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Parenting

Family Game Night Ideas

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources | No Comments

Are you looking for some new ideas to have fun with your kids without screens? Here is a list of family favorite games from who have regular family game nights.

A qualifier for the games on this list was whether the game required a knowledge of language and/or culture. Many kids who moved around often in foster care or are new English language learners have gaps in their education. Typically, these kids struggle with games requiring spelling or vocabulary.

The games are listed by category to make it easier for you to determine what might work for your family. For many of the games, I have linked a video explaining how the game is played to help you determine whether or not it would be a good game for your family. The game links are affiliate links, but the videos are not.

Dice Games

Chicken Foot (How to play)
Farkle (How to play)
Left Center Right (LCR) (How to play)
Mexican Dominoes (How to play)
Nada (How to play)
Tenzi (How to play)
Rummikub (How to play)
Yahtzee

Card Games

Dos (How to play)
Egyptian Rat Screw (How to play)
Exploding Kittens (How to play)
Kings in the Corner (How to play)
Hearts (How to play)
Skip-Bo (How to play)
Spades (How to play)
Throw, Throw Burrito (How to play)
Uno

Board Games with Minimal Reading

Blokus (How to play)
Forbidden Island (How to play)
Guess the Mess (Description of the Game)
Sequence (How to play)
Ticket to Ride (How to play)
Tsuro (How to play)

Games Requiring Spelling and/or Vocabulary

5 Second Rule (How to play)
Alias (How to play)
Balderdash (How to play)
Bananagrams (How to play)
Blurt (How to play)
Pictionary (How to play)
Rory’s Story Cubes Several versions available (How to play)
Scattergories (How to play)
Scrabble

Check out connecting with your family and other game sites for more ideas. What your family’s favorite games to play?

Supporting Children in Your Home

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

This post written by Dr. Kris and Dr. Kelly was originally posted as a guest post on AdoptUsKids.

As a parent adopting a child from foster care, it is your job to provide stability in the midst of transition and help all members of your family—including the children already in your home—bond and find a new normal.

This can be easier said than done! With that in mind, we offer a few suggestions for nurturing the children who are already in your home as you welcome a new addition to your family.

Make time for your other children. Schedule regular time with each child individually to do something they enjoy. Allow your child to be honest and ask about things that are important to him or her. Make sure all of your children feel heard and loved.

Be willing to listen. Emphasize that you want your children to share their concerns and frustrations with you. Allow space for your children to honestly share their frustrations about the new sibling without shaming them for expressing their discontents. However, make sure you don’t spend too much time talking negatively about the newly adopted child.

Help improve their perspective. Encourage your other children to try to see things from the newest child’s frame of reference. Parents can do this without sharing too many personal details. For example, “It would be scary to live with people you do not know. We are almost strangers to your new sister.” Or “Your new brother has not lived with people he knew could take care of him. It might be hard for him to remember that he is in a safe place now.”

Recommend positive coping strategies. Offer ideas to help your other children cope with the new child’s personality traits and behaviors and other changes your family experiences. Introduce them to stress relieving techniques, such as mindful breathing exercises. Provide resources and private space for them to do something they enjoy, such as reading, coloring, drawing, exercising, or creating with Legos, yarn, art, or crafts.

Grant a break if needed. Your children may need a sense of normalcy with others they know well and a break away from the stressful changes at home. Give them options of visits or sleepovers with safe friends or family.

Present counseling options. Frequently parents think about the new child’s challenges, but forget that their other children experience difficulties as well. Provide opportunities for your other children to participate in counseling if you think it might help.

Part 1 on Helping Older Children Adjust to your Home can be found here.

Preparing Older Kids for Adulthood

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with The Adoption Connection to talk about how to prepare older kids for adulthood.

We wanted to share this conversation with you as well. I share information as a mom who recently launched a child. But I also share stories from some of the families we interviewed for our book. We hope you find this information to be helpful on your parenting journey!

You can also find additional helpful tips on my recent post Launching your Child into Adulthood.

