Thursday, October 11, 2018

Devote Yourself To New Tools -- Step #3

This isn't a decision to make lightly.

If we are serious about pursuing connected parenting for the sake of our kids, we have to be prepared to work hard.  As we have seen in Steps #1 and #2, everything about this approach is difficult, but nothing good comes easy, right?

To succeed, we have to be intentional about letting go of our old way of approaching behaviors and commit ourselves to learning and implementing a whole new set of parenting tools.

So what's a practical example of a tool?

Here is an example!

Additional Resources:

Foster/Adoptive Parents: The Connected Child

All Parents: No Drama DisciplineThe Whole Brain ChildPeaceful Parent, Happy Kids

For family coaching and consulting, contact us:  Village To Village Parent Coaching

What Am I Saying With My Eyes?

Let's focus on more than simply changed behavior.

As a parent, I need to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies and tools that I use with my kiddos.  It's not enough to just see changed behavior, I also need my child to be growing in relationship with me.  I need to be promoting trust.

Our eyes send some intense messages and can be used in a myriad of different ways.  Am I intentionally using my eyes to help my child feel valued and precious?  Do my show my child that I am safe?  

Additional Resources:

Foster/Adoptive Parents: The Connected Child

All Parents: No Drama DisciplineThe Whole Brain ChildPeaceful Parent, Happy Kids

For more individualized help, contact us:  Village To Village Parent Coaching

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Letting Go of Punishment (Step #2)

This is step two in our three-part series laying the foundation for becoming a “connected parent.” Click here for step #1 (Facing Your Past), and step #3 (Trust-Based Tools).

Punishment ≠ Discipline

Until becoming foster parents, we understood punishment and discipline to be largely synonymous. Discipline meant spanking, isolation, chores, etc… It implied pain. Our shift in thinking began when our case manager asked, “What will discipline look like with your foster kids?”

“Um, (we nervously looked at each other), well, we know we can’t spank. We will use time-outs, consequences, chores, and ...”

Sensing our ineptitude she cut in, “you do understand that discipline is more than punishment, right?”

“Well, sure...Yeah of course!” we said, trying to grasp exactly what she meant.

What was she proposing?  Was she suggesting that we shouldn’t respond to misbehavior with punishment?  Ha!  There was no way we were straying into permissive parent territory!  Punishment, in our minds, while not desirable, was the necessary, ultimate tool in our parenting toolbox.  A child who refuses to behave is a child who chooses punishment!


After much introspection, education, and first-hand experience, we believe we were wrong.  You see, we thought that kids' behaviors were mostly heart issues.  Turns out, they are often developmental, brain issues.  That understanding alone changes the conversation.  Our kids are complex emotional/relational beings, and they deserve a complex approach to their difficult behaviors.  We need to find something that gives kids what they really need: coaching, practice, and emotional connection.  Punishment simply can not provide those things.  In fact, punishment, in any context  (like work or marriage), causes distrust, fear, and shame.

I have worked with many wonderful, experienced biological parents who reached a point of desperation with their foster/adopted kiddos. The same punishment based strategies that they successfully used with their bio kids simply made their foster/adoptive kids become defiant and distant.  Why the difference?  It's fairly simple.  Punishment doesn't address the why behind behaviors, it simply demands that behaviors change.  Our foster/adopted kids desperately need us to recognize that, no matter what we want to believe, they are doing the best they can.

Imagine if my child broke his leg, and then I punished him the next day when he refused to run with his track team.  

Would my punishment help him heal quicker?  Would it draw us closer relationally?  The answers are obvious, and yet, this is what we do with our kids.  They have a "broken leg."  It's called complex developmental trauma.  It isn't nearly as tangible as a visible injury, and that makes it scary and hard to understand.  Ironically, as parents start understanding how hopeless punishment is, we often start punishing even more intensely.  We simply don't know what else to do.  Finally, in a place of desperation and humiliation, many of us have chosen to pursue other options, because punishment is clearly not helping.

So, we start evaluating ourselves and our methods.  Most of us have always incorporated a combination of discipline and punishment. Some of us are discipline heavy, and some punishment heavy. Many of us believe we are using “loving discipline” but in reality, we have just given punishment a prettier label. Most of us really don't know how to tell the difference.

This question helps clear things up: Are my words or actions about to cause my child fear or shame?

If the answer is yes, it’s probably a punishment, and there is probably a more effective, relational option out there.  Foster/adoptive parents can start making sense of this a little easier because we can recognize the deep levels of mistrust and low self-worth that our kids carry with them.  It begins to make sense why they are not receiving our punishments in a loving way.  Every instance of fear and shame is a trigger.

