TBRI has three main principles on which it operates.
1. Empower–attention to physical needs.
2. Connection–attention to attachment needs.
3. Correction–attention to behavioral needs.
As a potential adoptive parent, we’re given all kinds of training on empowerment. Our kids come to us malnourished, starved for attention. We are told we need to feed them freely, carry them as much as they want, and love them with reckless abandon.
That doesn’t address actually feeling a connection to them. If you don’t feel it, it’s really hard to fake it. Yet, we do. And, we parents rock at it. Connection is even harder though when your child is non-verbal, deaf or cognitively delayed. I know so many parents who are struggling with connection in a child with these diagnoses. It struck me today in training that a lot of what was being suggested, a lot of what we did for Gigi, doesn’t depend heavily on language, because she had none.
Connection with a child from a hard place is dependent on a few things: observational awareness, you need to give yourself time to get to know their behavior patterns, self-awareness, you need to get to know YOURSELF, and the skills of attachment which include giving care, seeking care, feeling comfortable with an autonomous self, and negotiation.
You need to give yourself time, and grace, to get to know your new kiddo. For awhile, when you’ve just come home and you’re in that tenuous phase of finding your new normal, you know the phase, we ALL know the phase. It comes between the jet lag and the destroyed house. It comes with endless days spent in your pajamas, just trying to survive. That’s okay. You’re getting to know each other.
Getting to know yourself can happen simultaneously if it needs to, but it absolutely has to happen. If your child’s behaviors are triggering something in you, anger, rage, sadness, or true depression, it’s time to figure out why. It’s natural to need to adjust, but sometimes, going through this journey with your child can bring a ton of your own ‘stuff’ to the surface. Maybe you need order and this child has created chaos. It’s time to figure out what in your own past creates that extreme need for order. These discoveries will only help you in the long run, and they’ll help you work with your child now.
The attachment skills are your goals for your child, they are short term and long term. We want our kids to be able to seek care, and give it. We want then to feel comfortable with an autonomous self. We want them to be able to negotiate their feelings, and life in general. Those are some lofty goals. They’re even loftier if your kid can’t speak or hear or is significantly cognitively delayed.
It’s time to head back to basics. Kids from hard places have never had ANYONE teach them about emotional intelligence. What does sad mean? What’s happy? They have NO clue. They know mad, and that is often their default setting. Anger is so common. You can teach them what all these feelings mean, and how to regulate them, even if they don’t speak or can’t hear.
Having a child “check their engine” is a common way to help with this. That doesn’t work for some kids. Instead, using pictures of actual human faces looking happy, angry and sad can help. For Gigi, we have pictures of HER in all those emotional states. When she is sad, I go and get a picture of her crying and I show it to her. She is Deaf, so she communicates with ASL. I am able to sign “You sad. Face shows me. Same.” She learns that this is sad. She looks like this. I do the same with happy and angry. The more she matures, the more emotions she will add.
She has now begun to tell me “I feel sad. I cry. I hurt.” She is seeking care from me at a higher level than just asking me to feed her, which is another way to seek and give care.
We needed to teach her what to do with those feelings. This is where we implement coping mechanisms. If I can get Gigi to admit she’s angry, I can use tools in my toolbox, like massage, or yoga, or even the sucking action of her water bottle as choices to help her calm. I try asking her what would help. If she is too angry to answer, because she is non-verbal, we go to rocking. Rocking resets Gigi. I get down on my knees and cradle her, squeeze her, and rock her HARD. Because of her deafness she is a sensory seeker, this rhythmic back and forth, back and forth helps her. Every kid is different, but this is our ritual. Rocking is also a connecting tool. She’s touching me, cuddled in, feeling my heartbeat. Gigi is 4 years old, but she currently operates at about the level of a 2.5 year old. She needs to be babied.
Connecting rituals aren’t just for when she’s sad or angry though. We have things we do at bedtime too. She chooses a book from the book box, I sign it to her. She lies down and I make a big deal out of tucking her in tight. She kicks the blankets off an laugh. It’s playful fun. Then I sign I love you. She signs it back and our ‘I love you’ come together and we make a kissing face. I kiss her forehead and turn out the overhead light.
Connecting through rituals is SO important for a kid who is delayed, can’t hear, or is non-verbal. They know what to expect. At training I learned about this book. I absolutely can’t wait to add it to our library.
So many kids who can’t hear or are non-verbal have sensory integration issues. Connecting can occur through sensory activities too. I linked this Pinterest board earlier. It is my new go to for sensory activities that can double as connecting through play!
–FullPlateMom, who is excited about correction day next!