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WHAT HAPPENED TO RESPECT AND APPRECIATION, PART THREE
This is the third in a series of blogs addressing the topic, What Happened to Respect and Appreciation. These blogs correspond to six foster parent training classes that I am facilitating at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a. m. to Noon, starting January 11 and ending January 28, 2011. If you live nearby and want to attend the classes, email me.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011 What happened to Good Ol’ Authority?
Friday, January 14, 2011 What Are Our Needs For Respect and Appreciation About?
Tuesday, January 18 The Relationship Between Foster Parent and Foster Child.
Friday, January 21 Firmly Holding The Child Responsible and Accountable
Tuesday, January 25 So what About Discipline?
Friday, January 28 What Do I Want For Their Children?
PLEASE NOTE. Although the target population, so to speak, are foster parents, the wisdom here is for all of us who are parents and or caregivers of any kind.
To review the previous classes, check out the following blogs
THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN FOSTER PARENT AND FOSTER CHILD
WHAT IS THIS RELATIONSHIP?
For a long time, you were known as a foster parent. We are now beginning to call you a RESOURCE PARENT! So how do you like your new designation? I think it is a good one, because I am assuming you want to be a resource FULL person in the child’s life. Hopefully, we will be able to provide more resources to this child than he or she has ever before had available.
Now that does not make us better than anyone else. It just means that that is our job, our mission, our calling. That’s what the “system,” the community at large, expects from us. What will be really awesome is that we become so clear about being a resource parent that the foster child will actually get it and will also have that same expectation of us.
As a resource parent, we in no way take the place of birth parents. Each of us have a belly button, and that belly button points to only two people.
In fact, we don’t want there to be any confusion between who we are, as resource parents, and who the birth parents are, especially if the birth parents are/were abusive. It is bad enough that the foster child will project on to us all those abusive experiences, but for us to take it a step farther and actually step into their “place,” we are only setting ourselves up for a lot of unnecessary conflict, which may be quite confusing and inexplicable to us, because we tend to see ourselves as doing them such favors by taking them in, in the first place, and giving so much of ourselves to them.
Unfortunately, they do not have the necessary internal resources to appreciate anything we do for them. How often do we give this critical piece of information any thought? But it is a very very important piece of information. One never to forget. And when we do, it is like getting unexpectedly hit up the side of the head every time. We are back to what this series is all about, respect and appreciation.
So let’s look at another scenario. What if the birth parent was not abusive, but, perhaps for the most part, pretty good like the rest of us? Especially in this scenario, you will only stir up resentment from both birth parent and foster child if you even suggest you are filling in or taking the place of.
HOW DO I SEE MYSELF THEN?
See yourself as mothering or fathering the foster child. Be for them what you know to be a good enough Mom or a good enough Dad–a mothering or fathering person full of RESOURCES. Be clear in your own mind that this parent-child relationship is different from the relationship the child has with his birth parent(s). I did not say better or worse than, but DIFFERENT. That is all. It is a parent-child relationship but different from....
BE AWARE OF COMPETING
Monitor yourself. Notice when you are competing with the birth parents. Stop yourself. There is no need to compete. The birth parent has his or her relationship and you have yours. And have YOUR relationship. Keep it separate, not special, simply separate.
Do not insist that the foster child call you Mom or Dad. They may call you Mom or Dad because they think they should or because they want to. When they first come to your house, you can set a tone in this matter. You can introduce yourself by telling them your first name, and allowing them to call you by your NAME! Yes, I know, some of you will want to argue about that suggestion, but think about it in terms of this entire series. You do not need their respect and calling you Mom or Dad or Mr or Mrs....will not win you one speck of respect. We both know that don’t we?
Maybe allowing them to call you by YOUR NAME may gain more respect than you would ever imagine.
Some of you with all good intentions, tell the foster child that their parents love or loved them. Unless you know absolutely for certain, so the parent told you, “I really love my children.....,” do not say this. Most of the time, the birth parents’ relationship with their children is the farthest experience in the universe from love.
If the conversation ever comes up, so the foster child says, “Do you think my parents loved me?” you simply say, “I don’t know. What I do know is your parents have a lot of things going against them.......(and share whatever you know)...and hopefully they will get the support and resources they need so they can get their lives straightened around, and who knows, maybe some day they can again take care of you....but if not, know that I am going to make sure you are safe, and as long as you are living with me (us), we are going to give you everything you need to grow up and be the person you dream of being.”
When it comes to love, we want the foster child to have healthy experiences and healthy images of what love really is and to call abuse and or neglect love is not helpful or resourceful.
