Thursday, June 20, 2013

Empathy: Part 3

Teaching Empathy:  Transitioning knowledge of Feelings to Self, Animals, and Others
 As we have journeyed down the path to healing from attachment and trauma issues I have noticed my sons development follows a pattern.  First he has to understand a concept as it relates to himself.  Then he can relate that concept to animals.  Then comes others outside of the family.  Than finally family members or others who are close to him.  Following this circle of relating concepts we began with working on understanding empathy as it related to him.  Now that he had developed a "feeling" vocabulary and seemed to understand the concept of different emotions, we began pointing out how those feelings and emotions directly related to him.  "You must be so sad that your brother took your toy.  I bet you are feeling really mad and hurt.  What could your brother do to make you feel better?", these types of conversations would happen often pointing out his feelings for him until he was able to identify his feelings and then helping him come up with ways others could make him feel better.  He became very good at identifying what others could do for him!
We have a dog in our house:
(Aren't they adorable!)
Our dog puts up with a lot...and I mean a lot!  With a house full of boys he is subject to the normal tail and ear pulling from toddlers, but adding in the emotional and behavioral issues was something that took a lot of adjustment on my part.  When the boys first arrived I quickly learned I couldn't leave them alone with the dog.  They would kick or push him for no reason at all.  Our dog quickly learned he DID NOT want to be around Matthew and he would walk away any time he entered the room.  As Matthew began understanding feelings he would get upset that the dog wouldn't want to play with him.  I began relating this to Matthew in terms of feelings and empathy. "I bet the dog is scared that you will hurt it like you used to do.  I bet you have broken your trust with the dog.  Remember when your brother took your toy and you didn't want to play with him anymore?!  What kinds of things did your brother do for you to make you feel better? If you were the dog what are some things that would help you earn trust again and make you feel better?"  Matthew slowly began to understand this concept and worked really hard to earn trust with the dog.  He would pet it (with supervision of course) and ask to give him treats.  After a long time the dog began to trust him.  Matthew would be so excited when he would come lay on his lap.  Today Matthew is the first one to point out when someone is not being nice to the dog or may be hurting the dogs feelings, he apologizes when he accidentally trips over him.
As empathy for animals began to develop I noticed an awakening in Matthew, he actually wanted to have friends.  In the past, he hadn't really desired to have friends, he wanted others to play with him but it was more about needing others to play a certain game with him.  He was now expressing a desire to have real friends and questioning why others were "mean" to him. In reality other kids were not being men to him, he just didn't understand what a friend was or how to keep friends.  He has always been fairly good at the initial making friends part; he is fun and energetic.  However, it quickly becomes apparent that he is controlling, bossy, too rough, and way too intense!  So the "friends" he makes usually move on to greener pastures after about 15 minutes.  At first when he would become upset about kids not wanting to play with him I would sugar coat it.  I stopped that pretty quickly, it wasn't helping.  I began to be very truthful with him.  "The kid doesn't want to play with you because you are being bossy and not taking turns.  Remember how you felt when your brother wouldn't take turns with you?  How do you think your friend feels? What do you think you could do to help him feel better?"  We set up situations at home and practiced.  We often had problems when at the playground or home where Matthew would be too rough and hurt another child.  Matthew would push someone down and the child would begin to cry, Matthew would run and hide.  I helped Matthew come up with specific steps to do if you accidentally hurt someone:  Go to the person and ask if they are okay.  Help the child get to me or another parent.  When the child is feeling better tell them you are sorry and ask if they would like to play.  Let them pick what to play. We practiced these steps over and over and over and then one day it clicked.  Not only did it click for when he hurt someone, but he began stopping and helping every crying child get to me or an adult, LOL!  The other parents thought he was the sweetest kid :)  At first it wasn't true empathy, he had been taught a set of steps to follow and he seemed to get attention following them so he kept doing it.  Eventually though "fake it till you make it" seemed to prove true! 
The hardest was making the empathy connection with our family, it is still a work in progress but he is coming along.  Don't get me wrong we still have a lot to do, but I am really pleased with our progress.  For us the key has been talking, talking, and talking some more.  Direct Instruction of what you want your child to do and then practice the situations.  It may seem like they are listening, but at the strangest times they mention something you said and it is clear that they do hear you!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Just another Manic....Tuesday?

Oh if I could transcribe the conversations or rather incoherent ramblings going on over here right now!

"What are you doing?"
"I'm writing in sign language in the air!" While running at full speed, speaking gibberish, waving hands around, hopping from one end of couch to other, starting a puzzle, no stopping puzzle, coloring a picture for the president, no stopping picture, back to jumping, making sandwich, doesn't want the sandwich, giving to dog, playing catch with the dog with imaginary toy, back to writing in the air  etc.

