We Are Family


Therapeutic Parenting.

Therapeutic Parenting. - Img 8534

We get it!

We not only understand the benefits of therapeutic parenting, but we now have plenty of first hand experience of it working, of it regulating our son with Reactive attachment disorder in a way that ‘normal’ parenting simple does not.

We can see that he does indeed respond to the empathy and understanding that we surround him with when we are dealing with him therapeutically - we can see that it works!

So why do we struggle so much with it?

Firstly, we find it difficult to tune in to his needs ‘in the moment’, we find it hard to be the therapeutic parent when we are angered (and my goodness he can get us angry), which is when we instinctively fall into the parenting that we were brought up with, imitating our parents and indeed the parenting we have witnessed around us.

We are pushed and pushed and we start to 'lose it' and then we raise our voices and then we scold and then inflict consequences and threaten even worse ones - when pushed to the extreme we have both found ourselves reaching out and slapping our son's legs before we have even realised what we were doing, which therapeutic parenting aside is just something that neither of us agree with and of course simply resulted in our son faltering for the briefest of moments before screaming our own words back at us ‘we do not hit in this house’ and then carrying on exactly as he had been, - no, understandably worse than he had been.

The shame it brought about in us and the realisation that it achieved nothing has prevented both of us from repeating it, but even so we hear the voices of our parents in the back of our minds saying ‘it worked on you’.

So we know the right way and we know the wrong way - and we still fail so very often, however the silver lining is that we both feel that we are slowly improving.

Even so there is still one niggling issue that we can't shake...are we not doing exactly what others are so keen to tell us we are doing and ‘making a rod for our own backs’?

By parenting therapeutically we may well be helping our son regulate in a way he finds impossible alone, but are we actually addressing the behaviour in a way that is teaching him ‘right from wrong’ and which will result in it not being repeated?

When we get it right we feel that we have some control over our son, we can see that it prevents him from reaching a heightened state (where there is little hope of returning from for some time), we can reconnect with him, we can make him feel secure again and as a result - we can help him make the choices that are not self destructive. All good!

However, we have not actually dealt with the bad behaviour that started the episode - the rudeness, the swearing, the aggression, at times the total lack of respect. We have dealt with his emotional state and we have restored calm, but then sometime in the future we do inevitably see a repeat of the behaviour.

And that worries us, it worries us a lot.


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  • Robert Hafetz

    A better term is Trauma Informed Parenting. The foundation of interventions with traumatized children is the understanding that words are worthless and experiences heal.
    Parenting the adopted child
    Robert Allan Hafetz MS/MFT
    Adoption Education& Family Counseling LLC

    There can be no more difficult a task in classic parenting than raising an adopted child. Unlike a child one has given birth to an adopted child comes with additional trepidations that few parents are prepared for or even aware of.
    An adopted child comes to the family with memories of grief, a fear of attachment, and a feeling of indistinct loss. The first years often appear to be normal lulling the parents into a false sense of security. Then when the child reaches the age of approximately six years a more a complex self-exploration process begins. This is when the child notices that he doesn’t resemble his family while his peers look like theirs. This is also when the “who is my real mommy question” arises. Profound emotions that recall the separation of the first mother rise to the surface causing discomfort for the adopted child. Emotions such as grief, shame, anger, and a feeling of isolation can be experienced together, without any distinction among them. Children have limited ability to cope with uncomfortable emotions and will employ one of two options. They can act out and misbehave or they can repress their feelings and become compliant. This is the period when many problematic behaviors begin and the parents are often confused and bewildered by their child’s behaviors.
    Further complicating the adoptive family system is a memory process that is common among adoptees but little known by therapists, social workers, parents, and the adoptees themselves. There is a disconnection in adoptees between their emotions and their ability to identify them. This is the core issue in adoption and it is the foundation of most of the problems that occur in adoptive parenting.
    Infants only a few days old can record long term memories. “Infants do not think but they do process emotions and long term memories are stored as affective schemas” (Geansbauer, 2002). An infant separated from its first mother will record a memory of that event. Memories of this nature are called preverbal memory representations and they have a unique quality that must be understood by adoptive parents. “Infant memories are recalled in adulthood the same way they were recorded at the time they occurred. It is difficult possibly impossible for children to map newly acquired verbal skills on to existing preverbal memory representations” (Richardson, R., & Hayne, H. 2007). An older adoptee who recalls an emotional memory will experience it the same way it was felt as an infant. Adoptees can have troubling memories that they cannot identify in words. This means that they cannot understand what they are feeling and without a vocabulary they cannot even ask for help. This leads to a cognitive /emotional disconnection. “Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language”(Simcock, Hayne, 2002).
    An adopted child will learn from his family that he is wanted, loved, belongs with them, and that they will never leave him. His emotional memories will trigger fears that are exactly the opposite. An adopted child can know he belongs but feel isolated. He can know that he will never be abandoned but feel that he will. He can know that he is whole but feel that a part of him is missing. He can know that he is loved but feel that he is not. This incongruence between thoughts and feelings becomes the foundation of poor attachment, problem behaviors, power struggles, poor academic performance, and behaviors parents can’t understand. The struggle to bring thoughts and feelings into coherence can be a lifelong task for adopted children. It doesn’t have to be this way.
    Enlightened parents can create a nurturing healing environment within the family if they are aware of this process and are proficient in how to deal with it. The knowledge needed to raise an adopted child is not readily available and few effective parenting programs can be found.
    Gaensbauer, T. (2002). Representations of trauma in infancy: Clinical and theoretical
    implications. 23(3), 259-277. doi:10.1002/imhj.10020.
    Lierberman, & Pawl, (1988). Clinical applications of attachment theory. In J. Belsky & T.
    Nezworski, (Eds.), Clinical implications of attachment ( 327-351). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
    Richardson, R. & Hayne H. (2007). You Can't Take It With You: The translation of memory
    across development. Current directions in, psychological science, 16, 223 - 227.
    Schore, A.N. (2001). The effects of a secure attachment relationship on right brain development,
    affect regulation, and infant mental health. Infant mental mental health journal, 22, 7-66.
    Simcock, G., Hayne, H. (2002). Children fail to translate their preverbal memories into language.
    American Psychological Society 13(3), 225-231.

  • Anna

    You are doing the right thing. I bet He knows when’s he done something wrong/bad/unacceptable. By helping he through it gentle and respectfully, regulating him, over time he will internalise you as a parent. So he will hear your voices like you hear your parents.
    You’re building on his impulse control.
    You can always let him know your view. But not in the moment.
    It sounds like you are afraid you might be indulging him. You’re not. You’re raising an emphatic future adult. Who will know what’s right and wrong.

  • Carol

    @Robert Hafetz

    "The knowledge needed to raise an adopted child is not readily available and few effective parenting programs can be found."

    Thank you for this comment. It seemed to articulate so clearly the difficulty so many children face and why. It provided valuable insight.

    Yet, you conclude on a profoundly unhelpful comment. My adoption begins on Monday with a child who for now at least is charming and happy. But he also comes with the recommendation of 3 days per week therapeutic counselling. As much as we have already bonded with him, we know this is not going to be an easy ride.

    Having outlined the dilemma faced by adopted children in such a compelling way - where is the equally as compelling 'answer'. The comment leaves the reader simply more acutely aware of their inadequacy with no strategy for doing anything about it.

  • Michele

    So true! Help!!!

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