Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Spring break is not routine.  It is a break from the routine.  It is welcomed by typical kids and typical families.  They take trips and sleep in.  They stay up late and rent DVD’s for movie marathons.  They visit and have plenty of play dates.  They look forward to this time each spring to rest, relax and rejuvenate. 

Most parents of children with trauma backgrounds and attachment disorders dread spring break.  It is not routine.  It is feared by trauma/RAD parents and anticipated with much anxiety by their kids.  There’s too much uncertainty in trips.  Sleeping in throws off medication schedules.  Staying up late and watching movies opens doors for all kinds of triggers.  Too many people and too much stimulation are recipes for rages.  Trauma/RAD families look forward to spring break being over so life can get back to “normal” crazy, rather than crazy-on-steroids-riding-a-roller-coaster.

Thank God Almighty, after 4.5 years of therapeutic parenting, therapy, and medication management, my kids actually had a GOOD spring break.  There were two or three times when someone needed to be reminded to “use their tools,” but overall, it was pretty awesome!  Even with five days of rain, we were okay.  We established our own routine for the week – staying home most of the time, keeping our world small, sticking to bed times, and planning ONE morning/lunch time outing that lasted all of four hours.  (We went to an interactive zoo about a 45 minute drive from home.)

Some of the things we’ve done through the years to make spring break (and Christmas, summer, and other holidays) more bearable include:

               Staying home.  NOT planning every minute of every day doing activities and visiting people.

               Keeping visitors to a minimum.  (Sleepovers are NOT a requirement for school breaks.  Really, they’re not.)

               Sticking with the bedtime schedule and routine.  (Just like you should do for a 3-year-old.)

               Keeping up with the medication schedule.

               Making a “Monster Pillow.”  Take a pillow and case.  Use permanent markers and let your child draw their own monster.  This pillow then becomes their safe place/thing to hurl big feelings.  They can punch it, kick it, bite it – whatever – when in a rage.  Coaching them when they are CALM that it is OKAY to have big feelings – and that being angry isn’t wrong – what’s wrong is hurting people or destroying things, has helped me direct them when the rages come.  (Thankfully, rages are rare with my kids, but when they come, they’re big.  And my kids are big.  I’d rather have them punching a pillow than hurting me.)

               Affirming feelings.  (Notice I did not say “agreeing with their feelings.”)  Acknowledge anger.  If your child says, “I’m SO mad,” say, “I can see you’re very angry.”  If they say, “You don’t listen to me,” say, “I bet you do feel like I don’t listen to you.”  If they say, “You don’t love me,” say, “I’ll bet you DO wonder if I love you or not.”  If they say, “I hate you!,” say, “I’ll bet you do feel like you hate me right now.”  (DON’T say, “Well, I love you.”  Not while they’re in the rage.)  While your child is raging, acknowledge their feelings – don’t try to correct them.  You’ll just fight, the rage will be longer, and the child will dig their heels in even deeper.  If they can’t identify their feelings, you can help them identify what’s going on by “NOT talking” about it, saying things like, “It looks like you’re angry, but we’re not talking about how XYZ is making you sad.”  Read this blogpost by Lindsay, mama to nine, for a good illustration of this technique.  (It is awesome!)

               When your child is calm, setting the ground rules together for what’s allowable during a rage.  (Don’t say, “no rages.”  You can’t stop rages.  The child has to get to the point where they feel safe enough not to rage.  That could take years.  It is also possible rages will always be a part of your child’s life.)  Affirming with them that anger and grief are valid emotions helps both you and your child.  There is nothing “sinful” about anger.  What is sinful is when we hurt someone, or destroy something, by acting out that anger in a harmful manner.  Teaching our children tools and techniques to use that are safe, socially acceptable, and legal (can’t ignore legal) has helped them to mature over time.  We only talk when they are calm and we are removed from a trigger by several hours – or even days.  We no longer try to talk as they are calming down from a trigger, or even right after they’ve calmed from a trigger.  We’ve made that mistake too many times.  It just doesn’t work.  And shaming them?  Please don’t go there.  Shame is huge for traumatized kids.  Shaming them will only make your life miserable.  It will not help your child.

               Identifying a safe place.  Is it the child’s room?  A porch?  The backyard?  A closet? (We removed the doors.)  Again, do this when the child is calm.  Allow them to determine a place to go when they feel triggered and are moving into a rage.  If they know where to go – where it feels safe for them to “be mad” and not hurt anyone or anything, it can be very helpful in curbing the rage.  My son emptied the floor of his closet and put a blankie down.  This was his spot to retreat.  My daughter uses her bed and punches the stuffin’ out of her pillow.

