Thursday, July 03, 2014

A Reminder: Preadoptive? Be Prepared

We spent the weekend before last with several families from FRUA, Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption. This organization provides educational resources and a sense of community to families who might otherwise not have either. Over the course of the weekend, we witnessed or learned about issues with which some families are wrestling. While I can't say anything about individual families, I will list these issues below to remind you that some adopted children--like some children by birth--need more help than others. I've mentioned some of these in other posts over the years, but it's time I did so again. Please note that my parenthetical comments are NOT intended to be diagnostic. I'm not an expert, even on my own kids.

That weekend we saw or otherwise learned about:

-Sensory issues such as dislike of bathing, certain clothes, many foods
(Can stem from early childhood confined indoors, or to a crib, or otherwise lacking in sensory exploration.)

-A lifelong habit of poor hygiene
(Can be a remembered protective measure against sexual abuse.)

-Theft and vandalism
(Can happen for reasons including, but not limited to, memories of poverty; distorted conscience or boundaries because of poor attachment; lack of understanding of consequences because of FAS [Fetal Alcohol Syndrome].)

-Oppositional or violent behavior towards parents
(Can come from early learning that adults are not to be trusted--e.g. neglect or abuse. Sometimes, kids contending with this issue cannot live at home.)

-Lack of empathy for other people and animals
(Can result from lack of empathy and/or lack of understanding of consequences; see #1 and #2 above.)

I cannot emphasize enough that adoptive parents must be prepared to learn and seek help. Peter and I risked adopting preschool-age children raised in an eastern European orphanage because we live in an area where help is easy to find. If we lived in an area where such adoptions were rare, where no medical professionals knew international adoption medicine, and where no therapists worked with kids who have attachment issues, we would not have adopted K and M. Why not? Because we would have risked damaging already fragile human beings. Yes--this means that, rather than adopting our beautiful children, we would have allowed them to be placed where they could have gotten better care. In other words, adoption is not about the parents. It's about the children.







Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Busy Transition

There's a lot going on, but today is the kids' last day of school--a half-day--so I am awfully short on time today and all week. Meanwhile, I've got a small freelance PR project going, a pro-bono book critique, and lots of homework for a class I'm taking.

We took a weekend trip with a group of families with children adopted from Russia and Ukraine, and I learned a lot that I'd like to detail here, but it's going to have to wait. Meanwhile, here's my usual advice to parents during this end-of-school transition.
-Hold fast to discipline and routines to help your kids feel secure.
-Remind yourself and your kids that endings often evoke many feelings at the same time, and all are acceptable. (The feelings are acceptable. How they're acted upon, of course, might not be!)
-Have compassion for your kids' feelings of loss, which may run deeper than you realize.
-Cherish the moments when you yourself can find replenishment.

Good luck. Be gentle. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

M At A Transition Point

After last week's success on the 4th-grade overnight trip, M seems to have regressed several months. Darn.

Monday, his afternoon home alone with me, he forgot to look at his homework chart, and actually forgot that he had brought one home. It had been months since I'd needed to remind him to check.

Tuesday, he took the bus home instead of getting on the afterschool van. He had not made this mistake since the winter. Frantic administrators called around until they found him by calling me, who had just seen him get off the bus. I had him fetch his tennis racquet (which he had also forgotten), then took him to afterschool myself so he could catch the end of tennis class. (I would have kept him home, but we've paid too much for tennis to waste even one session.) That night, he came upstairs after bedtime because he couldn't sleep. Peter was working late. It had been months since M had trouble sleeping on Peter's late nights.

Yesterday, he did not do his homework at afterschool even though K was right there with him, doing hers. "Nobody reminded me!" he complained. "And whose job is it to remember?" I countered, the same thing I'd said the last time this happened, in January.

M has also been rude, demanding, and even more careless than usual with his possessions. These are new behaviors.

Now that I've told you all this, here's what's happening in his 4th-grade life that we think might be freaking him out:
-His sister is graduating from 5th grade (this is a big deal in our town)
-He and K will be at different schools for the first time in 6 years
-He and K will be at different after school programs for the first time ever
-K will not stop talking about these changes
-He and K are growing physically, starting to experience early adolescence
-M's special ed teacher (his only male teacher) is retiring

No wonder he'd rather be safely ensconced in January, when everything was known and comfortable!

But what about the new behaviors? We're guessing that what isn't simple hormonal surliness might be a form of testing--as in, "There are new circumstances in my life. I'm scared, so I need to feel the same hands holding me, the same arms keeping me safe. And this is how I break rules now that I'm 10." I don't know how common this sort of testing is among non-adopted kids, but it's common among adopted kids, and it's always been M's modus operandi. And like always, it makes me want to nail him into a crate and mail him back to Russia.