Helping an Older Child Adjust to Your Home

By | Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

This post written by both Dr. Kris and Dr. Kelly was originally posted as a guest post on AdoptUSKids.

When you adopt a child, it’s easy to focus on their immediate needs: home, food, routine, education, people, etc. These are all important, and your child certainly experiences significant changes that require patience, love, and understanding from you as they adjust to their unfamiliar life. But there are other areas of focus that can help an older child adjust as well.

Be trustworthy. Your child may not have experienced trustworthy adults. Tell the truth. Keep your word. Be predictable. Guard your child’s business carefully. When you make a mistake, admit it, apologize, and seek ways to make things right. Remember that it will take time to build trust if the child has experienced significant broken promises in the past.

Communicate expectations. Your household rules may be different from what your child experienced. Your child may not be used to the structure and schedule of your family. Think about changes you might make based on what the child is used to and most comfortable with. Consider posting your schedule so everyone knows what to expect, but prepare for moments when a family member needs flexibility in the schedule (more down time or additional one-on-one attention, sensory activities, rest time, etc.).

Encourage honesty. Let your child be honest without taking their words personally. Give them opportunities to express thoughts and feelings without responding as though your feelings are hurt. Allowing them to be heard will encourage communication.

Give them alone time. Your child may express a desire to be alone, or you may sense that they want alone time. If you ask them and they say “yes,” then you should provide a safe space for the child to be alone. The child may need some time to relax; have some peace and quiet; or want to express sadness, anxiety, anger, etc. in private. Alone time can also be good for reading a book, listening to music, or drawing. You may need to balance some alone time and time bonding with the family.

Be open-minded and accepting. Your child may have traditions or habits that seem odd or unacceptable in your family, such as eating fast, chewing with an open mouth, or using inappropriate language. Do not attempt to change every habit that you think needs changing. Prioritize relationship-building first and then, over time, address the most significant behaviors (perhaps safety-related) and leave the rest for later.

Let them be a kid. Your child may have faced more responsibilities and concerns than other kids their age, including having been in a parenting role and caring for younger children. They may not know how to play independently and may need to be entertained. Give them opportunities to be a kid and express needs or interests of a younger child. This might mean letting your teenager play with dolls or toy cars, allowing them to play dress-up, or letting your preteen snuggle with you and read picture books. Parent to your child’s needs, rather than the date on their birth certificate.

Serve familiar foods and make food available. Your child may have eaten different foods than your family regularly eats. Have some of their favorite foods on hand. You might serve something familiar at every meal or include familiar food in their regular meal plan rotation. Consider the needs of your child first and then make it work for your family. Some children had limited access to food and may worry food will not always be available. For children with food insecurities, it is especially important to have snacks readily accessible.

Plan for a good night’s sleep. Some children may never have slept in their own room. Consider making a cot on the floor by your bed to help your child adjust to your home. Some children may want to sleep with the overhead light on, or they may want a nightlight or small lamp on at night. Some may feel safer and sleep better with toys arranged a certain way and left untouched by others.

Provide opportunities for therapy. Depending on their age, talk with your social worker about incorporating Theraplay, play therapy, filial therapy (an empowering form of family therapy), art therapy, or equine therapy into your child’s routine. Family therapy may be beneficial in promoting collaboration and connection as well. Group therapy can be beneficial for several reasons, including letting your child hear from other children.

Launching Your Child into Adulthood

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Our oldest moved out last summer. Before she moved out, I felt so much panic with the realization that I only had a few more months to teach the necessary skills to live independently! Thankfully, we began working on some of them at age 16 and have progressively covered the majority of them. Consequently, we spent the last few months focusing on the areas that needed improvement before officially launching on her own.

Did I expect her to be 100 percent successful? NO! I realized she was going to make mistakes (I made plenty…and still make them). However, if she learned the basic skills, she would be able to make small mistakes (such as overspending one week) instead of large ones (such as being unable to pay her rent).