               Mixing it up and hanging in there.  Feeling safe is the only thing that will keep the triggers at bay for our kids.  When there is a change in routine, be prepared for your child to feel an even more urgent need for safety.  Remember that what works to keep them feeling safe during one break may not work the next time there is a break in routine.  Keep learning.  Mix it up a bit using various therapeutic parenting techniques.  Remind your kids of their tools.  Sit them down before a break and talk about it.  Help them plan – not a full schedule – but a calm schedule.  You may actually have a spring break you all enjoy.  This year’s was a first for us.  My kids have come a long way, baby.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nigliazzo Advocacy Center

My blog is listed as a resource on the Nigliazzo Advocacy Center's web site.  This site is an awesome resource for those of us parenting kids with trauma and attachment challenges.  Michele is a great encouragement to me.  The center is on Facebook, too.  Check it out.
Michele K. Nigliazzo, Esq. Attorney, Mom, Parent Advocate 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Second Chances

Youngest Son missed passing the written test to receive his driving learner’s permit yesterday by just one question.  It was disappointing.  The experience was not bad, however, and his reaction was good.  His disappointment was at an appropriate level and he just geared himself up to come home and study some more and try again.  He did that this morning and passed.  He is so proud of himself.  Me, too.  (Yes, of me.  I did a LOT of work to get that boy to the point where he could respond appropriately to a big disappointment – to having to wait.)  I am exceedingly proud of him.

The lady at the state level DMV office yesterday just gushed over how cute he was as a 12 year old boy.  She loved the picture on his Certificate of Citizenship (COC).  Thankfully, she didn’t make the mistake so many do and say, “I wish you were mine” (or something like that).  We sure wouldn’t have needed that little trigger on my RADish boy.  It could have been step one to the spiral that turns into the whole “this is your fault” (directed at me) when he failed the test yesterday.  Step two:  I wish I belonged to that lady, too.  Step three:  You should have spent more time with me on this.  Step four:  I hate my life.  Step five:  . . . . .

Well, you get the picture.

But she didn’t say that.  And it didn’t happen.  (Thank you, LORD!)

And therapy (DBT) taught him to feel the feelings, know he could be triggered, but reel those feelings in and respond appropriately.   So, if you see a car going in ovals around an abandoned store’s parking lot today and there’s a teenage boy and a frightened-looking middle aged mom in the front seat, it may be us.  Yay us!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Well, Today is The Day

I’ll admit it.  I have not necessarily looked forward to this day.  In fact, I put it off for as long as I possibly could.  However, time marches on, despite my objections.  The 12 year-old little boy that I brought home from Eastern Europe four and one half years ago is no longer a little boy.  He is finishing up his freshman year of high school and will be a sophomore in the fall.  Where we live, that means he’ll take driver’s education classes this summer.  We need to get his learner’s permit prior to that.  We are on spring break in our town and we’re catching up on a lot of things we’ve put off.  Today is the day to go for the learner’s permit.

In our state, students can get a permit as young as age 14.  Youngest Son was nowhere near ready for that responsibility when he was 14.  At that age, we were still trying to convince him TV sit-coms and movies were not “real life.”  Back then, he was only recently convinced cartoons were not real.  The boy’s world knowledge was so very limited when we brought him home.  It’s one of those things you’re just not prepared for and just don’t think to expect, but it became our new normal back in 2007.  In fact, we are still finding common knowledge isn’t all that common sometimes for Youngest Son and The Princess.

Our county’s DMV office is a branch office.  Therefore, because Youngest Son was not born in the United States, we need to travel to a state-level DMV.  There are three fairly close by -- about 30 minutes away in different directions.  We are going to the one in the smallest city of those three, hoping we do not to have to wait for hours on end.

He is so nervous.  If you read this post before early afternoon today, will you pray for him?  (And post a comment here that you are, so I can share it with him?)  He’s a smart boy, but he sometimes freezes for tests, even when he knows the material.  I think he can pass.  Man, I hope he passes!  Not passing will not be good, I’m betting, as failure is a major trauma trigger with Youngest Son.

Before we head to the DMV, we have a wrap-around meeting to attend for his therapy and community-based services.  His “graduation” from DBT and other services will be discussed at this meeting and he will be a part of it.  This is the first time I’m allowing him to be included in a wraparound meeting.  I fear I may be setting us up for a hellish evening.  On the other hand, I’m very hopeful for a great day.  He has come so far and is doing so well.

Keep your fingers crossed.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Special Offer for Parents of Russian-Speaking Children

This is a different kind of post - no personal family experience or parenting/educational tips to share today. However, I received a box of comic book style "bibles" and would like to get them into the hands of families that can use them.  The title of the book is "The Life of Christ and the History of the First Church."  They are very nicely illustrated and the story is 239 pages long.  In the back, the traditional "Romans Road to Salvation" is presented in typical text form.

If you'd like to have one of these books, I would be very happy to send one to you.  The offer is good while my supply lasts.  These books retail on the internet for $7-8, plus shipping.  If you'd like to have one, I can send you a copy for $5 (which will go 100% toward helping orphans in Eastern Europe), plus $3.99 shipping.  I will accept payment via Paypal or personal check.  Simply email me at TraumaMamaT at gmail dot com, and we'll make arrangements to get a copy to you.

If you're a blogger, and parents of kids from Russian-speaking countries follow your blog, PLEASE feel free to SHARE a link to this offer!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Update on The Princess

Things are still hard for The Princess.  We are both very thankful for the people who have encouraged her through some pretty rough middle-school-mean-girl junk.  Thank you if you know us and you're one of those people who have taken time to edify her.

