Ally, Attachment, Cate, Juliana, Tess, Trauma

Empowering for Adulthood

Our goal as parents is to raise children who become free and autonomous adults.  Free thinkers, able to regulate, capable of higher level thought processes and decision making.  We want happy kids who turn into happy adults.  When you have a kid from a hard place getting to that point feels as daunting as summiting Everest, and the path to the summit involves a crap ton of work.   That work comes in the form of conscious choices in connection, correction and empowerment for our kids.

How do you empower a kid who comes from absolutely nothing?  The very basis of empowerment is felt safety.  You have to get your child to feel safe with you so that you can move forward together.  This involves taking them back to basics.  When I say this people look at me and wonder “Are you one of those fruit cups who fed your 8 year old a bottle?”  No, pretty sure Ally would have thought that was really weird.  But, I did other things that I might not have done for an 8 year old who had been with me from the beginning of time.

For example, I established rituals with Ally.  Her hair and nails were a HUGE deal to her.  When you’re 8 you’re usually old enough to paint your own nails.  I made sure Ally didn’t.  Nail painting on the weekends became a mom and daughter ritual.  Ally viewed it as my giving care.  She was learning to receive care from me.  Her hair braiding was the same deal. She could have done her own hair.  Instead, I did it for her.  Or we did it together.  Eventually, she learned to give care by helping me braid Juliana’s care.  This is an example of a move towards autonomy.  She could now give care too.

Rituals are a huge part of building trust.  Our kids need things repeated to them hundreds of times before they make connections and internalize what we’re saying and doing.  I do little things like songs and rhythms too.  Tess has one that involves me saying “Hey! I love you! Hey, hey I love you!” in a rhythm.  I would smile, make eye contact with her, and even when she was pre-verbal, it lit her up.  She LOVED it.  When she came home I did this hundreds of times, during diaper changes, while we played, during therapy, and in the hospital quietly in her ear.  Three years later, I say “Hey! I love you!” and she replies back, in rhythm, “Hey, hey, I love you!”  Cate has the same type of ritual, but she says “Hey mama, one night” and I reply “I love you!”  I have no idea how these started, but they’re a ritual, and they’re needed.  Mindfulness, yoga and massage have also become rituals.

Mindfulness, yoga and massage take it to the next level too.  Coupled with massive amounts of physical activity for our kids, these help them learn to self-regulate.  This is something kids from a hard place miss. They never had a mama to rock them to help them calm when they were hurt or upset.  Instead, they cried, no one came, they felt angry and desperate and they internalized that feeling.  That becomes their response to everything, rage.  Self-regulation, and giving our kids that tool is so empowering.

Nutrition is always going to play a huge role in empowering in our house.  The feeling of hunger never goes away when your body was starved.  We eat every two hours.  This drives Joe and I slightly nuts.  We’re feeding our kids like newborns, but it’s just small amounts, a protein/carb combo to keep that feeling at bay.



–Nutrition support

Three ways to empower your kids.

–FullPlateMom, who is headed home from training today and can’t wait to get back to her rituals at home.




Attachment, Juliana, Trauma

Correction through Connection.

Before we start talking about correction, as in, of undesirable behaviors, I want to take a moment to wish this girl a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

julianaDouble digits, baby!!!

Juliana, you are the reason I’m here, in Texas, learning all I can formally learn, so that I can pass it on to others.  When you came to us, we fumbled SO badly.  We screwed up getting you what you needed in about 18,000 ways.  We have talked about this so many times, but I’m going to say it again, I am so sorry.

We finally found our way through trial, error and some help from the Institute for Child Development here at TCU.  I remember sending videos of you to them and saying “What do I do about this?!?” and them sending me recommendations so kindly that were, basically, “Well, not any of what you’re doing currently.”  We changed everything until we got it right.  We got you a GREAT attachment therapist locally.  We did a crap ton of neurofeedback, and you fought.  You fought so hard every single day to understand what it meant to have a mom after the ones you had in the past failed you SO badly.

When I started to fail too, I made you a promise.  I promised I would do better, that I would go and get help too, because I’m not perfect.  I took myself to therapy and then I told you all about the training I was going to come to that would help me do even better, and that maybe it would help other people help their kids too.  You were sad I was going to miss your birthday, but you are doing GREAT with just dad.

I am so stinkin’ proud of you.  I am so stinkin’ proud of us.

