Adoptive & Foster Parenting Blog: Videos and Tips

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1/12/17 “Be Careful, But Not Too Careful!”

This week we will discuss a particularly relevant (in today’s world) type of fear that affects young children, older children and teens: Life’s Dangers.

Fear of life’s dangers is literally fear of life’s possible dangers. For example, a young child who hears her parent mowing the lawn might suddenly cry out “what is that noise, is everything o.k.?” You would reassure your child that the noise is simply the sound that the lawnmower makes, perhaps bringing her to the window so she can see it in action! Additionally, you might take her outside and let her see the lawn mower, and listen to it as you rev it up.

However, there are things to fear in this world so it’s important to be able to instill safe practices with children without overwhelming them with fear. One way we do that is by recognizing, and dealing with our own fear. How can we expect to reassure children if we are overwhelmed by our own fears?

Here are 3 key ways to help with this process–for people of all ages!

  1. Recognize your gut feelings; including danger signals, and safety signals. And take note of the fact that there is a difference between what feels good, and what feel right! This has special meaning in the case of sexual abuse. It sometimes feels good to be touched in certain ways, but it might not feel “right.”
  2. Risking on Purpose; find things to do that are scary, fun, and safe. For example-telling ghost stories under a tent.
  3. There is nothing so bad that it can’t be shared with someone! Teach children that when they feel fear they must discuss it with someone. Teach them that they should keep searching until they find someone they can tell. It helps the fearful child to create a plan for responding to dangers, and how to seek help when they feel fear.

One thing that often perplexes parents of older children, and teens is the desire to watch scary movies, or even horror movies, especially because these movies often give children nightmares. Children want to see these movies because they feel like they will be perceived as grown-ups if they watch them. But these movies are way too violent and they are extremely scary. Older children, and teens want to watch these movie again and again, often in an effort to desensitize themselves. This generally does not work!

If you feel your older child, or teen can handle a movie that has some scary content, watch it at home with your child, rather than at a theater. Pause frequently and offer lots of hugs. Talk about the scary scenes, and lighten the mood with laughter!

We can try to protect our children from overexposure to media violence and real violence, but there is no way we can protect them from everything! Generally speaking, we often assume that when we have done our best to shield our children from the latest violent occurrence, that our child hasn’t picked up on it. This is usually not true. If you are aware of it-usually your children are too. It’s best to discuss it directly with your child. However, don’t create fear when none existed!

It is important to note that children who have anxiety surrounding real life danger, are on high alert all the time. This is called hypervigilance, and it can interfere with every day activities, and sleep. When you encourage them to relax, they get angry! This is because in their logic, to let down their guard is actually dangerous. The solution is to take over guard duty for them! As the parent, you will be on guard so they don’t have to be.

When your child expresses constant concern over real life dangers and needs continuous reassurance, it is extremely helpful to be playful with them. Playfulness conveys the message that “all must be o.k. if mom and dad are having a pillow fight with me.” Try this strategy every day for around 10 minutes!

*It is important to note that when there is news of a world tragedy, or a terrorist attack, all children (of every age, and adults) are unsettled.  When these events occur, the child who naturally worries about life events is especially at risk.  Here are some ways to deal with this.

  1. Listen more than you talk. Find out what your child already knows. Answer their questions, but keep your answers honest and brief.
  2. Focus on reminders of the goodness in some human responses. Direct their attention to the measures we go to in order to rescue people, and to provide aide to the needy.
  3. Help children old enough to show empathy and caring to those affected. They can donate clothing, and toys, or collect money, write letters or attend a prayer service. Empower your child to do something to help!

Lastly, remember to turn the T.V off! The graphic images played over, and over create more anxiety than discussions.




Today we will discuss a type of childhood anxiety that affects young child, older children, and teens: nightmares andmonsters under the bed.”

For older children & teens, dreams may represent anxiety surrounding school, friendships, and bullying. Adoptive and foster children have additional stressors that may pop up in nightmares, such as dreams about biological family, traumatic events or losses.


  • Encourage them to use a private dream journal to be kept beside the bed.
  • Suggest that he/she may draw what happened in the dream and also help them create new endings to bad dreams.
  • Practice relaxation before bed. Parents can search online for “guided relaxation,” or “progressive muscle relaxation” on
  • Set up a soft pallet by your bed so that the child can be close to you after a nightmare.


  • Encourage the child to avoid what is bothering them. Instead, spend 15 minutes earlier in the day talking about the content of the dreams.
  • Minimize their feelings: “It’s silly to be scared of that; we are here.”

No matter what the age, express empathy to your child after a bad dream. For example; “That does seem scary! “I understand why you are afraid of that.” Then, help them understand that it was a dream by explaining the difference between imagination (images), and reality.

When a young child has difficulty articulating her fears, she can become afraid of imaginary monsters. In addition, anxious children tend to have vivid imaginations– which can result in real-life fears.

It is important to keep in mind that to your child, the things they imagine are real. Offer comfort- as you would if the fear was based on reality. When your child is afraid of a monster under the bed, she believes there truly is a monster under the bed. She does not, however, understand the deeper meaning of her dreams.

To combat monsters under the bed you can use: “monster spray” (unscented air freshener) or, you can also try “magic fairy dust” (glitter) to sprinkle away those pesks! But, smile when you use these methods so your child knows this is a game.

Further, some childhood fears have symbolic meanings that, as adults, we have a hard time deciphering. Some children, for example, have anxiety around flushing their bodily waste. They may worry that we are flushing away a part of them!

Fears often appear at night because your child may either be afraid of going to sleep, or afraid of going to bed. These are separate fears, although they sound similar. Fear of going to bed is usually about separation, fear of being left out, or fear of being left alone in the dark. Fear of going to sleep is usually about fear of scary dreams, or upsetting memories and/or emotions.




“Social Anxiety in Older Children and Teens”

Last week we tackled Social Anxiety in younger children. Today we focus on older children and teens.

Let’s recall what Social Anxiety is. Social Anxiety refers to timidity, shyness, extreme introversion, and excessive worry about what other people think. The child with social anxiety suffers tremendously

In older children and teens it is important to help them understand what is happening to them. Teach them that the worries they feel, and the physical sensations they experience have a name…anxiety! Help them by sharing with them that millions of people have anxiety, so they are not alone. This will be a huge relief to them. If they are old enough, you can even help them look up facts about anxiety.

Be aware that teens with separation anxiety will (generally) not cling, cry, or have tantrums. They are more likely to decline invitations, cut school to return home, do not want to plan for college far from home, and may be overly worried that someone close to them will be harmed. There are things you can do to help the older child, and teens with social anxiety. Help your teen to recognize which thoughts are of concern to him. Then help him imagine something different he can focus on—this will interrupt the thought cycle. An example would be;

Teen: “Mom, please don’t go to work today!”

Mom: “Honey, you sound anxious (acknowledge your child’s fear). What is it that you are thinking? Why don’t you want me to go?”

Teen: “I’m scared that something might happen to you!”

Mom: “That is a scary thought, thanks for telling me” (show genuine empathy, and praise your child for sharing his feelings). “I wonder how those anxious thoughts slipped in today.” Use “I wonder” rather than a direct challenge. Another example is; “I wonder what you can do to challenge your anxious thought. I wonder what else could happen when I go to work.” Encourage your child to think of different outcomes.

For more on helping your teen use CBT techniques (cognitive behavioral therapy), visit:

This may take time and practice, but it works!

You can also teach your child to relax. When your child feels safe, sit with him and have him imagine how he feels when you leave the house. While he is experiencing anxiety, help him to relax; turn on soft music, and show him how to breathe in and out. This will help desensitize your child to the anxious thoughts and feelings.

For more on social anxiety, CLICK HERE


10/27/17 “Social Anxiety in Children”

Today we continue talking about childhood social anxiety (next week: “Teens & Social Anxiety”). Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. says that the precise definition of childhood anxiety is elusive. That’s because anxiety can be milder than fear, or extremely severe. Anxiety can be an emotion, a physical state, or troubling thoughts and beliefs.

There are many words we commonly use when talking about anxiety. Stress refers to prolonged anxiety. Worries and obsessions are anxious thought patterns. Nervous habits and compulsions are anxious behaviors. Last week we focused of Attachment Anxiety.

Social Anxiety refers to timidity, shyness, extreme introversion, and excessive worry about what other people think. The child with social anxiety suffers tremendously. Many children with this type of anxiety avoid eye contact, and are embarrassed and withdrawn during social interactions. An extreme form of social anxiety may result in the child not speaking to anyone other than family members.

Children with social anxiety often rehearse upcoming social interactions. Once they imagine the interaction going poorly, they feel certain doom. These children fear being criticized, ignored, excluded, and humiliated. When a child is suffering from social anxiety the child becomes lonely and isolated as they continue to avoid social contact.  Having no opportunity to practice social skills, they struggle to make friends, or join in a group.

So, what can you do to help the child with social anxiety? Show your child genuine empathy. Rather than saying your child is shy, refer to them as “slow to warm up”. Children need to know that you accept them for who they are, and they need a gentle push to engage socially -even though it’s uncomfortable. Avoid minimizing his/her fears.

The socially anxious child takes time to warm up in new situations, and to new people. One great technique to help them is to schedule a warm-up time or “little steps” towards gaining confidence. If you have a social event scheduled, factor in a half hour of lap time, and a half hour of your child making an attempt to join in the fun. Any movement towards participating socially should be seen as a big accomplishment. Provide a safe base for your child to be able to come back to.

A wonderful way to help your child overcome social anxiety is by using puppets. Give the puppet a character- it can be shy or friendly- but the goal is to keep it lighthearted and to make your child laugh. Children learn best when they are having fun. Have your puppets character ask your child questions about how to behave in social settings. An example would be, “Should I look at your eyes, or at the floor when I speak to you?” Your child will say, “Look at my eyes!” Then, you can pretend that it’s a fabulous idea. Pretend that your puppet is slow to warm up, and doesn’t know how to make friends. Your child will teach your character social skills you didn’t think they knew.

If your child fears rejection or humiliation, one effective technique to use is a playful role- reversal game. In this game you act out the voice of the “loser”. You are not teaching your child to be mean in this game. Rather, you are allowing your child to express his fears through fantasy. The goal is for your child to overcome fears eventually through play or playfulness.


10/13/17 “Attachment Anxiety”

As Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D. says, “Anxiety has a mind of its own, logic and reassurance often fail, leaving parents increasingly frustrated about how to help their anxious child.”

Dr. Cohen identifies 9 common types of childhood anxiety:

  1. Attachment Anxiety
  2. Social Anxiety
  3. Monsters Under the Bed
  4. Life’s Dangers
  5. Traumatic Fears
  6. Inflexibility
  7. Excessive Anxiety to Please
  8. Matters of Life or Death
  9. Worry Soup

Each week we will tackle one type of common childhood anxiety in very young children through teens. Let’s start with Attachment Anxiety.

Attachment Anxiety is the feeling of fear that a child experiences when they do not feel safe and secure. This type of anxiety is more common in children who were neglected or abused early in life.  It can also occur in children who have suffered a great loss. However, it can happen to any child.

So, how do parents help children get past attachment anxiety, and move towards an internalized (in the child’s mind) sense of security? For young children the answer surprisingly, can be found in games! Playing Peekaboo with babies is a great way to reinforce “I’m leaving, now I’m back”. You are letting the baby miss you, and find you again.

Toddlers sometimes have difficulty saying goodbye at nursery school, or daycare. A fun game to play is “Let’s push mommy out the door”. The child is allowed to lightly bump mommy/daddy, nudging them until they are out the door!

Older children can learn secure attachments by playing hide-and-seek. The child loses someone, and they find each other again (or the child is “lost” and then found again).

Teens can have attachment anxiety too! Try making sure they know when transitions are going to happen ahead of time. Keeping a large calendar on the wall with dates/times you will be away is a good way to normalize your travel. Talk to your teen about travel dates ahead of time so they can prepare. Leave notes for your child to find in surprising places, so your teen knows that even while you are away, you are thinking of them.

Sometimes the anxiety is so severe that it turns into Attachment Panic. This is intense separation anxiety that is characterized by agitation, confusion, and frantic searching for comfort. Being near your child is not enough. In this case, you must give your child comfort, and keep comforting your child until they are calm.