Mean Girl continues to be particularly cruel.  It doesn’t look like that is going to change any time soon.  The Princess can’t even glance her way without getting a dirty look.  Mean girl goes from laughing and joking to glaring at her and then turns her back and laughs and jokes some more.  The other day at track practice, the girls were told to get into groups.  The Princess started walking toward one particular group, but so did Mean Girl.  Mean Girl told her they didn’t need her in that group, making the decision for all the girls there.  The Princess has decided being on the track team isn’t all that important to her.

However (and this is a big “however”), she is doing very well handling all this.  She is really employing her tools to navigate a tough social situation.  She’s not talking to the girl.  She’s refraining from sending notes, trying to “fix” things (something very hard for her to do since she really does want things fixed).  And she’s being kind – to the very best of her ability – even when someone is unkind to her.  She comes home hurt every day and I hate, hate, hate that.  But I am very proud of her for the way she’s handling herself.

In therapy this morning, she told our therapist she knows she cannot control someone else’s behavior.  This is HUGE!  She knows that even though it hurts when she is treated poorly, it is because the other person has a problem and it’s not really about her.  She knows there are things she needs to continue to work on to improve her social skills.  She also knows she’s come a long way.  I am so proud of her.  I just wish more people understood.

Another thing that was great – wonderful – fantastic – totally awesome in therapy this morning was when our therapist told The Princess that even grownups sometimes struggle with these things.  She said she knew that.  She’d witnessed someone who had to deal with something similar lately.  Then she looked at me.  She said she knows when something’s going on even if people don’t tell her.  The therapist asked her if she wanted to tell her about that.  She said, “It’s not my story to tell.”

YEP!  She said THAT!  My 13 year-old said that!  How I wish some 40, 50, 60 year-olds understood that.  (Both the therapist and I looked at each other and got a little teary and proud.)

So yes, it’s been a hard few months around here.  But look how far she’s come!  I have a great kid.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Preparing for an IEP or 504 Plan Meeting: The Basics for Parents

An IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or 504 Plan (for students with disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act) meeting with teachers, special education administrators, school psychologists, school counselors, and principals can seem pretty intimidating for some parents.  This simple guide will not get you through everything you need to know.  As the parent of a traumatized/RAD-ish kid who may or may not have other learning challenges, you need to educate yourself.  Read.  Ask.  Read more.  Ask more.  Don’t take “there is no money” or “that’s the way it’s done” for an answer when your child’s needs are not being met.  Keep learning.  This is a 24/7/365 process.  (At least it seems that way sometimes.)

First of all, whether you’ve requested the meeting, or your child’s teacher has requested the meeting, take it seriously.  It matters.  It’s about your child.  Dress appropriately – even a little better than the way most teachers in your district dress, if possible.  Come prepared.  If you’ve requested the meeting, bring along the documents and the observations you’ve had that warranted the request for exploring an IEP or 504 Plan for your child.  (Know the difference between the two.  Learn about that HERE and in other places.)  If the teacher’s requested the meeting, be prepared with questions.

Some parents have equated these meetings to a kickboxing workout.  Knowing your “stuff” and bringing the documentation you need to back up what you know will defuse some of that.  Participating in the meeting like a team member will be of great advantage.  Present what you know, then listen to their answers and suggestions.  Offer additional information where needed and work together to come to the best plan for your child.


Talk with other parents in your district who you know have a child with an IEP or 504 plan.  Ask them about their experience with the district.  Take what they say with a grain of salt, but listen for clues about who is most helpful.

Use social media to ask questions of other trauma mamas and papas.  Read blogs.  Watch You Tube videos about the IEP and 504 Plan process in schools.

Get a draft of any documents the staff have prepared for the meeting.  Request to have them no less than 5 days in advance of the meeting.

Take a photo of your child and place it in the center of the meeting table.  This will remind everyone there they are discussing a real child, not just a “problem” that needs to be solved on paper.

Take treats – the good ones the schools don’t let you bring in for kids anymore. 

Bring a folder with all pertinent records, including last year’s IEP/504 Plan if you have one.  Bring copies of medical tests, medication updates, records of psychologically significant events over the past year, report cards, copies of school tests, etc.  And pens.  Don’t forget pens.

Consider making an “all about me” book or PowerPoint presentation that tells about your child, and gives the basics about PTSD, RAD, PDD, ADHD, hyper-vigilance, post-institutionalization, language delay due to living in the orphanage, and whatever else you want to include.  Use a lot of pictures.  Write it on a 5th grade reading level at the most.  Keep it short.  Most teachers I’ve worked with have very short attention spans.

Bring copies of pertinent articles.  Highlight important phrases.  (Don’t expect them to read the articles.)  But show them you have resources and can serve as a good resource for them.  See some helpful articles HERE and HERE.

Go to the meeting knowing what you want.  Is it testing for visual learning disabilities?  Developmental delays?  Language processing?  (Not just ELL/ESOL.)  Take copies of any neuropsychological test results you have from private testing you’ve done.  Ask for specific testing.  Learn what’s available.  See my blog post HERE and read other resources as well. 


Found this cartoon here.
Do not be intimidated.  Bring reinforcements if that helps you, such as another experienced therapeutic parent, knowledgeable about the IEP/IDEA and 504 processes.  You could also bring your therapist, social case worker, or psychologist.

