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Keeping Love Alive

lovealive

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

How we love family members during the emotional distances and dark shadows of our relationships determine the long-term quality of those relationships. All relationships have ups and downs and our ability to ride out the extremes is challenging but a normal process of loving others. At the heart of the dark moments, we want to abandon the roller coaster ride for the firm safety of the ground. Our inner brains want us to fight or flee or if both of these options fail us, to freeze internal emotional reality. How do we overcome the turbulence and deep disconnect for the long haul?

One truth is to develop our identity and remind ourselves that relationship is not contained in the ups and downs but over the entire course of life. Look for the long tail of relationships and how to keep a spark alive even if it just nurture by you and not the other. The fight or flight mechanism of the brain wants us to rush our actions or reactions when we really need to do in these crucibles is slow down and evaluate our choices. My best advice to families in the middle of chaos is to slow down but that is one of the hardest things to do. Many fail in the attempt.

A lot of my therapeutic work is with adoptive families. Many times the early life trauma results in an out-of-control teenager that ultimately forces the parent to consider residential care. They believe they have failed as parents and the relationship feels like it has ended. The truth is that relationship trumps residence. Your connection is stretchier than you thought. You may have to make a decision to create distance to ensure safety but you are not letting go of the relationship. You are protecting it and that is very different.

Because we like “up” moments filled with laughter and hugs and emotional closeness and hate the “down” moments with its harsh words, self-pity, victimization, and loneliness, we can start a rocking motion that swings faster and faster between the ups and downs. Pushing on one side and then the other increases chaos that throws everyone off the see-saw entirely.

When I work with bitter couples, hurt by infidelity and emotional rejection, I ask them to step off the see-saw, remember what attracted them to each other, the values they used to believe and to forgive one another. Too many nurture the wound and do not receive the healing. It is difficult to forgive but unforgiveness is like a poison that kills the heart of the relationship. It doesn’t say what was done was acceptable or that I will “forget and forgive”. You do not forget but you must forgive to allow life to start up again. From here we rebuild new creations that last.

Give up the illusion of control. You cannot control anyone else. You only have 100%, guaranteed results with yourself. You must manage you. Controlling your reactions is what allow the extreme ups and downs to settle and become smooth again. Take 5 to keep your relationship alive and pause to consider your best long-term actions. Take 10 and then reconsider again. If you need to make a hard, drastic decision, it is better to take the time to think it through completely vs. carrying a weight of regret.

Identity is the most important ingredient in loving through the distance.  Victim-minded people seek their identity through others instead of operation from a place of a sense of self. If I need you in order to be me and you are the source of my hurt and pain, then I cannot manage me that doesn’t exist. I cannot sustain a relationship that is one-sided. Start a journey of knowing yourself and your needs and your drives and your desires to deal with others in the distant relationships. Operating FROM a place of identity allows you to remain you even if others reject you. A simple starting place is journaling or talking to a therapist.

A final truth is that love is unconditional. It doesn’t have to agree with the other person’s actions or allow it to continue damaging the family but it doesn’t have to turn off. It can continue from a safer distant to provide an opportunity to bring it into closer intimacy. We don’t turn off love when others don’t do what we want. That is false power. Real power says I can set a boundary and I can exist without you but I choose to continue to love you. If you do not choose the same than I will remain me and love myself and others too.

Faith-In-Motion Training Series: “Healing The Hurt Child” May 20, 2017

Adoptive and foster care children that have suffered trauma have lost their “first love”. This loss creates pain in their hearts that make it difficult to love new people, in particular new mom’s and dad’s. Every time they open up to love or be loved the pain comes up as well. This can create some very interesting reactions in the child, often seen in reactive attachment disordered children (RAD) like lying, stealing, hoarding, urinating in their rooms, hurting self and others, destroying property and a host of other emotional and social dysfunctions. The answer to this problem is to remove the pain…

Come to the free training series “Healing The Hurt Child” sponsored by San Luis Obispo Department of Social Services’ Faith-In-Motion Program, Cuesta College and Grace Slo Church. This is a full day training from 9 am to 4 pm on May 20th. Lunch is on your own but child care is provided and the training is free. Parents and professionals who work with traumatized children are welcome to attend. See the training flyer below for registration details:

FaithInMotion_TrainingDay2

Great Behavior Breakdown

Why does your child lie, steal, defy, incessantly chatter, cling, or whine?
The answer is simpler than you may think: Children misbehave because they are stressed. When something is alarming, their brain is stuck reacting to fear rather than responding normally. It feels like life-or-death for the child, resulting in dysregulated behaviors. 

