Attachment Parenting: Building Safety & Trust With Foster & Adopted Children/Teens by Jeanette Yoffe
This article was published in Fostering Families Today Magazine November/December 2019
I am always thinking of ways “out of the box” and “practical tools” to help families understand the “inner world” of foster and adopted children. Because this inner world is an invisible wound that is hard to put into words for any child, due to the implicit pre-verbal experience of loss and separation. Children don’t have the developmental capacity to express the feelings, thoughts, and sensations. So, I have gone to great lengths via trainings, private psychotherapy, support groups every month, one on one coaching, and showing films to help families so they “get it.”
In 2014, Celia Center spnosored a training for foster and adoptive families in Los Angeles, from a child’s point of view in the first person, Truly, Madly Deeply Understanding Your Foster and Adopted Child. I tapped into my own inner child, as a foster youth and adoptee with the inspiration to help parents “truly, madly, deeply” feel their child’s inner life. Watch a clip HERE.
In this article, I want to share 8 pieces of parenting that I have mended, nurtured, and savored in my practice working with families today that are helpful for parenting a child with attachment trauma where the repair needs to be focused on building relationship and trust.
#1- I need you to maintain a positive affective tone that influences me, rather than letting my negative tone influence you. If you react to my “big hurt feelings”, then I will feel more powerful and want to be in control. By remaining calm… time, time, and time again, I will eventually see you as strong enough to deal with me, and my pain and I will stop testing you. Trust me!
#2- Try getting below eye level, in a relaxed posture, have empathy and tell me “I’m right here with you.” The science behind brain and behavior, says this activates an adaptive neural network and builds the executive function of the brain! -Tina Payne Bryson talks about this, she’s the Author of The Whole Brain Child.
#3- Please be aware of your non-verbal cues and how you “look to me” – eye contact, posture, tone of voice, and your timing/intensity of response. And pay attention to mine, because all my behaviors are ways of communicating unmet needs. Even if I am manipulating? That means, I don’t know how to get my needs met in a healthy way. Please show me how, rather than making me feel ashamed about this.
What’s hysterical, is historical!
#4- When you see me “act out” step back (literally take a step back!), assess- look at me and ask yourself “What is he/she trying to tell me?”, then go inside and ask yourself the following acronym, P.A.C.E. first to yourself, and then guide me with them. You do not have to do it this order, they are interchangeable ;0)
An attachment based acronym of “attitudes” “ways of being with” your child when they have big feelings!
P3 – 1. Be Playful with U & Me- Humor is very important to create a quality of lightness an openness. Laughter builds memories of unconditional acceptance of US.
2. Be Present with U & Me. Go inside and see how you are feeling, then see if you can feel what I am feeling and ask me “I’m sensing you are feeling _________. Is that correct?” “How can I help you feel better?”
3. Be Patient with U & Me. This was not meant to be easy, my feelings are messy and the clean up isn’t always neat. It will feel bumpy, at times and then the road will feel smoother. Do this intervention to learn how to Hold Onto My Feelings
A – Have an Acceptance of U & Me, and an understanding of my behavior. My behavior represents my best effort at that time. “I am doing the best that I can.” Please accept, if you don’t this will cause you more suffering. I still need limits for unsafe situations, and direct my behavior by focusing the “teaching on the behavior,” not on me or I’ll develop shame, which won’t help either of us get along better. Trust me.
C – BE Curious. Have a nonjudgmental, “not knowing” stance to inquire about my inner life that led to my behaviors so I feel safe, that my inner life will not be criticized. If I sense your judgment, I will go hide my motives and not be able to modify my behavior. So ask me with open ended questions like …“What do you think about that?” “ “Tell me about that?” “That looks, seems difficult, tell me how does that feel for you?”
E – HAVE Empathy. Empathy must be conveyed both verbally and non verbally. 95% of communication IS NON-VERBAL. I’ve been through a lot, I know! but you don’t have to rescue me from the event or solve the problem for me. Say, “That must be SO hard for you!” “It is really hard, and you’re doing it and struggling with it.” “I’m so sorry you feel so sorry about _________.” And let me cry, I sometimes have a lot to cry about.
Adapted From the Daniel Hughe’s book, Attachment Focused Parenting
#5- I need your connection, not correction. Lectures are not effective with me because they are actually educating me to comply with “big people” rather than to develop my own meaning about a something.
“ It’s like giving a prosecuting attorney more information to work with!!!” Please do “storytelling” with me which conveys an “attitude of acceptance of the listener”, rather than evaluation/criticism & encourages a non-reactive response in me. Trust me, I know.”
#6- I need to know the truth of my story….even if it is hard for you, it will be healing for me… trust me. I need to know you are strong enough to be WITH me in my pain, and still be loved.
Here’s a way to help me look at this intervention, My Family Tree.