It's been like this all day people, and if the last three years are any indication it will continue for another 3 days with no break for sleep or meals.

Bipolar....the gift that keeps giving!  In our case like clockwork every three months.  So I ask you this:  WHY does this catch me completely off guard and unprepared Every. Single. Time.  

Don't get me wrong, things have vastly improved in the last three years.  When you add bipolar on top of all the trauma and attachment issues it ain't pretty folks.  Manic episodes quickly become violent and the unpredictability of PTSD mixed with paranoia quickly leads to a disaster of epic proportions. 
Our episodes these days are more exhausting for me than anything and they are always followed by a calm, albeit depressed, week to catch up on sleep.  It's the two and a half months afterwards that always get me, they seduce me, it's like a tiny pinhole into another reality.  Right after the mania/depressed episodes you begin to see a glimpse of normal, and as the weeks go on the pinhole gets larger showing you pieces and parts of a life that could be really great.  You begin to think things are really turning around.  You let yourself imagine a play date where you don't have to supervise constantly, maybe you even let your kids play in the back yard alone....and they do great.  You say to yourself, "We've made it, I can finally start to relax!"  

And then out of're helping your kid write sign language in the cursive, cause, well, he says he doesn't know cursive yet and aliens ONLY read cursive sign language in the air....duh!!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

New Blog and Support for Single Foster/Adopt Parents

I'm so excited to be a part of a new community for single foster/adopt parents!  I'll be a contributing blogger and hope to see you all there.  It can be really difficult to be on this journey alone, but I know there are those of us out there doing it!  Now we have a chance to connect and support each other.

Visit us at Flying Solo, share it with your friends, let me know if there is anything you would like to see us add or cover that would help you in this journey!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Empathy: Part 2

Teaching Empathy:  Identifying Feelings

What struck me in the above definition of "empathy" was the last part 'without having the feelings fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner."  OH how are kids struggle with this, picking up social cues might as well be rocket science. 
When Matthew first came to us we quickly entered the wonderful world of traditional talk therapy, and well I didn't feel we really accomplished much in regards to his attachment and trauma issues, the one thing that each therapist we worked with focused on was identifying feelings.  This was SO essential for Matthew.  The ONLY feeling he knew and understood was MAD!!  Anytime feelings were discussed he would say he was MAD.  In reality all that MAD was really covering up the actual feelings; sadness, frustration, disappointment, guilt and so many more.  In order for our kids to understand the feelings of others they have to first understand and recognize their own feelings!  I realize that this is much easier said then done.  As a former Special Education teacher I had worked with a lot of children who needed direct instruction in recognizing feelings.  I treated recognizing feelings as a skill just like learning your addition facts. AND just like trying to teach addition facts to kids, you HAVE to make it fun!
One of the things Matthew's therapist had was a poster like this:
 He LOVED this poster, so we used it often in many ways :)  I think the silly faces helped him at first, it made it less "real" and more of a game.  We had the poster up in our living room area and in his room.  We would often look at it and point out what we were feeling.  This gradually got us away from "MAD" being the only feeling and it greatly expanded his "feeling" vocabulary.  Many times he was just picking random faces he thought were funny, that was perfectly okay!  Remember the goal right now is to just understand different feelings.  Whatever, he picked we would talk about!  Eventually I began to make him explain why he was feeling that way and he began reflecting more accurate feelings. 
Once he was getting good at identifying his feelings with the faces we began taking pictures of him or collecting pictures from the internet of different feelings to make it more 'real' when identifying feelings.  We played matching games with the funny cartoon pictures and real pictures, we identified situations and what feelings he might feel, we practiced making faces on demand (I would call out a feeling and he would make the face and vice-versa).  It became a fun time for us and made feelings less scary. We talked about feelings ALL. THE. TIME.  I would identify my feelings ALL. THE. TIME.  I would point out feelings on TV shows, movies, friends, etc.  ALL. THE. TIME.
At this point it was just about identifying feelings, what the feelings are, feelings vocabulary, identifying feeling faces in others and himself.  It was not about empathy or how to react to others feelings yet, he had to have the knowledge first!
Next Blog Post we will begin to address making the transition between identifying feelings and applying that knowledge!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Foster Parent Training: Round 2

So since I moved to a new state I am in the process of getting relicensed here....unfortunately that means going through all the classes AGAIN!    Once I decided on my agency they came out to do an Introductory meeting.  A Family Development worker came out for about an hour and went over the basics of foster care and how the licensing process works.  Thankfully, since I was already familiar with the whole process they are allowing me to take the classes out of order, this way I will be done faster.  They have a session going on right now that is an all day Saturday class.  This class covers 2 classes each week.  I missed the first Saturday, so I will do Class 3 and 4 next Saturday and Class 5 in a few weeks.  I am then going to join the other session to do Class 1 and then Class 2 on Tuesday evenings.  I should be done with the classes by the end of the month.  Ill update this post as I take the classes.