Do not simply rely on “the pros'” opinions.  Lay your own solutions on the table and then have those pros prove why, or why not, those solutions can work.  Have your concerns formally attached to the IEP/504 Plan “for the record.”

Don’t allow any plan to be written without specific details of any therapies used clearly spelled out.  This includes speech, physical, occupational therapy, etc.  Include how often per week and the number of minutes per session.  Is it an individual or group session?  What methods will be used?  Who will be present?

Don’t allow plans for inclusion to be nebulous.  Spell those out as well.

If your child needs accommodations for acting out behaviors, don’t allow someone who does not know him to write that plan alone.  Present your own plan, using the therapeutic parenting techniques you know that work with your child.  Teach the behaviorist these techniques.  Don’t let them tell you that they already know them all.  They don’t.  (None of us do.)  Ask them who Dr. Karen Purvis is, Heather Forbes, Dr. Boris Gindis, and Dr. Michael Popkin?  You can ask them about Becky Bailey, but they’ll probably know that one.  Love and logic are big in schools.  The problem is schools use that for all behavioral situations and it DOES NOT WORK on attachment disordered, trauma-triggered, post-institutionalized kids – at least not those who are home the first few years or so.  Since they don’t know the techniques, YOU need to know them.  You need to show them You Tube videos and give them the print outs.  You need to direct them to the trauma mama blogs.  You need to teach.

Don’t sign any IEP or 504 plan that is not realistic, does not have measurable specific goals, and no time frame to meet those goals.  Don’t take anything for granted, or accept anything as a matter of “understanding.”  LIST specifics, including:

One-on-one assistance
Instructional aid
Inclusion teacher
Resource Room
Alternative Assignments
Assistive Technology
Adaptive Gym
Extra time for tests
Modified tests/assignments
Reduced homework
Bus transportation
Bus aides
Lunch aides
A “safe person” to whom the child can retreat
A “safe room” where the child can process triggers

Again, I want to emphasize the best approach to getting your child the services they need to succeed in school and receive the Free Appropriate Education (FAPE) accorded by law is to be prepared and to advocate, educate, and be tenacious.  Look at some sample IEP’s and 504 Plans online.  Check out Wrightslaw website.  And add more resources below in the comments section!

Monday, March 12, 2012

10 Things YOU CAN DO to Support Parents of PTSD/RADish Children

Parenting hurt kids is rewarding, but it is hard.  It can be isolating and lonely.  Even people I thought would understand, haven’t always.  Even the parent of an older, internationally adopted child once told me, “You and your friends scare me.”  I don’t know about how you handle things emotionally, but that didn’t slide off my back without cutting my heart deeply along the way.

Still, I believe most people want to support families who are raising hurt kids.  They just don’t know what to do or say.  They don’t know when to step up, or when to step back.  Some think they know better, even though they’ve never walked in these shoes.  (They’re never helpful.)  Some walk in similar shoes but only want to draw close when they themselves are hurting. 

Through the last five or six years, I’ve come to know a lot of trauma mamas who are raising hurt kids.  Sometimes they’re supporting me or others; sometimes they need support themselves.  I'm friends with a mama that is hurting SO much right now.  I've dealt with some things recently and am doing well, but when I'm not, I wish someone - SOME ONE - could hear my heart, too.  I’ve heard several things, from hurting mamas - over-and-over again - things that parents of hurt kids wish to God would happen, so they might not feel so alone.  My friend is voicing some of these things now.  This list is not meant as a personal groan session.  It is genuinely put "out there" to tell people who care what we wish we could say in those lowest of times.  Here are ten things I've heard (and sometimes felt) most often:

 1. When you ask how a trauma mama is doing, and she says, “Okay,” but she doesn’t sound all that enthusiastic about it, tell her to “quit joshing” and tell you the truth.  Then, be ready to hear it, without judgment, and without trying to “fix” it if you don’t know anything about it.  And PLEASE don’t say, “You need some time away.”  Most trauma mamas already know that, but trying to actually get away is nearly impossible.  When we do, we usually have hell to pay when we get back home, because we left our traumatized kid and they’re triggered beyond triggered by the “abandonment.”

 2. When we say we’re sleep deprived, please say something like, “I’m sorry.  I can see in your eyes that you’re tired.”  Don’t tell us you know "just what we're talking about" because you stayed up to watch a movie and have some fun, and then you couldn’t sleep because it was so exciting.  We can’t sleep because our minds won’t turn off thinking about the misery our children are in and the trouble they've gotten into, and because we're also listening to see if our kids are getting up and trying to sneak around to do something they're not supposed to do.

 3. When we ask you to pray for us, take the two minutes and do it, right then and there.  On the spot.  And give your trauma mama friend a hug.

 4. If she is less than kind to you, or if she should happen to snap at you one day, and you know that it’s not like her to do that, please don’t hold it against her.  Hold her accountable, but recognize she's hurting and without any reserve in that moment.  Try not to snap back.  Don't say hurtful things in return.  Whatever you do, please don’t push her away.  Reach out to her.  She needs you more then than ever.  Be there for her, especially if she's been there for you when you've hurt.  She knows you’re tired and beat down.  But, she's tired, too.  She's beat down, too.  She's prayed, but she couldn’t find her joy in that moment.  It might feel like you’re hugging a porcupine, but none of us is all that cuddly ALL the time, including you.    

