The first breakout session I attended was “Correcting While Connecting,” by Amy Monroe, a founder of the adoption and foster care ministry, Tapestry. Her presentation was based on The Connected Child, co-authored by Dr. Karyn Purvis.
Dr. Purvis is apparently a rock-star in the adoption world. I’m embarrassed to say this weekend was my first encounter with her, but after hearing her methods explained and watching video clips, I’m on my way to being a fan. Check out the Empowered to Connect site for a wealth of blog entries, videos, discussion guides, and other resources on parenting.
Amy started the session by reminding us that adopted kids often come from hard places, and while there are hundreds of parenting books out there, as adoptive moms, we must consider our child’s unique background.
Since we brought Ellie home at two-days old, it’s easy for me to forget sometimes that she had nine months of history before me. Even for children adopted as infants, there are things out of our control. Amy reminded us of risk factors including:
– Pre-natal stress/toxins
– Difficult labor/ delivery
– Early medical trauma
Of course, many of these factors are out of the control of all mothers….not just women making adoption plans. But even if pregnancy and delivery go smoothly, all adopted children will experience some level of relational trauma. All adoption is born of loss, and it’s our job as adoptive parents to acknowledge that loss.
The older a child, the more likely that he or she has experienced multiple losses or suffered abuse and/or neglect. The goal of connected parenting is to provide healing through establishing relationships.
Amy said that attachment is formed between a parent and child as needs are expressed and then met. Apparently, the average infant expresses 100,000 needs in the first year alone, and the most attentive parent will only meet about half of those needs. (I’m pretty sure Ellie asks for waaaader, paceeee, and cheeeese about 100,000 times a day now, so the numbers may be a bit skewed.)
So what happens to the institutionalized babies left lying untouched in cribs, their cries ignored until they stop crying altogether? An extensive study by Harvard researchers suggests horrific consequences.
I fully believe that children belong in families, but adoptive families must realize that adopted children (especially those from hard places) may not respond to traditional parenting techniques. While some of Purvis’s methods seem counterintuitive, they are uniquely suited for traumatized kids. She views discipline not as punishment but as training with compassion as an guiding principle.
Some ideas for building connection included:
– Giving the child a voice
Many kids act out because they don’t have the words to express their feelings. As parents, we have to help them peel back the layers of emotion to discover why they’re really upset.
– Embrace the privilege of saying “yes”
Amy shared that saying “yes” builds trust and makes our “no” more powerful. She suggested using a “no” sandwich. In other words, if we have to deny something, cushion it with a “yes” answer to other requests.
– Practice making mistakes and repairing them
In other words, don’t be afraid to apologize to your kids and make repairs.
I definitely have problems with this one. When Ian and Herdest came to live with us, I had absolutely no idea what to do about a lot of stuff. They’re great guys, but we did struggle with communication and expectations at the beginning. And of course, Ellie is two, and her favorite hobbies include unwinding 30 ft. of dental floss, “swimming” in the dog’s water bowl, and redecorating my house with Sharpie markers. I’ve lost my temper with all of them them on occasion. I’ve used harsh tones and biting words. And since I’m
extremely mildly stubborn, apologizing is hard for me. So, Ian, Herdest, and Ellie, please know that I’m sorry for the times I’ve overreacted. I’m sorry for the times I showed anger instead of a listening and compassionate ear. I love you, and I’ll never stop trying to be better.
Amy then introduced some strategies to foster connection while correcting behavior, and while they’re geared toward kids with attachment and behavior problems, the methods seem like a good idea for all parents. I found that many of the strategies mirror methods mentioned in our PATH classes through Youth Villages, and I’ve personally used similar techniques in the classroom to calm volatile teenagers.
Some Strategies to Help Connect While Correcting
– Playful Engagement
I was happy to see this one on the PowerPoint slide. If there’s one thing we’ve mastered, it’s playing. I’m that silly, ridiculous mom who makes up songs about dirty diapers and boogers. He’s the dad who comes home and spends 20 minutes galloping her around the house. Charlie and I have calmed a lot of potential meltdowns by starting a game or teasing her into play. The strategy works well with older kids too. Often, keeping a lighthearted tone and finding the humor in a situation allows honest conversation without so much stress.
Charlie inside the play-place.
As in, “Sweet girl, you can put your clothes on by yourself, or Mommy can help you, but we will be wearing clothes today.” Or “It is time for a nap. Would you like this baby or that one to sleep with you?”
I have to admit, the idea of compromising with my child at first seems like a parenting failure. I grew up when “because I said so” and “I’m counting to three” pretty much guaranteed obedience. We’re the parents, and what we say, goes. Right? Amy reminded us that many adoptive kids survived by having control; many had to grow up and assume adult responsibilities much too early. Therefore, a sharing of power can build trust in a relationship. This doesn’t mean the kiddos get free reign, but that small compromises to reach the same end goal can be productive. For instance, if a child refuses to leave the television to come eat dinner, an acceptable compromise might be, “You have to come eat dinner with the family, but then you can have dessert in front of the TV.”
I used this a lot in the classroom even thought I didn’t have a technical name for it. When a student responded with sarcasm, inappropriate language, or disrespect, I’d often say something along the lines of, “Hey dude. That wasn’t a great way to respond. Take a few minutes to think, and then we’re going to try that again.” So, the kid who responded to a request with rolled eyes and a “whatever” got another chance. Sometimes, I’d model an elaborate and overkill response using a funny accent or voice. For instance, in my best Southern drawl: “Yes, Mrs. Lebel, it is my pleasure to turn to page 132 and do exercise two. Literature is ever so much more entertaining than text messages from my gentleman friend.” Amy quoted research supporting the idea that if we continually teach children appropriate responses and practice with them, their motor memory will remember doing things the correct way.
Because time-outs are so last year. These behavior breaks should be used as a way for the child (and Mama) to calm down, but not viewed as punishment. For kids who may have separation anxiety or attachment disorders, time-ins allow a break while maintaining connection. Amy suggested walking time-ins in which everyone hits the road for a bit or a “time-in tent” in a child’s room where they can sit while mom waits outside but in the room. She also suggested having the child’s comfort items (blanket, doll, water, etc.) in a “time-out basket” to reinforce calming over punishment.
– IDEAL Response
The Empowered to Connect method suggests that responses are most effective when they are
Immediate (Within three seconds….or thereabouts.)
Direct (Go TO the child and get on his or her level.)
Efficient (12 words or less. I stink at this one; I’m a sermon-preacher.)
Leveled at the Behavior (Avoid shaming the child.)
These little points are only a fraction of what Amy introduced, and I can’t wait to dive into the book and other resources. While I don’t believe there’s a comprehensive “right” way to parent all children, I like the idea of a system based on compassion and fostering connection. For additional resources, check HERE.
Are you familiar with Dr. Purvis and Empowered to Connect? What parenting strategies or philosophies do you find most effective?