During the Introductory meeting he let me know that they do the homestudy concurrently with the classes, so this should also speed things along. In my old state you had to finish all the classes, submit all the paperwork and then you would get assigned a homestudy worker. It took almost a whole year to get licensed!

Class 1:
Tonight was class one which focused on permanency.  It included two know the rainbows and unicorn videos that paints being a foster parent as a respected member of the team, nipping any problem behaviors from children with a funny line or hug, and birth parents who are grateful for you taking care of their kids while they focus on getting themselves back on track.  LOL, I had to stop myself from laughing :)   I desperately wanted to stop the video and turn to the class and SCREAM, this is NOT what foster care is like, but alas I figured that would not put me on the good side of the new agency.

My "homework" for next class is to basically make a family yeah Ill get right on that.

Class 2:

Class 3:  Focus on Abuse and Neglect
This is always a hard topic to cover as you touch on the horrors that many of our children live through.

Class 4: Focus on Grief and Loss
I was really pleased with the social workers coverage in this area, he himself had been a foster parent for many years and seemed to have a really good grasp on attachment issues.  I think he covered loss and attachment in a way that burst the rainbows and unicorns that many first time foster or adopt parents have, but also didn't make it seem like you were signing up to enter hell :)

Class 5:

'The Fosters' an ABC Family Premiere

'The Fosters' is a new TV series put out by ABC Family, it premiered last night June 3rd.  The basic premise is a Lesbian couple, one son who is biologically one of the mothers and two children (one boy, one girl) who were adopted through foster care.  In the first episode, the couple takes in a foster child straight from Juvie and by the end of the episode they also take in her younger brother.
I was excited to see a foster family portrayed in a TV show in a more realistic fashion.   I thought they did a pretty good job combining both the joys and pitfalls of the fostering world. They crammed a whole lot into one episode, but still managed to show the internal conflicts of all parties involved in the fostering and adoptive family.
I was surprised how difficult it was for me to watch, it definitely hit home and was relatable to me.  One thing that keeps sticking in my mind is when the biological dad of the son says to the mom something along the lines of why they feel the need to pick up lost strays like a dog pound.  It was a dagger to the heart!  So many people out there have a negative view of foster parents and I have also encountered hurtful words or looks about these children who have been put into this situation through no fault of their own.
I was glad they touched on the birthparent issue with the adopted kids, the inner turmoil that can cause with both the kids and adoptive parents. The show definitely hit on A LOT in one episode, I wish they would have slowed down just a bit.  However, I'm excited to see where this show goes.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Empathy: Part 1



Empathy is something that I often hear fellow trauma mommas struggle with in their children.  We envision our child running to help a sibling who has fallen and skinned their knee or comforting a friend who has been bullied on the playground.  It can be incredibly daunting to instead have a child kick the family dog, to have them call you vicious names, or to sneak out of their room in the middle of the night to be sexually inappropriate with a sibling.  You do what you have to do in your house to create safety, door alarms, line of sight supervision, safety plans, you never thought you would be living like this!  But in a way what is worse than all of that is when you sit down with your child to discuss these behaviors and you are met with a blank stare, a laugh, or a "Can I go watch TV now?"  It can leave you feeling hopeless, what will this child grow up to be, will I someday see him on the news at the center of some horrible event, will they  blame me and say I didn't do enough help my child.  I want to offer you some hope over the next few posts, encourage you to keep going, keep teaching, keep modeling empathy. 

This quote by Oprah Winfrey couldn't be a more perfect representation of the potential our children have for empathy, Our children who suffer with the lasting effect of traumas so horrible and despicable so early in their young lives.  Who better understands pain, abandonment, and disappointment than our children?  Its no surprise that when our children come to us they have no empathy!  Nobody cried for them when they were molested.  Nobody tended to their bruises after they were beat.  No one offered to split their sandwich with them when they had been starved.   Our children missed that window of opportunity in their development to pick up on empathy naturally from their environment, we must now teach it to them directly just like we would teach math or reading. 

According to this article empathy development begins in the womb!  Now throw in a birthmother who drank, did drugs, or neglected her and the baby's health during this time and its just one more reason our kids were set up to fail.  Our kids come to us often significantly behind in many areas, but where they really lack is in emotional development.  Our kids do not understand their own emotions, and they can't recognize emotions in other people if they cant recognize emotions in themselves.  In the next few days I will tell you our story and journey to developing empathy, but until then let me leave you with  picture of my oldest who ran upstairs to get his brother a band aid this week.  Melts. my. heart.


