I was so lucky to have shared a guest post over at Last Mom! Not only do I love her blog, she is a fantastic parent to Princess, but I've gotten to know here in real life too :) Below is a copy of my post that I shared with her readers, be sure to check out her page too!!!
I'm so excited to be sharing with all of you in The Last Mom community today! For those of you who don't already know me, my name is Bessy and I blog over at www.youngsingleandadopting.blogspot.com. I want to talk with you today about having a child who seeks out attention, comfort, and sympathy from everyone and anyone.....other than you!
My journey into the world of foster care and adoption began about four years ago when I took in my first placement, a sibling group of three boys ages 5, 21 months, and 7 weeks old......oh and did I mention I'm a single parent?! It was a whirlwind and roller coaster right from the beginning. This "we just need a place for them to stay for a weekend" placement never left and we became an official family two years later. The boys are now 9, 5, and 4 years old and we still foster 1-2 kiddos at a time.
Things have been far from perfect in our journey, shortly after the boys came my oldest was diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder and in the years that followed we received additional diagnosis of ADHD, PTSD, Bipolar Disorder and more. My middle son has also been diagnosed with ADHD and a Mood Disorder as well as "attachment issues". I knew we were in for it when this cute little boy jumped into my car that first day, within minutes of meeting me, and said "Can I call you Mommy? I LOVE you SO much!!!". I thought it was slightly odd and had knew about attachment stuff, but had no idea the trauma a statement like that really signaled. Oh how naïve I was then!
The first few weeks were great, my oldest would tell me he loved me and hang on me and play with me, showering me with affection and adoration. However, as the weeks went on that affection towards me dissipated and was replaced by distance, anger, and pushing me away. I began noticing that he would easily walk up to strangers or acquaintances and climb in their laps, hold their hands, ask them for help tying his shoe or reaching something high. Oh and the ladies loved it, they would take in his big gorgeous smile and shower him with special attention, hugs, kisses, and treats. They would tell me what an adorable, affectionate,loveable sweetheart he was and I was left feeling like something was very wrong. As I learned more about early childhood trauma, reactive attachment disorder, and my own child's personal history, the pieces all began to come together. My son was able to accept "love" from these other people, his relationships with these people weren't a threat to him, they were superficial, he was getting what he needed (attention, affection, things) without having to worry about attaching, trusting, being vulnerable with someone only to have that person abandon him, abuse him or neglect him. It further reinforced this idea he had learned that adults were stupid, worthless, and dangerous, that he didn't need to rely on me for anything. He could take care of himself by manipulating adults into getting him things he needed by being superficially charming. Something had to be done to enforce my role as parent, a trustworthy caretaker who could meet his needs without abuse, neglect, or abandonment allowing him to just be a kid without worry.
Here are some of the things we have done over the years to help encourage my son to seek me out to meet his needs instead of others:
- Keep your child's world small: One of the most important things you can do, when trying to discourage your children from seeking out others instead of you, is to keep the child's world very small. Try to avoid environments where your child will have the opportunity to seek out others. For us this meant using online schooling for a year so we were able to focus on bonding, trusting, direct instruction of social skills, and fun! If you have to go out keep your child close, this may mean they hold your hand or stay by your side but you want to minimize any interactions that would encourage further separation from you as the caregiver.
- Inform those around you: Often times people have the best intentions when interacting with your child. Most of the world has no idea about attachment issues and no idea what to do to support you in parenting a child with attachment issues. They may question your parenting when you wont let your child out of your site or go to a friends house for dinner. I have found that the majority of people are willing to listen. Most of the time I don't get into a lot of details, but I have shared that my child is working on bonding with me and learning to trust me to provide his needs. For those closer to you or who may see the child often, you may want to provide a list of ways they can support your child or explain a little of your child's history if appropriate. Another idea you may want to use is developing a small business card relevant to your child's struggles that you can pass out to strangers or acquaintances you come in contact with when out http://youngsingleandadopting.blogspot.com/2013/12/business-cards-for-special-needs.html.
- Look for missed areas of development: Our children often missed some pretty important areas of development, go back and look at some development charts and get an idea of what skills your child doesn't seem to have. You may need to provide Direct Instruction (see #4) in order for them to learn those skills. Children often learn through play in their early years, unfortunately many of our children never got the chance to play with Mom or Dad and create that bond while also developing. Many kids love to go back and play some of those games, or read some of those stories that are typically geared for younger children. Having some special "play" time set aside each day or week to play with Mom or Dad can be a great way to encourage trust and bonding with you that they never received.
Over on my blog I am doing a series on "Teaching" Our Kids how to Play, going back and working on those missed play stages, come on over and check it out :)
- Use Direct Instruction to teach them how to get their needs met: Many times teachers and other adults have told me that my son would "pick up" appropriate social skills by watching others or by modeling it for them.. I have found this to NOT be the case for my kids, maybe because they have holes in their development from before they came (see above), but I have found they need direct instruction. For example, if my son wanted a snack he would just go take one.....or twenty, lol! Instead of just saying "No" hoping he just learned this was not okay and understand why we would teach it as a skill. We would develop steps for getting a snack 1. I feel hungry 2. Go ask Mom for a snack 3. Listen to the choices of snack 4. Pick one 5. Sit at table and eat. We would then put the steps on a sign with pictures of the child doing each step or illustrations of the step and hang it where it will be needed. Whenever the issue arose we would head over and check what the steps said to do. Pick one or two things to work on at time; maybe how to ask Mommy for a snack or what to do if you are hurt. Think of an area your child doesn't come to you to get their needs met and break it down into simple steps for them to follow. I found it easier to reinforce when it was coming from the sign, then it wasn't ME telling them what to do and reduced some control issues.
- Have your child ask for everything: As kids get older and gain independence it is really easy to let them "take over" certain tasks. What we want is for the child to learn they can trust you to provide everything they need and accept it from you. One way you can encourage this is to require your child to ask you for everything, sure my 5 year old could get his own snack or pour his own water, he had been caring for himself and his brother long before I came along. However, requiring him to ask me first began to create a need based relationship and allow him to accept me to be the provider. If he did something without asking, I would simply respond, "Oh it looks like you were hungry, you got the yogurt all by yourself. Next time, you need to ask me for a snack first and then we can get it together. You might even be able to get a cookie for a snack if you ask. Would you like that?" There is no punishment, just reinforcing that Mommy is the one who provides, which leads me to my next point!
- Say yes whenever possible: You want to be associated with good things, find ways to say yes to things instead of no. There is a great article talking about this over at BeTA (Beyond Trauma and Attachment) http://www.momsfindhealing.com/index.php/blog/yes/
It can be really difficult to feel like the rest of the world is getting to interact with your sweet loving child and you are getting the cold shoulder. You just have to realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint, slow and steady my friends! Its been four years with my boys and I can honestly say each year has gotten better and better. Sure we have our ups and downs and regressions and progress, but I'm pretty confident at this point my son prefers me, he may not be fully "attached" in all senses of the word, but if given the choice he would pick me. Four years ago, that wouldn't have been the case, he would have happily climbed in any persons car and driven off into the sunset asking "Can I call you Mommy?".
Thanks to The Last Mom for having me over today and you all for letting me share a small part of our story! I'd love to have you join me over at my blog www.youngsingleandadopting.blogspot.com or on my facebook page https://www.facebook.com/YoungSingleAndAdopting.