Parenting Tips for Attachment-Challenged Children

1.    Be safe parents to attach to for your children.  Relationship over compliance is important in therapeutic parenting. Keep your faces and eyes soft.  If you are upset, give yourself a time out to someplace kid free until you can get your soft face back.  If the child insists on talking, insist on space for yourself first.  If the child badgers you, sit silently and read a book. Offer the child a seat beside you. Promise to talk when you have calmed down.  This model impacts (emotional) regulation.

2.  Punishment does not work.  Logical consequences do not work.  Emotional discussions do not work.  Rejection does not work.  Threatening does not work.  Spanking, hitting or physical force does not work.  Time-out in isolation does not work.  Reasoning with a dysregulated child never works.  So what works, you ask? Emotionally regulated parents using soft-eyed nurture, empathy, engagement, and structure work to create the safety necessary to attach, which is necessary for positive behavior change.

3.   Stop yourselves from talking, talking, talking to the child.  This will create tuning-out, blank stares, and dissociation.  Here are some short phrases that work better than long explanations:

“Please remember that plastic can’t be microwaved honey.”

“Thank you for quickly stopping and doing what I asked you to do.”  “Would you speak loudly please, or I won’t be able to hear you.”

“Would you speak loudly please, or I won’t be able to hear you.”

“When you are ready to finish your chores, then we can get on with the fun part of the day.”

4.       Be on the same page with your co-parent.  Use wait time to decide what to do.  Consult each other before making parenting decisions.  It is okay to say, “Something will happen, though I’m going to talk with Mom or Dad before deciding.”  Hint:  What is going to happen is a chat with both parents, later.

5.       Stay calm.  Respond calmly and quickly only to real (not imagined) safety concerns that impact siblings, Mom or Dad, pets, or others. You can include property in this, but be careful. Sometimes “things” become more important than the heart of the child and that will not work long term.  Use appropriately measured restitution (also known as Restorative Justice) for property destruction instead of emotional punishment or consequences.  Have the consequences discussion only when all are emotionally regulated.

6.       Do not negotiate, but rather share power through respectful compromising when the child is regulated.  The parent is the leader.  If there are choices to give, you initiate them and you give them with empathy and understanding.  This is the kind of structure and nurture an attachment challenged child needs to feel safe.  As attachment grows, teach the concept of compromise.  This is where negotiation can come online, but only if used respectfully by the child.

7.       Avoid saying “no.”  This is very difficult.  Find a way to say “yes.”  “Yes, you can play with friends, when we come back from the store.”  “Yes, you can have candy after dinner.”  If badgering ensues, instead of amping up your voice and thereby the emotional stakes, be a calm, broken record “Yes, after dinner.  Yes, honey, after dinner.”   Another way not to have to say “no” is to ask the child what s/he thinks the answer is?  Ignore most negative behavior.  You get more of what you focus on, so focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want.  Ignore the rest.  Never, ever, ever ignore the child, just the negative behavior. Appreciate, compliment, and thank the child for behavior you want.  Give these things in a neutral tone rather than an exuberant tone.  Good behavior creates BIG anxiety in attachment challenged children because they fear they will not be able to keep it up (as they think they are inherently bad somehow and it is only a matter of time before they do bad behavior).  These kids sabotage themselves, so avoid big build up to going places, seeing someone special, or getting to do or get something great.  The child will find some way to mess up the experience.  This is due to a number of internalized messages, but largely excitement dysregulation, anticipation anxiety, and internalized negative self-concepts.

8.       Process situations with your child only when everyone is regulated emotionally.  If one of you gets dysregulated during a discussion, simply say, “Let’s stop for now and finish this conversation later when we can all hear.”

9.       Play, be silly, and laugh together.  Play is extremely important with attachment challenged children. Use the therapeutic principles in Theraplay (c) by Booth and Jernberg–Structure, Engagement, Nurture, and Challenge.  Stay away from winner/loser games.  Try not to keep score even if the game usually is scored.   Be lovingly physical.  Roll around on the floor together, and switch up the play when the energy gets too high or too low.  Attachment challenged children get dysregulated by fun, too.

10.   Give lots of hugs and kisses on your terms.  It is okay to give them on the child’s terms, too; however, not ONLY on the child’s terms.  If this is a problem and it often is, then get your therapist’s support for ways to change the dynamic.

Love Matters,

Ce Eshelman, LMFT

The Attach Place CenterThe Attach Place Center for Strengthening Relationships
The next 8 hr. Trust Based Parent Training is scheduled for February 20th and 27th from 12noon to 4 pm.  $200 per couple.  Childcare available for $30 each day. To sign up email and she will register you.
Monthly Adoptive Parent Support Group is every second Wednesday of the month from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.  Group and Childcare are Free.
Look for Ce Eshelman’s Upcoming Book
Drowning With My Hair On Fire
Insanity Relief For Adoptive Parents
Expected Release Date: February 15, 2016
Drowning with My Hair On Fire is a compilation of over 175 daily support letters to parents of adoptive children and other children from difficult beginnings.  With a forward by Dave Ziegler, Ph.D. and a brief personal memoir, this publication is a response to blog-reader requests for a book of letters that can be easily returned to day after day, when inspiration is hard to find.
Praise for Drowning with My Hair On Fire
This woman saved our family. This book will save your sanity! After years (and many therapists) of getting it wrong, Ce Eshelman got our traumatized family on the right path to attachment, sanity, and big big love. Ce’s unique therapy is grounded in the latest brain research, her own struggles raising traumatized children, and work with hundreds of families like ours. Her stories, contained in this book, are our stories: full of pain, confusion, hope, faith, love and practical magic that really works.
Elaine Smith, Adoptive Mother
Ce’s daily blog has been a lifesaver, particularly when days are most dreary and hopeless.  Not only have her words of empathy proven to be priceless to our family, but I have often forwarded them on to others.  Such a comfort to feel understood, with no judgment.
Patty O’Hair, Adoptive Mother
In a real sense “Drowning with My Hair on Fire: Insanity Relief for Adoptive Parents” is a daily mediation of struggle, success, failure and getting up and trying again.  If that sounds like too much to subject yourself to then don’t adopt a challenging child.  And one more thing, shouldn’t we require prospective adoptive parents to read “Drowning with My Hair on Fire: Insanity Relief for Adoptive Parents” rather than another ‘All they need is love’ manual?
Dave Ziegler, Ph.D., founder of Jasper Mountain Center and author of many books on raising children from difficult beginnings.

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