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Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships

Wednesday, July 5, 2017 @ 02:07 PM
Author: admin

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships-© HaywireMedia - Fotolia.com

Last week we introduced the relationship pyramid and discussed how safety and security provide the foundation on which relationships depend. The more substantial the experience of feeling safe and secure, the stronger the relationship will be and the easier the transition to the increasing intimacy of the upper levels of the pyramid.

Until feelings of safety and security are firmly in place, the higher levels of relationship remain stubbornly out of reach. Efforts to teach, or discipline fall on deaf ears. Until kids feel connected, they don’t care or give much credence to what parents, ( or teachers, coaches, etc.) want.

Think about it. As an adult, the opinions of total strangers have little impact on your choices. Personal values, beliefs and priorities drive you, not the instructions of some random passer-by on the street. The influence of public opinion is minor compared to the sway of those about whom you really care and with whom you feel securely connected.  Kids too, listen to those they care about and to whom they feel connected.

Mirroring and Belonging: Building Healthy Relationships-relationship-pyramid-Mirror

The next level of the Relationship Pyramid focuses on Mirroring and belonging. Mirroring is interactive. It involves a “Serve and Return” loop. Mirroring occurs between parent and child; sometimes the parent leads the mirroring. Other times the child mirrors what the parent models.

In the former, a parent notices a behavior in the child and repeats it back to them–not in a mocking way. But in a way that says, I “see” you and accept you.

Kids need assistance in learning to identify and name the emotions they feel and to accurately recognize the emotions displayed by others.

(Events from their history may be causing them to “go on the alert.” Discover what these triggers are. Validate their perceptions and help them to recognize that in the past it was true that  when a person from their past looked that way/acted that way, it indicated danger.)

Be careful to maintain  congruency about your own emotions. If children infer that you are angry, and their perception is accurate, own your emotion. Validate the accuracy of their “read.” Do not deny your emotions; this only confuses kids and makes it more difficult for them to develop accuracy in reading social cues.

How can parents help kids develop a broad emotional vocabulary that will serve them well, enhance their ability to socialize and foster the sense that they belong? Teaching children to recognize and name emotions provides them the vocabulary with which to think about and communicate their feelings.

Mirroring-Belonging-Building Healthy-Relationships-Father and toddler son playingPlayfulness plays an important–essential–role in creating and strengthening  connection between parent and child. Parents can engage in silly face games which involve mirroring on a purely physical level.  Check out this link for several ideas for emotional literacy activities including puppetry, miming, mirrors and more. (Practicing these skill-building activities when parent and child are in a relaxed mood, not when  a child is in the middle of an emotional meltdown.)

For another fun, joint activity, take pictures of each other as you dramatize different feelings. Turn the photos into  a matching game (similar to “Concentration” a popular child’s “matching” game.) Have fun. Enjoy spending time together, knitting that bond that connects while simultaneously helping your child acquire essential social skills.

How do you consciously mirror your child’s emotions?

 

Rear View Mirror, Gratitude and the Lens of Love

Wednesday, November 30, 2016 @ 02:11 PM
Author: admin

Rear View Mirror, Gratitude and the Lens of Love
happy little boy and girl travel by car, family travel

Conventional wisdom says hindsight is twenty/twenty. With Thanksgiving now in our rear view mirrors, what lessons can we bring forth throughout the holiday season?

Intentional Parents can choose to sustain a gratitude perspective amidst the onslaught of holiday noise and stress. Take a deep breath and imagine the benefits that might accrue to you and your family. Resist the temptation to groan and bemoan that it’s impossible to add another item to your To Do List. This is doable and it needn’t take much more than a moment of time and attention.

How many times a day do you check your phone for texts, Twitter and Facebook alerts or to post on Instagram? What if you resolved to reduce the times you choose to react to your phone. If you check it hourly, change it to every two hours or, only at break time or only after 5:00 p.m. (How does that make you feel? Responses may vary from exhausted relief, to a shivery sweat of withdrawal. We’ll blog about this aspect another time.)

Back to this momentous decision. Intensify your resolve and breathe … Now create a “Notes” page titled I Am Thankful For..Each day use this newly available chunk of time to list one thing  about each family member which you appreciate. These can be significant or minor. Avoid turning it into a Big Deal. This list is for your eyes only and it’s intended to shift your point of view from one of stress, frustration and failed expectations to a lens of appreciating the little blessings.

Too often the weight of what we think loved ones should be doing or saying traps us. We focus on how they fall short. This tendency ignores the fact that we are all works in progress–especially our children. Our parental “hat” tends to highlight our awareness of what our kids still need to master: the skills, habits and values which they need to be successful human beings. This makes it easy to overlook our own shortcomings.

For a bit of perspective, let’s pause for a moment to review a recent day. Turn the lens back on ourselves. How many times did life serve a “reminder”  that we can do better, that we depend on the help, cooperation, and feedback of others throughout our day.  Humbling right? Knocks us right off that pedestal that is too easy to set ourselves atop.

