attunement-ensures-it-is-safe-to-loveReaders of this blog know that I care for my three-year-old grandson three days a week. This is both a privilege and a joy. Trained as a teacher and honed by adoptive parenthood, I am also fascinated at the difference between parenting children with trauma histories and parenting this little cherub who has known only consistency, stability and love from all the adults in his life. His sense of trust has never been broken and he, therefore, views life through a lens of secure trust. He believes the world is safe and welcoming. He knows that adults are safe, reliable, supportive, encouraging, and loving. Attunement has repeatedly provided him successful "serve and return" relationship reciprocity that nurtures secure attachment.

I observe a palpable difference between his life experience and that of my own children and others who had experienced trauma, had authentic reason to be vigilant and skeptical about the world. They knew from direct experience that it could be upended suddenly, that everyone and everything familiar can disappear in a flash. They wanted to inhabit a world that was steady, safe, reliable, consistent, secure, and managed by trustworthy adults.

Trauma histories have an impact on children's worldview and influence their mental and physical health. This does not mean that children with trauma histories are doomed; They simply need parents and caretakers who understand the need for attunement, patience, presence, empathy, consistency, and therapeutic parenting. Remember, their life experience created a "blueprint that was imprinted by terror." From the very understandable logic built on their personal history, learning to trust, DARING to trust is an act of incredible bravery.[1]

A foundational principle of GIFT Family Services' approach to parenting is Adoption-attunement. AQ incorporates a level of intentionality and understanding that significantly benefits adopted children and their families. It is a concept about which we have written frequently. Our choice of "Attunement"--with a capital "A"--reflects a deep awareness of the powerful way attunement operates in human beings. Famed neurobiologist, Dr. Dan Siegel asserts that “Attunement is not a luxury; it is a requirement of the individual to survive and thrive.” [2]

Dr. Steven Porges further clarifies that attunement builds a context of safety that frees people to “love without fear.” As Intentional parents we most certainly want our children to feel safe and secure enough to "love without fear", [3] to feel safe enough to open themselves to the joy and vulnerability of connection.  My grandson demonstrates this ease in his habit of occasionally pausing in the middle of his play to spontaneously plop himself in my lap and announce, "I need a hug."

Cue the moist eyes. Obviously, I melt and hug him with joy and deep love. Every time he does this I think, Wouldn't it be wonderful if we felt confident and secure enough in all our relationships to let people know we need a moment of connection and affection? This only occurs in a context of profound trust because it exposes both one's own raw need, and it makes one vulnerable to rejection as well as exposing one to the other person's possibly taking advantage of their invitation to respond to our expressed need. Those who know us best, who know our trigger points and sore points, who know our fears and worries have the potential to use them against us. That is why the degree of trust for this level of intimacy is huge and rare.

attunement-ensures-it-is-safe-to-loveHow many times have you experienced the need for a hug or an empathetic ear? How often did you feel secure enough to act on that need and request connection with another persona? What enabled you to muster the courage?

On the other hand, if you stifled the need, and stoically stuffed your emotional needs, what prevented you? How did this emotional shutdown feel?

[ctt template="7" link="CStkD" via="yes" ] How might your life change if you WERE able to reshape your relationships so attunement COULD happen? What would be the first step and how soon will you take it?[/ctt]

How are we building this level of trust within our families? With our partners? How are we modeling the willingness to be vulnerable as well as the careful way we respond to such overtures to connection as the sacred trust they actually represent? Trust, connection and attunement are fragile and take time to build. They are also easily damaged, so we must marshal great vigilance and commitment to attunement--especially that specialized level of adoption-attunement which understands the complexity of factors that adoption imposes on families built by adoption.

Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding.








Read Adoption-attunedbook reviews

by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog,

"Writing to Connect"



Family planting flowers
Winter still holds much of the country in its chilly grip. Easter/Passover have come and gone. Spring is on the horizon. Crocuses burst through the snow displaying a welcome burst of color and beauty.  This climactic swirl serves as a metaphor for adoptive families who may be mired in challenging circumstances. Many  struggle to help children  heal past wounds. Others concentrate on integrating birth and adoptive family influences. Most focus on strengthening attachment relationships.