So how are we coping? Besides fantasizing about a crate, I mean?
-We try to stay mindful of what's going on from his point of view (see above).
-However, we don't slack off on discipline. It is essential for both kids that we remain stable so they have something to push against.
-When M is rude, we don't hesitate to exclude him, put him out of the room, ask him to "stay silent until you can say something kind," etc. (FYI, he is rude only to us. He is as gentlemanly as Peter with everyone else. This is as it should be: it means he feels safe with us.)
-We hide aces up our sleeves (that is, we keep strategies ready just in case). The latest: "I know you asked me to buy that special snack, but, you see, I spent so much time today [insert job he should be doing] that I just didn't have time." We might also use, "I do favors for people who are kind to me." (This is a pure Love and Logic technique.)
-We bring up topics of conversation that might prick up his ears, even if he doesn't feel like participating. I eat with and drive both kids the most, so this duty falls mainly to me. Peter and I want to start "family movie night" with this idea in mind.  (Another tip from Love and Logic.)
-We try to do things with M that don't require eye contact, such as playing cards. (K craves face-to-face contact, but M prefers side-by-side, like most guys.) Peter loves to play cards, and he has an intuitive understanding of how boys interact, so he does this more than I do. We want to start a "family game night." (K's idea!)

Aside from these parenting strategies, there's also how I take care of myself. I continue to work out regularly--real weightlifting, with the big guys--and cook simple, clean meals. I've learned that I need to keep a regular bedtime. I try to hang out with Peter more and talk to him on the phone when he doesn't get home. Perhaps most importantly, I'm working on my career. I've been writing more, sending out more pieces for publication, and doing freelance editing. In other words, I'm allowing myself islands of competence to stand on even though the seas are starting to get choppy.



Sunday, June 08, 2014

On His Own

M went away two nights last week on a 4th-grade science-and-nature retreat. As always, he found packing challenging, even though he'd been supplied with a list, but with my help he got it done. He was ready ahead of schedule Wednesday morning, and we got to the drop-off point right on time.

For the last three months or so, M has had periods of surliness. The two days before he left were one of those periods. It is never intolerable--I've seen terrible rudeness in some boys his age--but it's a departure from his usual sweetness. M stops saying "Please" and "Thank you," looks and sounds annoyed all the time, won't lift a finger around the house unless pressed. This borderline obnoxiousness culminated at drop-off in snarkiness and refusing to look me in the eye. When I informed him he could go wait with his friends once he addressed me politely, he decided to give me the silent treatment.  When the teachers called him to go line up, he did not say goodbye.

I'm embarrassed to say that it didn't occur to me until right then that M needed to part from me in this way. He did at summer camp last year too: I'm going to get mad at you so I'll feel glad when you're gone. And I won't look at you when you say goodbye with love in your eyes. Fortunately, both times it occurred to me early enough that I could stop myself from grabbing him and hugging him: I let him keep the distance he wanted. Both times, he greeted me ecstatically when I came to pick him up afterwards and was his usual affectionate self for days.

You're wondering how he fared on the trip? Wonderfully! When I picked him up, he was clean, wearing clean clothes appropriate for the weather, and he knew where all his stuff was. He had not lost a thing. He showered every day and wore clean clothes. (He said his friends noticed by the end that his bunk was "the only one that didn't stink.") He ate well. He followed directions. He stayed dry in the rain.

Peter and I both congratulated him on all his good choices, of course, and told him how proud of him we were. Inside, I couldn't help thinking, Who are you and what have you done with my space-shot son?

We're glad to have him home again where he can annoy us.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

On Her Own

We've hit two milestones this week for K.

First, I let her stay home alone for a half-hour while I picked up M at after school. K was working on two big projects, and I didn't have the heard to interrupt her. She was most pleased when I suggested she stay home and continue.

Second, she got ready for school this morning--made her own breakfast and lunch, etc--on her own. (M is away right now on a 4th grade multi-night trip.) She will need to do this regularly next year for middle school, so she was delighted that I suggest she try it today. She did just fine. Got it all done in about 45 minutes, which is what I'd estimated.

K has been obsessed lately--there's no other word--with certain aspects of middle school. Will we let her walk there? Will we let her work on a project after school at a friend's house without prearragement? How will she let us know if she's not going to come directly home? Will we give her a combination lock so she can practice with one before getting her locker in September? And so on.

While we're proud of her for thinking ahead, feeling ready, etc, we're also snickering behind our hands at some of the ways in which she's clearly NOT ready. She wants to walk the 2.2 miles to school, but she refuses to bike because "it's too far." She likes the idea of long-term independent projects but doesn't understand that she can't finish her current science project poster until her experiment is completed. She loves the idea of decorating a locker but doesn't like the idea of leaving stuff in it.