For biological parents with fairly well-behaved kids, this topic might be a whole lot harder to understand.  In fact, it probably feels like I am pushing permissiveness.  Please know that this is not a call to permissive parenting.  We have to teach our kids right behaviors, and there are natural and logical consequences for our actions.  But I often find myself focusing so much of my time and energy on the behaviors, that I ignore the needs driving the behavior.  As I learn to focus on understanding and addressing the base need, many of the behaviors start to disappear.

One of our house rules is: No bouncing balls in the kitchen. The playroom (carpeted) is right next to the kitchen (hardwood) and the basketball often rolls in. While retrieving it, our 6-year-old’s urge to bounce the ball is strong. He violates the rule repeatedly. Sometimes it is willful, sometimes it is legitimate forgetfulness, and sometimes it is simply a lack of impulse control. I could threaten a consequence, “How many times have I told you this? Do it again and you are done playing basketball for the day.” He does it again. I take the ball.  Maybe he gets an attitude. I get upset at his disrespect.  I send him to his room.  I threaten to take the ball for the week and so on.  This example employs both fear and shame, and most of us would recognize it as a punishment.

How can I build connection in the midst of correction?

Try and see the situation from his perspective.  What are his needs? He is only 6 and the decision making part of his brain is nowhere close to developed. He loves basketball and that kitchen floor looks just like a real court! How can I train him to make better decisions without threatening him? Each day, when there is a first violation, he gets a gentle reminder (not a warning) and we do a re-do. If it happens again, we have a short chat about why the rule exists, and what he thinks should happen the next time the rule is broken. He helps make his own “consequence."  If it does happen a third time, it almost never does, we take a short break and game plan together.  It's not unusual for him to choose to stop playing at that point, recognizing that it is just too hard for him to follow the rules that day.

Which situation best empowers the child to choose obedience?

Discipline comes from the same root word as disciple. It means "to teach", and if we embrace the mindset, it will transform us from dictator to coach.  It is connection focused proactive work, instead of correction focused reactive work. It produces trust and security instead of fear and shame. Discipline trains kids to focus on learning, negotiating, and problem-solving instead of how to best avoid fear, pain, and shame.  It focuses on building right relationship which naturally leads to right behavior.

Look, this is not a message of condemnation.  It is simply an invitation to consider if there is any room to improve your current parenting strategies.  Growing up, the vast majority of my community, including my parents, used punishment as one of their parenting tools.  I highly value and respect those people and value my upbringing, but there is always room for growth.  I, unfortunately, will probably never be able to let go of punishments completely.  In the midst of extreme stress or frustration, I gravitate back to them.  It's what feels comfortable.  But I am moving forward, and that's important.

To be frank, I resisted this whole conversation for years.  I am a proud, proud person, and the idea that I should reconsider most of what I knew about parenting was daunting, somewhat insulting, and seemed extremely permissive.  I was worried about creating disrespectful, entitled kids; and I was nervous about the reaction of my family and friends.  Honestly, I wasn't open to even trying to understand the alternatives.  As much as I tried to dismiss the conversation, I couldn't get this question out of my head:

If I can learn to raise well-behaved, respectful kids without causing them fear or shame, what reason do I have to keep on using punishments?

I couldn't think of a good reason.  Can you?

We love conversation.  Please reach out to us with any questions or comments!

Additional Resources:

Foster/Adoptive Parents: The Connected Child

All Parents: No Drama Discipline, The Whole Brain Child, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids

For more individualized help, contact us:  Village To Village Parent Coaching

Friday, August 17, 2018

Saying Yes

Think about how often we tell our kids no. Before I realized that saying, "Yes" was a parenting tool, my default answer to my kids was usually, no. Why was my answer always no, probably because it was just easier to say no.

Watch this video about saying "Yes" to our kids.

Building Trust By Saying Yes (as much as possible) from TAPESTRY on Vimeo.

Practical tip: I buy the big bags of Life Saver mints and keep them in my car. All of my kids know that when they get into my car, if they ask me for a mint, I will say "Yes." The only rule is; they have to ask. As long as they ask, I have always been able to say "Yes." This is a very easy way to implement this parenting tool. Customize this tool to what your kids like or steal this idea, it works great.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Every Summer Needs a Good Book

Summer is here and I pose the question; Do you have a good book to get you through the rest of your summer?