It took you and I YEARS to connect.  We didn’t feel like mom and daughter for a long time.  I felt like a babysitter whose soul purpose was to punish you, and I’m pretty sure you felt like I resented you for breathing.  We were in a horrible cycle.

When Darren Jones of the ICD at TCU put this slide up yesterday, I made sure to take a picture of it to show your dad.  We would often comment on the “vicious cycle” we would enter into where you would act out, I would punish you, you would feel like you were bad, I would punish you more and we would get more and more and more in trouble.


Then we took you to therapy and we began to view our struggles like this.  You were merely trying to survive and we could start a trend of an upward spiral toward the magical place where you felt safe.

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-10-18-07-pmCorrecting behaviors in a kid who is just trying to survive looks a lot different then correcting behaviors in a kid you view as “manipulative” or “willfully defiant.”  We, as parents, absolutely need to make that distinction.  We need to find the fear behind the behavior.  We need to be as proactive as possible to prevent these behaviors by empowering our kids (more on that tomorrow).

Sometimes though, we can’t catch it in time, the child blows their top and we, as parents, have to level a response.  The level of response we approach Juliana with depends entirely on where she’s at.  If we can ‘let it go, no big deal’, we absolutely do.  She knows that term, it’s her script.  She will sometimes breathe deeply as she says it ‘I’m going to let it go, it’s no big deal.’

For her, the next level is to get mouthy, usually with a sibling.  She’ll boss and sass and generally poke at them.  In other words, she’s not letting it go.  At this point, we give a couple options.  Do you want to do some heavy work and come on back or do you need a quiet place to read?  Either way, the interaction with the sibling needs to end.  But, in both cases, she’s not sent away unless she chooses, with her own power, to go read on her bed.

Occasionally we’ll get to a third level where she can’t make a choice and we have to choose for her.  If that happens, where we see the full blown flip out looming on the horizon, we drop together and give it ten.  Yes, we do push ups with her.  Sometimes, I’ll suggest jumping jacks, but when she’s dysregulated, jumping jacks sometimes require too much cross body movement.  Either way, this isn’t a choice.  We’re doing it together.  We’re correcting, and connecting through calming engagement.

The fourth level used to be SO crazy common at our house.  It’s not anymore.  Joe and I tried to think of the last time we got to this point.  Neither of us could.  There are quite a few children in our home who came to us from a hard place that spent a lot of time at level four.  At this level, they’re lost in terms of communication.  At this point, we’re putting out a fire.  We are parents, so we’ll hold them.  Sometimes, that would leave me with two black eyes, a bloody nose, a busted lip.  Yeah, it can get ugly.  We wait it out.  We sit there, right in the doorway of the safe place and we wait out the rage.  When it slows, we offer things we know soothe.  Usually, with our kids, that’s food and a water bottle.  “Wow, that was a bad one.  That’s not okay.  We’ve got to find better ways to work through that.”

Those level four days left me ragged.  Those are the days that will break you.  The whole philosophy behind TBRI though is that you’re teaching strategies that will decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of these level four episodes.  When you’re in the moment though, it’s all about survival, for both of you.

Tomorrow I’ll write about how we empower our kids in our home, how we work to get them to where they feel safe.

–FullPlateMom, who still can’t believe her girl is TEN.


Attachment, Trauma

Connecting with Gigi

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.

51rt3awqz1l-_sx396_bo1204203200_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!

Attachment, Trauma

You’re Only Human.

I have a whole post about TBRI training yesterday, specifically about connecting which is a key component to TBRI.  Connection.  I had to work HARD on that, hence the upcoming post.

Before I hit publish on my connecting post though, and I will, first thing tomorrow morning, I just want to send a little message to all of you.  I like to live post a lot of what I’m being taught at this training via Facebook.  I see the comments and PMs about these posts and my heart sinks just a little.

“I’m so tired, Becky.  I don’t know that I can do this with this kid anymore.”

“This is sucking the life out of me.”

“I don’t feel like I’m a very good mom.”

“How will we EVER get past their past?”

I have replied so many times with a question in answer to your questions.  I often ask “Tell me what you’re doing for yourself? What does self-care look like for you?”

I almost never get a reply.  You’re doing nothing for yourself.  This lifestyle, and it is a lifestyle change to heal your child, is sucking everything right out of you.  If you don’t put something back in, you won’t make it.  Your marriage will suffer.  Your family will suffer.

