Bonding is some of the most important work we will ever do with our children. Healthy bonds build the ability to create other relationships, learn to express emotions, and face difficult challenges.
Sometimes when a child is pitching a fit for no apparent reason, the temptation is to focus on the fit instead of the deep hurt causing it.
Maybe we want to yell, but we don’t.
Maybe we want to discipline, but we don’t.
Maybe we want to give up, but we don’t.
What the child needs in those raw hurting moments is to be held, to feel safe, to know we aren’t going to stop loving them because they are out of sorts.
They don’t have words to express their needs or feelings. We have to help them cope and feel loved. Even if it’s the tenth meltdown of the day, it is our constant calling to pick our child up and love them just like Jesus loves us.
Over and over and over. Grace on grace on grace.
I began this two-part series last month with my article Love over Obedience. As I struggled through issues in my family and prayed for guidance, I also reached out to my Adoption Tribe. Do you have one? A group of adoption seasoned mothers who believe like you do and raise their families similar to how you raise yours. I have an amazing tribe who come to the rescue in a million little ways!
I can text any of them or call them in the middle of our busiest days and they answer me. They pray over us, offer their own experiences, or just listen. Sometimes we just need someone to understand what we’re suffering through.
On days like I described in my last post, I reached out to these precious friends. They encouraged me more than I could ever ask for! As I processed their advice and suggestions, it dawned on me: I should ask them to help me with this series.
So that’s what I’m doing today.
Meet six of my closest adoption friends, two of whom I’ve met and four still praying for that wonderful day to occur! And if not on this earth, we will all meet in heaven. That’s a beautiful picture of the community God offers to us as we journey together on this earth.
He didn’t throw us in the storm of adoption to drown in the waves. He gives us lifesavers in the form of friends if we just allow ourselves to be vulnerable and moldable.
Here are six beautiful mothers and ways they approach the hard issues we all face on a daily basis. They share these truths: Cocoon, Practice, Choices, Patience, Identity, and Rhythm. I KNOW you are going to find a nugget of gold in their stories.
Without further ado, meet My Tribe…
One thing we have to know when we are addressing meltdowns with our precious blessings is that they are extremely sensitive to stimuli such as noisy environments: lots of people, holidays, birthday parties, and change in routine. Warning signs of an impending meltdown would be self-soothing more than the normal, becoming overly anxious, whining more than normal, even bursts of anger. These signs tell us to step back and focus on the needs of our children. The worst thing you can do is to keep pushing them forward when they need routine, deep love and understanding from you. They are looking to you for their security.
When we see our children slipping into one of these patterns we have to pull back and think about what’s best for our child as a whole. Our family has always been a huge proponent of cocooning-in during these times of struggle. We make their world small and structure days around routine, so they can reset and have the security for which they are longing. Meaning, if they have regressed, we go back with them. That means lots and lots of snuggle time and words of affirmation.
In the event of a meltdown, understand that they have reached a point where they do not know how to cope with their environment or the feelings they are experiencing. Removing them right away from the stressors is key. Sometimes that means you may have to leave a church service, a friend’s house, a dinner out, or even the grandparents. Be careful not to respond with anger or annoyance. Once your child has been taken to a familiar place, holding them close and speaking comforting words even as they scream, and cry will help to diffuse the situation.
It takes lots of time and patience to help them adapt. Just remember that God is long-suffering with us and we need to bear with our children. It’s a marathon not a race and growing our children to know Christ’s love is the prize.
It’s so easy for me as a mother to React instead of Respond when a child is doing wrong. Many times, reacting is my flesh instinct and responding is a chance that I have to walk in the spirit.
And our adopted child has given me many bonus chances to work on responding over reacting.
Our child, Theodore, is 4 years old. He has been “home” from China for close to 2 years. The most recent example I can think of when I had a chance to respond over react is when Theodore refused to be put in his car seat by anyone but me. So, if I asked one of his big brothers and sisters to put him in his car seat he would have a huge meltdown. To keep us from being late, I would hastily “give in” and buckle him up. After several weeks of this, it occurred to me (ahem, the Holy Spirit’s prompting) that it would be a wiser choice if I would simply “practice” with him obeying when we weren’t in a hurry.
So, the next day, I explained to Theodore that we were going to take a drive, so we could practice letting his siblings load him in his car seat. I then placed a bag of chewy Annie’s treats in my glove compartment ready to be dispersed at his obedient, happy response. Then I “loaded” the kids to go nowhere. The first time we did it, his response was an overwhelming obedient and cheerful spirit. I could hardly believe it! I promptly handed him a “gummy” and went crazy praising him for his obedience.
