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.
THE WATER EXERCISE
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?
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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