Therapeutic Parenting for Adoptive Parents–Nutshell Version

Dear Parent,

Where is the cheat sheet for therapeutic parenting when you need a primer in a pinch?  Right here, in a nutshell–fifteen tips on being a therapeutic parent to your traumatized, attachment challenged child:

  1.  If you do not want to be lied to, do not ask your child, Why.  Our kids don’t know why they do the nonsensical things they do, so why ask why?  They will just make something up and you will be angry that they lied to you.
  2. Star Charts and Sticker Reward Charts don’t work for our kids, so don’t let some helpful social worker/therapist/friend set you and your child up for failure by being talked into creating one.  Our kids feel bad inside (that is their “go to” internal working model), so unconsciously they can only let a reward chart succeed for so long before there is an impulse to sabotage the good and return to the more comfortable bad working model.  All unconscious, of course.
  3. Sending a previously abandoned child to a separate room for a time out is triggering to one who has already been rejected so thoroughly by a biological parent.  Therapeutic parents do not reject, banish, shut out, close out, or abandon children as a consequence. The magnitude of the internal pain inflicted by such is hugely disproportionate to any childhood transgression that could have occurred.
  4. Punishment does not teach a child anything except that the punisher is more powerful and maybe even cruel or mean. Unrelated consequences make no sense to a child.  A natural consequences is the only way to teach cause and effect.  If I go to school without my coat, I get cold.  That natural consequence is the teacher, not shaming, blaming, lecturing, consequencing, punishing, or withholding privileges. Of-course, if it were snowing outside, letting your child go to school without a coat would be cruel and abusive; so natural consequences need to be guided by empathy.
  5. Long parental talks make children deaf or forgetful.  Be short and sweet (literally).
  6. Making a child apologize does not make a child sorry.  Encourage a child to show sorry by making things right, doing something kind, restorative, or healing.
  7. Routines are key.  Surprises are overwhelming.  Keep to a schedule and when you change it consider the child and give a bit of advanced coaching. In 10 minutes we are going to go to the grocery store.  I will remind you when it is time to put your shoes on.
  8. Too much advanced notice will create high anxiety, so your child may emotionally meltdown, sabotage, badger, or question you to death.  Telling our children about a vacation a month in advance will surely cause anxiety that makes a parent not want to go when the month is up.
  9. Too much praise is too much.  It could tip your child over into mistrust or dismissiveness of your words.  Show low key interest in things your child produces or does.  Keep praise for appearance to a quick fact of, That dress fits you nicely.
  10. Always separate your child from their behavior.  Be very sure about the cause of their difficulties so you are better able to give them the kind of messages they need to grow a positive sense of themselves.  For example, I know you have a loving heart, so pinching your best friend surprised me.
  11. Say what you mean thoughtfully, empathically, playfully, and devoid of all sarcasm. Sarcasm and putdown-teasing is mean to do to a hurting child (and maybe to everyone).
  12. Caring through empathy is the way. Personalizing your child’s behavior is misguided.  Behavior is around you, not about you. Empathy is the antidote to shame.
  13. Playful engagement is the language of children.  If you are not playing everyday with your child, you are speaking a foreign language.
  14. Listen to the feelings beneath your child’s behavior; give it language so your child can learn to talk about feelings instead of acting them out.
  15. Care as much for yourself as you do for your child.  Care as much for your child as you do for yourself.  How you care for yourself is how you care for your child.  How you care for your child is how you care for yourself.  Wrap your brain around that, and you will go right now to arrange respite care.

Love matters,

The Attach Place

The Attach Place
Center for Strengthening Relationships


To sign-up for daily Wisdom for Adoptive Parents, click here.  Follow on Twitter @lovingradkids and @Attachmenthelp.

The next 8-hr. Attachment- and Trauma-informed Therapeutic Parenting Workshop is specially scheduled for one day–July 23rd–from 9am to 5pm. We usually hold the training on two days, but this is an exception for those who cannot find time on two consecutive Saturdays to attend a training.  To register, go to  Childcare provided for an additional fee. Email to register.

Monthly Adoptive Parent Support Group is every second Wednesday of the month from 6pm to 8pm.  Group and childcare are free. Please sign up at
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