You will break.  

Maybe you don’t need to get past their past?  Maybe that’s not possible.

Maybe you just need to stop living in it.

And, maybe, as you learn what letting go of it looks like, you need to give yourself a little grace.  You need grace to allow yourself some self-care.  You need grace to know that NONE of this is your fault.  Their past certainly isn’t your fault.  Their behavior isn’t either.  It’s not even leveled at you, it only feels that way.

Self-care for me comes in the form of running.  I strap on my shoes like armor and I run.  As I do it, I clench and unclench my fists.  I think about all the things my kids did that day that pissed the absolute hell out of me, and then I let them go.  I let them go into the sweat.  Sometimes, I let them go into the tears.

I have rituals too.  You’ll learn more about those tomorrow for your kids, but I have mine too.  In the last half mile of my run, no matter how long I’ve been going, I crank up the same song on repeat.  The song might change, but it’s always a song that speaks to me about my kids, and what they’ve lived through, and are now learning to live with.

Lately, everything has felt like my fault too.

I am only human.  Sometimes, I forget to practice what I preach.  Lately behaviors feel personal, and I feel like a failure too.  That’s why I’m here now, at this training.  My head knows I’m not failing, but my heart sings a different story.  So, Rag’n’Bone Man’s ‘Human’ resonated and has become the recent ritual.  The volume goes up at the same time the speed on the treadmill does.  All there is left is the beat in my ears and the thump of my shoes against the belt.

I’m only human
I make mistakes
I’m only human 
That’s all it takes
To put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m no prophet or Messiah
Should go looking somewhere higher
I’m only human after all
I’m only human after all
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put the blame on me

I’m only human 
I do what I can
I’m just a man 
I do what I can
Don’t put the blame on me
Don’t put your blame on me

I’m only human
I’m only, I’m only
I’m only human, human

You’re only human.  They are too.  One foot in front of the other.  One step at a time.  Together.

–FullPlateMom, who sometimes lets herself forget all this too easily.



Attachment, Trauma

Building Your Bookshelf

In case you’ve missed the last few days of posts, I am in Texas doing some TBRI Practitioner Training.  If you follow me on Facebook you’ve been getting more pearls of wisdom then you probably ever wanted.  I am in love with this training.  There isn’t one thing that was taught today that doesn’t enter into my sphere, whether that sphere is my home life or my professional life.

I loved how engaged people were on Facebook today.  So many of you are as excited as I am.  Other families need this as badly as I do.  When I learned about TBRI we were in a horrible spot with one of the kids in our home.  Horrible enough that I was ready to give up.

Yesterday’s post was to key people into the need to just start.  Start healing anywhere you can.  This is a holistic approach to Complex Developmental Trauma.  Different kids will have different needs, and I am NOT a licensed counselor.  I can only speak to our process, for our daughter.  We found that some of the techniques that worked with her worked with our other children, some didn’t.  We had to change it up when that happened.

Once we took the first leap to really work toward healing for ALL the kids in our home I read, and read, and read.  I’m going to link the books that I read first here.  We now have a bookshelf in our home for attachment related resources.  I go back to it every few months for a refresher.  I also refer to it when we’re in the trenches, because again, this process isn’t linear.

Here are the books I started with.  Maybe they will help you too?

As you know, this is the one that started it all.


This book gave me SO much insight into just how trauma impacted my children’s brain functioning.  The amygdala, it’s a tricky little beast.


Oh my gosh, the sensory needs.  SO many sensory needs.


And the food issues.  SO many food issues.


Understanding why they hurt is so important.  These behaviors, so many of them come from a place of hurt.




So what do you do about it?  Not punish them, that’s for darn sure.  It doesn’t work.  It doesn’t teach them anything.  It’s not connecting anyone.



I also really value Conscious Discipline.  The techniques I use to lay out logical consequences when clear  expectations are violated involve taking a little from each approach.

I always try to keep in mind the TBRI principles though.

  1.  Connecting with my children
  2. Correcting their behavior in a loving way that will…
  3. Empower them to make a change.

Connecting isn’t always easy.  Tomorrow’s blog post is going to be devoted to all the things we do in our home to connect with our kids who didn’t have secure connections before they came to us.

–FullPlateMom, who is ready to make more connections tomorrow!