Parents often wonder, “What was he thinking? He knows better. He must be doing this on purpose.” The truth is, the child is not thinking at all, but merely reacting unconsciously. The solution is not doling out consequences, but rather helping your child return to regulation. Bryan Post in his book The Great Behavior Breakdown, explains how to respond to misbehaving children in a way that helps them feel safe, thus eliminating negative behaviors.

What can trigger a fear response in your child? For some children, especially those who have experienced trauma, almost anything can trigger fear. A small change in routine, such as going out to eat at a restaurant or skipping reading before bed, can illicit fear. In normal development, a brain automatically alerts to any change in environment, quickly assesses it to see if it is an emergency, and then returns to normal functioning. When a child’s development has been troubled, her brains often get stuck in alert mode. A brain that is stuck in alert is panicked, illogical, and desperate. There is only one thing that can bring the brain back to normal functioning: containment and positive feedback loops.  
Containment means eliminating extra sensory input. Often this looks like turning down the music, walking out of a store, sitting on a parent’s lap, or closing eyes. Positive feedback loop is a fancy way of saying, make it feel safe and enjoyable. When the child is full of negativity, hold on to a calm, regulated, demeanor. Be positive, low key, and non-threatening. Eventually the child will give in to your invitation to stay near until he or she feels safe enough to go back and play. 

I have used Bryan Post’s approach for years while working with adoptive and foster children. For kids with trauma, his techniques work when nothing else does. Next time your child is misbehaving, see the reaction as fear rather than anger. It will change the way you respond, change your child’s behaviors, and transform your relationship.

Guest Blogger:
Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT

It’s not too late to sign up for the “Healing the Hurt
Child” seminar this coming Monday, October 31 at GraceSLO Church in San Luis Obispo. Perfect for any foster and adoptive parents or professionals working with traumatized children.

Children who no longer live with their birth parents must go through their own version of grief…

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

In 2014, Child Welfare Services checked up on 3.2 million children reported as abused or neglected, in the United States of America*. Many of these children are removed from their birth parents and enter foster care. Some return to their parents while others are adopted by loving families. The goal is always permanency for children but the issues of grief must be addressed regardless of the child’s placement.

What is Grief?

Grief is the state that individuals experience when a significant loss occurs in their life. The loss might occur as a result of death, divorce, and/or abandonment by a family member. It might be said that nontraditional families, like foster and adoptive families, are born out of grief as they are formed as a result of a loss. This is confusing due to this is a time for both celebration and sadness.

Grief is a profound loss for children that is not always recognized by parents and professionals. One reason is that children do not grief in the same way that adults do. Young children often act like nothing happened at all and adults wrongly assume they are not grieving. Later, when they erupt in anger and aggression towards others, adults are surprised by their behavior. Misunderstanding the behavior will lead to incorrectly managing it and parents miss an opportunity to address the loss and create a healing bond.

Stages of Grief

Despite the confusion, grief has predictable stages of development. This is beneficial to the nontraditional parent as they attempt to make sense of their child’s grief experiences. Most importantly they know that the most negative feelings of grief and loss will not last forever, at least not in the same intensity as when it first started.

Perhaps the best known framework for grief and loss are the stages listed in the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote the book On Death and Dying (1969). Her stages of grief include:

Denial
Anger
Bargaining
Depression
Acceptance

These stages can manifest differently depending on the child’s developmental stage. As a child matures, their ability to understand themselves and their world changes, allowing for deeper levels of grieving. This is why young children can act like they don’t grief or care about their past. They may not want to talk about their past or have any questions for adults. When they are older, however, they may “suddenly” have questions and this can be perplexing to adults.

Another way grief can affect children is creating a division between “age and stage.” A child may be 16 years of age chronologically but act emotionally and socially like a 6 year old. Would a parent allow a 6 year old to take care of his or her younger siblings? Of course not! A 16 should be responsible to watch their younger siblings for a short time. A 6 year old would not have the cognitive ability. A 10 year discrepancy between age and stage can cause grieving children to look like they are on an emotional roller coaster ride. One minute they are responsible and calm. Then next they are reactive and impulsive. Parents can easily make the mistake of dealing with the child’s age and not their stage.