Anxious Dependence is when your child can’t seem to cope without you. Even as your child’s peers are becoming more independent, your child acts helpless, or younger than their years. This type of anxiety worsens when parents rescue too much. These children need comfort but not to be rescued. Balance every little step towards independence with extra cuddle time to fill their need for security.



We’ve been a little out of touch this last month after our office moved to Germantown (approximately 5 minutes down the road), but we are back! I hope and pray that this school year is starting off well for everyone. See below on a great article from Dr. Henry Cloud regarding self-esteem. I heartily agree that some self-esteem philosophies that teach people of all ages to repeat to themselves, “I am great; I am smart; I am ______.” This creates a roller coaster of a ride when he/she doesn’t perform well. What happens to the self esteem then? Enjoy!

Self Esteem Isn’t the Most Important Thing

8/17/17 “Preparing for the New School Year”

Preparing Kids for the New School Year

* Adoptive Teen group is searching for an additional female to join three other young ladies. Please contact me if your teen is interested at


8/7/17 “Don’t Embarrass Me”

            Empowered to Connect brings us another great article about parents’ embarrassment and shame regarding their child’s behavior.

“Don’t Embarrass Me”

Other business:

1. There is another adoptive & foster parenting support group (video support as well) opening up. Visit:

2. The Adoptive Teen Girls group has been very successful and will continue this fall. Please email me if you are interested at


7/17/17 “Defending Against Shame + Parenting the Highly Impulsive, Highly Sensitive Child

            In the book, From Shame to Glory: Your Pathway to Freedom, Dr. Chamberlin lists the below features as defenses against shame. Take a look at the list to identify ways in which your child may try to avoid a “shame attack.”

Defending Against Shame (Avoiding Feeling Shame):

  • Rage * Contempt                  * Striving for Perfection (avoids shame of failure)
  • Striving for power * Transfer of blame     * Internal withdrawal/shutting down
  • Humor * Denial

I also have a short article for you this week entitled: “Parenting the Highly-Impulsive, Highly- Sensitive Child.”“Parenting the Highly-Impulsive, Highly- Sensitive Child.”

Finally, a camp is hosting a weekend for adoptive moms. Check it out!

6/30/17 “Shaming Messages”

This week we continue our series on shame. Attached you will find an excerpt on “shaming messages” and attachment from Kathryn Chamberlain’s book, “From Shame to Glory: Your Pathway to Freedom.” If you read any of resources in this series, this would be the one to take time to review. Enjoy!

Shaming Rules and Attachment Styles


6/16/17 “Finger-pointing, Blame Games and Lying as Indication of a Shame Issue”

Ever noticed your child’s unique ability to blame her poor choices on someone else? Is your child defensive and seemingly unable to accept responsibility for his actions? Unable to demonstrate remorse? Shame and low self-concept may be playing a role.

For instance, an individual may say the following in response to an error or correction, “You are completely right. I really messed up and will work on doing something different next time.” What level of confidence does that indicate? Fairly high, right? There is no fear about being the odd one in life who is imperfect.

Let me explain it in the opposite way. Keep in mind that guilt is about WHAT was done, while shame goes deeper into WHO we must be if we did ____. Not being able to tolerate being wrong means that it’s too scary (read: anxiety) to be wrong. Why is it too scary? Because it means, “I am worthless; I am stupid. No one will ever love me if I admit to this. I must avoid being seen in this light at all costs.” Of course, these aren’t the only reason why children blame or lie; perhaps it was modeled by others in their life. But most often, the core issue to address: anxiety and trust.

What to do when your child attempts to blame others or lie:

  1. No need to validate the lie or distortion. Simply empathize- attempt to understand-the deeper feeling that is likely at play. “Honey, we all made bad decisions from time to time [addressing personal shame]. I’m wondering if you worry what I’ll think of you if you admit to it [addressing relational shame or potential rejection].”
  2. Reassure and rewire the anxious thoughts: Have your child repeat a mantra that is fitting for your family or the situation. Perhaps: “Family love is unconditional” or “God accepts me with all my faults and so do my parents.”
  3. Suggest the way that the child/teen could admit his faults or confess a lie in the future.


6/1/17 “How to Break the Cycle of Shame with Your Child”

It has been quite a busy time in my practice and unfortunately, the blog production has slowed in order to handle client needs. However, I am back and excited to start the series I have been promising on shame. Let’s get started with a wonderful article from Dr. Laura Markham. Keep in mind that 1) the alternative to punishment is not chaos or lack of boundaries; it’s just more connected and creative than the way most of us were raised 2) adjustments need to be made for each child’s personality and needs. Enjoy!

“How to Break the Cycle of Shame with Children”

Two other notes:

1. If you have not joined the ” Parenting with Connection” Facebook page, you are missing out. It’s an easy way to commiserate with other parents, ask for advice, etc.

2. Interested in a teen group this summer? Contact me at


5/8/17 “Mother’s Day”

Mother’s Day can be a difficult time for the children we serve: missing birth moms, questions, resentments… the list can be long for some. Some may propose they are fine but act out behaviorally. Here are two articles- one from the perspective of mothers and one that focuses on how to help the child manage through all the emotions.

4 Ways to Help Your Adopted or Foster Child Through Mother’s Day

“Remembering Birth Mothers on Mother’s Day”

FREE Webinar “What is Attachment-Based Parenting?” sponsored by the Center for Adoption Support:


4/28/17 “TBRI & Basic Attachment Review”

“6 Easy Ways to Create Attachment”




Great article: child and adolescent sleep issues.

Effective Ways to Deal with Sleep Issues

2/25/17 “Empathy vs. Sympathy”

Enjoy a Brene Brown video re: Empathy vs. Sympathy. Love her sense of humor!


“Connecting with Teens, Part II:”

  1. Just smile and be silly together!

Play the Mad Libs game:

Engage in theraplay techniques promoted by the Karyn Purvis Foundation on your own or find a therapist who can lead you.

Pull out a board game that’s been collecting dust or buy a new one like “Pie Face” for some major laughs!

For those with a strong stomach, play “Bean Boozled” game together.

  1. Express love

Write a handwritten letter to your teen that expresses your unconditional love, regret, or a quality you admire about them.

For Valentines’ Day: Post 1 heart on your teen’s door with specific reasons why you love him/her, every day leading up to February 14.

1/26/17 “Connecting with Teens”

Our current series has been focused on connected parenting. The most frequently asked question: “How do I connect once they are teens?” Below you will find some ideas- some that perhaps you will find somewhat success, another that won’t fit your teen at all and hopefully one or two that become a perfect fit! Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list, but one to get your “juices flowing,” so feel free to write to me with something you do as a family and it will be shared with the group next time.

  1. Take an active role in their social life.

Get to know your kids’ friends; make your home an inviting place for all

“Feed them, and they will come:” One family sets aside a budget of $100 each month to prepare yummy snacks or even a meal for their son’s friends. “Nachos Friday” is a favorite. Not only can the parents provide a safe place for teens to hang out, but it also allows them be a part of their adolescent’s social life.

  1. Find ways to engage in conversation.

100 Questions to get to know your teenager:

Have a teen who loves TV? Watch a TV show together and discuss her emotional reactions, issues presented, etc.

Invite him to a dinner out with just the two of you

Talking points: Did you know that the following people were adopted-Faith Hill, Bill Clinton, Dave Thomas of Wendy’s?

More to come!


A great read for both teens and younger children alike, from the blog, Parenting with Connection: 5 Steps for Handling Misbehavior

12/29/16 One Reader’s Review of: Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected by Susan Stiffelman

Susan Stiffelman seems to be a wonderful therapist with a talent for generating specific, feasible strategies for caregivers in need of guidance.
In order to create joyful, resilient kids, Stiffelman urges parents to take a “Captain of the Ship” role which derives unwavering authority from a foundation of empathy-based parenting. Her approach essentially combines “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” – the empathy bible – and “Parenting with Love & Logic” – the definitive source for “consultant parenting” whereby a parent distances herself emotionally from her kids’ problems in order to remain a steady and firm source of support. That said, Stiffelman has an interesting take on a few of Gottman’s and Cline/Fay’s best points – and a softer, more maternal tone – that might be a better fit for some readers:

– “Focus on loosening your need for your child to behave properly so that you can feel you’re a good parent, [and e]xplore the meaning you’re assigning to your child’s problematic behavior.” After all, “it’s always our thoughts about the events of our lives – rather than the events themselves – that cause us to get upset.” (In other words, try not to generalize from your kid dillydallying after you ask her to put on her shoes to the conclusion that she’s a passive-resistant little brat who has no respect for you and has begun a lifelong struggle with authority that will only end when you can force her to put on her darn sneakers.)

– “Give direction from connection.” Begin an interaction with “Act I” which is essentially listening and prompting disclosure with nonjudgmental, noninvasive questions like (“`What is it like to be you?’ and `Tell me more?'”), and then, only if your kid “invites you to the party” proceed to “Act II,” offering assistance. Sometimes Act II must be delayed for quite some time. “[D]uring the storm of your child’s misbehavior, avoid lecturing, explaining, or advising. This is not a teachable moment.” (File this last bit in the easier-said-than-done folder.)

– When your child flips out, respond to the “neck down” feelings prompting the outburst, not the “neck up” words the child chooses to express those feelings.

She also offers a few pearls of parenting wisdom that I haven’t encountered in written form:

– “I am not a big fan of forcing children to apologize . . . [because] children who chronically violate others and are coerced into offering up an apology simply become good at apologizing; they don’t generally modify their behavior very much.” (Hear, hear!)

– Create attachment by following the six stages of relationships: “proximity, sameness, belonging/loyalty, significance, love, and being known.” In other words, start – or begin to repair a relationship – by just being near the kid, then point out interests you share, etc.

– “[I]nstead of [trying to figure] out how to fix a problematic situation, . . .think back to the point at which you could have prevented it from happening and resolve to take action at that juncture in future interactions with your child.” (My husband and I figured out this little gem – that falls under the general rubric of “let go of the guilt when you go wrong and focus your energy prospectively” – for sidestepping the crushing feeling of powerlessness that accompanied our daughter’s first year.)

– View your kid’s behavior surrounding minor disappointment, like getting to the end of a bag of chips, to the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) and enable her to experience each stage. This downright mind-blowing trick has given me the ability to step outside the current emotional dynamic and watch my daughter’s fit unfold with a sort of lovingly detached interest.

Want more? Watch Susan Stiffelman’s short video on “Love Flooding:”

12/15/16 “Rough-Housing: Part II”

Our connected parenting series continues with more on roughhousing. Last week, we discussed the importance of touch and allowing our kids to “play out/work through” within the safety net of mom or dad.
Play to Encourage Confidence: parent can slowly increase resistance with each game or physical activity (allowing child to win each time does not increase confidence) (67). Watch for boredom or comments like, “This is too easy” as a sign they are ready for more challenge. There may be times when they want challenge, or other times when it seems they really need/want to win. If child is maintaining eye contact, giggling and exerting energy (sweating, etc), then you are doing well! Stop if you notice otherwise. Try not to end abruptly if a boundary is being crossed, but use it for further discussion or connection.
• Some children who have been physically abused may simply need to touch you, and watch you fall over with howling pain

“But shouldn’t there be some rules in this kind of play?”

1. Provide basic safety (no headlocks, kicking, biting, teasing/real humiliation, tickling by holding down the child, etc + code word to use when hurt)

2. Connect (cuddle breaks for younger kids; “Before we fight to the death, let’s do the ancient warrior custom of looking deep into each other’s eyes!”)

3. Increase their confidence (provide right level of resistance and encourage them to get stronger each time)

4. Play through old hurts (replay bullying situation with you, etc)

5. Provide the right amount of resistance to the child’s need

6. Pay close attention

7. Let the child win (usually when you first start playing in this way or building confidence or whenever he seems to need a “win”)

8. Stop when someone is hurt

9. Keep your own feelings from getting in the way (if wrestling brings up strong feelings in the parent; it’s worth exploring) (95)

Other tips: If child is maintaining eye contact, giggling and exerting energy (sweating, etc), then you are doing well! Stop if you notice otherwise. Try not to end abruptly if a boundary is being crossed, but use it for further discussion or connection.
• Some children who have been physically abused may simply need to touch you, and watch you fall over with howling pain

Want more?

Roughhousing: Aggressive or constructive behaviour?