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Things you miss out on as a foster/adopt showers

I was at a baby shower today, it was beautiful and lovely and everything that a baby shower is supposed to be.  At first I was enjoying myself, then came gift time.  Everyone sat around and ooohed and aaahed over all the cute little baby clothes and strollers and baby blankets.  I was beginning to feel a little bitter......well a whole lot of bitterness and jealousy and self pity to be honest.  I didn't get to have any of that, no baby showers, no frozen meals delivered to my door those first few weeks, nobody offering to watch the kids so I could get a shower that didn't involve the precision and organization of a prison warden.
I understand the dilemma of throwing a shower for the foster/adopt momma.
  • You don't know for sure what age or gender may be coming your way
  • There is no guarantee that any child coming into your home will be staying
  • There is no telling when a child may come, it could be hours after licensing or years
  • The whole thing makes some people really uncomfortable
  • Trying to do a shower after the children are officially adopted means they have been in the home for at least 6 months probably longer, so the reality is the parent doesn't need that much
  • Trying to do a shower after the initial placement is generally a bad idea due to all the attachment and bonding that needs to happen and momma's don't usually have a lot of extra time to be gallivanting off to showers
I get it, I really do!  BUT a baby shower is still one of those life events that every momma wants to have regardless of if the child coming through the door is a twelve year old boy.  I was venting my frustration on a facebook page for other moms and was surprised that several foster moms HAVE had friends throw them a shower!  I was also surprised at the number of moms who have felt the same way as I have and are still bothered and hurt years later, especially when sitting through a lovely shower.

Shortly after my boys came I received one card, it was from a dear mother of one of my best friends growing up.  She included a check and told me to pick something out for the boys.  That one gesture means so much to me even today.

So what can you do for the foster or adoptive momma near you:

  1. If you know someone preparing to become a foster or foster/adopt mom, throw a preparation party to help them get what they need.  Offering to take an age range of 0-8 creates a WHOLE lot of things that need to be available!
  2. When a placement arrives, offer to run to Walmart and pick up any last minute needed supplies for kids or momma!
  3. Bring over some meals when a placement arrives OR leaves!  Having kids leave your home is HARD, regardless of the fact that we signed up for this....we still grieve their loss, they were a part of our family no matter how short their stay.
  4. Just because a foster mom drops off the planet for awhile when a placement comes DOESNT mean she doesn't need you, those first few weeks can be stressful and hectic as everyone adjusts.  Send notes, emails, fb messages and don't be offended if you don't get a response.
  5. If and when kids are officially adopted, ask the parent how you can recognize this special day.  Some kids may love a party and gifts, but remember their adoption though joyful may also be painful as they have essentially "lost" a part of their family too.
  6. Always ask what you can do and DONT accept nothing as an answer.  I know for me it is difficult to accept help or even weed out who is really offering and who is just being polite :)

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Approaching fostering with forever kiddos

When deciding to foster again there were many concerns that I had this time around.  I now have to take into consideration three additional members of my family, all at different emotional stages of healing from their own neglect and abuse. The following are some of my concerns that I am still working through.  I don't know whether Ill have any resolution, it will likely be a case of dealing with these things as they come up.

1.  All of the extreme behaviors that my forever kids exhibited, due to the trauma and stress of foster care and early life experiences, when they first came to me have been extinguished.  Bringing more children into the mix who very well may have those behaviors could cause my forever kids to regress.
2.  Dealing with visits, phone calls and discussions with the foster children's birth families may bring up past hurts for my forever kiddos.  Why didn't there birth parents work the plan to get them back, show up to visits, get them presents, etc. are fair and realistic thoughts and feelings.
3.  My time and attention dealing with the inevitable trauma, feelings, and attachment issues of the foster children could create jealousy from my forever kiddos.
4.  How to deal with foster children returning to birth parents, relatives, or another placement?  My forever children obviously never got the chance to be reunified with their birth parents.  Also, my children struggle with a sense of abandonment.  These foster children are essentially their siblings who may very well up and leave with little notice, it is likely there would be no continued communication once they were reunified.

Regardless of the negative concerns there are many positives that I weighed when making this decision.

1.  Having additional children in the household is likely to disrupt the trauma bond that is present between my children.
2.  My oldest has buried a lot of emotions regarding his time before coming to me, he is fascinated by other children having similar stories.  I believe this could spark some real good conversations and healing.
3.  Having additional children in the house allows for more opportunities to practice the social skills we have been working on with peers.
4.  Having additional children in the house allows my boys to have a higher likelihood of finding someone to play with them and shared interests to occupy their time....rather than begging for TV and Video Games.
5.  Adding a girl to the mix would allow me to focus on treating girls in a kinder, less wrestling and whacking, way :)
6.  I think having foster children in the house would allow my oldest an opportunity to help and connect with another child going through things he has overcome.
7.  My children have a sense of entitlement that may be helped by making connections with children who may be coming with very little.

Just some thoughts.....

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