We may first want to honestly ask ourselves if we have any barriers to mothering or fathering our foster children or any one particular child. If we are totally open and honest with ourselves about any barriers, then whatever those barriers are will dissolve. THIS IS EXTREMELY important. Do not be afraid to be completely honest.
EXAMPLES OF BARRIERS
Barriers come in different categories. There may be something about the child’s ethnic or religious background that may even unconsciously bother you. It’s okay. Just be aware. Let it come into consciousness. We all have prejudices. If you let yourself be aware, then it will not become an issue.
The child may have really poor hygiene, is very smelly, has lice, has repulsive habits, like nose picking, and so on. We all are naturally going to be repulsed by such issues, some of us more than others. Again, it is okay. Just be aware and talk to another colleague about it. Don’t keep it a secret. If you talk to another colleague about it, they will help you to know when it is appropriate to talk to the child about it. Sometimes, it is necessary to have a conversation. Sometimes it is easier simply to intervene and begin assisting the child in developing new skills and new habits.
Some children have experienced abuse and other life events that leave them reacting to life in very sociably unacceptable ways, ways that repulse us, anger us, and close our hearts. Some children are delayed and so do not have the social skills one might expect for their age. Some children may be permanently delayed and may never fully develop the social skills necessary for US TO BE COMFORTABLE WITH THEM!! That’s a twist, uh? In any case, be aware. Again, talk to other resource parents or to someone like myself so, first of all, you know you are not a bad resource parent, but simply a normal human being. Together as a team, we can support each other in working through our barriers.
WHAT ARE THE PIECES?
What are the pieces that make up the relationship between the resource parent and the foster child?
You know, there was a time when we were told not to get attached and not to allow the child to attach to us. Wow, that is sure a foreign and almost despicable notion today. We really have come a long way, even during the time that I have been doing this training.
SO YES, it is important to create a connection, an attachment between myself and the foster child. We just have to remember that the foster child may not be capable of responding, but it is important that we do not withdraw the connection or the attachment.
It is relatively easy for attachment to occur when the child pops out of our body. It is still “work” and requires considerable awareness and energy on our part. But at least, when we are starting out at the beginning of the journey, we don’t have to contend with neglect and abuse issues which are extremely damaging to the development of the brain, to the attachment process, and to the child’s overall developmental and growth experience.
Abuse literally tears apart any parent-child relationship and wounds any sense of self. The process of integration, making sense of both my emotions and my perceptions, is shut down. In fact, abuse can damage the part of the brain responsible for neural integration, namely the corpus collosum. Not having the ability to integrate neurologically results in the inability to regulate one’s emotions, makes it next to impossible for one to function in social situations, diminishes one’s reasoning abilities and consequently negatively impacts academic performance, seems to increase any propensity toward interpersonal violence and any predisposition for dissociation. Dissociation means that my normal ability to make sense out of my experience becomes fragmented.
In addition, abuse can result in smaller brain size in general as well as a reduction in GABBA fibers (gamma amino butryic acid). This is probably caused by the increase of stress hormones from traumatic events which are toxic to neurons, inhibiting the production of growth hormones, and actually kills some brain cells.
It is important to note that even if the parent is not overtly abusive, but simply scary to be around, the negative results outlined above are the same. So the brain cannot make sense out of the fact that you are driven to seek solace and safety from the very source of what is scaring you to death.
SO OUR JOB BECOMES TWO FOLD. One, providing an opportunity for attachment to occur and all the wonderful experiences that accompany attachment, and two, learning how to maneuver through the damage already done and whenever possible to provide healing.
HEY, THIS IS A HUGE TASK, RIGHT? Yes it is. Just writing about this, the enormity and complexity of it all, makes me feel winded, and would make me think twice before taking on the responsibilities of mothering or fathering a foster child. It also brings up for me, a wagon full of my own personal baggage. So, in order to take on this challenge succesfully, I really have to heal my own attachment wounds.
THE ATTACHMENT PROCESS
We will look at the attachment process from the perspective of an infant. Even though the foster child may be all grown up, the basic process will be the same.
Our resource material will be Parenting From The Inside Out , by Daniel Siegle and Mary Hartzell.
For the infant, the presence of an adult who can perceive, make sense of, and respond to his or her NEEDS creates a sense of safety. Perhaps we can use safety and security interchangeably. SAFETY and or SECURITY is a sense of well being that grows out of repeated and predictable experiences of being cared for. When security continues to be an on going experience, then the brain develops an INTERNAL MODEL of security or safety as well as a sense of self.
Check out the blogs listed above to learn more how the brain creates mental models. These mental models are created in our emotional brain, believe it or not.
