Okay, funny story coming up. Maybe more like giant-parenting-fail story coming up. I’m going to start with a mini-lesson to set up the story, partly because background is necessary and mainly because I love learning and dialoguing about this. Although, I am a bit scared to…if this is new information, I am a bit afraid of your judgement on our parenting but for awareness sake on how kids from hard places, no matter how young brought into a forever family, continue to deal with different obstacle, I proceed.
While the Littles were, well, little, we leaned heavily on attachment parenting techniques, specifically those designed for children from hard places.
Our favorite author and expert on this subject is Karyn Purvis. “The Connected Child” is a must read for pre-adoptive, post-adoptive or anyone interested in relating with children with possible trauma backgrounds.
Through the grace of God and many of techniques described in this book, we saw much healing take place and progress in the girls’ ability to transition and relate with the world. Without realizing it, we drifted away from many of these concepts and it went well.
Fast-forward to now. Because of significant transition and loss, we have seen regression in the girls. New situations, groups, public settings in general can set them into a tailspin. (Example, walking into a small group gathering, smiling before we enter and talking of seeing friends and then actually walking in the doors and just start inconsolably crying, they don’t know why.)
We met with an adoption therapist from the USA who was visiting Addis Ababa. She reminded us of the many reasons that regression is normal and encouraged us to return back to many of our forgotten “connecting while correcting” parenting techniques. She also had us look at our current behavioral expectations. We have a high bar. While The Littles maybe used to perform at this level, we were encouraged to lower the bar right now as kids need to feel like they can succeed. The therapist recommended we make sure to remove the bar right now. Kids from hard places many times have brain chemistry that differs from a child with a healthy delivery and early attachment. It is harder to regulate stress and it makes new situations hard to regulate. It leads to feelings of insecurity and that they are not safe. Kids from hard places have a inner feeling of shame that the world and interactions with others is processed through. (Much of this can be linked to early feelings of neglect, abandonment or trauma).
Anyhow, when these kids feel like they are failing, they take it to their shame base and often stop trying completely. (Behavior which we are seeing, especially in Little A).
Realizing how these techniques in the past, though very counter-intuitive and also very counter most Christian parenting today, can be used by God to heal hurt and broken hearts (and brains). As The Littles meet our low bars, we can raise it bit by bit, but mainly in ways that still encourage that they can succeed in new or transitory situations.
Jon and I agreed, time for a parenting make over.
Now, onto the promised sad but funny story.
When Weynshet (the girls’ nanny) comes in the mornings, the Littles are most always sullen and hardly greet her. The transition of Mama and Daddy leaving for the morning is never one they look forward to, although they love Weynshet and have so much fun with her. We have previously had the expectation that they greet her with a smile and say something like, “Good morning” or “Hi”, etc. She usually hugs them and they just try to wiggle away to hold onto my legs. I know, these expectations don’t seem high and probably entirely appropriate to you. However, right now, this is beyond The Littles’ capacity and so every morning, right before we leave, they know they have failed and not met our expectations. So we decided to lower the bar, have no expectation and let them know it. The therapist encouraged lots of games, one game she encouraged was the “don’t smile, don’t smile” idea, you know, a little reverse psychology to bring about the opposite behavior.
Before Weynshet showed her beautiful face in our house this morning, I wisely told The Littles, “Okay, when Weynshet comes this morning, I don’t want you to smile at her, not one smile.” I said it in a joking, excited way, (apparently that tone was lost on my preschoolers). Weynshet comes in smiling, “Salem Nachu” she exclaimed. Little A had just put in a bite of breakfast. She chewed slowly as she was hugged and kept a straight face the whole time. Little J’s turn was next. As Weynshet walked over to her, I saw her eyes brimming with smiles. As she was kissed, she burst into a huge smile and giggle. Jon and I were watching, “J, you smiled, great job!” and then she realized that she had smiled about the same time I realized I had set a trap of setting up a high bar of expectation in the wrong way. She burst into tears at her smiling failure. We tried to reassure her that she did a great job and were profusely apologizing and trying to explain to Little J and to Weynshet why all of this was happening. She proceeded to choke on the food in her mouth and start gagging. I rushed her to the toilet where she threw up her breakfast.
As Jon watched, he mused, “Hmm. That backfired."
As Jon held Jada, he explained that making mistakes is normal and that we had just made a big one. She got over it quickly and even somehow seemed to get the ironic joke of the situation, that she just threw up because of our new, don’t-stress-out-our-child parenting fail. Then Jon and I laughed for about 5 minutes straight.
Looks like we’ve got some work to do.