Easter and Passover remind us to take stock of our faiths and recommit to our beliefs. As adoptive families one of our most important goals/values is attachment. Intentional parents understand the importance of  developing a high AQ* (Adoption-attuned Quotient,) They recognize that attunement is the channel that entwines  a loving family. Attunement provides a child the sense that he is seen, heard and understood. This feeling of being in synch is elusive and requires constant re-balancing as circumstances and emotions ebb and flow.

Bessel A. Van der Kolk, MD., an expert on treating childhood trauma,  writes in his book,  The Body Keeps Score,  "Trauma results in a breakdown of  attuned physical synchrony ..." which complicates the attunement-building process. If parent and child cannot even be in tune physically, this increases the challenge to nurture emotional attunement. Later, Van der Kessel adds, "When we play together, we feel physically attuned and experience a sense of connection and joy ... Learning to become attuned provides parents (and their kids) with the visceral experience of reciprocity."

Remember that the goal is not project completion. The aim is to spend time together in a way that nurtures individual spirit and leads to meaningful family ties. For example, your initial idea to plant a garden may require you to take a left turn as you notice that Johnny digs awesome holes but loses interest in the planting phase. Highlight the "skill" he is able to demonstrate. Remember that old Kenny Roger's song "I Am the Greatest." about the little boy who kept striking out? He didn't despair; he reframed his performance: "Even I didn't know I could pitch like that."

As adoptive families with a high AQ*, we commit to that kind of stance.  Avoid falling into the trap of focusing shortcomings. Flip perspectives: instead of noticing how far away the finish line remains, celebrate the distance from the starting line. Reframe for the positive. Look for the learning and the small steps toward progress. Just as seedlings need sunshine and water, kids need encouragement, attention, and time. Growth occurs over a season, or longer. Some seasons are longer than others. some winters make the record books. Finally, Spring arrives, ripe with new growth and beauty.

What activities are you sharing to add playful moments to your families? How is your family synchronizing both emotionally and physically? Which activities produce positive connection? What do these activities have in common? How do you help yourself and your children notice the good feelings, the brief moments when you are flowing together?


Children toys hanging from the crib

To the marrow of our bones, adoptive parents understand what we’ve called in earlier blogs “our magnificent obsession”: the consuming desire for children. We pursued adoption with passion and dogged determination, leaped every hurdle and met every requirement that stood between us and our child.

The majority of us chose adoption because of infertility. Our dreams centered on fantasies of “our” baby nestled peacefully in a crib, sleeping under our watchful and loving gaze. The crib simultaneously embodied both the fulfillment of our heart’s desire and symbolized our failure to conceive.

My husband and I adopted after fourteen years of marriage so I can readily identify with this soul-yearning for a baby. Been there. Oh, yes. Been. There. Rebecca Swan Vahle adoptive mom, adoption advocate, and Executive Director of  Family to Family Support Network frequently mentions this focus on “filling the crib” in her superb podcasts. She challenges us to grow beyond this point of view. (Check out her archives; they overflow with important interviews from all sides of the adoption constellation.)

It is essential that we move to an even more profound understanding, the one that recognizes and commits to the belief: “Adoption is about providing families for children, not for providing children to potential parents.

The purpose of adoption

Most of us need some education to understand the profound shift in viewpoint, priorities, and choices that is embodied in this statement. Once we embrace the why of this essential shift, we then switch our attention to the how. This is where the process of adoption attunement takes root. The education takes time to acquire. In fact, it is a lifetime endeavor. We must consult many sources: books, videos, podcasts, conferences, therapists, coaches, support groups, etc. This is how we dedicate ourselves to being a high AQ* Family; we strive to better understand how adoption affects our children as well as ourselves.

GIFT Family Services website lists many valuable resources for adoptive families. In this blog, we frequently review worthwhile books in the adoption arena. This includes titles for adults as well as those for children. We mention specific podcasts, blogs, and conferences that we believe parents will find beneficial. GIFT coach Gayle Swift writes an additional weekly blog that reviews children’s books through a lens of adoption attunement. Most titles reviewed are not about adoption. They’re simply interesting, worthwhile and fun books to read.  Her blog centers on how to use any book as a support for the adoptive family.