I love young teens, to tell you the truth. Years ago, I did some crisis counseling, and my speciality turned out to be girls 12-14 with pregnancy scares (or actual pregnancies). K is only 11, but I feel her champing at the bit for more independence, more opportunity to run whatever course she chooses. I get a kick out of her contradictions.

And M? What about him? He seems so much younger than K right now. The one time I left him alone in the house, he called me eight times in that half-hour. He cannot manage to get himself out in the morning without forgetting (or willfully skipping) something major. He is only just realizing that some school tasks require multiple days of work--for instance, that studying for a test increases his score. I'm glad that he's got one more year before going to middle school.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Therapies We've Used So Far

This is another of those FYI-type posts for readers who need information. Fun stories will return shortly.

I've been talking a lot lately with parents of struggling kids. Our kids haven't required many interventions so far, but I thought I'd list the ones we've used.

1. Psychotherapy. Our kids have needed a few sessions occasionally. A few years ago, we helped them establish a relationship with one by having them see "the feelings doctor" just to get comfortable with her. She is not an adoption specialist, but she has adoption training, long experience with local adoptive families, and no hesitation about referring us to an expert when needed. We chose her for two main reasons: first, she works closely with my own therapist, which enables her to understand our entire family; second, she's local and flexible, so we can see her quickly.

2. Vision therapy. Both kids have regular, thorough eye exams with an optometrist who has an informal sub-specialty in learning disabilities and a particular interest in adopted kids. He discovered that M and K are far-sighted and have difficulty converging their eyes; they now have reading glasses. He also discovered that M's brain often ignores input from the right eye. This optometrist is therefore doing a course of vision therapy with M. By the fourth week, M reported reading more easily, and his Hebrew teacher asked, "What are you guys doing with him that he's improved so much?"

3. Attention training. Both kids struggle with attention issues, but we do not wish to have them on medication if we can help it. I have a background in cognitive psychology, so it did not take much effort for me to read up on executive function research and make simple changes to our household operations. (You've seen my efforts elsewhere on this blog.) Then, the mailing list of The Hallowell Center informed me of a study using video games to train attention. We signed up. The kids trained for eight weeks, and it helped tremendously. We await further releases of the product, which we will beta test. While waiting our turn for the video treatment, we were offered cognitive behavioral therapy. I attended the sessions sans kids so I could learn techniques to use at home.

4. Special services at school. As of this year, M has an IEP (reading, writing, and math) and K has a 504 (permission to work in small groups for standardized testing). Both kids have always received literacy support; for the last few years, they've had math support, too.

And let us not forget...

1. Psychotherapy for parents. I've been in and out of therapy for a long time. These days, I have a few sessions when I can't resolve some major stress. As stated above, my therapist communicates with the kids' therapist. Peter remains solid as a rock emotionally, but he has seen a psychologist for his own attention issues. I ought to mention, too, that we had marriage counseling before we even applied to adopt.

2. Exercise. We make sure both kids have significant full-body exercise at least 5 days per week to help their sleep, mood, and concentration. They have gym at school only once a week, but we supplement with a sport of their choosing plus a physically active after-school program. They now self-regulate this pretty well, and will not voluntarily sit for more than an hour at a time.

3. Sleep. We give the opportunity for up to 11 hours of sleep per night. Our kids go to bed earlier than any of their friends. They also never get sick.

4. Healthy diet. Omnivorous and whole-foods based. We try to keep the kids' blood sugar level with plenty of protein and healthy fats and whole grains. We limit fruit juice and sugary treats for the same reason. Both kids are a healthy weight; both kids now make decent choices when left to their own devices; we encourage them to enjoy their treats and not feel guilty about them.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Useful Phrases in the Language of Pre-teen Parenting

My daughter K is 11. My son M is 10. As far as snark, rudeness, and sullen silence go--so far, so good. Nonetheless, here are phrases I'm already finding useful as we enter the land of puberty.

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I'm happy to help when you're ready to ask in a civil tone.

I'm happy to help when you're ready to use words.

Please put on fresh socks.

Sorry, honey. I can't come into your room while there's smelly laundry on the floor.

Yes, you can try my deodorant/foot powder/etc.

I'll shut the door. I'm sure you want privacy to change.

I won't ask what you learned in health class. I'll just ask, Do you have any questions?

Good question.

Everybody grows at their own rate.

Yes, some people do that.

No, you don't have to do that.

I don't like seeing that, either. Let's not look.

You don't feel like talking, so I'm just going to tell you a story. You don't have to say anything.

Thanks for listening.