Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hyper Vigilance and The Adopted Child

Hyper vigilant is defined as: an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats.

Aha! moments are becoming a more frequent occurrence in our house. Our latest session with Sarah began with a progress report of the past two weeks. Did we use bubbles to practice breathing when Prim became dysregulated?
Yes! Bubbles are a fun way to distract Prim and allow her brain to shift gears so that she can begin to self regulate.

What methods worked best to comfort, soothe and promote regulation? There is no doubt that holding/snuggling works for Prim. If she can be held almost immediately after the start of a tantrum and then redirected by asking a question or making an observation about our surroundings, she is more likely to become calm more quickly.

One prominent character trait that we have established as a major contributor to Prim's behavior is her hyper awareness. She is intelligent, clever, bright and notices even the most minute change in personal appearance, facial expression or intonation. Because of this hyper awareness she becomes what Sarah referred to as hyper vigilant.

Prim needs to know where each member of the family is at all times. Every morning she makes sure that Daddy is, in fact, at work. Yes, G is going to school and we will pick him up at 3:30. Can she play in the bathroom while I take my shower? Will Daddy stay with her when I go out? She often wakes up in the middle of the night and comes into our room for a drink of water or a hug. H and I joke that she is doing her nightly head count but we see truth in the humor and understand that it is her way of staying connected. Her many questions need to be answered directly and honestly in order to ease any lingering fear or doubt and may have to be reiterated multiple times throughout the day. This was especially true when H was deployed last year.

Prim's world still needs to have boundaries that she can anticipate. Her hyper vigilance-as a result of broken attachments-can cause intense reactions in moments when she is apprehensive or fearful. She is more sensitive to change in bedtime routines or overnight trips and her vigilance requires us to be that much calmer, that much more in control of our reactions during these times.

The common denominator in graduating from intense, emotional reactions to rational cause and effect processing is our own reactions and intensity as parents. If we match our child's emotional response (those we perceive to be negative) than we have missed an opportunity to share what regulated looks like.

Sarah didn't just give those bubbles to Prim. She gave them to both of us because my emotional regulation is just as important as hers. In order to be the teacher, I must be able to be taught as I continue to seek out ways to best serve my daughter.


Robin said...

Whew! Thanks so much April. I needed to read that one this week. Modeling a calm response is my own current challenge. And bubbles are an excellent idea. I ask for slow breathing, but once T is worked up, it's too late.

OneThankfulMom said...

April, fantastic post. Hypervigilance is something we know well in our family. At nearly three years home, Dimples is making progress!

I'm pulling for you at Grown in My Heart!


Wendy said...


Are there any mommy and me or child yoga classes in your area? I do yoga and recently signed Lily up for child classes. She goes once a week right now, but we will be starting mommy and me classes in the summer. Lily loves doing her poses, but she also has learned some great centering breathing techniques.

April said...

Lisa-Thank you!

This is my challenge as well and one we share with many, many moms!
If T is already worked up to the point where deep breathing for him is out of the question, then YOU start blowing bubbles. Sit in close proximity to him. You don't have to make eye contact or entice him in any way. Just sit down and start slowing blowing bubbles. It will relax you (most important) and possibly redirect him. If he does not become interested and calm you have still modeled your ability to calm down.
If he shows an interest and wants to blow bubbles and is calm, show him how to do it slowly, which will mimic deep breathing. Once he is past his dysregulated state and back to a regulated state, then you can teach him or direct him as you like!
This is working very well for Grace so I hope it is helpful!

April said...

That sounds like fun!! I will look into-thanks for the tip!

a Tonggu Momma said...

Excellent post... I wish I had seen this weeks ago for my Sunday Linkage.

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