How to Beat Cabin Fever: The Art of Roughhousing

12/1/16 “Roughhousing”

This week I am highlighting the importance of roughhousing in connecting with your child. Even if you are mother who has previously said, “I refuse to wrestle!” or “I just let their father do that,” please still take a moment to consider it.

This type of play helps children explore physical power, develop confidence and assertiveness. This is especially important for boys, who often don’t sit long enough to get the cuddling they need.

“But, should we encourage aggressive play? What if my child/teen becomes an aggressive monster because I am fostering it?”

However, children will do it in play or in real life. Which is better? For aggressive children, do a role reversal. Pretend that YOU are the one learning how to control aggression and it keeps “tripping you up.” What better way to learn emotional regulation than to be “revved up” by mom or dad, then practice together calming down? And what about the teens? They rarely have the opportunity for touch with you and will be more likely to hug a bear than you, so what a better way to foster touch than to do it in play or competition?

“But, what if someone gets hurt accidentally?”

“Bones heal faster than timidity and fearfulness” (Cohen, 108).

Getting started: Ask child to try to push you over (parent in kneeling position) or pin you to the ground; brag that the child cannot do it. For a teen, perhaps the winner gets ______ (something he/she likes- a Starbucks, 15 minutes extra phone time, etc). Perhaps thumb wrestling, or tug of war with rope or an old pair of jeans is a better fit for you- anything that’s physical and connecting for the two of you. Some other ideas:

Straight-armed push:

Two people stand facing each other with arms out straight, and hands clasped with the other person.  On the count of 3, begin trying to push the other person backwards (still on their feet), keeping arms straight.  This is surprisingly good exercise and fun!  A More Structured Rough and Tumble Activity:

Another way to handle the need for roughhousing as kids get older and bigger, is to begin a martial art or similar activity involving two people. To-Shin Do is a defense-oriented martial art which involves strength, strategy, and physical contact.  While practicing a martial art isn’t as free-form as roughhousing, To-Shin Do seems to meet a good many of the roughhousing drives.


Want more?

Roughhousing: Aggressive or constructive behaviour?

How to Beat Cabin Fever: The Art of Roughhousing

11/14/16 “Playfulness, Laughter and Connection”

This past weekend I had the honor of meeting with 5 families to discuss using playfulness to connect with your child. Questions emerged among the parents: How can I use playfulness with an older child or teen? How can we reverse the disconnection that has set in as the months or years have passed? Dr. Lawrence Cohen states the following in his book, Playful Parenting: “Sadly, when older children don’t connect, it goes unnoticed… distance and awkwardness sets in. Adults seldom play with such freedom and ease as they did during the early games of peekaboo” (Cohen, 49).

Dr. Karyn Purvis notes that “playfulness disarms fear,” thus allowing deeper connections to be made.

Dr. Lawrence Cohen states that play:

1) Provides way for children to practice adult roles [learning]

2) Establishes or re-establishes connection

3) Assists in recovery from emotional distress

In the next several weeks, I will be providing some follow up notes to answer some of those “how to be playful” questions.

Laughter is an key piece of playfulness, so let’s begin with an attempt to hear some giggles.

For a younger child: exaggerate, ham it up, talk in a funny voice instead of a normal one or sing instead of talking! If it doesn’t seem natural to you, use a puppet.

For an older child, getting laughs requires a bit more effort. Start a pillow fight, pretend to cry (one of teens’ worst fears!), loudly sing her favorite song, “fight” over child, etc. Or play the “sock game,” particularly fun with 3+. Each person attempts to take the other’s sock off, while keeping his on.

Stay tuned for more fun! And keep watch for an “parent & child” workshop for pre-teens and teens in January!

10/27/16 “Parent-Child Journals”

Whether you have just started your journal as foster or adoptive parents, a parent-child journal is a wonderful way to connect. Great for elementary ages or teens!

Don’t miss the free printable journal included in the blog: Parent-Child Communication Journal

10/7/16 “The Four Horsemen of Relationships”

            This week, we continue the series on connected parenting. Read this article from “Creative Child” about the behaviors and attitudes that can destroy attachment and connection. Excellent article!

Four Parental Behaviors to Avoid


In the below video, Dr. Karyn Purvis of TCU’s Child Development Center discusses what it means to discipline (no, we don’t stop disciplining) with the goal of connection. Her soft voice makes me smile every time, but her sincerity is evident. You’d be surprised at how well her approach actually works even with struggling teens; I’ve seen her in action in a teen camp. No, there isn’t a lack of boundaries, respect or protection from natural consequences, but the idea is that whoever you are- you get the sense that she truly does care. How does that translate into YOUR own unique personality, YOUR child and YOUR approach? Does your child get the sense that discipline is a control battle and something that brings you anger? In what ways can you connect after a disagreement or instance of correction? Perhaps it is a verbal reassurance of your love, a display of affection or request to join you in a fun activity.


This week, we will be starting a new series on connected parenting. Out of the 60+ families on this list serve, a good portion of you have teens, so I will be including some special blog posts focused on adolescents. Some of you have reached out to me recently in regards to placing boundaries while maintaining (or pursuing) attachment. Enjoy the below recording from the blog “Connected Parenting: The Blog” on creating connection through communication! [NOTE: There is an example for use with younger children regarding cuddle time. For teens, substitute a fun game or activity together, such as playing a game of basketball alone or painting nails.]


            Rounding out our series on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) is one of the best resources I utilize as a therapist. I named it “Tough Questions” to get you thinking not just about the feelings, but about the facts in the upsetting situation.

Tough Questions

  1. Am I making this bigger or more extreme than it really is?
  2. What is the evidence that proves it is true? (Has this happened to you/ other people before?)
  3. What is the evidence that proves it is not true? Are there other facts I am forgetting?
  4. How likely is it to happen? What is the most likely thing to happen?
  5. Will this be a big deal in a week? Month? Year?
  6. Is there a different or less extreme way to understand this situation?
  7. Am I placing unrealistic expectation or standards on myself or others?
  8. Am I over-estimating/under-estimating my responsibility or control?
  9. What would I say to a friend about the situation?
  10. Is there anything I can do about this?
  11. Have I been able to cope with _____ in the past? Can I live through it?
  12. What would happen if I didn’t believe this anymore? What would change?

Compiled by: Sara Rodriguez, LCSW-C

7/28/16 “Using the CBT Mood Log”

            Last week, we learned how to catch ourselves in common thinking errors. This week, we will learn how to use a CBT mood log. The idea is to be more aware of your negative or unrealistic thoughts, catch the error and use that to substitute a more realistic and positive thought. When teaching a new client CBT, I ask them to keep a Mood Log CBT. David Burns of this for the first couple weeks. Eventually (and with some hard mental work!), it becomes more natural to simply do it in one’s head. I have some clients who text themselves a thought that popped up while they were, say, standing in the grocery store checkout for further review at home or with me. Let’s do some practice. One mother on our list serve has offered to use her negative thoughts to be used as an example. Notice that catching the thinking error or distortion helps lead you to the substitute thought. 

1) Negative Thought: “Our foster/adopt situation is going to cause 10-15 years of distress in our family.”

Thinking error/distortion: Jumping to conclusions; predicting the future

Possible substitute thought (no “correct” answers): “Just because we are having difficulties now, doesn’t mean it will be like this for 10 years” or “We’ve gotten through tough things as a family before, we can do it again with God’s help.”

2) Negative Thought: “Our daughter doesn’t care at all about us.”

Thinking error/distortion: Overgeneralization or Mental filter

Possible substitute thought: “Our daughter pushes us away because she is afraid/hurt” or “She DID do/say ______ last week, which is evidence that she cares deep down.”

Submit your negative thoughts + thinking error + possible substitute thought to me at and I will email you some CBT goodies!


7/14/16 “CBT for Post-adoption and Post-foster care Depression”

We continue our series on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) as a tool to use for depression, particularly adoption or foster-related depression. Last week, we learned about the basics of CBT. Today, let’s try putting the ideas into practice. Attached is a list of common thinking errors/distortions from a book by author and psychologist Dr. David Burns: Common Thinking Errors

Use that list to identify the distortions in the following thoughts:

“I must not be a good mother, because this child rejects everything about me!”

“This is never going to get better. I should have never become a foster parent.”

“I really messed up this time and totally forgot to use TBRI or Love and Logic Concepts. Now she will never trust me!”

“My teen acts like this because he just wants to get on my nerves! I can’t take it anymore!”

“My child is going to become a criminal; I can just tell.”

“I should really feel happy and connected to my child like other foster or adoptive parents do.”
Write to me at about 2 of your negative thoughts and the common thinking error it demonstrates, and I will send you a free CBT packet via email!


When dealing with depression or anxiety, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (“CBT”) is the top candidate to help you or your family member heal. CBT proposes that it is not your FEELINGS that trigger thoughts and actions, but THOUGHTS that begin the process. The goal is not to become robotic, without feelings, but to tame the intense emotions that cause distress. It’s important to catch yourself with the thoughts and the beliefs that lie beneath the surface. For more on this, watch the below video by Kati Morton, Licensed Marriage and Family Counselor. She’s a bit quirky and does a great job of keeping your attention.


Below is a great article that emphasizes techniques I shared last week, but includes others. I particularly like the section on “reaching out to others” (copied below) and the section on health and depression. It’s a great read and wonderful intro to next week’s focus on “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” the #1 treatment for depression and anxiety.

10 tips for reaching out and building relationships

  1. Talk to one person about your feelings
  2. Help someone else by volunteering
  3. Have lunch or coffee with a friend
  4. Ask a loved one to check in with you regularly
  5. Accompany someone to the movies, a concert, or a small get-together
  6. Call or email an old friend
  7. Go for a walk with a workout buddy
  8. Schedule a weekly dinner date
  9. Meet new people by taking a class or joining a club
  10. Confide in a clergy member, teacher, or sports coach


Hopefully, you’ve had the chance to journal about or share your adoption or foster experience. One tip I can give you for more in-depth journaling for the purposes of healing: write about your emotions, your thoughts and your physical reactions to the experience.

So you’ve journaled and shared with friend what it’s been like to be you, but you still often feel down, easily irritable or hopeless. What now? Keep a diary of days when you felt this way. If you’ve felt down, easily irritable or hopeless most of the day, nearly every day for more than two weeks, chances are you are struggling with post-adoption depression. Seek out a professional counselor who can help you pull out of it and start creating a list of self-care and coping strategies (see below).

For those of you who have some of the symptoms but do not have full-blown depression, you will still benefit from engaging in better self-care and healthy thinking. Here’s a list of coping strategies to get you started:

  • Depression sometimes keeps people indoors and isolated. Push yourself to call a friend even if you don’t feel motivated or if you feel “silly” for needing to talk
  • Don’t minimize the situation or your needs. You are a caretaker and caretakers must have reserves if they are expected to do any caring. GET AWAY! Even if you take just 2 hours at a park, either by yourself or with a friend, it better enables you to handle all that awaits you at home
  • Green tea- contains natural chemicals that are known to be calming; Starbucks offers a Green Tea Frappuccino (actually tastes good!) that contains several shots of green tea.
  • EXERCISE! After 20 minutes of exercise, the brain’s stress hormones decrease and serotonin increases. No medication need for this lift!
  • Funny cat videos- ok, not everyone likes cats, but studies show that laughing and humor is therapeutic; find something that makes you laugh

Keep in mind that every person is different and what works for someone else does not work for you. Or, like someone I know, sitting by the fish tank and listening to the sounds is the most calming part of their day! Be as creative as you’d like in finding what works for you.


This past weekend I had the privilege of meeting 7 incredible foster and adoptive mothers. It was amazing to watch them “soak in” each other. In isolation, a lie- that you are bad mothers, abnormal, and the only parent who feels this way or has these challenges- that lie has much more power. Within community, it loses steam and “the truth sets you free.”

Like the last blog entry, I will occasionally give you “homework” that includes talking, writing or other creative ways to face things that were or continue to be difficult. idea is that while we “process” (as a computer does) that information, our brains discover new interpretations of what we’ve experienced. Perhaps we talk to God about it and ask Him to help us see what value it has, or to see the bigger picture. If you decide to join in, please be patient with yourself. It takes time and effort (and help from up above)! Don’t worry; the plan is not to leave you stuck there in the muck and mire. In the coming weeks, you will be learning some healthy coping strategies and thinking techniques after you’ve had a chance to download a bit.