So, why bother reading Adoption blogs, books, attending conferences, etc? Because we choose to be the best version of the parents are children need us to be. How high is your family AQ?

Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding.








Read Adoption-attuned book reviews  

by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog,

"Writing to Connect"




Adoption the wayLet's stipulate that a healthy parent-child relationship grows in the nurturing cocoon of love. In adoptive families love is present, pervasive, intentional and committed. Unfortunately, love is not "enough" to firmly heal a child's losses in adoption. It takes much more than love to prepare him to accept and embrace his adoptive family. Adopted parents need to understand attachment, bonding, trauma and how these factors must shape parenting strategies with an adoption spin. At GIFT we believe parents need to develop three intelligences: Academic Intelligence (IQ), Emotional Intelligence (EQ),  and (unique to adoptive families), Adoption-attunement Intelligence (AQ ).

All healthy parents care about and attend to their children's academic and emotional needs. That is a given. Adoptive parents are called to an additional level of education: that of mastering parenting that is infused with adoption-sensitivity.

On this blog, we refer to AQ frequently. As National Adoption Month approaches we thought it made sense to elaborate on each of the specific AQ elements.  AQ (Adoption-attunement Quotient) considers how adoption influences a child and includes:

Adoption-sensitive parenting techniques-- Parenting techniques--like Time Out-- considered the "norm" work well for families with children who haven't faced the trauma of separation, abuse or neglect. But such strategies can be ineffective, even damaging to adopted children. When we work so hard to build connection and attachment, punishing kids with isolation and creating insecurity about the parent/child relationship is not wise.

Instead AQ parents choose Time In which focuses on "connecting before correcting" a technique advocated by Dr. Karen PurvisTime In focuses on strengthening the relationship, on helping the dysregulated  child become regulated and on establishing an experience of perceived safety. After the child becomes regulated, then he will be able to examine his missteps, to listen to parental input,  and to extract any learning.

Another popular behavior management tool, reward systems and charts often backfire or are largely ineffective--especially for kids with trauma histories. Whether it is the pressure of being "good enough" or self limiting beliefs that expect failure or their unwillingness to participate because they need to be in control--any or all of these factors could contribute to the low response rate with kids who had "tough starts."

Sound adoption language-- Language infused with respect best serves all parties in the adoption triad (adoptee, adoptive parents and birth/first parents.) Choose words that are accurate and reflect the realities of the adoption experience. This is a step beyond "positive" adoption language which can slide into minimizing. The actual vocabulary changes as we better understand the complexities and sensitivities of each. Think it through by imagining yourself as a birth parent or adoptee. How does the term touch your ears and heart now?

Consider "Gotcha Day,"  a term that celebrates a child's arrival in the adoptive family. While the intent of this unfortunate term is positive, the reality is a bit off the mark. First, it focuses on the parental experience instead of the child's. Second, "gotcha" is often a term used to indicate victory over another person. Third, it objectifies the child, like a prized toy that was finally acquired. "Arrival Day, Homecoming, Family Day are better choices. Be mindful however, that there are two sides to this special day: the happy part about joining a permanent family, and the sad part --losing the family to which he was born. Be prepared for your child to show very mixed emotions.Read more

Knowledge of the attachment process Attachment is a dance of action and response. A parent's own attachment style will influence how he/she interacts with each child. By understanding one's own inclinations, a parent can modify this feedback loop to  be more responsive to their child's attachment style. Responding accurately, promptly and consistently to your child's overtures sends many important messages:

You are listening.

He's important and worth your time and attention.

You value what he feels, thinks, and says.

She is capable of asking for what she needs.

It is appropriate for him to speak up for himself.

She can count on you to listen and respond.

When you respond with empathy, she learns to do the same.

