Over the next few weeks, schools around the country reopen. The air pulses with excitement. The lassitude of summer gives way to the frantic busy-ness of school. New supplies, new teachers, new classes all bring the anticipation of a fresh start. But school also dredges up fears of being able to make the grade--academically as well as socially. This is especially true of children who find change difficult. For them, the school year is filled with unknowns, of lots of demands on them to measure up and to be judged.
Shopping for school can become a battleground. Kids insist that the "right" clothes are their tickets to social acceptance. This is all a huge deal to them. Tough critics fill the Peanut Gallery. Peer pressure is intense. Appearance becomes a governing focus as they worry about sporting the trendy hair style, toting the coolest cell phone or being too fat/thin or too tall/short. They study their images in the mirror with a hyper-critical eye. Often the hardest ones to impress are themselves. A stray hair, an unwelcome zit or the "wrong" outfit can send them into complete meltdown.
While it is easy to dismiss their insistence on looking "right," recall your own efforts to fit in on the job. Remind yourself, that you too, consider the standards of the "pack" in which you work every day. Cut the kids some slack. To the extent you can, affirm their selections. As long as it doesn't violate your values--only your adult aesthetics--avoid belittling them. If possible, offer them ways to "earn" things you deem too expensive.
At the same time, help them to value themselves beyond the trappings of "stuff," to notice and appreciate their own beauty. Share your own struggles with conforming to social pressures. Sometimes, you too, follow them. Other times, you choose to buck the current, to stand out and be the trend setter instead of the trend follower. Kids (and adults) sometimes have difficulty appreciating their own “beauty.” This is particularly true of kids who have experienced “Tough Starts.”
Last week, on my personal blog, I reviewed the book, “The Best Part of Me” a collection of photographs by Wendy Ewald; consider following the premise as a family activity. She asked third, fourth and fifth grade students to choose which part of themselves they liked best and then they shared their thoughts about their choice and posed for a picture. The prose is not polished, (The text is written by kids) but, the children’s genuine feelings shine through. Much is revealed about how they view themselves, what they value, and how they identify their place in their families, communities and the world. Their choices are an amazing window into their inner world.
Take this on as a family project. the concept: The Best Part of Me presupposes that there is something that the children value about themselves. Perhaps it will assist them in identifying and appreciating many. Join in the fun and snap pictures of your own “assets.” Remember, you are setting an example here. This is the time to lay down any self-judgments. Lead the way. Snap a picture of those now-flabby arms that have embraced your kids, the fleshy lap in which they’ve snuggled, the shoulder on which they’ve cried. This exercise can open your own mind as much as it inspires the children.
Put aside worries of being “enough” and model an enthusiastic self-acceptance. Write down your thoughts. Consider poetry, a song, a letter. Let the acceptance flow. Gather everything into a family “book.” Decide with whom you will share it. Remember, your kids will be watching; they will sniff out any self-judgment you have. This is the perfect activity to teach them self-appreciation, to break free of arbitrary—and unreasonable—societal standards of beauty. You are the model, the teacher, the leader and they are your most important students. What greater gift can you present them than to value and appreciate themselves.
I’ll lead by example. My favorite part of me: my smile ...
GIFT is proud to post this important article which Heather Forbes, LCSW wrote for us. She is renowned for her work through the Beyond Consequences Institute. Through BCI, Heather Forbes advocates a healing, therapeutic response to parenting kids with trauma. She has written several superb books. Next week, we will review her latest, "Help for Billy" which examines how schools and parents can help kids who are challenging in the classroom. All of her books will prove to be an excellent addition to your family's book shelf.
When reviewing records of many of the children with whom I work, I am forever perplexed at one particular notation I continually see written by therapists and counselors. Under the list of negative traits of the child, it is often written, “Child exhibits attention-seeking behaviors.”
I strongly believe that children seek attention because they NEED attention. Nature has designed children to be completely dependent on their parents at the moment they are born. A baby crying is the signaling to the parent the baby has a need, a need that the baby cannot satisfy on his own. The baby is indeed exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors.
The natural flow of the developmental journey of a child is to gradually release this need for attention, moving from a state of dependence to a state of balanced independence. The time period for this is about 18 years. We are the only animals in the animal kingdom that have our children under our care for this length of time. Expecting our children to not need our attention or to view it as a negative behavioral issue during these 18 years goes against our biology.