#7- Please set expectations, chores, to-do’s based on my developmental emotional age, not chronological age, I will do better and feel better! I heard that children with attachment trauma have at least 2 years delay? So minus 2 years from my age!
#8- I need you to accept responsibility for initiating repair with me when I have my “big feelings”. If you insist I “apologize”, you are communicating that I’m responsible for the continuity of the relationship. I will then think “the relationship is not important to you and it will be highly unlikely that I will have the confidence to take the first step which will lead to a downward spiral of negative distancing and possibly ‘Take FOREVER” or…
…if I do initiate repair, I’m going to experience resentment that I had to be “a good foster kid or good adoptee” and be “sorry first” beforemy parent would welcome me back again into their mind and heart. This will effect my ability to be receptive to love. I need to be taught how to love and forgive.
When I feel love, I learn to feel my loss. When I feel forgiveness, I learn to feel empathy.
#9- I will say “I can’t” alot sometimes for my performance in school, my behaviors, or sports. This can stem from fear, worry, shame or from not knowing how to do it so I may avoid. Please reframe this “I can’t” as “I haven’t learned how yet” or “I haven’t done it yet” or “A part of me is afraid right now, in time I will grow a new part that will learn how to.” The word “scared” is vulnerable” for me, use the word “WORRIED.” “I see you are worried about this…”
#10- Please don’t withhold the following activities for discipline – Family Time, Sports, Hobbies & One-on-One time with Parents…these activities help me feel good about myself, accomplished, successful, and get me out of the “black hole of the primal wound.”
One last thing, I know “MY HURT PART” in my heart is a a part of me that is overdoing its job of protecting me from trusting a new relationship… “it keeps love away from me…”
Please accept and be curious of all of my parts so I can help organize who I am…Provide permission for emoting and externalizing. “Did you want to have your fit now about going to bed to get it out of the way?” Have me punch a pillow, rip up paper, pop bubble wrap.”
More interventions for emoting my big feelings HERE.
Thank you for being there for me. I need you more than you know!
Podcaster Haley Radke invites Jeanette Yoffe to share what inspired her to begin a support group for adoptees. Discussion covers how to start your own group and best practices for peer-facilitated groups.
If starting or joining a support group feels too intimidating, don’t worry! Jeanette has a great idea for free support: find a listening partner.
- Celia Center
- The Adoption Constellation: New Ways of Thinking About and Practicing Adoption by Michael Phillip Grand
- Using the term adoption constellation vs adoption triad
- Adopt Salon constellation groups can include: adoptees, adoptive parents, first parents, foster youth, foster alumni, foster families, social workers, spouses, siblings
- Suggested Support Group Rules:
- We support each other here, we don’t fix each other – no unsolicited advice
- Everyone gets a turn to share (5 minutes). What’s your name, what are you here for – do you have a question, do you want support for something in particular? You can share briefly about your story.
- You can ask questions if you do want advice.
- You can be here and not share: OWL (Observe, Watch and Listen)
- Keep everything confidential that is shared in the group
- We need firm and safe group rules so we don’t experience secondary trauma
- Constellation groups help us examine adoption from multiple angles; helps in growing compassion and acknowledging it is a shared experience.
- Celia Center support groups have been featured on OWN’s Television Show, “Raising Whitley” and TLC’s “Long Lost Family”
- If you can’t find a group, don’t feel comfortable going to a group, don’t want to start your own… Find a listening partner! Book a regular call that is to someone who will just listen. Listen, receive and acknowledge.
- Support groups to listen, share and support; you can also have guests come in and present, maybe for 15 minutes on different topics – mindfulness, an education piece about trauma, sharing their story… but leave space for the group to still share and discuss.
- If a group has different members of the adoption constellation present, it’s best to have a licensed therapist to facilitate. For peer-led support, just having adult adoptees (for example) is safer.
- Celia Center Arts Festival | Adopting Resilience, Fostering the Spirit of Creativity
- Celia Center Arts Festival 2016 Summary Video
- Check out adopteesconnect.com for new peer-led groups starting in the United States (started by Pamela Karanova of How Does it Feel to be Adopted)
- If you have another resource of places to find in-person adoptee support groups, please get in touch so I can list it here.
Featuring Jeanette Yoffe, M.A., M.F.T., Marriage and Family Therapist, founder and executive director of the Celia Center. 5 Hours of Continuing Education.
Executive Director of the Celia Center, Inc. Jeanette’s desire to become a child therapist with a special focus on adopted and foster care issues derived from her own experience of being adopted and moving through the foster care system in New York City. Her personal experience has informed her education and provided insight into the unique stresses involved with these issues. Because of Jeanette’s life experience she can more easily connect and relate to the children and teens she works with. She is an exceptional child-care worker who is dedicated to helping each of her clients reach their full potential through mental health therapy and make the difficult journey from despair towards resiliency and hope. Read More . . .