So no matter how old the child is, here are the first ingredients of the desired relationship.
I want to be able to perceive, make sense of, and respond to the child’s needs. So how easy is that?
So when the teenager glares at you, you will want to respond with, “Wow, you are really upset. I hate it when I feel that way.....I often get a snack when I feel the way you look....You want a snack? .....You want to talk, now? Later?”
See how easy is that? Lol! I know, just kidding! No, it is not easy. It IS simple, pretty darn simple, but not easy, namely because at any given moment, we have all of our own needs which sometimes are just as overwhelming and crying out for attention as the foster child’s.
Probably most of the children in our care have already established insecure, avoidant, or chaotic attachments with their parents or other caregivers. Those labels mean exactly what they imply!
So what is necessary for a secure attachment to occur? In a secure attachment, the child WANTS to be close, wants a connection with you. You, in turn, provide the child with experiences of
ATTUNEMENT, BALANCE, and COHERENCE, which are often referred to as the ABC’s of attachment.
There is so much more to attachment than these simple ABC’s. Some of the “more” is complex and difficult to learn. But some of it is as easy as these ABC’s. BUT here is the deal. If you learn these ABC’s, you will automatically learn the other “stuff.” The emotional environment which you create between yourself and the child will automatically generate a “bunch” of other neurological events which you don’t have to learn about, but which will just happen and which will promote a secure attachment. What a bonus!
Attunement is the same as resonance. It is like tuning in a radio station. When you are a little off, the signal is fuzzy. When you are precisely tuned in (attunement) the reception is clear as a bell, and you are able to relax as you listen.
When I provide a child with the experience of attunement, I am consciously being tuned into the child’s emotional experience. I show the child that I am tuned in by all my non verbal language. By being tuned in, I can become RECEPTIVE to a child’s discovery and curiosity, for example. I show that I am tuned in by having that sense of curiosity and excitement in my own voice.
Basically what we are doing here is resonating with a child’s emotional experience. and when we do that, the child has an internal experience of himself as being okay or GOOD, valuable, worthy, This experience allows the child to begin developing a sense that he understands himself, that you understand him, and he understands YOU. What a deal!
For the child to experience BALANCE, the parent must be physically present a significant amount of time and provide an experience of attuned communication. The attunement and balance together provide REGULATION for the child and for the child’s brain.
Our bodies have a built-in regulatory system for all kinds of physiological activities and events. We have a certain desired blood pressure, blood sugar level, adrenalin level, oxygen level, and so on. We need a certain amount of sleep, a certain amount of food and water. We need to laugh and cry and even get angry when someone is violating us. So as human beings, we have a built-in system of balance or homeostasis.
The simplest way for a child or even an adult sometimes, to experience a lack of or disruption of balance and regulation, is for the parent, caretaker, or loved one to be absent for an extended period of time. Obviously, for an infant, the tolerable time for the parent or caretaker to be absent is going to be very very very short, compared to the time an adult can sustain him or herself in the absence of a loved one. (Think about military families.) The stress from prolonged separation or absence creates an abundance of deregulating stress chemicals in our body.
When our parents or caregivers make sure that we stay in balance, we again experience SAFETY. The younger we are, either chronologically or developmentally, the more we need parents or caregivers to literally provide containment for us so we can experience balance, otherwise, left to our own devices, so to speak, we easily get out of control, out of balance, unregulated or deregulated. And even as adults, we sometimes need a support system of people to keep us regulated as well as we experience life events that are painful and overwhelming.
In terms of regulation, the problem for us as parents is thinking we have to provide regulation by enforcement rather than containment. Enforcement brings with it harshness, sometimes physical harshness and loud and threatening voice tones and threatening non verbal language in general. For whatever reason, there is a long standing tradition that says we need the drill instructor approach. It is the only way to regulation and balance.
This is not true. The drill instructor approach tends to enforce compliance as long as the drill instructor is physically present, but there is no long-term internal development of self regulation or self control.
With infants, toddlers, and in general children under six, containment is often best provided by holding the child, not roughly or forcefully, but simply holding the child until the child is able to relax into our holding and regain self control. When I hold little people, I immediately begin running my fingers up and down their vertebrae which brings about almost instant pleasurable, calming, and soothing sensations.
