The most baffling event occurred today. A client who has lived in several foster homes and a group home, was asked by the court to return to counseling. I received a call from her foster parent saying that she needed to start family counseling and resume trauma counseling. I was puzzled. This child and her foster family were thriving. The child’s negative behaviors were at an all-time low, the child was able to clearly express her life history complete with a realistic expectation and belief that she would indeed, be ok.
“Bring her in,” I stated. After an assessment of her behavioral and emotional status, as well as an intimate conversation with the foster parents, I concluded that not only was this child safe, this child was thriving. Mystified, I called her worker. This is what I was told, “Due to the fact that the foster parents stated they were not ready to adopt AND the court’s opinion that the trauma healing occurred too fast, more counseling is needed.” I gave a respectful reply but all the while ALL I could think was, “So you are telling me, we did our job so well so fast that something MUST be wrong??” Hard to believe isn’t it. It is important that you know, the reason we had so much success with this family is because we followed an intervention designed to strengthen trust and attachment. We followed Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI®) developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross.
Without secure attachment, individuals will have challenges engaging in meaningful connections with others throughout their entire lives. In her article, “Truth Lies and Intimacy: An Attachment Perspective,” Jude Cassidy outlines four traits associated with the capacity to participate in intimate relationships. These include the ability to give care, to receive care, to negotiate personal needs and to have a sense of an autonomous self. These four traits are beautiful and success in them is something we all strive to achieve and teach to our precious children.
Most experts in the area of attachment agree it is necessary for parents to have a healthy attachment style in order to mentor healthy attachment in a child. After all, good parenting starts with the parent despite how much we despise looking inward!
Let’s start with an inventory of how comfortable you as a parent are with the four traits. Ask yourself, on a 1-10 scale, 10 being the most comfortable, how comfortable are you…
Accepting help from others?
Giving help to others?
In your own skin?
Negotiating your own needs?
If you scored a low number on any of the four traits, you may have some reflective work of your own to do before you can properly model these core beliefs for your child. Often, adults who have difficulty trusting others will score lower on the 1-10 scale than adults comfortable with trust. This mistrust generally comes from early life experiences. Making sense of your own experiences and beliefs will help you model these traits for your children as well as provide you with a general sense of peace and understanding.
Accepting Help from Others:
Many of our foster and adopted children have had to meet their own needs as a way to survive. Some even cared for their younger siblings and assumed a parenting role. Children without a parent able to care for them likely did not learn to trust. Without trust, accepting help from others feels very uncomfortable and scary. A language of playfulness and safety is recommended when teaching your child to accept help. Statements such as these send a message of love and trust: “I love you very much. May I show you by tying your shoes for you?” or “While you go play and have fun, I will make the macaroni and cheese for you and your sister.”
Giving Help to Others:
One way to show respect is to care for others when they have a need. Imagine your child offering a hand to the opposing teammate knocked down during a basketball game or holding the door open for another person. You would beam with pride! Helping others in need validates our belief that humans (and animals) are worthy of love and care. When you find yourself helping another person, point this to your child and when you witness your children helping another, praise them.
Children from hard places were often on their own or were mistreated by adults who assumed power and control over them in hurtful ways. As a result, the idea of shared power, choices and compromises is likely new to them. The first step in teaching this skill to our children is by negotiating with them ourselves. We give them a voice by offering compromises and sharing power. You can say something similar to, “It is time for snack, would you like apples or bananas or another healthy snack as a compromise?” In this example both you and the child have their needs met. You ensure the child has a healthy snack and you shared power by allowing the child to choose the snack. In addition, playfully teaching them how to share with siblings and peers reinforces their ability to negotiate their own needs and the needs of others.
Being Your Authentic Self:
To be authentic we have to feel safe. To feel safe we have to be validated and given the opportunity to show our identity and creativity. Psychologists and therapists accomplish this with children by allowing opportunities for connecting through child-led play. As parents, our interactions with our children usually revolve around teaching, correcting, and questioning 24-7. Children explore being their authentic selves through play. Playing with them, without leading, allows for the opportunity to get to know them and validate their unique ideas and creativity.
Wanna know how the foster child that “healed too fast” scored on the above categories? This was her reply:
Giving help to others? 9
Accepting help from others? 7
Negotiating needs? 10
Comfortable in her own skin? 8
I think she is well on her way to a healthy and happy future despite the obstacles placed in front of her.
Cindy R. Lee is the Executive Director of HALO Project, an intensive therapeutic intervention program for foster and adopted children. HALO Project relies on the strategies developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross. Cindy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor and recently published several children’s books specifically for foster and adopted children.
— photo by Tish Goff