 5. Parents of traumatized/attachment disordered (or still attaching) kids need friends who don’t hug their kids, don’t let them sit on their laps, don’t pick them up, don’t give them gifts, don’t say “I wish you could come live with me,” don’t invite them on outings or to their house without talking to us first, and don’t believe everything that comes out of our kids’ mouths without checking it out – especially if they’re saying something about us that seems “off” in any way.  Attachment disordered kids are masters at triangulating adults.  They may tell you we said something negative about you, when we never even thought it, let alone said it.  Attachment disordered kids often "shop" for new and improved versions of parents (usually those with more money who could give them more “stuff”).  Some of them can come up with pretty horrible stories about their parents that just are not true.  Again, please don't jump to conclusions.  Most of our kids still need time to learn what it means to be a family, what appropriate affection means, and that Mommy IS their mother and Daddy IS their father. 

 6. No matter what the situation, remember the parents are the ones who should be in charge of their children.  They know their children best.  Do not lump a traumatized/attachment disordered child into the “all kids” category.  Do not say, “But all kids do that.”  Not “all kids” have the same motivations as traumatized kids.  Allow experienced therapeutic parents to teach you some new skills and knowledge.  We don’t know it all, but neither do you (even if you are a teacher, or a parent, or a grandparent, or a therapist).

 7. Surprise us by bringing us a healthy, but kid-friendly meal.  Call a few hours in advance so your trauma mama friend doesn't drag herself to the grocery store, trying to figure out what she can throw together for dinner while dealing with a triggered child.  (See #1-4 above.)

 8. Love her.  Just be there.  Take her out for coffee while the kids are in school.  (She'll even pay her own way.)  Talk about the garden you’re planning and get her mind off things at home – or just listen if she needs that.  Again, listen without judgment -- without trying to fix anything.  And pray for her then and there, too.

 9. When you have a question, talk to her privately.  Do not ask her about a concern, or if her child can do something with you, go somewhere with your family, or have a gift from you (even a piece of candy) in front of the child.  This does not matter if they are 3, 6, 13, or 16.

10. Remind her when things are tough that her child CAME TO HER this way.  She did not do anything to hurt her child.  Remind her that God is near the brokenhearted and He does not bruise the tender reed.  Remind her, without judgment in your voice, that she loves her child and he loves her as best he can.  Tell her you love her, too.  Remind her God loves her especially.

Friday, March 9, 2012

What Kind of Therapy Should We Use?

One of the questions I often hear is, “What KIND of therapy should we use to help our child?”  My answer is always, “I don’t know.”  (Real helpful, huh?)  The thing is, I don’t believe any ONE therapy will help.  Our kids’ “stuff” starts at different places and different ages.  Trauma that happens early (and often) is often much more difficult to treat therapeutically than trauma which happens when a child is older. 

When I started trying to sort through all the therapy options 4.5 years ago, it seemed everyone I knew was singing the praises of Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control (BCLC).  This method was started by Bryan Post (who calls himself “Dr.” but does not hold a doctoral degree from any accredited institution -- only an online and now defunct diploma mill, and who was disciplined by the state of Oklahoma in 2007) and Heather Forbes, LCSWC (who has distanced herself from Post and now runs BCLC without him).  I read all the BCLC books.  I read articles on Forbe’s website.  I learned techniques from other parents who’d attended her trainings.  However, some of the BCLC stuff was easily manipulated by my very smart kids.  Besides, my kids NEEDED to feel as though someone was in “control.”  They’d had to control too much in their lives, too early.  They needed the direction of an authoritative parent.  (Notice I did not use the word, “authoritarian.”  Authoritarian parenting results in rebellion and steps backward in the healing process.  Authoritative parenting lets the child know who is in charge, and gives them a sense of safety, consistency, and protection.  My kids need that.)  In short, BCLC had some things that worked, and some things that didn’t.

We have used a lot of play therapy and family therapy (and play therapy as family therapy).  These methods have helped a lot with attachment.  It is SO important to find a therapist who really knows about attachment and trauma.  Activities such as playing games and using sand trays have helped us find breakthroughs for both The Princess and Youngest Son.  For example, our therapist uses the game “Sorry” and adds some rules of her own.  If we get a “1,” we get out onto the board, but only if we say something good that’s happened since our last session.  If we get a “2,” we have to say something that concerns us.  If we get a “3” we have to say something that our family does together that we like, etc.  These games almost always never go on very long before our kids are working, without ever feeling (terribly) pressured to “go there.”  This method helps us deal with specific issues, using Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) methods.  It is the method by which I’ve learned the most in how to BE a therapeutic parent for my kids.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a very traditional therapy.  We use it a little bit, but only when things are going well.  When things hurt, and when a kid is dealing with trauma stored in the emotional part of their brain (amygdala), it’s nearly impossible to process things in the front part of their brain where cognition happens.  Still, it’s a therapy that has helped my kids feel as though they have some control over their lives -- when things are going well.