Last time, I asked you to write about your expectations coming into motherhood. So crack that journal open again or call a trusted friend. How have your expectations been different than reality? Write down or talk with someone about those.



This week, we continue our series on adoptive and foster mothering. Allow me to assign you a bit of “healing homework.” Dust off that journal you haven’t had time to write in for years. Spend at least five minutes considering what expectations for motherhood you envisioned for youPic. Not std Way. Niarself as a child or even as an adult. Did you expect to become pregnant, experience birth? Did you expect to add to your family via adoption or foster care? Anticipate raising a child who looks very different from you? After writing, keep that page marked as we will be adding to it in the near future.



For those of you who haven’t heard, Dr. Karyn Purvis, author of The Connected Child and director of TCU’s Child Development Institute passed away this week after a long battle with cancer. Five years ago her books, model of compassionate understanding of “children from hard places” and research with relational trauma completely revolutionized my work with adoptive and foster families. I hope that I can continue her legacy in whatever small ways I can. If I could summarize the greatest takeaway from her example, it would be the importance of playfulness in disarming fear and a compassionate understanding of what’s happening. Although it’s easy to become frustrated with behaviors, “Scared children do scary things.” Interpretation is everything.

This month, we will focus on the support of other heroes: the adoptive and foster mother. Yes, that’s YOU! After all, Mother’s Day is about a month away and will complement the topics I will cover in the mother’s workshop on May 7.

I have attached two articles: one for those who adopted or began fostering when their child was young: Click here

And one for those who adopted or fostered older children:

A combination of both: Click here


How can parents respond when a child or teen shares a traumatic experience or event in their lives? Parents can ask the child to:

  1. Draw what happened
  2. Journal in a diary or on the computer
  3. For younger children, show you with dolls, toys or animals

Ask him to write what the emotions, thoughts and physical sensations she experienced. If your younger child has drawn a picture, simply inquire if she can explain the above. If your child does not or cannot answer your questions, do not continue to push the inquiry; her passive avoidance is evidence that she cannot recall the information or is not ready to discuss it in detail. If that’s all the further you get into the subject, don’t feel that you have not been helpful; the expression itself (however limited it may have been) was beneficial for the brain’s processing of the event.

Then, respond with empathy:

  • “That must have been hard seeing ____”
  • “Being dropped off at the orphanage without saying goodbye to your birth family was so sad for you.”
  • “It really makes you angry when you think about _____”


Adoptive.Foster Moms Group 5.7.16


We continue our series on trauma with some tips on how to help traumatized children. Here is a review:

  1. Creating safety by staying calm ourselves and offering genuine empathy
  2. Encouraging physical activity in order to reduce stress hormones
  3. Offer sensory experiences, particularly touch.
  4. Predictability: Creating a safe place for children can be accomplished through preparing your child with the day’s schedule, making him aware of any changes and familiarizing her with new surroundings.

Today, we add the following to this list:

  1. Control: Giving appropriate levels of control as a strategy for helping children feel safe. If your child has experienced a loss of their birth family, which most often means a loss not of their choosing, he/she has experienced a tremendous loss of control. What they wanted or needed seemingly did not matter and had no impact. Ongoing research has repeatedly demonstrated that having a sense of control over the environment greatly reduces anxiety.

Offering choices is not only applicable to times of discipline (“You can either sit quietly with us at the table or go to your room and do that.”), but also to general family life. For instance, giving appropriate control can be as simple as asking a child: “Would you like to do your homework first or your chores?” or for a younger child, “Would you like to hold my hand or just walk beside me?” or “Would you rather hang out together at the mall or go bowling?” By simply giving children choices, parents can help them learn to make good choices, but also help the child feel appropriately empowered and will learn make good decisions. And a child who feels empowered and is in an environment that feels predictable is far less likely to have negative physiological and emotional responses.


In our current series on trauma, we have discussed its impact on children and we’ve begun to discuss how to become a part of their healing.

So far, we have discussed:

  1. Creating safety by staying calm ourselves and offering genuine empathy
  2. Encouraging physical activity in order to reduce stress hormones
  3. Offer sensory experiences, particularly touch.

Now let’s add the following from “Empowered to Connect:”

  1. Predictability:Creating a safe place for children can be accomplished through the mechanism of predictability and control. Predictability can be established by telling the child what will happen next. Parents can do this naturally throughout day, by saying “In ten minutes we’re going to bed.” “In 10 minutes, we’re going to leave for church.” By “marking the task” and making it predictable, parents can allay their children’s anxiety about what happens next. We encourage parents for example, when they go to the home of a new friend, to seek permission from the hostess to take their children on a tour of the house, and show them where different rooms are—where the toys are—where the family puppy sleeps. By familiarizing a child with the strange house, the child can feel safer. Most adults remember times during their own childhood that they were afraid of “something” sinister in their dark closet, or under their bed. Because it was dark, it was easy to imagine fearful, terrifying things. Simply turning on the light and looking under the bed was enough to ensure us (and I do means “us”) that we were safe. In many ways parents can “turn on the lights” for their adoptive children and let them see that they are actually safe. Predictability about their environment is a major element in helping children experience this type of “felt safety.”


Let’s continue this week with some additional tips on how to help traumatized children to heal.

So far we discussed:

  1. Creating safety by staying calm ourselves and offering genuine empathy
  2. Encouraging physical activity in order to reduce stress hormones

This week, we will add:

  1. Offer sensory experiences, particularly touch. Remember that old research that references how premature babies who have daily massage excel much more quickly than those who don’t? It’s the same concept with trauma. Safe sensory/touch experiences = a calmer nervous system. [* Note: if your child has experienced sexual abuse, please use discretion and extra sensitivity with touch! If you need further advice on how to navigate this area, consult a therapist in your area, or I’d be happy to consult with you over the phone].
  • Some adoptive parents say, “Yeah, right! Getting my child to accept touch is like pulling teeth!” To that I say: “The amount of resistance= the amount of need.” Slowly increase the touch you offer, perhaps beginning with high fives, increasing to a pat on the back or shoulder squeeze and work up to hugs. An even less intrusive way to do this is within activities or games. Consider using theraplay at home or with a trained therapist (more on that to come; watch for a workshop on this in the next several months!)
  • Create opportunities for other sensory experiences. Examples include swimming, swinging, cooking, sand play, etc. I am currently “eyeing” a nearby trampoline park as a potential place for my next teen group. Something like this is an excellent choice for toddlers-adults.


Many of you were stuck at home for the past several days during the Northeast blizzard. Did you notice any “fight, flight or freeze” responses? What can parents do to help children or teens whose anxiety is being triggered by an event that subconsciously reminds them of an abuse, neglect or abandonment they experienced in the past? Here are some tips, some of which originate from the Empowered to Connect website:

  1. Create safety
    1. Parents need to stay calm themselves, often a difficult task…
    2. Provide empathy: be a place where the child’s feelings can be tolerated and accepted as legitimate
      • Say this (empathetic): “I can see ____ really upset you” or “When ____ happens, it feels very scary to you.”
      • Not this (minimization of feelings): “This isn’t a big deal; why are you getting so upset?” or attempt to fix the problem before verbalizing your empathy for the situation, even if he/she is the cause.
    3. Encourage at least 20 minutes of physical activity during and after times of stress, which will bring down the stress hormone, cortisol.



Last week, we discussed some initial information re: fight, flight or freeze responses that can be triggered in those who have experienced trauma. In week one of our mini-series on trauma, we learned that although your child may not have experienced a event you would typically think of as a trauma, the loss of his/her birth parent is in itself traumatic (“relational trauma”). Trauma creates anxiety of re-experiencing the event, creating a “fight/flight/freeze” reaction in their brain, setting the stage for “scary behavior.”

So, how do you recognize the signs/symptoms that your child is going into “fight, flight or freeze” mode? You will see notice either hyper-arousal: ADHD or oppositional-type behavior, dilated pupils, racing heart OR hypo-arousal: looking “out of it” (dissociation) when fear has overwhelmed the child. At times, this response will be triggered by a seemingly inane situation. Keep in mind that when this occurs, it FEELS like danger even when you as the parent know that there is no danger. Provide empathy and be careful not to minimize their feelings. It may sound like this: “I can see that just talking with us about this feels very scary” or “That really upset you.” This week, note if your child or teen displays these symptoms and provide empathy. More on helping your child heal next time!

Want more details on this? Go to:



Today, we continue our focus on relational and developmental trauma. We’ve discussed what “counts” as trauma and how fear impacts behavior. One more note on that detail: You may have heard about FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE reactions to stress or crises. Most trauma will produce avoidance, a major component of anxiety. Susie has been rejected by her parents and doesn’t want to be rejected again by her adoptive parents, so she avoids discussing all feelings or being vulnerable. Bobbie doesn’t like driving in cars because it reminds him of how his drunken birth mother thought it was funny when he was hit by a car. Liz was dropped off at a hospital by her birth mother when she was 6 months old. She doesn’t seem to “let anyone in” or trust anyone, but doesn’t understand why. These are all examples of avoidance in relational trauma. Think now for a moment…. What avoidance behaviors do you notice in your child or teen? What seems to trigger negative behaviors (ie: FEAR, ANXIETY)? Next time, we will discuss how you can help your child though these moments.


We continue our focus on trauma and attachment this week with some excerpts from Heather Forbes and B. Post. While some of their parenting advice tends to be a bit permissive for my liking, I thoroughly recommend their book, “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control” for their superb understanding and explanation of the behaviors you see in your children.

Examples of Childhood Traumas:

Examples of Childhood Traumas
Physical AbuseSexual AbuseEmotional AbuseNeglectAdoptionFoster CareSurrogacyFrequent moves Automobile accidentPre and Perinatal birth traumaLoss of caregiverDepressed parent caregiverProlonged experiences of unmet needsBullyingWitnessing domestic violenceMedical trauma
*Childhood traumas are not limited to this list

According to the Stress Model, all behavior rises from an unconscious state of stress; and between the behavior and stress is the presence of a primary emotion, either love or fear (see below). It is through expression, processing and understanding the primary emotion that you can calm the stress and diminish the behavior (Forbes and Post, 7). Instead of viewing behavior as manipulative and willfully disobedient, parents should remember that “scared children do scary things” When a child experiences trauma, the child’s ability to develop a sufficient regulatory system is severely compromised, constantly perceiving the world as threatening (Forbes & Post, 4-5). What we see on the outside is anger, defiance, stealing, killing animals, setting fires, etc. These fear-based behaviors then create fear in US. Thus, we become constricted and angered by the behaviors that can literally scare us to death.

Do you notice… even our anger as parents can easily be traced back to anxiety. It is even more so for children from hard places. This idea is also promoted by The Child Development Center at TCU and author Dr. Karyn Purvis, leading researchers and trainers for adoption/foster care-competent therapists.


Lying, stealing, hoarding, gorging, aggression, defiance, arguing, screaming Smiling, conscious, empathy, reciprocity, obedience, motivation, compliance, helpful
Angry, hostile, shameful, frustrated, envious, jealous, scared Happy, joyful, glad, excited, proud, confident



Our next series of articles and videos will be focused on trauma and attachment. The following video explains what trauma looks like in an adoptive or foster child. Even if you can’t watch the entire video, check out the first 3 minutes and minutes 13:45 -15. For those of you who have 15 minutes to spare, I suspect you will be relieved to know there are other parents out there who “get it!”

Two Pieces of News:

  • I know there are several of you who have younger adoptive children. One adoptive family with whom I work was gracious enough to share that TCU’s Institute for Child Development has begun creating a series of books to teach children the concept of “redo’s,” trauma, accepting no, etc based on the book The Connected Child. The author is Cindy R. Lee: TBRI books for young children


Attachment and the Importance of Family Traditions
Yes, Thanksgiving does have an impact on attachment! Think back to how your family celebrated holidays and how it created a sense of security for you. In a recent mother’s group, one woman spoke about how her teen still seeks confirmation that they will create the “Thanksgiving tree” this year. There are many ways that adoptive families weave their adoption stories, their differences and their common love for each other into family traditions. Here are two great articles with great ideas, such as getting matching clothing made with messages in your child’s first language. Enjoy!
Using Family Traditions to Bond
Being Intentional in Holiday Family Traditions

It’s great to be back from maternity leave! I am definitely busier with two kiddos under two, so our weekly tips will likely be back as the “biweekly tips” instead. Nevertheless, I am back just in time to remind you to be thoughtful about Halloween and your child’s reaction. Should you avoid turning on the TV on because the scary movies causes your teen to have nightmares? If you have a young one, will she react to the scary costumes others are wearing? Is the excitement over-stimulating for your child? Trigger impulsivity and poor decision-making? If you have a child who tends to be hyperactive or impulsive, here is an article from Play Attention (a company who provides high-tech and non-medicinal treatment for ADHD… I use the product in my office). Enjoy!

