Friday, March 19, 2010

Hyper Vigilance and The Adopted Child Part 2

I know a lot of us struggle with our parenting choices whether we have biological or adopted children. For adoptive parents, however, there is the added emotion of "am I doing it correctly?" How is my parenting going to effect the outcome of this child's life? Will my impatience today be reflected in the face of my child ten years from now? Could I be doing more to foster a closer bond?

First, let us take a deep breath and recognize that we are not perfect. Not even close. For just one minute, close your eyes and reflect on the fact that God's perfect hand is over your child. He will be the Bridge for the gap that is our imperfection and weakness. Lean on Him in the moments when you are unsure or unable and then give yourself the grace to realize that every single moment is new. How you responded a minute ago does not have to be how you respond now! It is like living 24 hours of second chances. Use them and build on them to strengthen your skill set and resolve.

The next time your hyper vigilant, hyper aware little one tantrums, disobeys and all-out tests every shred of patience you have, take a quick minute to assess and then plan. Make each moment purposeful and non reactive on your part. Remember, match intensity but not emotion.

This is what I have learned to say to myself before going forward:

1. Prim's did not wake up this morning with the intention of getting under my skin.

2. She wants my approval so her reaction right now is obviously not desirable for her either.

3. My goal is to get her regulated, not to make her obey.

4. I can not have a teachable moment until she is calm and focused and that may take time.

5. I am not 'giving in', just GIVING. (repeat this over and over again!)

Our little ones (and big ones!) have a deep desire for peace. The conflict of emotions that they feel on a daily basis to stimuli and stress is confusing, stressful and frightening. Our job is to give them a safe place to fall and acceptance during these moments of dyregulation. We don't have to like the behavior, but we can love the child for who she is. Even if this is the fifth or twenty fifth temper tantrum, approach each without the emotion carried over from the first. It is exhausting but you will see results!

Here are some tips for effectively modeling regulation:

1. Learn to breath! If your child is too young or unwilling to take deep, cleansing breaths when they become dysregulated show them that mommy and daddy can do it as well. Even in the face of screaming and crying, let them see you taking deep breaths before responding to them.

2. Bubbles!! This is a great way to practice breathing and a wonderful opportunity for distraction. Have them on both floors of the house so they can be reached easily. I will never forget the day I asked Prim in the middle of a temper tantrum "where are you bubbles??". I was that desperate!

3. Bubbles are not just for the kids! They are for you too! Sometimes it is enough to sit close by, open the bubbles and slowing start blowing. It is amazing how 1) calming this is for YOU and 2) how distracting it can be to our little one.

4. Words of affirmation. Again, we don't have to approve of the behavior but we can certainly validate the feels and give them a name. "Yes, I understand that you are angry. I can see that you are frustrated. That seems to make you sad". Giving words to feelings will eventually help them to connect their emotions in a healthy way.

5. Holding. What our children often desire in the midst of their emotional chaos is safety and acceptance in the form of a hug or rocking. For me this was hard as I felt I was 'giving in to bad behavior'. When I started holding instead of separating myself, however, the melt downs have become much, much shorter in duration and intensity.

6. Distraction. Prim's whining has gotten better. What I realized is that I was becoming a part of the problem instead of the solution. Instead of telling her to stop whining (which only escalated her response) I try and switch gears verbally to stop her brain from taking that next step in her emotional response.
For example: Prim starts whining that she really, really, REALLY wanted that snack before dinner. Me: I understand you are hungry and dinner will be ready in five minutes. Since you do such a great job, can you give the dogs a treat for me? I really need a helper right now so I can get dinner ready for you because I know you're hungry." So in just a few sentences I have validated her feelings and tried to redirect her while letting her know that I am doing my best to meet her need. For Prim this big of a phrase is usually ok. Sometimes she can only handle once sentence at a time so I slow it down. I understand you are hungry. Dinner will be in five minutes. Can I hold you?

Don't ever, not ever never ever, forget that God knew that YOU are the perfect mother for this child!! You are what they need! Remember: assess, plan, breathe and when all else fails-love. God does not love us because we are lovable. He loves us because He is love and we are created to be in relationship with Him.


excitedtobeafamily said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing! My biological son struggles with some regulation issues. It is hard because my first never did so I have learned a lot. Hopefully it will help me with my next child to come.

Jay and Chandra and Penny Regan said...

A friend of mine recently said that her mantra is "connection before correction".

Maci Miller said...

Hi, April. This is a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing with everyone. I'm glad to have found your blog again. My blog is private for now, but if you'd like an invite, feel free to email me at We have a little girl from Thailand, too.
All the best,

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