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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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.

 

Pinterest & Adoption

 

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As you likely know, Pinterest is a social bookmarking website for saving, organizing and sharing things. Many, many people have already recognized its benefits for design, fashion, beauty, cooking and other lifestyle topics. But, it can have some wonderful benefits for couples and singles who are hoping to adopt ~ or in the middle of that process, too.

We have been building our agency Pinterest page for a long while now.  And, we’ve proudly amassed a wealth of resources.  In fact, our Pinterest boards have made it hard to keep this “blog” alive — We’ve come to notice that so much important content has already been written and it’s written so well, that, well… why would CHI write it again?

Please accept our invitation visit and “follow” our Pinterest page: Chrysalis House.  You will then have access to a resource that we have designed to support any and every family, including those who are -or- aren’t clients of our adoption agency.

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We have reviewed a wide collection of topics and amassed over 800 pins all nicely divided into boards on adoption and issue specific topics such as:  anger management, special needs, chores, developmental milestones, safety strategies, foster/domestic/inter-country adoption, bonding and attachment, nutrition, discipline, transracial adoption and …probably just about everything in between, too.  We’ve created boards on: what to do while you are waiting (prospective adoptive parents), how to coach adoptive relatives, how to apply for adoption grants and even how to get ready for back-to-school.

Our Pinterest boards are there for you and they. are. free.  Please access our Pinterest pages whenever it can be of use to you.  Simply put, that’s why it’s there.  And, if you see a topic that we’ve missed, we hope you’ll make a recommendation for us to research it too!  (Just email it to stacy@chrysalishouse.com & she’ll humbly accept that challenge!)

But, there’s another reason why we bring up Pinterest…  This social platform can be part of any waiting parent’s adoption networking strategy. It’s popular and has many millions of visitors ~ which is a fantastic audience.  68 percent of Pinterest visitors are women and 70.9% are between the ages of 17 to 44– which includes the demographic you want to reach and connect with, when you are prospective adoptive parents seeking a domestic adoption.  According to a report, Pinterest drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined and is now one of the top 10 social networking websites.

How waiting adoptive parents can use Pinterest:

It’s easy to use and once you’ve joined, sharing, following and “liking” others couldn’t be easier. Just create a board and start pinning.  Conveying “who” you are with words can be a challenge.  Pinterest helps you show the “real” you when it comes to telling an authentic story.  Because Pinterest reveals “who” you are through photos and images that you personally identify with, it gives you the chance to connect with prospective birth parents on a visceral level.

For waiting parents, beyond research on “what you can expect while you’re expecting” –you can also use Pinterest to showcase your personality and share many bits and pieces of your life that didn’t make it into your profile.  Your Pinterest page can show additional facets to your family like: hobbies, traveling plans, your love for the garden, recipes you’d like to try, charities you support, and can ultimately reflect …how you hope to parent that child that you hope to adopt.  Consider loading your families Adoptive Profile to your Pinterest page and consider Pinterest to be another resource for connection(s).  Finally, for anyone who is going through the sometimes arduous (but eventually rewarding) process that is adoption, Pinterest’s beauty, messages of hope, and celebration of the everyday can be a daily pick-me-up.

Now, isn’t that (P)interesting?  (wink.)

 

 

Post Adoption Support

Post Adoption Support

Adoption affects adopted persons and families in many different ways over the course of their lifetime.  As result many adoptive families need information and support to manage challenges as they arise. Challenges may appear and reappear at different stages of life, even when their adoption is a positive experience.  We encourage families to seek assistance proactively when the first concern or questions arise.  Please note: there is no need for a family to feel ashamed or hesitant to request help… Just give yourself permission to learn & expand your skills!