[* Seeking young adult “launching” adoptees, ages 17-22 for a group here in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Contact me if you are interested at If you are interested but out of the area, we can certainly consider an online Skype-type group! ]

ADHD Does Not Have to be Scary!

Halloween is an exciting time for all children, but your ADHD child may seem a bit overly excited during this time. The costumes, the change of schedule, the candy, and parties can all add up to over excitement, less sleep, and more impulsive behaviors.  Make certain to take some steps to keep your child safe and happy.

  • Have your child try on his costume and walk around your home prior to wearing it outside. You want to make certain there are no sensitivity issues, dangerous lengths, or obstructed sight.
  • Discuss the limitations of the costume; your child is not to act like a monster just because he’s dressed like one.
  • Review safety rules for trick or treating; look for cars before crossing the street, only go to homes of people we know, hold my hand, say please and thank you.
  • Review & practice Halloween door etiquette.
  • Prior to trick or treating establish an agreement regarding how much candy can be consumed at one time.
  • Have a flashlight available for darker areas.
  • Make certain your child’s costume is not too dark so he can be seen easily by drivers.
  • Try to keep regular bedtime hours.
  • Establish an agreement about how much candy may be taken to school the next school day.
Another great mini-article from the Love and Logic Institute on healthy relationships. As a therapist, I would also refer to this important information as relevant to healthy boundaries, as well!

he dysfunctional family makes great TV sitcom material…probably because we recognize many of the themes from our own childhoods…and probably because these shows leave us thinking, “What a relief. At least our family isn’t as big a mess as that one!”Dysfunctional families may be entertaining to watch on TV, but they’re horribly sad to belong to. Fortunately, mental health experts have learned a great deal about how to help families operate in healthy, happy ways. One of the most helpful discoveries involves who family members talk to when a problem arises.

In healthy families, Mom talks to Dad when she is upset with Dad.
In unhealthy families, Mom talks to the kids when she is upset with Dad.
In healthy families, Dad talks to Mom when he’s upset with Mom.
In unhealthy families, Dad talks to his friends when he is upset with Mom.
In healthy families, Junior talks to Dad when he wants something from Dad.
In unhealthy families, Junior talks to Mom when he wants something from Dad.
In healthy families, Junior talks to his teacher when he doesn’t understand an assignment.
In unhealthy families, Mom and Dad talk to Junior’s teacher when Junior doesn’t understand an assignment.

I bet you see the pattern here! In the healthiest families, family members share their concerns directly with the person involved with the concern…rather than dragging a third party into the mix.

For more tips on keeping your marriage solid while raising great kids, check out our book, Marriage – Love and Logic.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend

Dr. Charles Fay

Hello to everyone!
 Please see below for a “infographic” from the Love and Logic authors re: dealing with a defiant child.
Soon we will be having a hiatus from weekly tips, as I prepare to go on maternity leave. dealing-with-defiant-infographic. Love and LogicLikely, next week will be the last tip for a little while. I promise I will return!


Have you heard of Debbie Riley, director of the Center for Adoption Support and Education in Maryland? She has written some fabulous books on teens and adoption issues. For those of you who have older elementary-aged children, I still recommend reading it in preparation. Want more? She is also the author of Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens.


“How to Talk to Your Teens: Exploring Stuck Spots”


Last week’s topic empathized with the physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that adoptive parents feel. If you are a single adoptive parent, this issue is more pronounced for you. So here are some follow up questions for how you are caring for yourselves (and therefore able to take better care of your children):

  1. Are you having regular “alone” time?
  2. If you have an emotionally draining day, do you “tag in” a friend or spouse to help finish the night so that you can re-charge?
  3. Do you hire a babysitter or swap babysitting with a friend on a monthly basis to have a date with your friends or spouse?
  4. If spiritual, are you spending time meditating on Bible verses that pertain to strength, PATIENCE, and wisdom. Are you praying specifically about the struggles you are experiencing?
  5. If your child’s struggles are moderate to severe, have you contacted a counselor or therapist for direction, advice and support?


This week, Michael Monroe from “Empowered to Connect” discusses the importance of expectations in adoptive parenting.

“Taking a New Look at Your Expectations”

The connection between adoptive parenting expectations and post-adoption blues in mothers: Purdue article

Yet another article that claims, “Realistic Expectations Key to Positive Outcomes in Special Needs Adoptions.” So important!



Enjoy a wonderful article in Good Housekeeping about 2 adoptive families (1 adopted a baby, the other an older child) and their adventures in parenting. Page 2 is a bit blurry, but the rest is quite clear. The Cheney’s describe how theraplay was a key component of healing for their child.

“Love Medicine” Good Housekeeping


Enjoy the latest edition to the adoptive and foster parent blog: “Adoptive Parenting: How It’s Different and Why” by FindingMagnolia, adoptive mother and blogger. She has great tips about how they dealt with the transition and great things they are doing now to set their daughter up for success within their family.

“Adoptive Parenting: How It’s Different and Why”

Happy 4th of July!



Do you have a tendency to love your children in a hard or soft way? Take the quiz!

Quiz. DistanceCloseness vs. Soft Love



Excellent article by the Attachment and Trauma Network on the topic of: “Cannot or Will Not?” Enjoy!

“Cannot or Will Not”


Today, we are reviewing Baumrind’s 4 types of parenting styles (Diana Baumrind). Are you generally permissive? Authoritarian or Authoritative? Uninvolved? Open the attached document and find out! This is important to know for classic parenting, but even moreso for the adoptive or foster child.

And yes, this is a teaser for tonight’s webinar on bringing unity in parenting styles.Click here to register!

Quick Overview of 4 General Parenting Styles



This week’s tip is for all you single adoptive mamas! Find support in unlikely places- online! Even reading someone who “gets” what it’s like to be you can be cathartic. Below is a list of blogs and books where you can find support. * Disclaimer: I have not read all the content of these books and blogs; I may not agree with everything the authors have to say. Read with your own discretion!

Handbook for Single Adoptive Parents by Hope Marindin


This week’s tip comes to us from Barbara Frazier, author and blogger on “The Successful Parent.”

Unconscious Approach to Parenting

For some parents, the old blueprint is simply played out again without much thought as to whether it is an effective style. For parents in this category, the representative statement is,

“If it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for my kids.”

When questioned from the outside as to the effectiveness of the style, they might say something like “I turned out all right, didn’t I?” These parents automatically accept the parenting style they are handed without really questioning whether it is effective. The underlying values are well internalized and accepted almost as if by rote. These parents really have no conflict internally about how kids should be raised. The approach is black and white and defined.

When I was working in child abuse services, I once had a conversation with a colleague on the subject of corporal punishment. He said “My father beat me many times, but I turned out fine.” I didn’t know this person well enough to make a judgment as to whether that was true or not, but the point is that in his mind the parenting style of his father was a given. It was the way it was and the way it should be and there was no need to question it. He had just internalized it and saw no problem with continuing to use this style with his own kids.

Semi-Conscious Approach to Parenting

Other parents have a more conscious approach to their parenting style which means they begin with the blueprint they are given, but may along the way question some of its practices. They are not comfortable going too far from the tree, but they are willing to examine specific practices if they are experiencing a good deal of discomfort with a strategy.

For example, they may come from an extremely authoritarian parenting style background and they accept the basic premise of that style which says that parents should exert total authority and control over their children. At the same time, they may decide that the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary strategy is an ineffective practice, and so they come up with alternative disciplinary tactics.

They tweak parts of the original blueprint to make improvements. These tweaks are accompanied by some degree of deviation from the family of origin values. Overall, these parents are not comfortable with a full examination of the blueprint for its effectiveness. Such an examination would lead to anxiety and a feeling of separation from their families.

Conscious Approach to Parenting

There is a third group of parents that want to know all they can about how to parent, regardless of whether they think they have a good beginning blueprint or not. These parents consciously do research on a variety of subjects including child and adolescent development, discipline, sibling rivalry, education, temperament, and all aspects of parenting.

They also clearly define their values and goals for themselves and their children so that they formulate a parenting style that is in keeping with these values. They are more likely to ask the question,

“What am I trying to accomplish with this parenting strategy and is it in the best interest of my child?”

They decide what they think are the best ideas and tools and start with these, keeping in mind that they may change as they go along depending on what they learn. These parents may end up accepting a large portion of their parenting blueprints if they find them to be effective and healthy, but they are not afraid to deviate from them if they feel that is called for.

If these parents have come from a highly ineffective background or one that is abusive, they are willing to start from scratch. These parents have a very conscious method of selecting parenting strategies.

Most Common Approach to Parenting

The largest group of parents fall somewhere in the middle, or the “semi-conscious approach to parenting”, which means they have some thought as to whether the parenting style they were raised with needs some tweaking. Unfortunately, I also believe there are a large number of parents who parent from a more unconscious point of view which means they simply repeat what they learned and/or parent without giving much thought to issues such as child development, individuation, discipline versus punishment, a child’s individual temperament and particular parenting needs, etc. More often these parents were raised with a style that did not promote evaluation and assessment, but rather rote conditioning.


This week’s tip, “Don’t Cross the Line” comes to us from Dr. Jim Fay, author of Parenting with Love and Logic. No weekly tip next week; I will be out of town. Have a great 2 weeks, enjoy the weather and avoid those fighting words!

Tony’s mom has had it. She’s tired of waiting for him to empty the dishwasher.

“I’m tired of this,” she yells. “Get in there and take care of your job, and do it this minute! And I mean it this time!”

In Tony’s mind she has crossed the line between him feeling some control over the situation to him having no control. Typical kids, at this point, will try to regain control, and when they do, it’s not a pretty situation.

“Yeah, you can forget it,” he screams. “You can’t tell me what to do. I’m not your slave!”

Here Mom used fighting words as she tried to take total control. Tony retaliated by escalating the fight.

We create thinking words when we tell others what we are going to do. We create fighting words when we tell others what they are going to do.

After learning the difference between fighting words and thinking words at her Love and Logic class, Mom tried a different approach.

“Tony, I’ll be driving you to your soccer game when you’ve got the carpet vacuumed.”

“I’ll do it later, Mom. I’ve got to get my equipment ready.”

“No problem, Tony.”

“What do you mean, no problem?”

Mom turned and walked away.

When she reported the results, she said, “A few minutes later I heard the vacuum running. I didn’t recognize it because that was the first time I ever heard it from a distance. It was at that point I knew my life was changing for the better.”

Enjoy this entire story and many others on our famous audio, Helicopters, Drill Sergeants and Consultants.

Thanks for reading! Our goal is to help as many families as possible. If this is a benefit, forward it to a friend.

Jim Fay
If you’ve never attended one of our summer workshops, you haven’t lived! I don’t know anywhere else you can experience world-class speakers every single day. The kind of people who make things happen come to these events from all over the world. They’ve been attending for over 30 years. They tell us it’s an experience of a lifetime. Call us and we’ll tell you all about it.



Last week, we discussed the importance of maintaining a united front in parenting your adopted/foster children. I was tempted to continue this series since it seems such a hot topic for parents right now, but we will return to it in next month’s webinar on handling different parenting styles.

Today’s reminder is the importance of the use of “time-in.” No, that’s not a typo! Most of us are very familiar with “time-out” which is entirely appropriate in general discipline situation, however; to separate yourself from your adopted child during times of distress or tantrums is NOT recommended as it can easily trigger a reaction to fears of abandonment, traumatic or abusive situations. You may be aware that this fear is irrational, but to your child or teen the fear may be very intense and real. Keep in mind that this is relevant even to children adopted as infants and not just children who were adopted as older children (and therefore were likely exposed to abuse or neglect); even “unaware” babies suffered abandonment by their biological parents. Let’s review how to respond using time-ins and TBRI principles (Trust-Based Relational Intervention).

Situation: Jane calls her brother “stupid” and plows into him as she walks away.

