Connecting with kidsAdoptive parents rely on a well-stocked parenting tool box. Connecting with Kids Through Stories: offers a novel technique based on sharing stories drawn from the actual experiences of a family. How can stories make a difference? How can they help children heal , learn, and draw families closer together?

Story telling has been a human tradition for thousands of years. A well told tale entertains, joins us in a common experience and builds a shared memory. Tales handed down through the generations transmit  important values and cultural beliefs. They help to weave the fabric of family history and become a permanent part of family lore.  Most of us hold warm memories of bedtime rituals that included a good book read by a loving and patient parent  as we snuggled close. Many of us probably requested a mind-numbing number of repetitions of our childhood favorite. This shared experience strengthened relationships, exchanged a great deal of knowledge, imparted family values. We learned that our parents enjoyed spending time with us and we internalized a sense that we mattered.

Many children adopted after abuse and neglect, never experienced this gentle process of  family bond-building, education and acculturation through story time. Instead a void exists in their skills, their knowledge base and in their people-reading skills. Adoptive parents face a substantial task as they assist a child in discovering how they can learn to trust, to love, to be a friend and to heal their deficits. One excellent and practical method that families can use is telling therapeutic narratives. You may wonder how reading books differs from sharing a therapeutic narrative. Denise B. Lacher wrote a terrific book on the subject: Connecting with Kids Through Stories: Using Narratives to Facilitate Attachment in Adopted Children

Lacher explains "Family Attachment Narrative Therapy is a gentle, nonprovocative, nonintrusive methodology in which parents are the primary agents of healing their hurt child."four different types of narrative, each with a specific purpose:

Claiming: "establishes the rights of a child to belong, to be accepted, and to be cared for by loving parents..."

Developmental: "provide children with the experience of a caregiver celebrating their accomplishments and revelling in their uniqueness."

Successful Child: "help children create new stories about who they are, what happened to them, and who they can be."

Trauma: "... can not only heal the child's wounds ... they can shift the child's negative internal working  model [making] new behavioral and emotional responses available to the child."

This specialized and personalized type of story telling requires some education and careful attention to a child's behavioral cues. Using their own words, parents create stories based on the facts of their child's life. Stories are told in the third person through a character whose history mirrors the child's actual life experiences. (This allows the child to listen and absorb the story without feeling threatened or judged.)

The stories offer a way to help a child build skills, to imagine their new parents sharing their lost milestones, to learn developmental skills that they missed because of neglect.  They can help rewrite patterns of behavior based on maladaptive survival skills no longer needed now that loving, safe parents have adopted them. "Narrative represent the ideal in parenting--what it could have been like for both the parent and child had they been together [from the beginning of the child's life]."

This book is filled with ideas for using narratives to evoke change and help children acquire skills and knowledge  which they need to successfully accept and integrate into their new families, to heal themselves and to function in the world at large. Narrative stories offer another tool for parents to add to their parenting tool box. It includes sample scripts as examples to guide parents in creating stories based on their child's personal experiences. Well worth the read, Connecting to Kids through Stories" might make a huge difference in your family. Why not check it out?

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November features National Adoption Awareness Month (#NAAM). This has gained enthusiastic support from adoptive parents who wish to declare the benefits of adoption. Adoption provided them children to love and parent and they eagerly share their joy. We must contextualize our enthusiasm and admit that adoption is an imperfect solution. It brings grief as well as joy, loss as well as gain, family fracture as well as family creation. Because we embrace and align with Adoption Attunement, we understand and validate this truth. Our acknowledgment of adoption complexity becomes an act of love.

Note that adult adoptees have initiated a movement in response to #NAAM. #AdopteeVoices strives to counterbalance the societal narrative of adoption as a totally benign arrangement so that conversations also validate #AdoptionComplexity, #AdopteeLoss, #AdoptionReality and strives to create a picture that includes all aspects of adoption, not solely the benefits. We ask that you keep the focus of #NAAM on the need to find families for foster children with any memes that you create, post, or repost. Keep mind, heart, and ears open when listening to #AdopteeVoices, and do not try to refute, counter, dismiss, or invalidate their experiences. Simply listen and glean insight into #AdoptionComplexity,

We uplift the purpose of #NAAM: to be laser-focused on the thousands of children who languish in foster care. Life without a family is lonely, uncertain, and difficult. Foster children need and deserve permanent families. Yet for too many, family remains only a dream, out of reach. Every year, thousands of teens age out of foster care without having been adopted into safe, loving, permanent families. Consider becoming the family they dream of having.