As I’ve written in earlier posts, for Youngest Son, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is the therapy that has changed his world (and ours).  However, this type of therapy would not have been possible with him even a year ago.  It is really just this school year that he’s matured enough, and has become stable enough on his medications, that he WANTS to change the way he responds to things.  Because DBT emphasizes responsibility for one’s own “stuff,” it was able to move him into a place where he could work cognitively and truly “own” his response to the things that trigger him.  It is only in recognizing that he DOES have PTSD, and that there ARE things that trigger him, that he is able to grasp hold of those triggers and change his behavior.

There are a lot of other things we’ve tried, as well, including “out-crazying the crazy.”  (Which is fun!)  We’ve even used (gasp!) traditional parenting methods in our therapeutic approach.  Like any of the above, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In my experience, raising hurt kids is a very fluid enterprise.

I found a PDF which may be helpful to some.  It describes various therapy methods in very basic terms and is a good introduction to the world of therapy.  You can find it HERE.  It might serve as a conversation starter when talking to a potential therapist for your family.  There are also lists of questions to ask available on various blogs and websites.  One good list is HERE.

Please feel free to share other ideas in the comments section.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Just a note . . .

I just wanted to take today to thank you.  Yes, YOU.
Thank you for stopping by to read.

Thank you for leaving comments that encourage me and motivate me.

Thank you for caring.

It means more than you know.



"Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God. Each exclamation is a trigger to prayer." - Philippians 1:3  (MSG)

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Busy Morning

Nothing finishes off a busy morning quite so well as an unplanned, but very pleasant lunch with The Princess’ school counselor.  I like him.  He’s a good guy.  He helped me a lot with Youngest Son when he was in middle school, and was really there for me during our boy’s rough stuff last year.

We chatted a bit about the mean girl stuff that’s been going on with The Princess.  He’s frustrated, just like me.  He said, “Man, these girls can hold onto things forever!”  He also reassured me that he thought I was handling things well.  He said he wished more parents realized their girls were just as nasty as the ones they complained about – if not worse.  He said the lying the girls do drives him insane.  (Me, too.)  He said if people just got real and dropped their defenses, we’d be able to teach kids a lot more.  (I agree.)

Backtracking a little bit in the day, the morning started off "normally."  Yes, I mean OUR normal.  Youngest Son was dragging his heels.  The Princess was trying to talk me into allowing her to wear shorts and flip flops.  I was telling her she knows when she is allowed to wear shorts and flip flops.  It is not March.  I don’t care what other parents allow.  Besides, I think these girls standing around in shorts (that are too short) and flip flops, shivering, as they hold their hoodies close around their skinny little bodies, with the hoods over their heads, jumping up and down saying, “The wind is so cold out here,” are ridiculous.  (Am I the ONLY one tempted to yell, "Well, DUH!?")  So anyway, we had the normal clothing war stuff this morning.  We also had the normal "Come on, let's get moving" stuff this morning.  It’s a daily occurrence since 2007.  I’m used to it.

Our girl went off to school, reviewing our mantra:  NO NOTES, be kind, ignore other people who want to be unkind.  She was okay.  Track starts today and she’s looking forward to that.

After dropping her at school, Youngest Son had his therapy appointment and a med check.  Everything went well.  He’s working.  The psychiatric nurse that monitors his meds said she noticed he’s been “bright-eyed and bushy tailed.”  He grinned and blushed.  No med changes.  He liked that. 

I just keep praying he stays on track and continues to do well.  Once again, I cannot sing the praises of DBT therapy enough.  Be sure to read about that sometime.

We talked about Youngest Son getting his driving learner’s permit on the way to taking him back to school.  He’s excited.  I’m excited for him – and nervous.  I was nervous for all four of his older brothers, too.  I promised him I’d stop by the DMV to pick up the state law book he needs to study for his test.  When I did, I learned he’d have to go to a state office (not our regional office) because he was internationally adopted.  I can’t just show his Certificate of Citizenship and birth certificate to the regional office.  They have to register him at the state level.  (It’s not like they don’t already have enough paperwork on this kid at both the state and federal levels.)  It boggles my mind.  Well, I have the book.  When he’s ready, I guess we’ll take a day off of school to go to a state level office. 

So again, It was a good and busy morning.  When I got home and was getting out of the car, I pulled my back out.  Oh well, so much for getting the laundry done.  

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Cowardice vs. Retreat and Bravery

      Der Fiege droht nur, wo er sicher ist. – Goethe
     (The coward only threatens when he is safe.)

     He heals the brokenhearted
         and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3

     20 My son, be attentive to my words;
         incline your ear to my sayings.
     21 Let them not escape from your sight;
          keep them within your heart.
     22 For they are life to those who find them,
         and healing to all their flesh. – Proverbs 4:20-22

The Princess and I had a good day together yesterday.  It was refreshing to take the time to have a little retreat of our own, away from the world, and even away from the guys in the family.  We spent time talking, playing, cleaning, working on some social studies homework, and we especially took time to find comforting reminders in God’s Word.  We prayed for ourselves and for those we love.  We prayed for those who have hurt us.  We spent some time healing.  She did so well.  She just needed to be reminded she was safe.  It’s hard to remember that sometimes when you’ve been hurt so deeply.  My little girl is so much more than a survivor, though.  She is tough.  Yet, she is sweet and has a soft heart.  She really cares about other kids.  I love that about her.