Here are some of the areas we worked on to help her launch successfully:

Budgeting. I wish I could say that we saw great success in this area over the last four years, but I will say there was progressive improvement. The rate of improvement increased once the timeline to move out was determined. It is as though the impending move out date brought urgency to learn the skills necessary to be successful. We introduced the envelope system several years ago to introduce money management skills which works for many, but ultimately, your child needs to have some level of self-control. Self-control and impulse control are some of the areas that many older adopted children struggle with. But keep at it. Everything may not stick. Ok, most of it will not stick, but hopefully some aspect of what you are trying to teach will. And remember, you probably stumbled when you first moved out. And you child will too.  

Cooking Skills. One mom in our study shared how she required her daughter to meal plan, grocery shop and cook one complete meal a week. Every week it had to be something different to broaden her cooking skills. Mom was always available to ask questions or to assist, if needed, but she found her daughter’s confidence grew every time she tried a new dish. What a brilliant idea! I cannot guarantee that your child is going to appreciate the opportunity to learn to cook. However, perhaps asking them to cook along side you a few times a week will help them learn some basic cooking skills so they will not be living off microwaveable meals. But, if they do that, it is okay, too.

Housekeeping Skills. Several years ago, I realized that while my daughter successfully completed the chores I asked her to, I was the one making the request. It occurred to me that when she got her own place, she was going to need to think of these things on her own. We created a weekly rotation of chores so she would be in the habit of completing them regularly. There are certainly things we have missed (such as remembering to wash the bathroom towels regularly and remembering to wipe off kitchen counters), but overall, she confidently knows how to keep her apartment clean.

Wisdom from Adoptive Families: Joys and Challenges in Older Child Adoption has an entire chapter on preparing your child for adulthood. One dad shared how he helped his children learn to budget using a debit card that worked for his kids. The ideas that families shared on how they are teaching their child are excellent!

Remember, as parents, it is our responsibility to give our children the tools necessary to be successful. You can provide opportunities for them to learn skills, but it is still their responsibility to use them. Do not feel like you are a failure if your child does not take advantage of the teaching/learning opportunities you provide. I often tell my daughter, “I can give you all the tools you need to be successful, but it is your choice to use them or not.” If you are providing the opportunities, you have done what you can which is all that is asked of us.

When Adult Children Struggle

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Wisdom

I’ve noticed a common theme on social media lately: Our adult children are struggling. But parents are struggling, too. I do not have all the answers, but I’ve learned a few things in the last two years since my daughter launched.

Kids from hard places struggle more than kids with little trauma in their background.

All parents desire the very best for their children. We often want to make our children’s lives easier. It is why we’ve invested in a variety of extracurricular activities to help them discover their passions. It is why we encouraged years of therapy to help them heal. And it’s why we attend conferences and read books to better parent our children through their past trauma.

All of those are great tools. But I’ve realized something else, too.

Our kids have to choose.

Whether it is hard for them to choose healing because they can’t or because they won’t, they still have to choose. They have to choose to do the hard work to heal. They have to choose to attend therapy. They have to choose to face the past trauma. They have to choose to practice the techniques and use the tools. We cannot do the work for them (although don’t we wish we could?). It is their work to do.

So what can we do?

Pray. It seems the least active, but it truly is the most powerful. Pray for their healing. Pray for their protection. Pray they will make right choices. Pray that God would correct any wrong thinking (in them and in you). Pray that you will have the wisdom to know how best to help them.

Support. It means listening when they are sharing their hardship. It means saying “Wow. That sounds hard.” Or “Gosh, I’m sorry you experienced ___ (a difficulty in a relationship; losing your job; a hard day at work, etc.).” It means offering them a home cooked meal or bringing them a bag of groceries when they have little to eat. It may mean helping them pay their rent. But it might not mean giving them money. It might not mean letting them move back home. It might not mean solving their problems for them. And sometimes it may even mean not giving them advice.

Accept. It means accepting that there is only so much you can do to help your child heal. It means accepting your child may not change today, in the near future or ever. It means accepting that your child is not where you dream or desire them to be. It means accepting that when you have done your best your child’s behavior may still be embarrassing and bring judgment from others. It means accepting you cannot fix them; their behavior is not a reflection of your parenting. It means accepting them where they are, although it is hard to accept that they are not making different choices.

It is incredibly difficult to see our children make poor choices. It is hard to see them continue to make the same choices that cause them to struggle. It is hard not to want to fix it for them. But once our children become adults, our role has changed to one of acceptance and emotional support.

Resources about Trauma for Teachers

By | Blog, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

As parents we often struggle to help our child’s teacher understand the impact of trauma in the classroom. We try to share information we have learned. So we try to share articles and resources from professionals “with credentials” with teachers and administrators.

Some teachers and administrators gladly accept the knowledge we share while others are less enthusiastic. I always struggle walking the fine line between being forceful and strongly encouraging their understanding.

Last month on Facebook, I posted a variety of resources that can be shared with teachers about the impact of trauma on the classroom. Here are a few of my favorites:

How Trauma Affects Kids in School

Helping Traumatized Children Learn (includes video lectures from a professor about the impact of trauma)

This is a Student’s Brain on Trauma

10 Things about Childhood Trauma Every Teachers Needs to Know

Hopefully, the teachers and administrators you share these resources with will be receptive to the research and become aware of students’ needs! Tell us how your teachers and administrators responded! We’d love to hear from you.

Things to Consider when Looking for a Therapist

By | Blog, Challenges, Parenting, Resources, Wisdom

Finding a therapist with adoption experience – specifically older child adoption experience – who is trauma- or attachment-focused can seem nearly impossible. We have some recommendations for finding a therapist or counselor who uses a developmentally appropriate approach.

Seek Recommendations

  • Look for recommendations of therapists or counselors who work with children and families. Check with other adoptive families, professionals (such as pediatrician, family lawyer, social worker, pediatric occupational therapist, audiologist, school counselor), family and friends, your employer, or your insurance company.

Search Online

  • There are online services like GoodTherapy.org, PsychologyToday.com, and others that can be helpful in locating therapists in your area; however, keep in mind that listed therapists pay a fee for membership to be included on these lists. There are some great therapists listed, but there will be some great ones not listed, and others may be listed but not so great.
  • There are many professional organizations, institutes, and networks that contain directories of therapists and other support that may assist in your search (such as Attachment & Trauma Network, Inc; Association for Training on Trauma and Attachments in Children (ATTACh); The Theraplay® Institute; The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN); TF-CBT National Therapist Certification Program).

Travel Distance

  • Good and convenient often do not go hand-in-hand. You can probably find a therapist 10 minutes from your house, but you might find a better one who is worth a longer dive. A longer drive home can provide time to process feelings and thoughts from the therapy session.

One or More Therapists?

  • There are no easy answers to the question of should we have one therapist or multiple therapists. Discussing the pros and cons with the therapist will be helpful in avoiding potential pitfalls in your therapeutic work.

Therapist’s Gender

  • You will want to choose the gender you or your child prefer to work with. However, your reasons may be something you need to discuss with the counselor.

Things to Ask Therapists

  • Are you a licensed counselor or therapist?
  • Are you a registered therapist, or do you have any additional certifications?
  • What is your training or educational background?
  • What percentage of clients are adolescents (if you are seeking counseling for your teen)? …families? …foster, adoption, or attachment related issues? …trauma related?
  • How much of your work involves the use of art, play, or team building exercises with adolescents and with families?
  • What do you believe is required for healing?
  • Do you work with other professionals in your clients’ lives, such as medical doctors, psychiatrists, schools, or other interventionists?
  • Are you willing to work with both our family and our child individually, or do you suggest we have different therapists?
  • If you will be seeing our child individually, how involved or informed will we be?
  • Do you make referrals if you identify my child or family needs additional or different services?
  • Do you provide psychoeducational assessments* or do you have someone you recommend who does?  

*A variety of psychoeducational assessments are available to assess individual aptitudes, attitudes, abilities, achievements, interests, personal characteristics, disabilities, and mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.

Ask About Their Fees

  • If you cannot afford them, tell them what you can afford because this could be a long-term process. Some may be willing to reduce their fees.
  • Many community clinics can provide counseling on a sliding scale fee.
  • Some universities have clinics where students-in-training provide counseling at a lower cost. However, they are students, and therefore they will not have the training and experience of a fully-trained therapist.   

Listen to Your Intuition

  • Is the person you are talking to trying to sell themselves or are they really telling you about how they work?
  • Who makes you feel the most relaxed and encouraged?

It is our belief that it is essential for therapists or counselors to network with caregivers, school personnel, and sometimes other professionals to obtain a complete and accurate picture of the child and his or her needs. We also like the use of assessments that are up-to-date, valid, and reliable. If you struggle to find a therapist or counselor who fits our suggested criteria, you may find one who is willing to research and learn. Remember, counseling is an investment that often brings great returns. 

Being Fully Present & Connecting with Your Loved Ones

By | Blog, Parenting, Wisdom

What would your child or significant other say if you asked, “Do you think I use my phone (iPad, laptop) too much?”

What do they see? Perhaps they see you on your phone and think your phone is more important than them.

What do they hear? You might not realize that they hear your adult conversations or videos. Perhaps they hear you, your friends, or other family members gossiping or complaining – not things you want them to learn or think are okay.

To be that young vulnerable person ignored behind the phone held in a parent’s hand is far worse than we can describe. It has become a disturbing problem in our society. One that is shaping who are children are today and the people they will become.

Are your online communications more important than your child? No one wants to think their child feels forgotten or neglected because of a phone or electronic device.

Are you distracted and disconnected by your phone while your family is present? The truth hurts, but the truth can also heal. There is hope for changing from distracted to present, from not truly living to living, from disconnected to connected.

I want to share Rachel Macy Stafford’s article, “How to miss a childhood: The dangers of paying more attention to your cell phone than your children.” I enjoyed how she laid out the things we might do that are sacrificing our children’s childhoods and our own lives as well as her suggestions of things to focus on instead, so that we can grasp their childhood rather than miss it.

Maybe you will find this article difficult to read as I did. Maybe you will feel “mom guilt” like I did. But your child and society thank you as you try to get back to what really matters – connecting with our loved ones and being fully present.

I recently made a few adjustments to my phone use. I have turned off most notifications on my phone. I can control when I check email rather than letting my email disrupt me and my time with my family. I know 95% of those social media notifications are not worth the distractions. If I want to know what’s going on with friends before getting together with them, then I can browse their pages after my kids have gone to bed. I stopped exploring the Internet in the morning before the kids got up because they would see me on my phone or computer when they got up. I did not want them to think the Internet was the most important thing to me. This past year, I also found myself becoming a little resentful of how some of my phone conversations were taking time away from my family. I want to support others, but now I schedule time with friends twice a month where I can be fully present for them. Communicating my desire and goals with friends and family has helped them to better understand my need for change and my good intentions of a better childhood for my kids. Further, I can be a friend who can be fully present instead of half listening while also trying to parent kids.

What about you? Do you need to make changes in your electronic use to be present with your kids to grasp their childhood?

Please comment and share your experiences with us.

What Is Going on with My Child? Looking for Root Causes of Behaviors

By | Challenges, Parenting

Last month, I received a message from a mom in crisis. She was overwhelmed by her child’s behavioral challenges which led her to fearing her child had Oppositional Defiant Disorder or some other disorder. She was concerned, overwhelmed, and exhausted; and her child was displaying violent behaviors. I believed she had valid concerns, so I wanted to hear more as I helped her find a solution.

Whenever I talk with parents, my first question usually is, “have either you or your child been ill recently?” Why is this important? Because when we are sick, we usually do not act like ourselves. A week earlier had been unusual for the family since mom was sick. If she wasn’t feeling well, it is natural the child picked up on that. Not realizing how bad mom felt, the child might have misinterpreted mom as being irritable with the child. Sometimes our kids (or others) take things personally by mistake.

Upon hearing that mom had been sick, I asked if the child had complained about not feeling well recently. Mom said the child had stomachaches. I asked about the child’s bowel movements and discovered the child struggled going to the restroom. I asked if mom had previously noticed a correlation between the child’s behavior and the child’s bowel movements. She said she observes more negative behaviors when the child has not had a bowel movement for a few days. Perhaps the child’s behaviors have been abnormally heightened due to not feeling well (perhaps the child caught what made mom sick or is fighting it off – which makes the body work harder and tire easier, or perhaps the child is just backed up and feeling bloated). I asked mom if the child took probiotics or a gentle laxative. She said no, but she had previously considered it. (Always talk to your child’s doctor about these things!)

So maybe it’s not “what’s wrong with this kid?”; rather, it’s “what’s going on?” Whenever, things are tough we must look at the big picture and examine the small changes going on in our world AND the child’s world. School is out for summer break, so the child is no longer around teachers or friends. Mom was no longer getting a break from the child being at school, and mom had been sick.

Things to consider for addressing some negative behaviors can include:

  • Communicate any parenting changes with the child (e.g., new expectations, rules, consequences or rewards), emphasizing that the changes will help everyone.
  • Consistency is key. Everyone needs to be on the same page, including the family’s external support system.
  • Communicate with friends and family before problematic behaviors arise. Alert them of your plan so they are not surprised in the moment. The immediate goal is to keep everyone safe and deescalate negative situations. Stating “sorry we have to go now” to friends and family should suffice if you have stated your plan ahead of time.
  • Your child may refuse to leave. Prepare for what options you and your friends or family are comfortable with if that becomes the case. Perhaps the plan would be to have others remove themselves or their child so you and your child can be alone in the child’s current spot.
  • The child may prefer to lay on the floor, hit/throw a pillow, sit in your lap, or go to a corner to be alone. Remaining close by or by exits might be necessary to keep everyone safe.
  • Be prepared by having a drink and snacks or calming activities on hand. Carry items like: chewing gum, crayons and coloring pages, a book to read, playing cards, a notebook for writing/drawing feelings out, playdoh/modeling clay, or materials to make a bracelet as an outlet for your child.
  • Sensory or repetitive type activities can be very calming. You can also suggest rocking in a rocking chair, tossing a ball, pushing against a wall, going for a walk, riding a bike, jumping like a frog, having a dance party, or listening to calming music.
  • Remember to communicate the plan with your child. “If we have to leave, and you cannot walk out to the car with me, then I will need to carry you or ask someone to help me get you into the car.”

If you know your child is struggling, limit your time in public, but do not isolate from friends or family. Consider activities at your own home or theirs. Make sure everyone is on board with the plan if a negative behavioral issue needs to be addressed. Having your kids in social situations or you modeling social skills are great learning tools for your kids. Utilizing consequences, positive reinforcements, or rewards are other ways to help your kids learn how certain situations could be handled.

Look for changes and reasons as to why the child’s behavior might be different. Consider:

  • As the weather gets warmer, take breaks and drink lots of water.
  • How can I help this child’s situation?
  • What does this child want?
  • What does this child need right now? If you believe your child may be hungry or thirsty, say “here is a glass of cold water for you. Would you also like a snack?” If you think the child needs to feel loved, ask “can I give you a hug?” Reassure the child you love them even when you don’t love their behaviors.

A follow-up with this mom revealed they started the child on probiotics, were implementing positive reinforcements, and were giving the child a no tolerance hitting policy. The child’s violent behavior had diminished dramatically. Instead of considering Oppositional Defiant Disorder, we discussed the child may feel situational anxiety about what to expect over the summer. Perhaps the child was feeling disappointed when mom was sick or angry over expectations not being met. Or simply the child was fighting off sickness.

Sometimes we just need to give ourselves and our kids some grace instead of creating more anxiety for everyone. And always strive for being aware. Look for intentions and explore expectations.