Then we drove around our circle driveway. We continued to load up a few more times that day and the next day going “nowhere.” And Theodore has learned to respond with joy when I ask a sibling to help put him in his car seat. And now this Mama is pleased to report that going “nowhere” was far more fun that going somewhere with a child that I chose to react to over responding to!
For our kids it has helped to use the Scripture Deuteronomy 30:19 – “I am now giving you the choice between life and death, between God’s blessing and God’s curse, and I call heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life!” (Good News Translation)
First I have them “blow out the candles” on my hands and I put ten fingers up that they need to breathe in their nose then out their mouth and blow them out. Sometimes if they’re not compliant to that I say, “We need to calm down now. Do you want to blow out my candles to calm down or do 10 jumping jacks to calm down?” and let them choose how to calm….or if they’re especially out of control I say, “We need to calm down now, come sit on my lap and sip some juice, then we’re going to blow 10 candles out.” Of course, sometimes it takes more than this and I have to hold them longer, or there are days where they just won’t calm with choices or me holding them. At those times, they sit in a spot near the rest of us until they choose to be ready to talk.
Once they’re calm enough to listen I have them look in my eyes and I hold out both of my hands, palms up and say…
“Today Jesus gives you the choice between life (holding up my left hand) and death (holding up my right hand), blessings (left) and harm (right), joy (or peace or kindness or obedience – whatever virtue I’m hoping they’ll choose instead of their fit with my left hand up) and anger (or meanness or disobeying or whatever the behavior struggle they’re having that day) – (right hand up)…
and Jesus says, ‘Choose life! Choose joy!’ Which do you choose?”
They always choose my left hand.
Then I say, “Ok, let’s talk about what’s upsetting you and then I’ll pray for you.”
Sometimes there’s additional healing with siblings or apologies that need to be made and we move onto that 😉
We’ve done this for so long that now I can often catch them before a full meltdown and say, “Jesus sets before you life and death, joy and anger, which do you choose?” And help them choose before melting down into a fit.
I introduced this to them for the first time when they were all calm. I explained that when we “choose life” it’s like we are choosing Heaven and the ways of Heaven and making this choice will bring us closer to Jesus. When we “choose death” it’s like we are choosing a dark and ugly path that will only hurt us.
Then we role-play. Acting like each one of them was throwing a fit, then they pretended to blow out candles and finally we walked through them choosing life and joy.
This has been my go-to lately and has really been helping them calm or, even better, helping us nip it before it gets out of hand.
Melt downs happen quite often in our home. When you have children from trauma that all have different stories, meltdowns can be a colorful spectrum… from older adoptions to bringing them home as infants and then throwing in some extra spice with a little blessing with Down Syndrome.
Honestly, I don’t even realize these emotional episodes because they truly have become something we deal with and just move on.
Years ago when we were raising our two oldest biological children, I focused on all those little melt downs and overthought every little one. I love how the Lord has grown my husband and I in that particular area. For example, I truly found myself having to think back when the last time we had a meltdown in our home, and then realized it was just yesterday.
Our sweet little Havah decided to have a little power struggle with me and I knew she needed correction and guidance. I asked Havah to help me pick up a few legos that were on the floor. She decided instead to dump the entire bag of legos out onto the floor and proceeded to kick them all around the room while adding in a “little attitude”. I helped her to my bedroom and sat with her on my bed. I firmly yet lovingly talked with her and explained that she needed to calm down and obey. After a few tears, Havah totally had a change of heart and came out willing and eager to pick up her legos and clean all of them up. This was an incredible step for her!
Typically, for the past two years, I have taken Havah’s little hands in my hands and picked up each toy… one by one. Doing this has taken deliberate time and patience; however, it is paying off. I didn’t even have to “help” Havah pick them up. AND… the smile on her sweet face was priceless!! What a treasured moment.
Time is so crucial on this journey with these precious kiddos and I was gently reminded of that again yesterday. The LORD is so gentle and gracious with us on our own life journey and as we parent these amazing children from hard places, we must always remember where they have come from and strive to see those little victories. In the midst of the hard, they can be difficult to find… however, there is always a redeeming moment if we will just stop and choose to see.
I feel like the important work is done when the melt downs or shut downs aren’t happening. I think most of us mamas feel like we at least have a sense about where the triggers, break-downs in understanding or development, emotional issues or insecurities, etc. lie.