If you are looking for a good read this summer may I recommend "Walk to Beautiful" by Jimmy Wayne? 

Some of you might recognize the name Jimmy Wayne and others of you may not. Jimmy is a country music singer/songwriter who earned the prestigious "Million Air-Award" for his song "Do You Believe Me Now?"

Jimmy has an incredible story that will leave you in utter disbelief, shock, tears, and sometimes just sitting there in silence asking yourself; how did he overcome this? This amazing true story of his life is hope-filled and inspiring. And just to add a disclaimer; it might also be motivating to do something to try to help kids who find themselves in the very same situations that little Jimmy found himself in.

What others are saying about "Walk to Beautiful:"
“If your story could use a better chapter, take inspiration from Jimmy’s.” —Max Lucado, New York Times Best-Selling Author

“Walk to Beautiful will open your eyes to the hurting people around you.” —Frank Harrison, Chairman, and CEO, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Consolidated; Chairman and Co-founder, With Open Eyes

If you are in the market for a good book, check out "Walk to Beautiful," I am confident that you will not be disappointed. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Step #1 - Make Sense of the Past

Last time we talked about what connected parenting is and what drove us to pursue it. Let's start talking about how to achieve it!

Attachment: What does that word even mean?

I don't know about you, but my exposure to the topic of attachment theory has been pretty limited until recently. That's a shame, too, because as it turns out, a good understanding of attachment helps us understand ourselves better and allows us to better meet the needs of our kids. There is a lot of fascinating information here! For instance, did you know that there are only four attachment styles, and that many of us are insecurely attached individuals? Also, would it shock you to know that attachment styles are inherited? Most of us adopted our parent's attachment style before our first birthday and will retain it for life!

While a solid understanding of attachment is good for all parents, it is exponentially more important for foster/adoptive parents.  Why? Because 80% of foster/adoptive children have intense attachment issuesand they need parents who can patiently model secure attachment strategies.

Here's the problem, though, and it's a big one! Although our kids desperately need the patience and understanding that comes from securely attached adults, the vast majority of foster/adoptive parents aren’t securely attached individuals. While 55-60% of the general population are securely attached, only around 20% of foster/adoptive parents are. For us foster/adoptive parents, there is an 80% chance that we are insecurely attached individuals. That was a hard reality for me to accept!

This information shouldn't make us feel ashamed (our attachment style is not our fault) or cause us to give up caring for vulnerable kids. Instead, it should help us understand that critical elements of secure relationships (which foster/adoptive kids desperately need to learn) probably don't come naturally to us. Are we humble enough to recognize that our own issues might be hindering our kids' ability to heal and feel secure?

Many foster placements and adoptions suffer severely because parents believe they are prepared, as is, to meet the needs of their emotionally damaged child. As insecurely attached individuals, we rarely are. We try as hard as we can to provide normalcy and help our kids feel safe and secure, but because of our own shortcomings, we end up feeling lost, frustrated and discouraged. Which makes sense, actually. Afterall, how can we lead our kids down the path of secure attachment, when we don't know the way ourselves? 

The good news? Change is possible!!

Changing our attachment style, while difficult, is possible and these kids are so worth it!   The first step involves the hard work of making sense of our childhood. Our attachment style usually comes directly from our interactions with our parents, and we need to identify those experiences that have shaped who we are today. Our marriage counselor told us, "it's not a question of if parents cause emotional damage to their children, it is simply a question of how much." Our parents made mistakes with us just as we do with our own kids. Are we being honest with ourselves about how those mistakes influence our own parenting today? Have we dealt with our past?

Whether those parental wounds seem severe (intense abuse) or "minor" (absence of physical affection) they matter. Without intentional reflection and mindfulness, these childhood issues will continue to affect our relationships and the way we parent for a lifetime. Taking the time to explore our past will allow us to be fully present and engaged with those around us today. Once we do the tough work of making sense of our past, we are able to better evaluate how to change our own parenting strategies!

There are different links included in this post. They are great stepping stones to discovering more about attachment styles. Watch the YouTube video above. It is excellent. Also, a great book to get you started on this journey is "Parenting From The Inside Out" by Dan Siegal.

As always, please reach out to us with any questions!

Friday, May 25, 2018

What Is Connected Parenting?

As many of you know, Village To Village offers 9 week Empowered To Connect (ETC) parenting classes to foster and adoptive parents.  These classes are built around  “The Connected Child” by Dr. Purvis.  She developed her methods specifically for kids from "hard" places, but we have found the information to be valuable for all parents and all kids.