Parent response: does not begin with playfulness since it involves aggression. “That is not ok. Please come sit in the chair next to me and I’ll help you start some breathing to calm down. Let me know when you are ready to talk about what happened. I’m right here.”

When child is ready to talk: “What happened? How can I help you calm down more? How do you think he felt? (teach cause and effect/emotional impact on others).” And finally the re-do, “Let’s practice telling your brother with words why you were upset instead of telling him with our body.”

Parent response for toddler/young child: Ask the child to tell his her body part to “obey” her. I like to have fun with this and tell the child to shake her finger at the body part, “Arm- no more punching! I mean it!”

Parent response for teen/tween: Obviously, you will need to tweek this response and use different words, like insisting that you spend some time together until things calm down.  “Jane, that is not ok. Come sit in the kitchen with me while I cook dinner and while you calm down. You can do some breathing or use your stress ball. Let me know when you are ready to talk about it…. What happened? How can I help? How do you think he felt?” In regards to the “re-do:” discuss what she could do in the future and then bring the brother in if there was indeed an interpersonal conflict for her to work out.

Move on and return to playfulness!



This week’s topic focuses on marriage, a topic we rarely consider! Click below for a wonderful article from The Child Mind Institute entitled, “Don’t Let a Child’s Disorder Destroy Your Marriage.” Even if your child is not specifically diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder or an anxiety/depressive disorder, chances are that you experience some level of difficulty managing his/her behaviors or emotional reactions and this WILL INDEED affect your marriage. In addition, research has demonstrated that children have a great deal less anxiety and depression when they know that Mom and Dad love each other and are united together. It gives them a great sense of security and feeling that there is good in the world.

Go ahead parents! Read the article, take Dr. Marshak’s advice and spend 4 hours in a motel!



Today’s topic coincides with the webinar I will be presenting this Thursday: “How to Manage Lying and Deceitfulness in Adoptive/Foster Parenting.” Click here to register! Remember how we’ve been learning that the parent’s interpretation is key? Well, how you typically interpret LYING as a parent will be dependent on how lying was handled when you were a child. Was it met with horror? Ignored? Were you ever scarred by a hurtful lie? If so, you may consider thinking about, talking to your friend/spouse or even journaling about the impact your life experiences have on your reaction to your child’s deceitful behavior. It will be great prep work for Thursday’s webinar. As you are all learning, we have to be free and clear of our own “stuff” so that we can calmly deal with a child or teen who lies to protect and to avoid because of his/her traumatic past.

“How to Manage Lying and Deceitfulness in Adoptive/Foster Parenting:”

Class Objectives: a) Explore parent reactions to lying b) Discuss various goals for these behaviors, including Heather Forbes’ “Stress Model” concepts; c) Learn a balanced approach of nurture and structure in your response in order to the reduce need for these behaviors

NEW! NEW! Want the chance to meet other adoptive or foster parents via a Skype-type program immediately following the webinar to further discuss the topic and commiserate??? EMAIL ME at and simply click on the emailed link from “AnyMeeting” to meet up to five other families. Space is obviously limited, so be sure to sign up now! FREE for those who would like to try on 4/23/15.



Reminder: Webinar next Thursday, “Managing Lying, Manipulation and Control in Adoptive/Foster Parenting” 4/23/15 7:30 PM  Register here! Refer two others who register and get the next webinar free!

Last week, we learned about The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis’ book for adoptive parents and helping professions. This week, we will focus on the “IDEAL” response for adopted kids/teens, which encourages parents to only respond at the level of intensity that’s truly needed for the situation. This means beginning with playfulness and only increasing the intensity or sternness based on the child’s level of resistance.


Immediate: Respond immediately, within seconds when possible

Direct: Engage directly with eyes, proximity and touch when possible

Efficient: Maximize playfulness when possible and use ONLY the level of response that is essential for addressing the challenge.

Action-based: Give the child a chance for a “re-do.” Maximize learning by creating body memory for the proper way of behaving.

Leveled at the behavior; not the child! Make it clear that you are their advocate, not adversary


Levels of Response

Levels of Response is drawn from E for efficient in the IDEAL Response. Solving behavioral challenges quickly and effectively, without breaking the connection between caregiver and child, is a primary feature of TBRI.

Ask the following to help disarm fear: “Can you tell me what you need right now?” and “How can I help you get what you need?”

Level One Response: Playful Engagement

Challenge: This is a low-level challenge in which a child/youth is disrespectful or sassy. They may roll their eyes, speak without raising their hand, grab something without permission, etc. At this level, there is no threat of danger or physical harm.

Goal: Simply give an opportunity to “re-do” the behavior. Since motor memory is formed through active participation, deep learning occurs.


First keep it playful or non-chalant: “Hold your britches/Hold your horses! I see an attitude with your request, pumpkin/honey. Try that again.” If the child follows, then immediately praise the correction (“Thanks for saying it that way”) and return to a normal, non-agitated relationship. Situation: A child rolls their eyes when the caregiver talks to them. Response: “I want to hear what you are saying, but could you please try that again with a respectful face?”

WHY RETURN TO a NORMAL LOVING RELATIONSHIP IMMEDIATELY? You are demonstrating to the child that although you had to place boundaries on the child, you will not withdraw your LOVE from them. Also, research shows that playfulness and feeling accepted despite mistakes works to reduce constant fear in these children. If we disarm fear, we disarm many negative behaviors that stem from fear. 

Level Two Response: Structured Engagement

Challenge: This is a higher level challenge and/or one that did not yield to playful engagement. No one is in danger and there is no physical threat, but if mishandled, there is potential for escalation. More structure is needed for this challenge.

Goal: Providing “choices” gives the child a sense of safety and “buy in” towards the resolution. Again, give the child an opportunity to re-do the behavior.


If child says “no” to your re-do, provide empathy for the situation then offer two choices, bending down to his level.

* “Sweetie, you can either do ____ or you can do this_____ ” in a non-threatening but firm voice (must be REAL choices!)

Example: “Honey, you can either talk to me nicely, or I am not able to consider your request. My answer will always be no. So please ask me again in a different way.”

* If she corrects herself, then “the problem is over,” the child is thanked/praised and the child is not reminded of the incident again unless further reconciliation is needed with others. RETURN TO LEVEL ONE.

Compromise: “This time I will allow _____, but next time you can expect ________.”

Situation: A child refuses to pick up their toys. Response: “You will need to pick up your toys but you could do it now or after lunch. Which do you choose?”

Level Three Response: Calming Engagement

Challenge: At this level, the challenge is accelerated and the child/youth may be at risk for becoming violent. Adults must also remain calm and focused. Voice should be firm, not threatening. Use fewer words and talk more slowly because cognitive areas of the brain are less active during these fight-flight-freeze times.

Goals: Give child an opportunity to self-regulate. Another goal is to prevent a full-blown crisis.

Note: When the child has returned to a calm state, a re-do can be requested when possible. Only request a re-do to encourage learning, never to shame or punish.


Return to Level 1 of playful engagement.

Situation: If the child continues to refuse to correct the attitude/behavior, then use a firm but calm voice and say, “It is not ok to talk that way to me, and it sounds like you need to slow down and think about this for a minute (or, “You’re not ready to talk”). Take a minute in the chair behind me or in your ‘calm space’ and let me know when you’re ready to talk.”

When child says “ready,” ask, “Why was I upset by your response?” (child answers: “Because of the way I asked it without respect.” ). Parent: “Ok, so how can you make that request with respect?” If the child corrects the attitude/disrespect with a re-do, then immediately thank/praise the child and return to a non-serious, non-agitated, accepting relationship. 

Level Four Response: Protective Engagement

Challenge: At this level, there is an active threat of danger and physical harm. Opportunity: The most powerful message an adult can give an acting-out child is the knowledge that the adult can keep them both safe, and that the adult still knows that the child’s behavior is not what defines him/her.

Goal: The immediate goal is to provide safety for all who are involved, including the out-of-control child. More importantly, when it is over, the goal is to demonstrate that the child’s worth (preciousness) was never in question and they are not defined by the episode.

Situation: Child becomes physically or verbally threatening and/or begins a behavioral meltdown, doing damage to property or persons nearby.

Response: Remove either the acting-out child or the “audience.” If necessary, seek help from an adult who can stay with the other children while you stay with the acting-out child. Find a private, quiet space where the child can be kept safe and no harmful objects are available.

Some professionals recommend “calm plus 5,” which means after the child begins to calm the adult asks him to breathe and relax further for five minutes. When the child is coherent again, the adult asks him to sit and talk. Looking into the child’s eyes, the adult asks, “Buddy, can you tell me what you need now?” Based on the belief that an unmet need or fear drives most aberrations in behavior, this question disarms the child and helps them begin to problem solve with the adult. Meet any physical needs, since the episode may have left them exhausted.




This week, I received an email notice about TCU’s “50% off” all videos from adoption specialist and author of The Connected Child, Dr. Karyn Purvis. Visit: to order now until April 15. I highly recommend them as I have them all in my collection! The series includes topics such as attachment, trauma and the brain, trust-based parenting, playfulness, etc.

Since Karyn Purvis is on my mind, why don’t I share a little introduction to her work or a review for those who are already familiar? The following excerpts are from her “pocket guide” for parents, with a focus on connecting, empowering and correcting principles to use with adoptive and foster children. If you would be interested in a more in-depth training on TBRI that includes information from my time training with her in Texas, please feel free to contact me. I am always open to suggestions for future webinars! Also, if you are in the MD/VA area, please let me know if you would be interested in an elementary-aged adoptive group– either a series or occasional Saturday workshops. Enjoy!

TBRI Overview

Trust-based Relational Intervention (TBRI) is designed to meet the basic relationship and developmental needs of children and youth from “hard places” as well as the needs of adults who seek to help them heal, learn and grow.

Parents should be perceived as “coach” instead of “warden.”

TBRI has 3 sets of principles:

  1. CONNECTING PRINCIPLES: Create connections that disarm fear, gain trust and enhance learning.

*Use of empathy, full attention, close proximity, calm voice tone, body language, etc

*How does this child perceive me (welcoming, threatening, rejecting)?

*Giving voice is one of the most powerful connecting gifts that can be given by any adult. Giving voice is a prime aspect of the attachment relationship between nurturing adults and children. Children and youth who have come from “hard places” typically feel they  have no voice and are much more likely to use aggression, violence, manipulation, triangulation and control to deal with others.

*Offer choices (activities during the day, etc) and compromises when possible. These both enhance trust, connection and learning.

*Share power: While it may seem counterintuitive, allowing children and youth to help make some decisions is called sharing power. Sharing power reinforces the adult’s authority (parent is confident enough to share) and at the same time creates connection and trust/avoids control battles.

  1. EMPOWERING PRINCIPLES: Empower learning and regulation by meeting physical and environmental needs.

*Physiological needs (food, water and sensory activity in last 2 hours; blood sugar monitored)

*Environmental factors (check for predictable routines and transitions {“in 5 minutes we will…”}; under or over-stimulating environment such as too much noise, light, smell, etc)

*Model and practice self-regulation/coping strategies in physical and/or nurturing activities throughout each day (ex: Check Engine plates, breathing/”soup”, chair sit ups/pull ups, weighted blankets, stress ball, etc)

  1. CORRECTING PRINCIPLES: Shape beliefs and behaviors, are dramatically effective because kids feel safe, connected and empowered!

Proactive Strategies:      *What does the child need to learn in order to be successful day-to-day and in life? How can I teach these things during calm/alert/teachable moments? How can I use playfulness/nurturing activities to teach these skills proactively?

Responsive Strategies:   *What is this behavior really saying? What does this child really need? What level of response is needed here? Am I using the IDEAL response? How can I quickly reconnect with the child after a correction?



Today’s tip comes to us from the book, Beneath the Mask: Understanding Adopted Teens. Debbie Riley, LCSW-C and director of Adoptions Together discusses the pivotal psychological hurdles that teens must jump in order to successfully reach healthy adulthood.