Little girl having a temper tantrum with her desperate mother in backgroundLet’s return to our Daily Appreciation List. As we contemplate taking on this daily practice, what feelings bubble up? Our emotional response often provides a window of the emotional thermostat of our family relationships. What feelings wash over us? Excitement? Confidence? Doubt? Exhaustion? Something else?

If you struggle to find something positive to list, take this awareness as a wake up call that your family Emotional Bank Account* needs deposits. Fast!

Temporarily ignore  instances that conjure disappointment, annoyance, anger or judgment. Sometimes we get stuck on “correction” mode and chronically evaluate our loved ones through this negative perspective. Problem is, this grim point of view easily overwhelms us and dominates our feelings towards others. We quickly see how they’ve missed the mark and we remain blinded to their efforts to comply, learn or, improve.

glasses-positive-filterTime to don the proverbial “rose-colored-glasses. For this exercise, release the negativity and accountability lens and focus on finding one thing–no matter how small–one thing about each family member that brings a smile.  While searching for an entry, view life exclusively through a lens of love and affection. Temporarily ignore  instances that conjure disappointment, annoyance, anger or judgment. (There’s plenty of time to address that later.)

For the next month take on this daily practice. Notice how it opens your awareness to what IS working on your family. Notice too, how it alters the emotional temperature of the family. Consider sharing your Daily Positives List with your loved ones. (Have no expectations regarding their reactions! Simply inform them that you wanted them to know that you appreciate “this” about them.) Observe both their immediate and their long-term response.

What might be the result of committing to this daily gratitude practice for the month of November? Please share your experience with us. Look in the distance of time’s rear view mirror and remember the overwhelming joy of welcoming your child to the family. That memory serves as a driving force for being the Intentional Adoption-attuned Parent that he needs.

* Read our earlier blogs part 1 and part 2 for more on the Family Emotional Bank Account*

 

The Wheels Go Round and Round

Wednesday, January 13, 2016 @ 04:01 PM
Author: admin

School busMost of us are familiar with the classic childhood song, “The Wheels on the Bus.” My kids delighted in singing the lyrics and acting out the accompanying gestures –swishing wipers, rolling wheels, children bumping up and down, etc., .

As an adoptive parent whose children are now adults I have many fond memories connected to singing with my children as we traveled in the family van.

I also have many very vivid and a bit more challenging memories associated with conversations in our car.

 

Nervous Father Teaching Teenage Son To Drive

For years, I wondered why my children chose our moving vehicle as the venue for charged conversations on important subjects. Fellow adoptive parents confirmed that their kids also  did the same–usually when the driving conditions were particularly challenging–as were the questions that they raised. Nope, no easy questions with painless answers. Their inquiries usually focused on the complex and hard to explain aspects of adoption.

So what made the family car, bumper-to-bumper in traffic– children’s favorite spot for difficult conversations?

First, the expectation of eye contact was nearly eliminated. As Queen of the Safety Patrol, “Eyes on the road” was essential for driving safety. The kids knew this. I believe it factored into their decision to raise the questions while we bumped along, watching out for potholes both literal and figurative.  The car also limited the ability for child or parent to leave the area when/if the conversation became too uncomfortable or difficult.

Once I became an NLP practitioner, I learned how parallel body positions reinforce an unconscious feeling or rapport. Riding in the car guaranteed this commonality. Our children yearn for our undivided attention & what better place than in the car, where both are confined for a period of time.brain wheels

We parents can follow our children’s leads and also choose the car as the “it” spot for important conversations. (Obviously, avoid conversations that might distress them; those are best held off road.) But the car is a great spot for planting “thought seeds” for future, more detailed adoption conversations. (We can also set and follow an agreement that we all avoid texting, thus modeling good behavior and upholding the family value system.)
Periodicaly toss out a mention of an adoption-oriented thread. For example on the way home from soccer, band practice, or academic games say something like, “I wonder if you get your talent for sports, music, etc, from your birth parents.” Leave it at that. If your child wants to chat further, follow their lead. If they don’t return your serve, you’ve still accomplished something important: you’ve demonstrated that this is a permissible, welcome, and safe topic, that you recognize–and appreciate. It affirms our acceptance of their birth parents as a valuable part of them and shows we understand that our children think about and value that part of themselves. This message is critical and must be frequently repeated in action and words.

As Intentional Parents we speak through both words and actions to show we are not only willing to listen when our children raise the subject, we must also raise it ourselves.  These discussions do not always need to be BIG conversations–although sometimes they will be. Listen with an intention to understand not rebut. As the saying goes. “We have two ears and one mouth; there’s a reason for this.”

family to familyRebecca Vahle of the Adoption Perspectives adoption radio network makes a similar point, “We must listen well to love well.” Check out her amazing show and its archives. It is a treasure trove of adoption resources and perspectives from all aspects of the adoption constellation. She has interviwed GIFT coaches Sally Ankerfelt (the Benefits of Homeland Visits) and Gayle Swift (ABC, Adoption & Me and other).

