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NeuroResilient Play Therapy ©: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Healing

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The goal of therapy with traumatized children is to help them learn to regulate and develop the executive functioning skills of the prefrontal center of the brain. I call this the state of being NeuroResilient.

All children are born emotionally impulsive and need to learn how to manage their moods, initiate and stick with tasks, plan and organize, and learn from past mistakes. This is nothing new and neurological studies of the brain suggest that the prefrontal areas of the brain do not completely develop until people are in their mid-twenties.

The challenge with trauma is that it can set a person back socially and emotionally so that while they are 15 years old chronologically, they react to the world as if their were 5 years of age. We call this, in the field of trauma-informed care and attachment-focused research, “age vs stage”. The individual’s chronological age doesn’t line up with their stage of development causing problems in relationships and daily functioning.

Many parents and professionals believe that an emotionally regulated child is a calm child which would be nice, even understandable, but not realistic for a child who has been traumatized. Consequently the goal of therapy is to build resilience, not calmness.

Resilience refers to ability to “spring back, recoil back into shape” or “recover quickly from a difficult situation”. It literally means to “leap back” to a place of safety and security. Who wouldn’t want to have more of that in their lives or the lives of their children?

Children have to build resiliency in their neurology so that behavioral strategies will stick. Parents and teachers get frustrated when their behavior charts and modification tools don’t have any effect on their hurt children.

NeuroResilient Play Therapy © models, to parents, how to integrate the various physiological and mindful parts of the child so that they can function optimally. It is based on identity focusing on the strengths of who the child was created to be instead of forcing the child to fit into a mold made by adults who believe the child has no motivation or seeks only to manipulate.

For more information on how to be NeuroResilient for children and adults, contact Ron today about speaking opportunities or schedule a session in his Avila Beach, Ca office (skype services are available).

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).

inner-healing:

How To Stop Emotional Eating Habits

Alternatives to emotional eating

  • If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
  • If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
  • If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).

Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about. You feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now! Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.

Take 5 before you give in to a craving

Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.

Can you put off eating for five minutes, or just start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait. While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.

Learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones

While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.

Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention. To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating.

8 steps to mindful eating

This ancient practice can transform the way you think about food and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Like most of us, you’ve probably eaten something in the past few hours. And, like many of us, you may not be able to recall everything you ate, let alone the sensation of eating it. Because we’re working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we’re not fully aware of what we’re eating.

By truly paying attention to the food you eat, you may indulge in foods like a cheeseburger and fries less often. In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. In the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, Dr. Lillian Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest several practices that can help you get there, including those listed below.

1. Begin with your shopping list. Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you’re shopping. Fill most of your cart in the produce section and avoid the center aisles—which are heavy with processed foods—and the chips and candy at the check-out counter.

2. Come to the table with an appetite—but not when ravenously hungry. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.

3. Start with a small portion. It may be helpful to limit the size of your plate to nine inches or less.

4. Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you’re enjoying it with.

5. Bring all your senses to the meal. When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to color, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.

6. Take small bites. It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.

7. Chew thoroughly. Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.

8. Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won’t bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with your tablemates.

Source: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/diet-weight-loss/emotional-eating.htm

How to Parent When YOU Are in Pain?

Parenting & Pain
By Ron Huxley, LMFT

It is hard to be on top of our parenting game when you are in a lot of emotional pain. This is especially challenging if the origin of this pain comes from the children that we are trying to parent. It might be simplistic to say but pain is “painful.” It hurts! It shuts us down and drives a wall between us and others so we can’t be hurt anymore. We want to retreat to nurse our wounds before risking more in relationships. Unfortunately, the everyday tasks of life have to be completed and our children continue to need us. As a compromise to this situation we become robotic in our actions. We are hyper-functional but we are hypo-relational. We get stuff done but we are just going through the motions and have no e-motions to share. We are too raw!

If you are in this place, make a resolution to find some help through good friends, therapists, doctors, etc. There are lot of support groups and parenting educations classes in your community. Be determined not to repeat past problems. Find new ideas and new support to achieve new, less painful interactions with your family. Second, be OK with being in a place of pain but don’t let it define you. You feel bad but YOU are not bad. Hurtful feelings are normal responses to hurtful actions they are not meant to be permanent. You will have better days again but don’t allow shame to pull you deeper into that dark place of despair. Set some boundaries, find some help and get mad a shame. It is not your friend!

Take back control of your home: 101 Parenting Tools: Building the Family of Your Dreams

Parenting and Pain

Parenting & Pain

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

It is hard to be on top of our parenting game when you are in a lot of emotional pain. This is especially challenging if the origin of this pain comes from the children that we are trying to parent. It might be simplistic to say but the pain is “painful.” It hurts! It shuts us down and drives a wall between us and others so we can’t be hurt anymore. We want to retreat to nurse our wounds before risking more in relationships. Unfortunately, the everyday tasks of life have to be completed and our children continue to need us. As a compromise to this situation, we become robotic in our actions. We are hyper-functional but we are hypo-relational. We get stuff done but we are just going through the motions and have no emotions to share. We are too raw!

If you are in this place, make a resolution to find some help through good friends, therapists, doctors, etc. There are a lot of support groups and parenting educations classes in your community. Be determined not to repeat past problems. Find new ideas and new support to achieve new, less painful interactions with your family. Second, be OK with being in a place of pain but don’t let it define you. You feel bad but YOU are not bad. Hurtful feelings are normal responses to hurtful actions they are not meant to be permanent. You will have better days again but don’t allow shame to pull you deeper into that dark place of despair. Set some boundaries, find some help and get mad a shame. It is not your friend!

Dear ANGER Diary

by Ron Huxley, LMFT

Have you ever kept a diary? Maybe as a child you did. I still do although I am not as diligent with it as I used to be. Using a diary is a simple way to manage your anger. Anger triggers and solutions are very predictable. Unfortunately, we miss the clues to both of these anger management tips and continue to repeat the negative process of outburst and tantrums.

Every day for two weeks, write in a diary using this four step anger management process:

1. List what made you angry.
2. List how angry it made you feel on a scale from 1 to 10, one being cool and calm and 10 being a major rage.
3. Put a plus sign (+) down if you handled it well and a minus sign (-) if you didn’t.
4. Write what you will try next time this situation presents itself.

After two weeks are over go back and see what you have learned. You will be surprised by how much info you gathered in a short time and how much insight and change you have accomplished.

Get more help on anger management by Ron at http://inner-healing.tumblr.com/anger