  1. Greater independence and self-sufficiency: This refers to the gradual dependence on parents which ends with the realization that interdependence on others is best. This neither means rebellious behavior that verbally demands independence yet ensures the parent will stay close and neither does it include complete separation.
  • Additional adoption issue: these teens are very “relinquishment” sensitive; this can cause additional anxiety during this time. Some have great difficulty leaving the parents’ home.
  1. Re-structure and internalize conscience: The teen takes on his/her own morality. The teen stops worrying about getting caught and begins to consider the real issues.
  • Adopted teens: exaggerate parent faults and are at risk for completely rejecting positive characteristics and idealizing unhealthy individuals or celebrities outside the family
  1. Appropriate adjustment of increasing hormones: The teen must consider self-control, timing and natural consequences of sexual behavior.
  • Some adopted teens believe that their birth parents were poor or hyper-sexual; therefore, they are genetically inclined to be the same.
  1. Healthy sense of identity: “Identity is based on personal characteristics such as similarities with and differences from parents, cultural and racial background, talents and normal beliefs, physical appearance, personal tastes and preferences, energy level, and a host of other defining variables” (8). It also includes goals and plans for the future.
  • “Accepting and incorporating the positive personality and cognitive contributions of parents while asserting differences from them” (13).
  • “The presence of two connections to early childhood- one biological and one historical, the other parental and present- may make it difficult for the adolescent to totally emancipate from either. The normal regressive pulls created by the sometimes fearful prospect of independence may draw the adolescent first to one dependent tie and then to the other, confusing the effort to establish identity” (13).

Thus, consider that these are normal developmental changes. “Adoption does complicate the necessary developmental progression through adolescence… Adoption should not be confused with psychopathology. Adoption is not something that is wrong. However, it is a factual circumstance of great emotional importance” (10). Understanding these developmental milestones may shed some light on the challenges facing your teen!



In between tips and recommendations, I would like to include blogs or posts from other adoptive parents. Melissa Dunn Corkum, blogger and adoptive mother of 6 (!) writes about her reactions to a Dan Rather special on adoption. Very interesting, I think especially so to those who have older-elementary children or teens:

Click here for her blog post!

Join us for the NEXT parenting webinar for just $12:

“When Your Kids Drive You Crazy: Managing Parent Anger”

March 26, 2015; 7:30-8:00 EST

Click here to register!


In this week’s tip, we return to the idea of the importance of interpretation. When our child slams a door, rejects us…. what could be the reason? Click the below link on “The Goals of Misbehavior” to find some clues!

Goals of Misbehavior


For those who took January’s parenting webinar series, you know the importance of healthy eating- particularly avoiding dyes, pesticides and other GMO food items that can increase your child or teen’s agitation, impulsivity or general propensity for meltdowns. Click here for a great article entitled, “A Great Guide for Food Dyes: Food for Learning”

In my private practice, I have transitioned my “reward snacks” to those that either are dye-free or are organic. In my search for appropriate snacks, I discovered a wonderful website where parents can type in the name of a snack and learn whether or not the snack contains unwanted ingredients.

What snacks did I find that met my expectations? Here is a list of some of them!

Motts Medley Assorted Fruits (dye-free; not organic but less expensive than Annie’s)

Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies or Annie’s bunny fruit snacks Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks Variety Pack (24 ct)

Cascadian Farms chocolate chip bars/granola/cereals

Simply Fruit Roll Ups

Yummy Earth organic lollipops YumEarth Organic Lollipops, 4.2 Ounce

Yoplait Trix Yogurt (states “No articifial dyes” on packaging)

Cheetos Simply Natural

Stretch Island All Natural fruit strips Stretch Island Original Fruit Leather, Summer Strawberry, 0.5-Ounce Bars (Pack of 30)

Unreal Candy Unreal Candy Coated Chocolate, 41, 1.5 Ounce (Pack of 12)


This week’s tip comes to us from Dr. Charles Fay, author and creator of Love and Logic principles, great for all kids but particularly those who tend to get into control battles with their parents. It’s certainly anxiety-producing to “let go” as parents, yet the resulting behaviors and decision-making skills are often much better when using these strategies!
“Helping unmotivated kids is one of the most complex challenges we face as educators and parents. Therefore, giving a quick and easy solution in less than 300 words would be impossible…and downright irresponsible.
In approximately 99% of cases, the child’s lack of motivation results from far more than simple laziness or a conscious desire to act out. The roots of apathy go far deeper, into feelings of frustration, anger, hopelessness, lack of control, or loss. The majority of these feelings lay at the subconscious level, where they wreak havoc on a child’s ability to engage in higher-level thinking tasks, such as sustained attention to detail, problem-solving, memory, perseverance, and self-control.
This is why punishing children for getting bad grades usually backfires. Since they are already feeling bad about life, how is making them feel worse about it going to get them motivated to succeed?
In my award winning book, From Bad Grades to a Great Life, I teach a variety of alternative strategies for getting at the roots of apathy…rather than making it worse with anger, lectures, threats and punishments. At the core of what we teach is the importance of loving kids for who they are…rather than who we want them to be. Yes! The healing process begins when we end the power struggle by saying, “We will love you no matter how well or poorly you do in school. Your grades are your grades…not ours. That’s why we are no longer going to fight with you about them. Just let us know how we can help.”‘


“Control as a Foil to Loss”

Today’s topic is control. Do you ever wonder why your child wants to control seemingly everything… control how you parent, control what happens next in the day or what her sibling should do? “One of the ways in which children (and adults too!) try to prevent future losses is to try to be in absolute control of every situation… It isn’t just a matter of opinions or taste, it is a matter of survival. The child was not in control of the situation at the beginning of his life [or at the time he lost his biological parents] and look what happened! It becomes intolerable to these children to ever again allow anyone else to be in control of their lives…. The battle for control appears to the parents as obstinancy, which it technically is, but it emanates from a tremendous fear on the parent of the child of another abandonment.” (Verrier, 78-79). Just like someone who struggles with an eating disorder and counts (controls) every calorie and activity, control is always linked to fear and anxiety. So, here you are again, adoptive parents, back to the importance of interpretation and its effect on how you will handle their need to control. Remind him, “It seems like you are worried I might not choose the best discipline for your brother” or “you seemed concerned about our plans for the day” or “sometimes it’s hard to trust someone else, right?” After an empathetic statement, reassure her that she is a child and doesn’t need to worry about those things. You as parent, are the one who has the responsibility to be concerned about those details.


Last week, we read a portion of Nancy Verrier’s book, The Primal Wound on relational trauma. Here’s the link if you are interested in buying the book (highly recommended!): 
What can adoptive parents do to help their children? First, accept what seems like unwarranted trust issues or over-reactions. You could be the most perfect parent and still have a child who tells you straight to your face, “You don’t love me” or an adoptive teen whom I recently heard say, “I don’t trust you; you are untrustworthy.” IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. (Of course, there are always things that can be improved in order to help your child, but I am referring to the trigger). Recognize or interpret these statements as evidence of their deepest fear: to be abandoned again… be “bad” and prove that he/she is unwanted just as happened when he was “given away.” DO NOT TAKE IT AS A PERSONAL ATTACK or you will get caught in the negative cycle. Remember that to love and to accept love is extremely vulnerable, a risk that some children and teens feel too scared to take- so they push away. Remember INTERPRETATION. Yes, repeat it in your head again, “It’s all about interpretation!” So when your child says something like the above, as her to explain what she is feeling and why instead of taking it personally or becoming angry.

This week’s tip comes to us from Nancy Verrier’s The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child and piggybacks on the topic of tomorrow night’s free webinar. It’s certainly tough to read (avoid the temptation to believe that Nancy is anti-adoption, she is an adoptive parent herself!), but is crucial in developing empathy for your adopted child. These are concepts of understanding you can remind yourself of, especially when you don’t feel your child’s reaction matches the situation.
“What the general population considers a concept, a social solution for the care of children who cannot or will not be taken care of by their biological parents, is really a two-part, devastating and debilitating experience for the child. The first part of the experience is the abandonment itself. No matter how much the mother wanted to keep the baby and no matter what the altruistic or intellectual reasons she had for relinquishing him or her, the child experiences the separation as abandonment. The second part of the experience is that of being handed over to strangers (Verrier, 14) “
The adoptive mother is recognized as “an imposter, a substitute for the mother with whom he spent the first nine months of his life…. Dr. Chamberlain and others in perinatal psychology have documented the evidence that babies are not the unaware, simple beings which scientists once supposed. We now know they are cognitive beings with a wide range of abilities, such as recognizing their own mother’s face, smell and energy… (Verrier, 15)”
She goes on to say that the abandonment is much worse when babies are left alone to cry. Adoptive parents cannot simply throw up their hands and say, “What’s there for me to do, then? I am not the biological parent.” It’s not a lost cause! As Karyn Purvis says, “Children were harmed in relationship and they will come to experience healing in relationships.”
More to come on this topic!
Putting an End to Arguing and Backtalk
Does it ever seem like children carry around a little book called, “Arguing for Fun and Profit?” To put an end to this draining behavior, experiment with repeating the same loving Love and Logic “one-liner,” regardless of what your child says. The key, of course, is to maintain a soft, empathetic tone of voice. Listed below are some examples:“I love you too much to argue.”
“Probably so.”
“I know.”
“I bet it feels that way.”
“What do you think you’re going to do?”
“What did I say?”
“I don’t know. What do you think?”
“There’s no time for making kitten britches.” (Some of the most effective one-liners are really strange!)
You can find more techniques in the Ages 7-12 Parenting Package.
Ready for Cell Phones, Social Media, etc.: At What Age?
At what age should our kids be allowed to have their own cell phones? When is it appropriate for them to begin using social media?
The overly simplistic answer: 
Not before their early to middle teenage years.
Few kids have the maturity to handle the pressures of these privileges prior to adolescence. In fact, many adults lack the maturity!
“Maturity” is the key word. Since the stakes are so high, I encourage parents to take the following survey to see whether their kids might be ready. Rate your answers from 1 to 5 for all the statements below. Total your score at the end.
Not at all                                                      Absolutely
My child is respectful and fun to be around most of the time.
My child typically makes good decisions when he or she isn’t being watched.
My child takes responsibility for his or her poor decisions without blaming others.
My child typically makes good decisions when he or she isn’t being watched.
My child takes responsibility for his or her poor decisions without blaming others.
My child believes that using technology is a privilege…not an entitlement or “right.”
My child understands that not everybody online is their “friend.”
My child completes chores and other responsibilities without needing to be nagged.
My child isn’t hooked on drama or gossip.
When I ask my child to turn off the TV, video game, etc. they do so without arguing.
My child handles conflict, teasing and other social trials without “falling apart.”
My child understands the risks of sharing too much information online.
Obviously, the higher the score, the more confident you can be that your child possesses the basic maturity required to handle technology responsibly. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
For great techniques to lead your child to responsible decision making, check out:


Welcome, to those who are new! Last week, we were reminded about the need for parents to be physical and playful with their children. Enjoy PART TWO this week, courtesy of Dr. Markum and “AHA Parenting” (see below for link if you like her ideas- she has written a couple books!):

So when your child asks you to play, make a deal. Sure, you’ll play dollhouse, or build a train track. But first, will they play a roughhousing game with you for a few minutes? Don’t be surprised if your child loves this kind of play so much, he begins begging for these games over and over.

Here are some ideas to get you started.

When your child is annoying, or in your face. “Are you out of hugs again? Let’s do something about that!” Grab your child and give her a LONG hug — as long as you can. Don’t loosen your grip until she begins to squirm and then don’t let go immediately. Hug harder and say “I LOVE hugging you! I never want to let go. Promise I can hug you again soon?” Then let go and connect with a big, warm smile, and say “Thank you! I needed that!”

A more intensive version, for when a child has a new sibling, or you’ve been doing a lot of disciplining. Convince your child on a very deep level that you LOVE him by chasing him, hugging, kissing, then letting him get away and repeating — again and again. “I need my Michael….You can’t get away…I have to hug you and cover you with kisses….oh, no, you got away…I’m coming after you….I just have to kiss you more and hug you more….You’re too fast for me….But I’ll never give up…I love you too much…I got you….Now I’ll kiss your toes….Oh, no, you’re too strong for me…But I will always want more Michael hugs….” This is my favorite game, guaranteed to transform your child’s doubt about whether he’s truly loved (and any child who is “misbehaving” harbors that doubt). (I call this the Fix game because it Fixes whatever’s wrong. From a parent: “I’m kind of shocked how much my son is loving the Fix game!? I don’t think I’ve ever heard my son say, “Let’s do it again!” so many times :)”

A stepped-up version involving both parents.
Fight over your child (jokingly), vying to see who can snatch him up and hug him. “I want him!’ No, I want him!” “But I NEED him so much!” No, I need him! You ALWAYS get him!”