We added some social navigation tools to her toolbox.  We practiced them.  We drilled so she could more easily remember them when she is triggered or under stress.  We rehearsed responses to unkind remarks.  We rehearsed how to ignore certain actions, and how to refuse to participate in the cruelty of what is seen as “normal” middle school mean girl stuff.

Today, when The Princess woke up, she was her usual, positive, happy self.  She felt prepared for her day.  She went to school with her head held high, thankful for a day to recover yesterday, and the reminder that she is loved and highly valued.  She was a little nervous, but she went to school ready to face those who might attack her.  She was ready to feel those nervous feelings, and prove to herself she really was okay anyway.  The cool thing for me, as her mom was that she also went to school, sincerely wanting to hurt no one.  I am so proud of her.

My girl is one of the strongest, bravest people I’ve ever known.  

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sometimes it Hurts Too Much

My little girl is home from school today.  The girl with whom she’s had a toxic friendship for some time, and with whom we tried to cool things off, is the reason she is home.  She just couldn’t take going to school and being around this kid.  She wouldn’t go to Sunday School yesterday because of her.  She doesn’t want to ever go back to youth group because of her.  When she walked into church, the girl looked at her in disgust and said, "tsk ugh."  As The Princess walked out of the sanctuary with our family, this girl turned away and whispered and giggled to another girl who quickly looked our way, then looked back and giggled louder.  It breaks my heart.

The Princess is desperate to be accepted.  I am desperate to help her.  Short of following her around school, I don't know what else to do.  I know middle school is hell.  I also know it’s more hellish now than it ever was when I was a kid.  It’s even harder for The Princess because of all the rejection and abandonment issues she’s had to face from her past.  She is a strong kid, don’t get me wrong.  She’s usually happy, too.  But, I’ve never seen her depressed until this one girl game into her life.  It doesn’t help that her parents cannot see their girl is also a hurt child, and that she DOES, in fact, lie to them about what’s happened.  They just told her to be "blunt" with the Princess.  Well, "blunt" was very hurtful.  They have no idea how far they've set this child back in healing.  All I can do is press on and try to protect my girl the best I can.

There are things I want The Princess to learn.  Most importantly, I want her to learn to NEVER beg for a friendship, especially from someone who sees “blunt” as an opportunity to be abusive.  She will never learn the difference between the two if she seeks out those kinds of "friends."  I want her to learn to love.  This is the teaching I find in our bible.  I don't find anywhere where we're supposed to tell our kids to "be blunt," especially if we're not giving them specific and loving guidance on the words to use.  I do not want her to learn to perpetuate abuse.  I also want her to learn that one other person’s opinion of her does not define her.  Not everyone will like us in this world.  And we will not always like the way another person behaves in this world.  For those who choose not to like us, we simply have to accept their choice and move on.  It's about them; it's not about us.  The Princess is a great kid and has far more people who love her than do not.

As for holding hurts, I want her to learn to let go of them as well.  I don't want her to hurt someone when she's been hurt.  We all make mistakes.

 I also want her to learn that people still have free will.  Some will never see the wrong they’ve done, nor ask forgiveness for it.  When that happens, all we can do is “let go and let God.” It's okay to question it, and struggle with it, but we cannot let it change us or make us bitter. 

Another thing I want my daughter to learn is to be genuine – to be free to be who she is without all the man-made masks people wear.  I don’t want her to put on fake smiles and “act” Christian.  I want her to be REAL, and to love people for who they are, where they are, even when they make a mistake, especially when they are repentant and apologize.  I want her to recognize hurting people and embrace them, rather than shun them.  I want her to be open and unafraid.  I don't want her to be guarded so much that she thinks she needs to protect herself from those who love her.  I want her to have friends that can take her love, but also recognize when she needs it, too and give some in return.    

It’s a life-long process, I suppose. 

I love this little girl so much.

So, we’re home today.  Who knows what tomorrow will bring.  For now we wait.  We're on our own little mother-daughter retreat.  

"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer."

--Romans 12:12

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ministry, Dirt & Bubble Baths

Be careful what you tell God.  Don’t pray, “Okay, LORD, whatever you want me to do, I’m ready” unless you really mean it.  You could end up with a couple of extra kids.  Some of them might have some significant challenges they’ll need you to help them overcome, or at least learn to navigate.  You could end up in a job you never dreamed you’d have because you never even knew that job existed.  You could be working with people and helping hurting people.  You could get dirty. 

Have you ever played in the dirt?

Dirt is where things grow.  Playing in the dirt is good for the soul – good for the emotions.  Planting something, watering it, and watching it grow gives one a sense of satisfaction like no other.  Even making mud pies can be quite therapeutic in its dirtiness.  They return to themselves.  Feeling the warm sun on your back, or even turning your face up into it and soaking in those vitamin D rays for a few seconds feels good. 