When children do not know how to verbally express their needs (which is predominately the case during early childhood), they “speak” through their behaviors. In other words, behavior is a form of communication. When a parent can stop, pause, and “listen” to the behavior of a child, it can become quite obvious what the child is saying. Looking at the behavior from an objective perspective also unveils the logic behind the child’s behavior. Here is a list of ten behaviors along with an interpretation of each behavior to demonstrate this:
When parenting a child with challenging behaviors on a day-to day basis, it is easy to lose sight of the idea that behavior is the language of a child. Negative behaviors are tiring! Keep taking care of yourself and keep your cup filled so that you have enough space inside of you to keep looking beyond the behaviors and listening to the behaviors instead of reacting to the behaviors.
The parent/child relationship is a dyad - a two-part system. Remember that your behavioral response also signals a communication to your child. Thus, it is imperative for you to stay mindful and attuned. Give enough attention to yourself as to stay in a place of love so you are always speaking the language of truth, love, and acceptance to your child in return.
To find out more about the Beyond Consequences parenting approach or to purchase a copy of one of this author’s book, please visit www.beyondconsequences.com
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, is the owner of the Beyond Consequences Institute. She is an internationally published author on the topics of raising children with difficult and severe behaviors, understanding the parent’s reactivity when challenged in the home, and self-development. Forbes lectures, consults, and coaches parents throughout the U.S. and internationally with families in crisis working to create peaceful, loving families. She is passionate about supporting families and professionals by bridging the gap between academic research and "when the rubber hits the road" parenting. Much of her experience and insight on understanding trauma, disruptive behaviors, developmental delays, and adoption-related issues comes from her direct mothering experience of her two internationally adopted children.
Some schools reopened this week and most students will be back at their desks by Labor Day. A new school year is full of excitement and anxiety for kids, parents, and teachers. At school children face pressure to behave, to fit in, to conform, and to achieve. This can overwhelm any child but especially adopted kids. When our children return home how can we best help them to decompress and re-energize?
First, reconnect emotionally. Resist the urge to ask lots of questions. Focus instead on how glad you are to have them home. Be sure to demonstrate this physically. Offer a hug, a favorite snack or describe how you thought about them while they were at school. Share about your own day and then gently invite them to talk about theirs. Use open-ended questions like, “What was one fun thing you did today?” or, “When did you feel proud of yourself today?” These questions presuppose that they had fun and/or felt proud of themselves. Questions like these send their brains searching for the positive.
Set your intention to creating a space at home that is a soft, safe place to which they are glad to return. If they seem distressed, focus on reconnection instead of uncovering facts or trying to immediately problem solve. Once you've met on that emotional bridge, then offer to explore solutions. Ask for their ideas before you offer yours. Express confidence in their ability to cope and reinforce your willingness to talk more when they are ready. Nurture without interrogating.
Seek to create a home where children feel safe, welcome and “at home,” build a space where loving relationships strengthen and draw them home to the safe harbor of their family.
Our guest blogger is Christina White. Christina is a survivor of a traumatic childhood in which she was subjected to persistent and pervasive abuse. She was hidden from her father and he died before she could reconnect with him. Eventually, she was raised by an uncle. Through her strong spiritual commitment, she has achieved forgiveness, healing and purpose. Christina proves that the human spirit can be immeasurably resilient.
In response to questions from GIFT coach, Gayle Swift, we are grateful to be the recipients of her honest and vulnerable sharing. You can find more about Christina on her website.
Thank you so much for agreeing to do this. I hope that it will help you to heal as you work to reduce the suffering of children who face the same issues today. You have a wisdom that is only achieved through the fire of tough experiences.
1. As a survivor, what advice would you give to us and the parents with whom we work? What do you wish people had done to better shelter you from your circumstances?
When trying to help people who have had a horrible past I would start with telling them things like, "You are amazing for surviving" instead of saying, "I'm so sorry for you". Try to help them turn what happened to them into something they can use to grow from, instead of something damaging. No one wants to be damaged. It's easy for someone with a dark past to fall into self pity parties, don't support that. For me personally, I would encourage a Christian counselor rather than a psychiatrist. I found psychiatrists to help by numbing emotion with medications rather than helping you to move on. Moving on is all about forgiving. Opra said it best, " Forgiveness does not mean you have to accept the person back into your life. It does not mean you are condoning their behavior or that you are in any way saying that it was ok. Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different so you don't hold on to wishing that you had a different kind of family. You let that go, and you move forward with the Grace that God has given you from this day on. I don't want the spirit of me to die because of what you did."