Close the gap between the child’s emotional and chronological stage by creating a space for them to grief past losses.

Waves of the Ocean

A useful metaphor for understanding grief are the waves of an ocean. When you are way out in the ocean, the waves are large and frightening. They pull you under and twist you about, creating a sense of hopelessness or fear of your future. This is similar to the stage of Denial or shock at the reality of the loss. When the waves pass and the ocean feels momentarily calm, this is called the stage of anger or bargaining. The shore represents the stage of acceptance. As nontraditional parents and children swim for the stage of acceptance, waves continue to crash over them, sometimes threatening to pull them under in denial and shock and at other times settling down and letting anger and bargaining propel them forward to the shore. The closer you come to the shore the less intense the waves. But even small waves, when standing on the edge of the ocean can unsettle and cause you to lose your balance.

Parents can use this metaphor to help themselves and their children find emotional balance. Because they are in the ocean and not on the shore they cannot compare their children’s action to others. In addition, rather than live up to society’s expectation of what an ideal family should look like, parents need to concentrate their energy on helping their child swim for the shore, in their own timeframe, even if it must be developmental stages.

Art and the Heart

Expressive arts can open the heart of the child who is grieving by allowing them to freely process thoughts and feelings that have been trapped in her heart and possibly . Parents have to set an atmosphere of acceptance to help the child “swim to shore”. Parents who avoid talking about sad or angry feelings communicate that it is unsafe or unwise to share. You don’t have to be an art therapist. Just get out the crayons and paper. Pull out paints and use your fingers. Play with legos and dolls. Make believe and role play. As adults we can interject healing ideas and allow grief and loss to work naturally. 

Talking about Birth Parents

It can feel rejecting for foster or adoptive parents to talk to their children about birth parents. Ironically, opening up conversation and allowing children to grieve will create a closer, more intimate attachment. Not talking about them will reinforce shame in the child and idealizing birth parents creating a vicious cycle or hurt between parent and child. The loss has already occurred. Avoid it doesn’t make it go away. It stays buried until it comes out in more painful ways. 

If parents need help in this area, consult with a child therapy and spend some time working through the age and stage of grief. 

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Sources: 

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/07/in-a-year-child-protective-services-conducted-32-million-investigations/374809/

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying (1969).

Ron Huxley, Love and Limits: Achieving a Balance in Parenting (1998).

There are no unwanted children, just unfound families.

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(via adoptionbuzz)

What Is The Goal of Therapy for Abused, Adopted Children?

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

One of the first goals of therapy when working with abused, adopted children is to establish a sense of safety and security. Maltreated children learned that they parent / caregivers are to be feared. Ironically, they appear to fear very little else. Certainly, their impulsive actions place them into some scary situations for adoptive parents and they don’t respond to normal discipline. This may be due to the fact that after a child lives in terror in their own home, what else could anyone do that would be as terrible or fearful?

 In therapy, we want to help children re-learn that their caregiver is safe and to learn appropriate dangers of strangers. This is quite a reversal from the parent is dangerous and the world is not to the parent is safe and the world might be… 

If you are looking for a family therapist to help you and your adopted child, contact Ron Huxley today at http://parentingtoolbox.tumblr.com/familytherapy

Clinical competencies for the effective treatment of foster children

Source: http://ccp.sagepub.com/content/21/1/32?etoc

Abstract

Despite a high level of documented mental health needs among children who have experienced foster care, research indicates that treatment outcomes are often disappointing. In order to improve outcomes, evidence-based treatments for attachment, trauma and behavioral difficulties are often promoted for this population. However, little research exists on whether or not those interventions effectively address the unique and complex mental health needs of many foster children. While a rather robust literature exists on foster children’s multifaceted difficulties, most treatments do not fully represent that range and complexity in their interventions. This article attempts to begin to fill that gap by outlining the knowledge and skills clinicians must acquire if they are to effectively treat foster children. Treatment of foster children should be seen as a subspecialty within the field of child mental health, and trainings that help clinicians gain more knowledge of foster children’s unique needs should be more available.