With older children, “holding” is still possible. Sometimes literally holding, if they ask or allow you to. But there are many other forms of “holding.” For example, you can sit next to the child. You can put a blanket around them. You can surround them with a warm tone of voice or a glass of their favorite beverage. So there are “things” we can do, besides actually putting our arms around them, that will provide that experience of containment. Sometimes just remaining calm and keeping a soft voice refocuses the child or teen to our attitude and behavior and away from their own out of control behavior. Also if you give off a vibration that says, “I believe you can control yourself....I believe you are going to control yourself....I believe my sitting here with you is going to help you feel safe...,” you will be absolutely amazed. Such vibes are magical.
Again simple attunement can be experienced as containment. So really tuning into the older child’s or teen’s emotions will help them relax almost instantly. So instead of reacting to their emotions or lecturing them that they have no good reason to feel the way they do, you reflect back to them that you get it. “Wow, you’re really angry....you’re really angry with me....you’re feeling really sad today....you look like you feel really let down by the whole world....I hear how what happened seems so so very unfair.....”
Unfortunately, too often, we do lecture and we interpret their emotional state as somehow showing us disrespect and a lack of appreciation (back to the topic again!), rather than recognizing their emotional state is the door into providing them containment.
And sometimes, we just do not want to take the time to practice containment. We prefer enforcement where theoretically the child or teen will just comply with our request to get on to some chore or to chill out and get over whatever the emotional upset is. The fact of the matter is there is no one on the face of the earth who complies with such requests, especially if there is an implication that we are somehow out of control and especially when we are out of control!
We typically become defensive, aggressive or passive aggressive. I can give you an example from my own life this past weekend when someone asked me to be more conscious of how much water and electricity I was wasting!
“Come on, I am 65 years old, for crying out loud,” I wanted to tell him. “No wonder your wife divorced you.” I became passive aggressive immediately by not turning on the fan in the bathroom, (which he complained I left running) so that the entire bathroom was all foggy and water dripping down the walls! But I finally stopped myself, probably because I am preparing this class! I went inside to see where and how I could be more responsive to his request. I mean it wasn’t going to cost me anything but a little pride!
The C in the ABC’s of attachment stands for COHERENCE. Coherence is important with infants and immature folks in general. When we are six years old, our corpus collosum matures, and we are neurologically capable of creating coherence for ourselves, so to speak. When our corpus collosum has not matured, we are more dependent upon the big people in our life to provide coherence for us.
Just briefly, that corpus collosum allows our left hemisphere and right hemispheres to communicate with each other and to integrate their respective processes. It is more complex than this, but very simplistically, the corpus collosum makes it possible for us to integrate our emotional experience with our thinking experience, it is a way of making complete sense out of our experience. It is bringing our emotional brain and our thinking brain into sync. It is like a dance when the dancers are in sync.
For example, if you tell me that the medicine is not going to hurt, but it hurts like hell, then that experience lacks coherence for me. When you tell me I have nothing to be afraid of, just tell the truth, but then you go nuts when I tell you what I did, this makes no sense and lacks coherence. When I tell you that you look sad and then you scream at me that you are not sad and it is none of my business anyhow, this experience lacks coherence. When I tell you I am afraid of the dark and you tell me that big and brave people are not afraid of the dark, this makes no sense and lacks coherence. When you tell me that big and grown up people sleep by themselves, but there you are in bed together, this lacks coherence and makes no sense.
As adults, we are still vulnerable to experience incoherence. For example, you are grieving the loss of a loved one who died six months ago, three years ago, ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago, and someone tells you that there is something definitely wrong with you that you have not moved on, and we buy into it, then we will experience a lack of coherence.
Siegle and Hartzell tell us that coherence is the outcome of successful parent-mediated balance in which the brain becomes adaptive, stable, and flexible to adjust to changing environmental demands. A well integrated, organized brain creates a coherent, adaptive mind (p 117).
So take any distressful experience you have had lately or in the past with a foster child or a child period (or even an adult, for that matter). Tell us about the experience. Outline the experience for yourself. So what happened, what was the child’s behavior that drove you crazy. What did the child say? What was the child’s body language telling you? What were the child’s needs at that moment?
And, of course, how did you respond? What was the outcome?
Do you think you would have liked a different outcome? Do you think the child would have liked a different outcome?
So let’s go back and apply the ABC’s to the situation. Then next time, we will be prepared. Yes we will.
In class, we will spend the rest of time looking at real life scenarios. If you are reading here on line at Hubpages, feel free to share your real life scenario in the comment section, and then remember to check back later, and I will give you some feedback how you could have more effectively applied the ABC’s or who knows, maybe I will tell you, you did an excellent job of applying the ABC’s!
THANKS FOR ATTENDING CLASS OR THANKS FOR READING AND COMMENTING.
FRIDAY’S TOPIC: Firmly Holding The Child Accountable and Responsible. See you then