When I was younger I believe the adults around me thought I was "just a kid" and had no idea what was going on. I knew exactly what was going on. Don't under estimate what children can comprehend. At 6 years old I understood that my mother was on drugs and slept with men for them. I'm not sure anything could have been done differently for me. I am who I am because of what happened. I believe everything happened for a reason. My favorite quote: "The Phoenix must burn to emerge", by White Oleander.
But if you are trying to protect someone who is being abused now and you want to know how to shelter them, I would say to try to put them into an environment where they can be a kid as much as you can. Any time you can take them out of their horrible circumstances will be an opportunity for them to learn. They will be able to see what a normal healthy environment is and contrast it with how they are living. As a child, contrasts like that created a burning desire in my heart for something different. You have to want a better life to change the cycle.
2. During your childhood, you experienced a lot of trauma. As a child, from what did you gather strength? What is the root of your resilience?
I would say the root of my resilience was my desire to survive. I used whatever situation came my way. I learned the "ways of the world" and was a sponge. I don't believe I had strength as a child... what I had was a feeling of acceptance. Things were the way they were... so now how do I get to school? How do I eat? How do I keep my mother's boyfriend from beating her to death? I developed a way to block out things that hurt me emotionally and looked at problems in a very factual way. I need food... so I will steal it. A man touched me in the wrong way... I'll just pretend it didn't happen.
3. What role did school--and teachers--play in encouraging or assisting you?
School was my safe haven. I loved school. Without the love from those teachers and the food that was provided there, I doubt I'd be where I am today. They showed me "normal" and love. I grew up wanting to be a teacher my whole life.. then one day I realized I didn't really want to teach.. I just wanted to be like the teacher. I wanted to be "normal and loving."
4. What are some ways that you protected your family?
I use to steal food for me and my mom. I felt like it was my responsibility to take care of her. She was crazy. I had to feed both of us, I had to make sure her boyfriends didn't kill her. It was very frustrating be "the child" to a person who couldn't even take care of herself.
5. How did you protect yourself?
I tried to keep quiet and not be noticed.
6. What advice would you give adults who suspect a child is being abused or neglected?
First I would try to discover how "bad" the abuse was. I wouldn't call social services unless the child's life was in danger or they were in a place where they were sexually abused. If the abuse is just neglect, I would try to step in and be something positive in that child's life.
7. Of the many ways in which you were abused or neglected, what is the most difficult to heal?
I'm still trying to heal from a feeling of not being loved as a child. It hurts me even now as I type these words. My mother didn't love me enough to protect me, to care for me, to give me "normal". The sexual abuse pales in comparison to that. I feel nothing about the sexual abuse. I have no emotion. It's like I have decided that the things that happened to me as a little girl.. happened to some other little girl and I just remember it. I think this is my way of protecting myself. God's way of protecting me. He created a new person in me with Christ's blood.. I don't want to step in the shoes of the person I was before and relive those emotions of fear.
8. How were you able to open yourself up to healthy relationships and to break the cycle of abuse and addiction?
I had to first have a relationship with Christ.. and love myself. Before I was saved I went down the same road as my mother. I used men the same way she did. I was on a path of destruction. I knew I wanted something better, but I wasn't strong enough to get it on my own. Then I found Christ... and He was strong enough.
9. What else would you like us to know?
Don't question God's will...Our struggles make us stronger.. We are being prepared for something great. Praise God!
10. What would you say to a child who is currently facing the kind of trauma that you also endured?
I would explain to them what a phoenix was and then I would tell them "You are a phoenix, and one day you won't have to burn anymore... and you will emerge from your sufferings and become something great. Only the strong survive. You are strong. God is always with you. He picked you for this life because He knows you can make it... one day.. you will be a solider in heaven and God will be so proud of everything you endured to make you so strong. You will be the strongest angel he has! Always try to do the next right thing.. the next good thing. God will help you."
I'm happy for you to share my blog also, and I'm willing to answer any questions.