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky. The full article, with many more ideas, can be found here in Adoptive Families Magazine, but I'm going to share two of their suggestions for helping the adopted child understand his life story and where being a part of your family fits in.

Adoptive Families Magazine article by Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky

7 Ways to Give Your Child a History

When a child is adopted at an older age, he needs to understand his story up to placement and the significance of his joining a new family forever. Here are hands-on activities you can use to start this conversation.
by Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D., and Regina M. Kupecky, LSW

All of us spend at least some time wondering who we are and why we are. For a child who has faced many moves and a chaotic life before adoption, these are difficult questions to answer. But as elusive as the answers may be, they are vital as the child matures into adulthood. Parents can use the following techniques, from our book, Adopting the Hurt Child, to help any child adopted beyond infancy, whether from U.S. foster care or another country, to understand and integrate his past.

As for the correct time to start this conversation, the answer is now. Ideally, the talks should begin before a child's adoption, but it's never too late to start. In fact, it is wise to revisit some of these activities over time as a child's mental, emotional, and cognitive abilities evolve. A parent's response to the question, "Where do babies come from?" would differ if asked by a two-year-old or a 16-year-old. The same should be true when discussing adoption, the child's past, and his resulting emotions.


This exercise can help a child (and his new parents) visualize the moves he's been through, and reinforce the security of his place in his forever family.
•Take a few sheets of graph paper and cut them into two or three horizontal strips. Tape enough strips together to make a row at least 300 squares long. Each square represents one month in your child's life, from birth until age 25. This will help to dispel the 18-and-you're-out mind-set that many foster children have.
•Have your child select a color for each of his placements. If, for example, he chooses blue for his birthmother, and was with her for eight months, he colors eight squares blue. If he was removed and returned, he uses the same color for each stay.
•Underneath the boxes, you or your child should write who lived there, why the child was moved, and any other available information. Continue coloring and writing notes up through the time he's been in your home.

Sixteen-year-old Barbara, adopted at age eight, began acting out as a teen. After making a timeline, she sat back and said, "I've lived here longer than anywhere. I don't need to act like them anymore," pointing at the time she spent with her birthparents and in foster homes. "I need to act like them," she said, indicating the 96 squares that represented her time with her family. Her tumultuous behavior did not smooth out overnight, but it was a way for Barbara to start a new way of thinking.

You can use the timeline as an ongoing ritual. Take it out periodically, so your child can color more time spent with your family. This provides an opportunity to discuss the past and an affirmation of the permanence of your family.


This activity can help a child age five or older to integrate his past with his present. If it’s performed before adoption, it can help a child understand why adoption makes sense for him. After an adoption, it can help relieve a child's anxiety that falsely links acceptance of his new family with rejection of the other families he's known.

To perform it, you'll need a large pitcher, several glasses in varying sizes, and water. Your conversation will probably go something like this:

PARENT: This water pitcher represents you at birth. What's inside?

CHILD: (peering inside) Nothing.

PARENT: That's right. We are all born needing food, clothing, love, and lots more. Now, when you were born, you went home from the hospital with your birthmom, right?

CHILD: Right.

PARENT: And you lived with her for three years. That's a long time. (Choose a large glass and fill it with water.) Your mom gave you food, changed your diapers, and loved you -- she gave you all she could. (Dump the glass into the pitcher.) But are all of your needs met? Are you full? (Indicate the partially filled pitcher.)


PARENT: You're not full because she couldn't keep you safe (or feed you -- give some details from your child’s story). So you went to the Smiths and stayed there for two months. (Fill a much smaller glass with water.) They gave you all they could. (Indicate the glass and dump it into the pitcher.) Now, which part is the Smiths and which part is your birthmom?

CHILD: (Looks into the pitcher and registers amazement.)

PARENT: You can't tell because it's all mixed up inside of you. (Continue to fill glasses and add water to the pitcher for any subsequent placements, talking about the length of time the child spent in each home and the positive and negative aspects of each move. Be careful not to fill the pitcher completely.) We don't want you to forget any of these people. We love you and know that all of these people made you who you are. We want to add to this, not replace it, and fill you up with love (fill the pitcher under the kitchen faucet), so you have enough to fill you and more for everyone you care about (let the pitcher overflow).

Gregory C. Keck, Ph.D., is the founder of the Attachment and Bonding Center (ABC) of Ohio and the author of Parenting Adopted Adolescents. He is a psychologist and the adoptive father of two. Regina M. Kupecky, LSW, is a therapist who treats children with attachment disorders at ABC and the co-author of the therapeutic workbook A Foster-Adoption Story. Keck and Kupecky co-authored Parenting the Hurt Child and Adopting the Hurt Child, from which this piece was adapted. © 1995, 2009 by Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved. For copies call (800) 366-7788 or visit navpress.com.

Hope this helps. I strongly recommend anything written by Keck and Kupecky.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Adoption Tuesday - Attachment.2

Last week I began a series on attachment that I thought I would continue every Tuesday. At least for awhile.

Sometimes I will feature an article, sometimes provide a tip, and at times I will just share my experiences and thoughts.


Just a quick tip.

In last week's post, I made the analogy of the parent being like a tree, with the roots being the underlying love the parent has for the child, and the leaves representing the parent's emotions:

The leaves are emotions, and they change as the weather and the seasons change: sometimes happy, sometimes sad, or angry, or frustrated. Regardless of the leaves, though, the tree remains stable, and firmly rooted to the ground. Children with RAD have difficulty with this concept, and will mistake the parent's current emotion for his underlying feelings towards him. In other words, if the parent is angry, the child feels that the parent does not love him.

Because of this, I feel it is important to let your RADish know that even while you are feeling angry towards him or her, there is still love.

What works for me and my son (with RAD) is that while I am angry with him, and talking with a raised voice or more intense tone, I will hold my hand up in the sign for "I love you". In this way, he is getting the message that I love him even though my face and voice and words are telling him I am angry. He has had a lot of difficulty knowing that both can occur simultaneously, and this is a very visual reminder for him.

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