This year in observance of National Adoption Awareness Month, GIFT has created many memes reminding people of this need to find homes for children in foster care. Several are posted in this blog. We encourage you to copy and share them. Help build a movement that finds families for these children. That would be a blessing worth celebrating. The lives of many fosterees could be changed for the better and a blessing that will echo through successive generations.

How will you help raise awareness of all of these important adoption-connected initiatives?

Check out this article that GIFT coach Gayle H. Swift wrote for America Adopts for National Adoption Awareness Month.




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Yearning to Belong: the Quest to Feel at Home

Winter has arrived. Even here in South Florida temperatures have plummeted! Our instinct to hunker down drives us to turn to home for shelter, warmth, and safety. Home and family provide a reassuring sense of belonging. Home is far more than the physical structure in which we live; it is the interwoven relationships that provide physical and emotional sanctuary. When life overwhelms or circumstances challenge us, we look for this safe space. This kind of unconditional belonging is a fundamental human need.

When Sally Ankerfelt and I were writing What Adoptees Seek from Families and Faith, we interviewed many adult adoptees. . If we choose to listen, the insights and wisdom of adult adoptees can help us to be better parents, reduce the adoption-connected pain and trauma that our children might experience, and nurture a comforting sense of belonging in our families.

Each of their stories described a unique, individual narrative. Collectively they revealed some consistent themes. The most common theme was their profound yearning to belong, to feel that soul-deep sense of being "at home."

This powerful need to belong was often paired with a painful awareness that they no longer “belonged” in their birth families. Most viewed their separation from their first family as rejection— one which they felt in a deeply personal way. Regardless of the justifications, pressures,  heartbreaking factors, or “valid” reasons that propelled their mothers’ decision to choose adoption, adoptees felt anguish. As youths,  they struggled to parse the painful reality that their mothers had been unable to find a way to make space for them in their lives. (Many continue to wrestle with the pain of this rejection throughout their adult lives.)

Many adoptees reported that they never quite fit in with their adoptive families. The underlying fear of precipitating a repetition of their first families’ rejections motivated adoptees to try to morph into whom they believed their adoptive parents wanted them to be.

They never quite measured up to the expectations of their adoptive parents nor could they ever quite embody the child their adoptive parents had fantasized in their imaginations. It is impossible to compete with a dream.

Sadder still, many adoptees reported that they felt obligated to suppress their true selves, to subordinate their natural interests and abilities, and instead to follow the historic family patterns, interests, and paths that their adoptive family had followed for generations. Thus, they were simultaneously not quite themselves and not quite who their parents dreamed. They did not fully feel "at home" in either their adoptive families or their birth families. Their sense of belonging remained elusive.

In this month that is often associated with love and sweetness, let us ponder some important questions:

How are we nurturing our children’s authentic selves?

How are we affirming and validating the realities of their life experiences?

How are we sharing conversations about important conversations— even if awkward or difficult?

How can we help our children to experience a secure sense of belonging in our families?


I saw a post on Facebook which offered a powerful suggestion: when someone comes to us, e.g., our children, ask them this question. Do you want me to listen or offer solutions? This simple question places the trajectory of the conversation firmly in the hands of the person/child who sought us out. It empowers them to define what they want from us. They set the parameters, not us. They don’t have to adjust to our instincts, they can assert their own and make a clear request. This is empowering. This sense of agency is healing and is one of the elements that build a sense of belonging. This also helps to diminish any learned helplessness and affirm their capacity to problem solve and feel capable of meeting life's challenges. When parents "come to the rescue" too quickly or too often, kids internalize a powerful belief in their own lack of capability. This diminished sense of self reinforces feelings of shame, rejection, difference, and chips away at their sense of security, belonging, and feeling at home.

GIFT logo yearning to belong                         
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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. GIFT coaches are available to present workshops on-line.

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