When things are more calm we breathe into them, by God’s help and grace, the truth of their identity in Him… that they are a masterpiece created by Him to do the good works He planned for them long ago (and that they have an enemy, Satan, who wants to derail that plan). We also take opportunity to teach them how to identify their triggers, the lies they believe, or where fear or anger usually try to enter. I feel like this has been our biggest help – to put names to the things that challenge them so they are aware of what they are facing and don’t feel so helpless.
Identifying it also helps us know which truth to lean on. So when the challenge arises… we start with the truth of who they are, then we remember that “how they are acting” has a name, we remind ourselves of what that thing is and what we know to be true about it, then we move into the practical steps and tools on how to get through the hard moments.
This has been a process for me filled with God’s grace. His grace surely fills my gaps because I get it wrong a lot of times but He has been faithful to lovingly teach me as I teach my kiddos.
There are many names we give the “episodes” that come with adoption trauma – rage, a melt-down, pitching a fit, or a tantrum. For our daughter, no matter what the trigger was, the fit comes from an inability to cope.
In our family we work hard to not let things escalate to a full-blown fit. We have lots of practices in place that help with this goal. Our daughter struggles greatly with transitions or a change in plans. We always prepare her with a warning whenever we can. A warning that the thing we are doing is about to end and an expectation of what we will be doing next.
We also use a daily schedule in our home for this same purpose. It helps our daughter greatly to have the same rhythm throughout each day. During breakfast each morning I prepare all the children with what our plans are for the day, especially if they are different than a normal day.
Sometimes, even with our best intentions, things do start to escalate. I am thankful that our daughter has signs of this that are pretty consistent. She will start to suck her thumb, rub her arm, rub her feet together, look distant, burrow her brow, and also start to fuss about things that are going on. It is key at this point that I stop what I am doing and address our daughter’s needs as soon as I see the signs so that I can help her reset herself and things do not get out of control.
The first thing I try is to distract her by pulling her in to help me, or by starting a new activity that will reset her mind. If I can see that this strategy is not working, I will get out our essential oils and apply them to her spine, forehead and big toes. We consistently use peace and calming and lavender for times like this, but we also use them at the beginning of every day too.
I will also take her to one of her therapy tools and start vestibular movement with her. She has a trampoline to jump on – but if she will not cooperate and jump for me, I will hold her on my lap in a tight hug and bounce her on our exercise ball. In the warmer weather I can also take her outside to swing on the swings – which offers the movement and the distraction at the same time. After I do these things, she usually starts to calm down and then I just spend time holding her, looking into her eyes and sharing time with her. This helps her feel safe and loved instead of out-of- control, and pretty soon she jumps down ready to get back to our day.
If one of us has missed the signs she shows, and missed the opportunity to intervene before a full-blown fit, we have quite a different scene to try to diffuse. Our daughter is now six, bigger and stronger than when she first came home – and her fits are bigger and stronger too. I still start with the same techniques I described above – especially the oils – but if I am unable to control her enough to get vestibular movement started, I will carry her into our “safe spot”, which is in the corner of the master bedroom. I will sit her down and I will sit down with her. I do not say anything. I sit with her on my lap if she will allow it and offer deep touch to try to calm her down. Usually she will be screaming the nastiest things at me, but I still say nothing in return. I keep offering a calm presence and deep touch. Once she calms back down, we will lie on the bed face to face and talk about words instead of fits. Every time I use the same short sentences to have this talk instead of lecturing her about what she just did.
I say things like:
“Remember, we need to use our words.”
“Did you feel sad or angry before your fit?”
“Do you know what made you feel that way?” and so on.
These reflective times after a fit is newer for our daughter, as she is just getting to the age where her communicative skills are enough to have a talk like this.
On an encouraging note, using these techniques to help our daughter learn how to cope has given her words of her own. There are many, many times now when she will simply tell me – even before I notice any signs – that she cannot handle something that is going on. I praise her so much, we run to get her oils, and then let her choose what type of movement she wants to try. Sometimes she just wants me to hold her. I will never say no to that!
I can’t stress enough the importance of finding your tribe and allowing them to help you navigate this amazing journey of adoption. I reach out to these six beautiful friends often, and they have listened when I needed an ear, cried when there was no solution, prayed with open hearts, laughed when that was all there was left to do, or reached out to me just when I needed them.
Find your tribe and allow them to support you through issues just like you’ve read today. The Red Thread is strong and willing. I promise!
Thank you to my beautiful friends for sharing their hearts and souls! I hope they have blessed you as much as they do for me every single day!