Consideration of grief and loss issues-- As parents we celebrate the great blessing of welcoming our children into our families. The reality for our children, however also includes  very real losses as well. Their separation from their birth families is a significant source of grief and pain. The two realities--adoptive family/birth family--coexist; they do not cancel out one another. Each is important to the child. Each is an integral, valuable, and permanent part of them.

Respect for birth parents--A fundamental tenet of adoption. Our children are the fruit of their birth parents. When we honor and respect birth parents, we honor and respect our children. In cases where  abuse and neglect occurred, it is essential to separate the individuals from their actions. Find some way to demonstrate to your child that there is always a kernel of goodness that can be acknowledged--even if the it is only that they created your child.

Next week, we will explore the remaining concepts of AQ

Model healthy boundaries

Educate family, friends and teachers on adoption

Remember that a child’s story belongs to him

Recognize that adoption is a family experience

Encourage playfulness and good humor as a family value

Integrate a child’s birth heritage

Adoptive Parents handle their own grief and loss issues.

Learn how the coaches at GIFT Family Services can help you and your family navigate your adoption journey. We've faced our share of family challenges and crises, ridden the metaphorical rollercoaster, and our families have not only survived; they have thrived. We offer experience, neutrality, and understanding.








Read Adoption-attuned book reviews  

by GIFT coach, Gayle H. Swift, on her blog,

"Writing to Connect"



Intentional Parenting, Adoption-attunement and Taking a Stand for OBC2020

Now that we are well into February , we’ve trained ourselves to write 2018 on our checks and correspondence. I find it kind of shocking to realize that January is already in the record books. It's a poignant reminder of how quickly time passes. It calls to mind two questions: What happened to those New Year's Resolutions? And, far more important: have we  taken the time to set a parenting intention for the year ahead? If yes, this week over a great opportunity to assess progress, redefine the goal or make an early course correction.

If 2018 has raced out of the gates without your pausing to determine some parenting goals or intentions make the time now. Step out of autopilot and launch your family on an intentional path with a few specific goals and practices. Choose —no more than three so you can focus your energy and create change.

Every family develops habits and patterns. They enmesh us as a cohesive unit and emerge from our lived values like honesty integrity health faith etc. In addition to our patterns as a group—like attending church together or the entire family pursuing a sport, etc—we also have patterns between each individual pairing. While we love each child equally, we relate to them individually. Each relationship is unique. Ideally, we are independent human beings who choose to be interdependent on one another, within the family setting, for each other's mutual growth and support.

From a position of neutrality assess which goals and resolutions you quickly relinquished or postponed. Identify which patterns continue to be entrenched and then sort them out to determine which serve the family and which block your goals or weigh the family down. Which habits dog you, frustrate you but somehow, you just can’t seem to stop? Step back and analyze the subtle, probably unconscious ways that they “serve” you. In other words, how well have they worked for you? Are they continuing to work for you or causing undesirable results for others in the family setting?Consider how these habits might avoid change. (Sometimes familiar unpleasantness intimidates us less than unknown possibility or unchartered territory.)

Review conflicts—especially conflict that keeps repeating itself. Challenge yourself to be absolutely honest and identify the rubbing points with this friction. Decide what you can do to change that dynamic. Consider that this may mean adding or subtracting actions, attitudes, habits and, beliefs. Sometimes we hang onto beliefs that no longer serve us or our families and allow them to pressure us into patterns because of the weight of tradition. Our family always does it this way…for generations!)

The question of individual rights has been in the forefront of media in recent months, not only in terms of civil rights, national or religious rights but also in terms of adoptee's rights to their original birth certificates. This movement was being advanced by the Donaldson Adoption Institute as OBC2020 and was dedicated to ensure that all adoptees, like all other Americans in the USA,  would have access to their original birth certificate at adulthood. Unfortunately DAI has closed its doors. The restoration of OBCs remains unfinished, vital business. As adoption-attuned families, we understand the importance of this change in policy and restoration of our children's rights. Each of us has an opportunity to contribute to this effort.

During the month of February we observe several events: Valentine’s Day, American Heart Month, President’s Day. Make it the month that you challenge yourself to focus on Adoption-attunement in a profoundly committed way.

GIFT, Growing Intentional Families Together, adoption