We get a lot of questions and interest about what it is exactly we teach.  It is difficult to explain succinctly, so we are going to start breaking it down through regular blog posts!  Embracing connected parenting has been a humbling experience in many ways, but our families are much stronger because of it.  We hope that you can find some encouragement and inspiration from our journeys.    

You can find our first parenting blog below.


Connection or correction...what's my focus?

Three years ago we became foster parents to 3 and 8-year-old girls.  It was the toughest experience of our young lives.  We worked tirelessly to try to meet their needs, but we only seemed to exasperate their issues.  In a place of desperation, we began re-evaluating our parenting strategies.

We discovered that we viewed correcting behavior as our primary role as parents.  We felt connected when our kids were behaving, but as soon as it was time to correct, we all fell apart. The tools we used to correct behavior were mostly reactive as opposed to proactive.  To correct behavior, we relied on things like: 
  • Isolation (standing in the corner, time-outs, go to your room, etc..)
  • Verbal Reprimands ("don't do that", "stop fighting", "how many times have I told you", etc...)
  • Consequences (loss of privilege, additional chores, etc…)
  • Corporal Punishment (we weren't actually allowed to use this tool yet, but we sure wanted to)
Not only were these tools largely ineffective, but they drove our kids further apart from us emotionally.  Although we were telling them of our love, providing for their needs, and keeping them safe, something was keeping them from trusting us and connecting with us emotionally.

We knew we needed different parenting tools.

In the midst of this frustration, Matt and Stacy Borst invited us to take a look at their connected parenting material.  It flipped our world upside down. 

They talked to us about the importance of distinguishing between natural, logical, and punitive consequences when disciplining our kids.  We learned lots of new parenting tools and had to consider some new questions: 
So, our girls don't trust us?  Even considering that possibility upset us.  We had bent over backward for them and provided a much safer environment than they had ever known.  How could they not trust us?   And yet, we began to recognize that our methods of correction did not promote trust, especially for kids from hard places.  It made sense actually.  Methods like isolation and corporal punishment aren't acceptable in most relationships.  Can you imagine this exchange with your spouse?  "Honey, I've had to tell you 5 times today to turn the lights off when you leave the kitchen.  Now go stand in the corner for 5 minutes."   That form of correction is off-limits not just because a spouse is a peer, but because shaming interactions harm relationships.

The question is not do I correct, but how do I make sure I connect and build trust while correcting?

The basic idea of connected parenting is this:  My ability to receive heart level correction is built on a foundation of trust with the person correcting me.  If I receive correction accompanied by a shame-inducing punishment, it inhibits my ability to trust and affects my self-worth.  Our kids are no different.  Their ability to trust us is directly tied to their belief that we adore and delight in them, not because of their actions, but simply because they are precious.  Kids have underdeveloped brains, and make bad decisions all the time.  I have to correct them, but I don't have to shame them.  On the contrary, if I am careful to make my child feel precious and desired in the midst of correction, he becomes more moldable and receptive to my instruction.  

We were catching the vision, but what would our family and friends think?  How would our kids respond?  How would we function without threatening punishments?  Even though the threats weren't working well, we were really good at making them!  If we take those away, will we become permissive parents?

Permissiveness is...the absence of effective parental authority, resulting in the lack of boundaries for the child.  This word represents...the general confusion that occurs in the absence of adult leadership.  (Dobson, full quote here)

We wrestled with the appearance of permissiveness for many months, but we came to understand that permissiveness isn't the absence of punishment, but the absence of authority and boundaries.  This understanding put us at ease, because connected parenting establishes clear parental authority, boundaries, and leadership.

Desperation pushed us into this approach, and, contrary to our fears, implementing connected parenting tools dramatically improved our parental authority and leadership.  After three years of studying and practicing, we feel like we're finally starting to get the hang of it.  It's been hard, even exhausting, but it has changed our lives.  Not only have we seen a significant increase in desired behaviors, but our kids are connected to us in a way we once thought impossible.  

It turns out that deep emotional connection is a more effective agent of change than fear of punishment.

Please don't think that we have some sort of perfect home now.  We all still mess up regularly, but our kids now feel desired and valued in a way that simply wasn't possible before.  We actually address behaviors more quickly now than we used to, but we have a lot less drama and a lot more fun.  Our kids still struggle to feel safe sometimes when we need to correct them, but they more readily accept our authority knowing that we are ultimately focused on connection...not correction.

Dr. Purvis says it best.

Feel free to reach out to us at any time with any questions!

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