When your child is grumpy. “You seem to be in a NO mood. I have an idea. I want to hear you say NO as much as you want. I will say YES, and you can answer NO in the same tone of voice. So when I say YES in this low voice, you say NO in a low voice. When I say YES in this squeaky voice, you say NO in this squeaky voice. Okay?”

When your child has been screeching or complaining: Give permission. “Ok, there’s been so much complaining (or loud screeching)! This is your last chance to complain (screech) for the rest of the day. I’m setting the timer and putting on my earphones. I want you to complain (screech) as loud as you can for the next three minutes. You only have three minutes so make the most of them. After that, we’re all back to normal inside voices. 1, 2, 3, GO!”

As long as your child is laughing, that game is working to alleviate anxiety and increase well-being. Don’t be surprised if your child wants to play these games over and over. They relieve stress, help your child master emotion — and believe it or not, they’re fun!


Enjoy this article from Dr. Laura Markham on “playing” or enjoying physical activity with your child. Whether you have a youngster or teen, the concept of spending time with him/her on his level is very relevant. Notice (or ask) what your child would like to do during the rest of the break, put down your work and enjoy time together!

Playing with Your Child: Games for Connection and Emotional Intelligence

“Play can be the long-sought bridge back to that deep emotional bond between parent and child. Play, with all its exuberance and delighted togetherness, can ease the stress of parenting. Playful Parenting is a way to enter a child’s world, on the child’s terms, in order to foster closeness, confidence, and connection.” — Lawrence CohenPlayful Parenting*

I know, you think you hate playing with your child.  But what if I gave you permission to set a timer and forget about your To-Do list and just connect with your child for ten minutes?  What if I promised that if you do this on a regular basis, your child will become more cooperative, and you will feel more energized?  What if it helped you become a happier parent?

Children need to play. It’s their work. All mammals play; it’s their way of learning skills they’ll need when they’re full-grown, from finding food to getting along with others. It’s also the way small humans process their emotions.

All day, every day, children have to manage complicated feelings: Fear (What if there IS something under the bed?), Jealousy (Maybe you do love their sibling more!), Humiliation (The teacher acted like he should already know that, and all the kids laughed!), Panic (What if she doesn’t make it to the bathroom on time?), Anger (It was my turn!), Disappointment (Doesn’t anyone care what I want?!)…. The normal challenges of every day for a growing child of any age stimulate all kinds of feelings. Children release these emotions through play. Laughter, specifically, transforms our body chemistry by reducing stress hormones and increasing bonding hormones.

Kids are more physical than adults. When they get wound up emotionally, their bodies need to discharge all that energy.  That’s one of the reasons they have so much more energy than we do, so they wear us out.

But we can use this to our advantage, because when we play physical games with children, they giggle and sweat and scream — and they release the same pent-up stress hormones that they’d otherwise have to tantrum to discharge. Playing is also how kids learn, so when you “teach” an emotional lesson by playing, your child really gets it.  Best of all, playing helps parents and kids feel closer.

I realize that at the end of the day you might be exhausted. I personally would much rather snuggle on the couch than initiate an active game.  The good news is that these games don’t have to last long — maybe 10 minutes at most, or even as little as 2 minutes.

And believe it or not, most parents find them energizing.  That’s because the tension and irritation we carry around makes us tired.  When we play, we discharge stress hormones just like our kids, giving us a little more energy as we head into the evening.

Like what you just read? Check out her book: “Attached at the Heart”


” A Time for Family “

Courtesy of: A Family for Every Child

Many people think of the holidays as a time for family and tradition. If you have adopted a very young   child who has never known anything but your home, those traditions may be theirs as well. But children adopted at an older age who remember holidays with biological parents or in foster care can have very different expectations for the season. Here are some tips on how to weather the last few months of the year.

  • Create all-inclusive celebrations that acknowledge the situation. Does your child h ave   memories of holidays with his or her birth family? If so, they may have established traditions that you know nothing about. Simply talking to your child about how he or she has celebrated the holidays in the past can allow you to graft new traditions onto new. If your adoption is open, the biological family may actually play a roll in the end-of-the-year celebrations. More layers of family means more relationships to navigate.
    • If possible, maintain a relationship with the biological family throughout the year so that the holidays don’t become the single focal point of the relationship. This can ease stress and lower expectations for creating the ” perfect ” holiday.
    • Let go of expectations. Now that you have new   members of the family, your holidays may not look like they did in previous years. That big meal at Grandma’s house with everyone gathered around the table may not be possible this year if, for example, large groups are anxiety-provoking for an adopted child who has experienced abuse. Only take on what you can handle.
    • Keep lines of communication open, and take your cues from your child. Ask him or her what he or she envisions for the holidays.
  • Accept the grieving process. Holidays can spur a feeling of loss for children who have had to say goodbye to their biological families, no matter how imperfect those families may have been. The parenting pages of offer the following suggestions:
    • Make memories a family activity. Go around the room and have each family member share a memory of past holidays. Your child may have a strong memory from his or her biological family, or – if he or she has been with you long enough – he may choose to share a memory of his new family.
    • If your child has a lifebook or scrapbook detailing his past, work on a holiday page. Even if you don’t have pictures, your child can draw what he or she remembers.
    • Buy a special ornament or decoration that represents the biological family, if the situation had positive aspects. If not, the ornament can symbolize the coming together of a new family. Another option is to light a candle representing the biological family at a holiday dinner.
    • Allow your child to work through his or her sadness. If he or she is old enough, encourage journaling or sharing memories aloud.
  • Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Don’t expect Christmas or Hanukkah to automatically stir up warm, happy memories. It may be second nature to deny that your child is sad – ” But Christmas is a happy time! ” – but try to be open to your child’s feelings. Withdrawal, sadness, and acting out are all potential responses to the   holidays.
    • The blog Adoptivity suggests asking questions and performing a little guesswork to draw the child out, especially if she or he is reluctant to share his emotions. You might ask, ” Are you thinking about your birth mother? ” or state, ” It’s hard not having your biological family here, isn’t it. “
    • Holiday movies with adoption themes like ” Elf ” or ” Snow Dogs ” can provide a starting point for conversation. Check out the adoption pag es at for a longer list of Christmas movies about different family situations.
  • Be aware of your child’s state of mind. Busy, bustling get-togethers can quickly overwhelm a child not used to so many people. It’s easy for children, especially those who have difficulty dealing with change, to be overstimulated. Try to keep gatherings as low-key as possible, and maintain eating and sleeping schedules as much as you can. Perhaps it would be possible to have a small family gathering, as opposed to a huge dinner with far-flung aunts and uncles, this year.
    • Be mindful of how your child interprets innocent stories or traditions. The emphasis on ” being good ” for Santa Claus can frighten a child with a history of abuse or neglect. ” You’d better not pout, you’d better not cry ” may seem to be a harmless line from a song, but adopted children can interpret it to mean they will be sent away – or back to their previous situations – if they are not ” good ” or happy during the holidays.
    • If you haven’t already spoken to your child’s teachers, this is an ideal time to remind them that questions like ” how does your family celebrate the holidays ” can be uncomfortable for children who feel they have two families or who haven’t experienced a holiday with their adoptive family. Many schools ” adopt ” a low-income family for Thanksgiving or Christmas, and while this is a wonderful tradition that encourages giving, using the language of ” adoption ” can be confusing, especially to younger children.
  • Respect ethnic and cultural differences. If your child is of a different ethnicity or race than the rest of his adoptive family, he may feel that he sticks out like a sore thumb at family gatherings. Relatives who ask probing or insensitive questions or favor the children they see as the family’s ” real ” kids can be especially problematic. Try to educate relatives before they meet your child so that potentially hurtful interactions can be kept to a minimum.
    • Try to blend your child’s traditions with yours. Cook a special dish they remember or perform a familiar ritual. If your child came to you without specific traditions but with limited knowledge of yours, explain events well before they occur. Midnight mass or the lighting of the menorah may feel alien to children not raised in those religions.
    • Use stories like ” Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer ” to begin a conversation about how looking and feeling different can make people feel that they don’t belong, even when they are deeply loved and needed.
  • Deal with Extended Family. If your holiday gathering will be a big one, prepare your child for the bustle and try to keep routines as normal as possible. Relatives need preparing, too, so that they can appropriately interact with your child and with you as parents. Explain things that may seem confusing – why, for example, you maintain contact with the child’s biological family (if indeed you do), or why you are dedicated to preserving your child’s heritage if the adoption was a cross-cultural one.
    • If possible, introduce your child to extended family before the pressure of the holidays hits. It’s always easier to meet new people when the situation is low-key and not fraught with expectations. While relatives may feel entitled to all the details of your child’s adoption story, remember that it is perfectly within your rights to keep the experience within your immediate family.
    • Gently encourage connections between your child and compassionate, understanding family members. Observe similarities – maybe your child likes to bake cookies like Aunt Ruth, for example – and use them to make your child feel like part of the family.

– See more at:

Sources and Further Reading:
Adopted Children and the Holidays (Adoptivity)
Foster Children and Your Extended Family During the Holidays (
Holidays Can Bring Up Lots of Emotions (Adoptive Families)
The Holidays: Challenges and Opportunities for Adoptive Families (CASE)
Holidays with an Extended Family: An Opportunity for Connection (CASE)
– See more at:


Enjoy this short video about helping kids to respond positively to requests. Author Adele Faber: “How to Talk So Kids Listen, and Listen So Kids Talk”

Want to buy the book? Click here:


IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN! School is back in session and parents need all the help they can get. Here’s a wonderful little article from the Love and Logic Institute.

School Work
By Jim Fay

You’re on your way home from work. You’re anxious for some encouraging talk and a little relaxation after a hard day. You need all the support you can get to recharge your batteries and feel strong enough to go back tomorrow and face another working day.

You are greeted with, “Hi, Honey. How was it today? Where are your papers? I want to see how you did all day.” “It was OK,” you reply. “I really don’t want to talk about it. I’m really beat.” “Well, no wonder you don’t want to talk about it. Look at these papers. You can do a lot better than this. Where was your mind today? You sit down right now and we’ll go over these proposals you wrote and get the spelling straightened out. And look at these paragraphs. You’ll never get promoted at this rate. I don’t understand this. You have so much more potential than this.”

How long would it be before you find a more comfortable place to go after work? “Who needs this?” you’ll say.”I can find someone who can show me a little more appreciation for my hard work!”

Many school–age children face this same situation daily. They are greeted after school with, “What did you learn today?” and “Where is your homework? You get on it right now!”

Children are also requested to bring home their papers so that the mistakes can be corrected. Even though this is done with love and caring, it trains them to focus on their weaknesses.

The problem faced by students is that they can’t choose to go somewhere else after school. They can’t avoid facing a replay of their daily failures. They must return home and listen to whatever their parents have to say. It is very difficult for a child to say,”Mother! Do you realize you are training me to keep my school progress a secret from you?” Soon they quit bringing home papers. They make excuses and blame it on their teachers. “She never gives me my papers to bring home.”

The next step is for the parent to go to school demanding that the teacher develop some sort of foolproof reporting method. Teachers are actually faced with writing daily and weekly reports for parents. This never provides a long-term solution because it addresses the wrong problem. It also robs teachers of valuable teaching and preparation time.

The real problem is that the child has learned that it is unsafe to discuss school with his or her parents. Rather than developing a reporting plan, it is much wiser to work on the real problem–helping children and parents learn to talk to each other in safe and supportive ways. This solution works, and it lasts a lifetime.

You can teach your child to discuss school with you. While you are doing this, you can also lay the foundation blocks that will build a true winner out of your youngster.

STEP ONE: Sit down with your children two to three times per week. Have them point out the best things they did on their papers.

STEP TWO: Make sure your child describes to you the reasons for his or her success. As they put these into words, the reasons for the success will be imprinted on their brain, never to be erased. They will start to believe they are in control of their success.

STEP THREE: Work with your children on their mistakes only when they ask for your help. Let the school work on deficiencies. Teachers have training to help with the deficiencies in effective ways.

STEP FOUR: Be patient. This is a real change in operation. It will take the child a period of time to believe that this is not just a new phase his parents are going through. Look for the real benefits to show up in several months or maybe during the next few years, depending upon the child’s past history.

Winners always think about how they are going to succeed. Losers always think about their possible failures.

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