Mirroring and Belonging: Building an Emotional Vocabulary

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 @ 06:04 PM
Author: admin

Mirroring and Belonging: Building an Emotional Vocabulary

© HaywireMedia - Fotolia.com

When we introduced the relationship pyramid and discussed how safety and security provide the foundation on which relationships depend. The more substantial the experience of feeling safe and secure, the stronger the relationship will be and the easier the transition to the increasing intimacy of the upper levels of the pyramid.

Until feelings of safety and security are firmly in place, the higher levels of relationship remain stubbornly out of reach. Efforts to teach, or discipline fall on deaf ears. Until kids feel connected, they don’t care or give much credence to what parents, ( or teachers, coaches, etc.) want.

Think about it. As an adult, the opinions of total strangers have little impact on your choices. Personal values, beliefs and priorities drive you, not the instructions of some random passer-by on the street. The influence of public opinion is minor compared to the sway of those about whom you really care and with whom you feel securely connected.  Kids too, listen to those they care about and to whom they feel connected.

relationship pramid.Mirror

The next level of the Relationship Pyramid focuses on Mirroring and belonging. Mirroring is interactive. It involves a “Serve and Return” loop. Mirroring occurs between parent and child; sometimes the parent leads the mirroring. Other times the child mirrors what the parent models.

In the former, a parent notices a behavior in the child and repeats it back to them–not in a mocking way. But in a way that says, I “see” you and accept you.

Kids need assistance in learning to identify and name the emotions they feel and to accurately recognize the emotions displayed by others.

(Events from their history may be causing them to “go on the alert.” Discover what these triggers are. Validate their perceptions and help them to recognize that in the past that was true. Or, when a person from their past looked that way/acted that way, it indicated danger.)

Be careful to maintain  congruency about your own emotions. If children infer that you are angry, and their perception is accurate, own your emotion. Validate the accuracy of their “read.” Do not deny your emotions; this only confuses kids and makes it more difficult for them to develop accuracy in reading social cues.

How can parents help kids develop a broad emotional vocabulary that will serve them well, enhance their ability to socialize and foster the sense that they belong? Teaching children to recognize and name emotions provides them the vocabulary with which to think about and communicate their feelings. Without adequate words, kids flounder to explain what is going on within them.

Father and toddler son playingPlayfulness plays an important–essential–role in creating and strengthening  connection between parent and child. Parents can engage in silly face games which involve mirroring on a purely physical level.  Check out this link for several ideas for emotional literacy activities including puppetry, miming, mirrors and more. (Practicing these skill-building activities when parent and child are in a relaxed mood, not when  a child is in the middle of an emotional meltdown.)

For another fun, joint activity, take pictures of each other as you dramatize different feelings. Turn the photos into  a matching game (similar to “Concentration” a popular child’s “matching” game.) Have fun. Enjoy spending time together, knitting that bond that connects while simultaneously helping your child acquire essential social skills.

How do you consciously mirror your child’s emotions?

 

Many Happy Returns!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014 @ 08:12 PM
Author: admin

Baby looking out from a giftbox near a Christmas treeAt GIFT Family Services, we constantly look for ways to help families connect and create positive relationships and moments of togetherness that build healthy bonding in a family. A Facebook video posted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University struck us as a wonderful blog topic for this holiday season. It explained a concept called "Serve and Return"

This refers to the feedback loop that occurs when communicating with others. It involves give-and-take, attentive eye-contact, deep listening and an interest in connecting with another. This ability to communicate authentically is the most valuable present we can give our children. It is not something that can be bought but it is something that can be taught.

??????????????Although humans have been programmed to be social beings and to enjoy interacting, the skill set on which it depends must be modeled. It takes courage to reach out to others, to risk being vulnerable, and ask for what one wants. This innate ability develops through observation and repetition. It channels through each of the senses. Vocalizations, gestures, touch, tone of voice, eye contact— all contribute to the communication loop.

In families, parents instinctively teach this essential life skill to their kids by responding accurately to a child’s actions. When baby coos and her parents coo back, when baby smiles and her parents return the smile, or when baby reaches out and her mom or dad reaches back, she learns that her effort produces a response. Baby “Serves” and parents “Return.” This simple process produces profound, life-shaping results. She discovers her ‘voice” in the world and learns that her actions produce results. She perceives the world as a safe place, one that acknowledges her presence, responds to her overtures, and makes room for her contributions. Most importantly, she realizes that her family is that safe base from which she can explore the larger world and to which she can return to refuel.
GIFT.parent and childWhen we share 360˚ of emotion, we show our children that they too can be real with us. They can share their joy as well as their fear, their curiosity as well as their worry, their anger as well as their love. This gives them permission to be authentic and builds trust. Trust is foundational to healthy attachment.

This season give your children the gift of your focused, responsive attention and your relationship will glow with an invaluable holiday light. Watch the video here: