Talking about Hard Things is HARD.

 

You may have heard about a new Netflix series titled 13 Reasons Why, which is based on the novel by Jay Asher. The series portrays the story of a 17-year-old girl who takes her own life and leaves behind 13 recordings explaining the reasons (and persons) that contributed to her suicide. This show is rated TV-MA (not appropriate for children under 17) but we are aware that younger children are watching it as well. Even children who have not seen the show have likely heard about it at school. Due to the show’s popularity and mature content which includes scenes involving drugs, bullying, rape and suicide, we felt it was important to inform our clients of this social trend.

We strongly encourage you to consider the age, emotional health and developmental stage of your child before allowing them to watch. While the makers of the show have expressed the goal of raising important issues, there are concerns that it glamorizes suicide.

We also know that teens who were adopted have an attempted suicide rate that is higher than their non-adopted peers.   Of course, this doesn’t mean that ALL adoptees are depressed or have suicidal ideations – but it is true that those who were adopted have different, hard and confusing things to cope with and assimilate into their identities.  These hurts, struggles and curiosities can make it all the more hard for an adoptee to reach out with questions or requests for help.  The complexities of adoption might need to be part of your conversations about suicide in adoptive family homes.

We feel that children with a genetic risk factor for depression or a family history of suicide may be particularly vulnerable to this show’s messaging and imagery. Any teen who’s experienced a sexual assault should avoid the show, as those scenes will likely serve as emotional triggers. Be especially careful when considering whether children who have a history of suicidal thoughts, depression or mental health concerns should watch 13 Reasons Why.

If your child is watching this series, we recommend you watch it with them and discuss it afterward.   Follow-up conversations provide a good opportunity to talk with your child about important issues such as stress, depression, bullying, peer pressure and suicide. This can include how to support a struggling friend, or about their own feelings. If your child is expressing warning signs, don’t be afraid to ask them directly how they are feeling about suicide. We do know that an open conversation is the most important factor in suicide prevention.

You talk to your children about behaviors which can put them at personal risk -and suicide is no different. It’s something you CAN and SHOULD talk about with your children!  Contrary to myth, talking about suicide CANNOT plant the idea in someone’s head. It can actually open up communication about a topic that is often kept a secret. And secrets that are exposed to the rational light of day often become less powerful and scary. Through conversation, you also give your child permission to bring up the subject again in the future.  Approach this topic in the same way as other subjects that are important to you, but may or may not be important to your child.

Remember:

  • Timing is everything! Pick a time when you have the best chance of getting your child’s attention.
  • Think about what you want to say ahead of time and rehearse a script if necessary.
  • Be honest. If this a hard subject for you to talk about, admit it! (“You know, I never thought this was something I’d be talking with you about, but I think it’s really important”). By acknowledging your discomfort, you give your child permission to acknowledge his/her discomfort, too.
  • Ask for your child’s response. Don’t do all the talking. Ask open-ended questions.
  • Be direct! (“What do you think about suicide?”; “Is it something that any of your friends talk about?”; “The statistics make it sound pretty common. Have you ever thought about it? What about your friends?”)
  • Listen to what your child has to say. You’ve asked the questions, so simply consider your child’s answers. If you hear something that worries you, be honest about that, too (“What you’re telling me has really gotten my attention and I need to think about it some more. Let’s talk about this again, okay?”)
  • Don’t judge. And do not offer quick solutions or fixes.
  • Don’t overreact or under react. Overreaction will close off any future communication on the subject. Under reacting, especially in relation to suicide, is often just a way to make ourselves feel better. ANY thoughts or talk of suicide (“I felt that way a while ago but don’t any more”) should raise a flag for concern and follow-up.

Here are some possible warning signs that should get our attention:

STATEMENTS that convey a sense of hopelessness, worthlessness, or preoccupation with death (“ Life doesn’t seem worth it sometimes.”; “I wish I were dead.”; “Heaven’s got to be better than this.”)

BEHAVIORS that are different from the way your child acted in the past, especially things like talking about death or suicide, taking dangerous risks, withdrawing from activities or sports, or using alcohol or drugs.

FEELINGS that, again, seem different from the past like irritability, anxiety, sadness, hopelessness, loss of interest.

SITUATIONS that can serve as ‘trigger points’ for suicidal behaviors. These include things like loss or death, getting in trouble at home, in school, or with the law, or impending changes for which your child feels scared or unprepared.

If you notice any of these things in kids who have always been impulsive, made previous suicide attempts or threats, or seem vulnerable in any way, you really should get consultation from a mental health professional.

The 24/7 number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: is 1-800-273-8255.  Put it in your phone. We hope you never need it for yourself or for anyone else, but we hope you have it if you do.  Our social workers are always here to support our families ~ please never hesitate to make inquiry if we can be of use to you.

 

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JOINT JOURNALING: A powerful communication tool between parent and child

As parents, we strive to help our children understand who they are & what they believe in. We want our children to understand and recognize their feelings, to be able to calm themselves when they’re upset, and to have the coping skills to overcome struggles. We need to help them grow into their authentic selves feeling loved and accepted.  Self-awareness exercises like the one I’m describing today, can help kiddos come to know themselves better.

A fun and useful exercise between parent and child is to pass a journal back and forth nightly.  Pre-teens and Teens really seem to do well with this concept.  My own daughter and I do this and I’ve learned so much about her sweet little 12-year-old soul.  I believe talking and journaling are not mutually exclusive – but they are mutually beneficial!!  Journaling has become a tool in our toolbox to be sure there is an open door communication policy and in helping my daughter come to “know” herself better.

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If you choose to employ a journal, you’ll find you communicate a little differently when you write, because you have time to think.  It’s also quite possible that the child will “hear” you better when you write.  And, you might notice that she’ll be braver when she writes.  Sometimes writing and reading gives you just enough distance… to be totally honest!

This exercise can be especially important when children have difficult topics, memories or feelings they are struggling with. Remain aware that your questions can bring up strong feelings/memories for foster/adoptive children.   Remain aware that addressing these strong feelings in writing gives you ample time to process and formulate your best response.

When kiddos reach middle school, it’s becomes very typical for them to communicate through writing.  They don’t call each other, they text!! It’s exciting to see how your journal paves the way for your child to talk to you as they do their friends.

Mutually, you will find meaning in this exercise and will come to appreciate the time capsule you are constructing.  Everything, from what you’re writing about, to her handwriting and the expressions she uses, captures her in this moment.  Your journal pages can be more powerful than a photograph.

You’ll need to decide a couple of key things: 

Who is allowed to see this journal? For trust to be built, you both must honor this decision.  The journal is just between my daughter and myself in our house.

How will you pass the journal back and forth?  We leave it under each others pillow on most nights. 

When can you expect a response?  Sometimes life gets in the way and we just let each other know that we weren’t able to get our entry done.  We leave a sticky note that says “Response needed ASAP” if it’s urgent. 

Do you want to use a fancy journal or just use a standard notebook?  Either works great; although the blank journal or spiral notebook allows for more flexibility and the ability to come up with your own questions/topics.  We’ve used all three, including a wonderful journal called Just Between Us: A no-stress, no-rules journal for girls and their moms.  You can find it HERE.

What to write?  It’s up to you!  There are no rules for this activity.  Of course, you should do what feels right for you!  Some days you might feel like there’s nothing to say.  Don’t be afraid to doodle or share an inspiring quote instead. Consider using the below list of questions as journaling prompts.  As you get started, it might feel more comfortable to stick to the more “superficial” of these topics.

  • What are your strengths?
  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  • What are your goals for this school year?
  • Who do you talk to when you have a problem? How do they help?
  • What do you like to do for fun?
  • What are you worried about?
  • What do you wish you parents knew about you? What do you wish your friends or classmates knew about you?
  • If you could have one wish, what would it be?
  • What do you feel ashamed of?
  • Where do you feel safest?
  • If you weren’t afraid, what would you do?
  • Have you ever felt like a failure? How did you cope?
    How can you tell that you’re getting angry?  What does your body feel like?
  • What’s something that adults say to you that’s really stuck with you? Do you think their right?
  • What do you do when people don’t seem to like you?
  • What is your proudest accomplishment?
  • What things feel “in” your control? What things feel “out” of your control?
  • What do you like about your school? What do you dislike?
  • What do you do when you’re stressed out?
  • What’s something nice you can say about yourself?
  • What’s your happiest memory?
  • What do you do when you’re feeling down? Do you think it’s okay to cry?  Do you think it’s ok to yell?
  • What is your favorite book, movie, band, food, color, animal?
  • What do you like about yourself?
  • What do you like talking about? What do you find it hard to talk about?
  • What are three things you might like to be when you grow up?
  • Who are your best friends? What do you look for in a friend?  What are challenges you face in friendship?
  • Before you fall asleep, what do you think about? What do you dream about?  What’s the first thing you think of when you wake up?
  • Have you ever let fear stop you from doing something you wanted to do?
  • How are you and I the same? How are you and I different?
  • What do you need to know about crushes and dating?
  • What are things you’d love for us to do together?
  • If you could do one crazy thing without consequences, what would it be?
  • What do you love about school? What do you not love about school?  How do you feel about your grades?  What has your greatest learning experience been?
  • How do you feel about the activities you’re involved in? What takes up too much of your time?  What do you wish you could spend your time doing?
  • These are Compliments I want to give you… What compliments would you like to give me?
  • What have you learned from our journal?

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In the event that you know journaling is NOT your thing, these questions have a lot of value as talking points too.  Talking with your children is one of the most critical steps of healthy parenting. Speaking honestly and clearly, responding calmly, and listening carefully will occur only if children are provided with models and opportunities to practice. Kids need to learn to share more than just their belongings…

~Stacy Dinkel, M.A.

 

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Gratitude is the best attitude: A Thanksgiving lesson for families

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Parenting foster and or adoptive children can be a challenge at any time of the year, but holidays can sometimes seem extra stressful (especially when adverse or negative memories surround previous holidays).  Practicing gratitude is a fantastic practice… but, it may be especially good medicine for kiddos (& their family members) who struggle with a light case of holiday blues. *

Practicing gratitude regularly not only helps kids to take a small break, it has scientifically-proven physical and emotional benefits.  Gratitude brings happiness, peace, relaxation, love, compassion, enthusiasm, confidence, and a sense of satisfaction with life.  All of these emotions reduce the effects of the stress hormone, cortisol – and can improve some aspects of mental health.

Here are some creative gratitude lessons to try with your kids, which will benefit the whole family:
1. Recognize that there are many different ways to cultivate gratitude and your older child will need to have some freedom to explore what works best for them.  Let them lead the way by asking them to create a new gratitude tradition for the whole family.  This allows for creativity and makes it feel less like a chore.
2. Go at it indirectly by fostering altruism.  Helping others or committing “random acts of kindness” leads to a feeling of gratitude.
3. Suggest a family 30-day (or even just 7-day) gratitude challenge and have everyone keep a hand-written gratitude journal where they have to notice at least 1 thing to be grateful for every day.  Buy a little journal for each family member to personalize and decorate along with a special pen to make it feel fresh and new. Click here for a link to fun gratitude journal prompts.
4 Create a fun gratitude conversation at dinner or in the car ride between activities.  Click here for a link to a conversation starter activity.
5 Challenge the family to a gratitude scavenger hunt and get their technology involved!  Click here for a photo scavenger hunt.

What are YOU thankful for? Honoring your gratitude is meant to make you feel GOOD, so be creative and have fun. Make it a family project!

(If you’re managing significant holiday blues  – please contact your social worker for advice).

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The only thing that is constant is change

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Kids like routine. They thrive on knowing what happens when. But we all know life just doesn’t stay the same – families move houses, kids change schools, friends move away or stop being friends and almost every year a child will most likely have to face a new teacher.

And then…. there are those kiddos who experience really extreme changes – like a death in the family and parental divorce. Or, maybe, a child has to leave their biologic family and has to move to fostercare or an adoptive home.

There will always be more change ahead. Change is sometimes unexpected, sometimes exciting, sometimes a relief, sometimes traumatic ~ but it’s nearly always challenging. Any child grappling with change will feel more secure and in control of their world ~ if their places, things, rituals and people remain as familiar as possible.

Whether change is a monumentally big one, or a tiny more anticipated change, here are techniques to ease the pain:

  • Set expectations.  It is really important to tell children what to expect, in age appropriate language so that they can prepare. That might sound like, “You’ll sleep at your foster home two more nights, before you come stay with us for a week.”
  • Stick to routines. Try not to change everything at once. If a child has bedtime rituals, special books to read, or even TV shows they watch, try to keep those in place wherever possible. You can ask social workers and former foster parents about these routines.
  • Reflect feelings.  Kids want and need to feel validated and understood. Decide what you think they might be feeling about the upcoming change, and say it to them in a short sentence. You might say,  “You are probably wondering if you will make new friends at our home (or at school/swim team/VBS).”
  • Role play.  Give your child an opportunity to “practice” in advance of a new or different circumstance. This will create feelings of competence and capability when the experience actually happens. You can practice how to introduce yourself, how to be brave at the doctor, etc.
  • Use “I Wonder” statement. This helps a child process what might be. This can sound like, “I wonder what you might do if no one sits by you at lunch?”
  • Let them grieve. When we leave something behind it’s good to talk about what we’ll miss. Always let a child appropriately mourn what they have lost.
  • Establish family rituals. Religiously incorporating a Sunday game night, nighttime walks, weekend drive/bike rides, morning yoga, etc. can enhance a new “normal,” when other aspects of life feel chaotic.
  • Role model. Rather than expecting your child to do all the work of forming new bonds on their own, be right there with them (if needed). You can help model how to communicate to new people in new scenarios.
  • Prioritize sleep. Learning and coming to terms with the new takes a lot of energy and can be frustrating. It’s no wonder children need so much more sleep than adults! A well-rested child will handle change better.
  • Expect over-reacting. When a child feels insecure and stressed, anything and everything can be harder for them to handle.  Sadness about ending a play date can evoke deeper feelings of grief related to the bigger changes afoot.  Some children become extra clingy and seek out more hugs and more attention in general.  It’s also not unusual for children to regress developmentally with big changes.
  • Give extra emotional warmth. Parents can feel like they’re walking on egg shells in the hope of avoiding meltdowns.  But, when parents hold steady to limits and expectations without giving into bargaining or negotiating it can actually bring kids relief.  Be nurturing and present but stick to your typical parenting philosophies.

You might also consider creating a worry box, if your child is feeling especially anxious.  And if you need ideas about new family rituals, consider these family playdate ideas.

In closing, we often wish to shield our babies from the hard changes and the unknowns of this world! But, by helping them prepare, process, and plan for these events, we are setting our kiddos up for success.

 

Developmental Ages and Stages in Adoption

Ry, flyMost of the time, adopted youth are not pondering their adoption nor the complexities it brings to their lives. Like any other children, they are busy with school, friends, sports, and other activities. But the adoption community has come to realize that there are definitely developmental stages as well as milestones and events that often trigger adoption related issues.

There’s no need to rewrite an exceptional resource & this article describes how adoption can impact development in great detail:  Child Welfare Information Gateway.  This resource can help you to better understand special adoption-related developmental concerns. The article looks at issues of separation, loss, grief, anger and identity as the child grows. It looks at what to expect at different ages, including the emotional impact of adoption.


We find that children’s interest in adoption varies throughout the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence. As children progress from one stage to another, they look at adoption differently and, often, have more concerns or questions.  Parents can facilitate this developmental process by being knowledgeable and supportive, and by continuing to retell their child his or her adoption story.

Use age-appropriate language.
Help your child remember the people who were in his or her life before coming to your home.
Help your child remember the places where he or she has lived.
Speak positively about birth family members and prior caretakers.

Even if you have educated yourself about normal child development and behavior at different ages, as your child matures you are sure to find yourself questioning any of your child’s behavior that seems out of the ordinary. An adoptive family has the added concern of trying to decide whether or not it is an adoption issue that is troubling the child, or not. Of course, the adoption community has found that the following milestones and events can trigger challenges and bring up powerful emotions:

• Birthdays of the adopted child, siblings, parents, or birth parents
• Anniversaries of placement into foster care, an orphanage, or the adoptive family; or the date of adoption finalization
• Holidays (especially Mother’s and Father’s Days, but any holiday that involves family gatherings, such as Christmas, Passover, or Thanksgiving)
• School projects in which a child is asked to talk about his/her family, such as “family tree” assignments or identifying inherited family traits
• A doctor’s visit in which an adopted person is asked to supply medical history information
• Adopted mother’s pregnancy, birth of a child, or adoption of a sibling, which may upset the adopted child’s sense of security in a family
• Puberty
• Unplanned contacts from the birth family
• Divorce of adopted parents
• Deployment of a military family member
• Death of a family member

Remain aware of milestones and events that may trigger a need for postadoption support.  During these times, parents should watch for signs indicating that their adopted child, or they themselves, need a little more help. Overt signs might include changes in mood, eating habits, or sleeping habits. Parents should let their children know that they understand what is happening and will be there to help and find other resources as needed.

Please contact your social worker at Chrysalis House, Inc. if you find your loved ones needing further advice or referrals.