Getting dirty can be pretty cool.  There’s always that nice warm bubble bath or shower waiting when we’re done.  And THAT always feels especially nice when we’ve played HARD in the dirt.

What are you doing to minister to the heart of your hurt kid?  Would you be willing to share an idea or two here?  Are you a little bit too caught up in the dirt right now – maybe even a little muddy and mucky?  It’s okay to share that here, too.  We trauma mamas love the privilege of drawing nice, warm bubble bath water for our sisters.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Testing, Treatment & Medications

Neuro-psych test
I know some of my fellow trauma mamas fight long and hard with physicians and psychiatrists (even some neuro-psychiatrists) to have their children treated with medication.  Some of them even have to fight just to get them tested to see what’s going on.  (But at least they fight.)  It is amazing to me how people do not want to “label” children.  What they do not realize is while they’re taking all that time not labeling them, they are perpetuating the neglect they’ve already suffered.  Yes, I wrote that.

Now, please understand, I am NOT saying every adopted child needs to be on medication.  I am not saying every adopted child needs on-going therapy.  In fact, Youngest Son will likely "graduate" from therapy this summer if all continues to go well.  However, if a child had diabetes, or asthma, or cystic fibrosis, or a heart murmur – if a parent or a clinician saw any sign of a possibility of any of these conditions, or hundreds more, and they did not test them – did not treat them, the parent would be charged with child neglect and the clinician would lose their license.  So why do we wait with hurt children?

My kids were home more than a year before they were ever tested.  We didn’t live near one of the big cities.  I didn’t have the money to go see Dr. Boris Gindis or Dr. Jane Aronson.  I knew it would be BEST to have my kids tested in their first language (Russian) as soon as possible after getting home, but that was a logistic impossibility here.  By the time anything could be arranged, the kids were already in what Gindis calls “language limbo,” and they could not be tested in Russian.  What I did not know at the time, however, was there are other tests – non-verbal tests – my kids could have taken before they had a good handle on English.  We could have gotten started on therapy and medical treatment a lot sooner than we did.  Because of my ignorance, they were neglected.

At 1.5 years home, both The Princess and Youngest Son went through a battery of tests at our local mental health facility.  This was after our school district gave them a test at grade level (not age level) and said they were “normal.”  I would have LOVED to have our special education director live with them for a month or two and then tell me they were “normal.”

Testing included having me fill out forms and complete some tests myself.  I completed these tests for both kids:

*PCRI – Parent/Child Relationship Inventory (Parental style)
*PSI – Parenting Stress Index

Both kids had the following tests at different times:
 *ADHDT – Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Test (Behavior Rating Scale or BRS)
*BASC – Behavior Assessment System for Children (BRS)
*CVLT – California Verbal Learning Test for Children (you don’t have to live in CA to use this test – for Neuro: Memory/Learning or NM/L)
*CAS – Cognitive Abilities Scale II (Neuro: Educational or NE)
*MACI – Million Adolescent Clinical Inventory (Personality)
*SCAN-3C – Test for Auditory Processing Disorders in Children (NE)
*TSC – Trauma Symptom Checklist for Children (this is listed as a “Personality” test, but it’s more of an experience inventory)
*WISC-IV – Wechsler Intell Scale for Children (IQ-Multitask – probably the most involved and comprehensive test ever)

Youngest Son also had this test: 
*Suicidal Ideation Questionnaire (Symptom Rating Scale)

What going through all the testing boils down to is that both kids continue in psycho-therapy and take medicine to manage their symptoms.

Medications either currently taken, or taken by my kids in the past that have had beneficial effects included:

*Tenex (or guanfacine) and Intuniv (a slow-release form of guanfacine) for attention-deficit disorder or ADD.  Youngest Son is diagnosed with attention deficit, but without the hyperactivity.

*Focalin XR and dexmethylphenida (same as Focalin but not slow release) for ADHD, emphasis on the “H.”  The Princess is very active and attention deficit.  This is combined with a keen sense of hyper-vigilance.  She rarely feels completely safe unless she is with me, and even then finds it difficult at times.

*Wellbutrin – for depression

*Abilify – for depression

*Seroquel XR (both 50 mg. and 150 mg.) – for depression and to treat strong, inappropriate emotions and acting out behaviors (such as trying to tear your mother’s arm out of its socket).

Meds that caused problems for my kids:

Concerta (Methylin ER and Methylphenidate) – for ADHD.  The Princess became aggressive on this medicine and set fires.  She’d never done that before and has not done it since going off the medicine.

Celexa – for depression and anxiety.  Made my kids too sleepy and “out of it.”

Cymbalta – for depression.  Gave Youngest Son massive headaches.

Strattera - for ADHD.  Gave The Princess massive, daily afternoon headaches.

Natural herbs used at times (with psychiatrist’s consent):

Gaba – for anxiety

Valerian Root – for calming effect

Bottom line, in my opinion, is this:  Don’t be afraid of tests.  Don’t be afraid of well-tested and time-tried medicines. They just may be one of the best tools you have in your tool box to help your child heal.

THE ABOVE POST is shared as my personal experience only and is not to be substituted for the care and instruction of your family's own personal physician/psychiatrist.