Post-adoption services can help families with a range of challenges which may include:

  1. A parent struggling with how to explain adoption to a preschooler..or any aged child.
  2. A teenager struggling with their teenage identity, especially as it pertains to being an adopted child.  Identity development can be more complex for adopted children and teenagers.
  3. Identity development can be complicated if the child’s race or birth culture differs from that of the adoptive family.  Given the importance of maintaining a child’s birth heritage, parents may seek resources on this topic.
  4. Families of children who have experienced trauma, neglect, abuse, out-of-home care, or institutionalization may require more intensive services.
  5. All adopted children and youth, (even those adopted as infants) experience some level of grief and loss.  They may grieve as they come to understand their history and they may also struggle with feelings of abandonment.
  6. Any child or youth separated from birth parents has experienced a break in attachment, and may not have known consistent love and affection.  As result, they may have difficulty trusting and attaching to their new family.  These children may need help building healthy relationships.
  7. Open adoptions may lead to families and adopted children needing support in maintaining relationships with birth family members.
  8. Adoptive parents may experience grief and loss issues of their own, which may relate to infertility.  Emotions can be intensified by the reality of their adoption, especially if it doesn’t match what they expected it to be.
  9. At some point, many adoptees want to access birth information and/or reconnect with birth families.  While technology can accelerate a birth relative search, this faster pace can be emotionally overwhelming.  They also may not know where to begin their search.
  10. Children who were exposed prenatally to drugs and alcohol may have ongoing emotional, developmental, physical or behavioral difficulties.  These may vary from health issues, to developmental delays, to feeding, sleeping and attachment issues. Issues may arise at school requiring an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and a referral fro special services.

There are many tangible services available which can help with post-adoption challenges:

  1. Therapy/Counseling:  Professional help for concerns is always available to address any post-adoption challenge.  Proactive access can often prevent concerns from becoming serious problems.  For more information, contact the CHI office for insight and a referral.
  2. Support Groups:  Both Online and in-person groups are available.  Both offer parents and adoptees valuable opportunities to interact and share with others who may have had relevant experiences.  Parents can even start their own group as many post-adoption services were founded by concerned adoptive parents!
  3. Camps, picnics and other events:  Retreats and camps are available for members of adoptive families to connect with others like themselves.
  4. Educational resources:   Parents can access a workshop or conference, or an online resource to learn about the topics important to them, socialize with other families, and access adoption materials.  (many will be listed below).
  5. Financial assistance:  While most services are not free of charge, their may be assistance available for some adoptive families.  Many children adopted from public agencies qualify for adoption subsidy which can be used to pay for these services as spelled out in the adoption assistance agreement. Medicaid is available to meet a child’s special health, mental or emotional needs.  Your health insurance carrier may also offer benefits which can be used for post adoption services.  Some employers may provide benefits which will reimburse adoption related service fees.  Scholarships are often available to help with the cost of attending adoption conferences and seminars.
  6. Public adoption agencies (county or State offices) & many private adoption agencies may provide services which can benefit your family dynamic.

In addition to the specific services listed above, we’ve compiled a lengthy list of online resources – which can be accessed at any time & are listed below.  These may be especially helpful if your family is not living within this agency’s home state, which is California.

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network was established to improve access to care, treatment, and services for traumatized children and adolescents exposed to traumatic events. The group offers a wealth of online trainings and informational links.

Child Welfare Information Gateway promotes the well-being of families by connecting the public to information, resources and tools covering topics on child welfare, child abuse & neglect, adoption and more.  Child Information Gateway provides access to information and resources to help protect and strengthen families.

TCU Institute of Child Development  Offers Trust Based Relationship Intervention (TBRI) DVD’s that families can order for themselves.

Empowered to Connect offers a faith based version of TBRI. Families can go onto the website, click resources & then on the righthand side there are many topics they can click & see a short video or write up on the subject.

Attachment Trauma Network promotes healing of traumatized children and their families through support, education and advocacy.

CASE -Center for Adoption Support & Education C.A.S.E. is the national leader in adoption-competent support with foster and adopted children and adults, their families and the network of professionals who assist them. With more than 17 years of adoption expertise and an extensive range of services, C.A.S.E. is empowering families in the adoption and foster care community to grow together and overcome challenges.  This is an excellent site that offers articles, trainings, and lots of resources for all members of an adoptive family.

REACH – Tulare County and REACH- Kings County  REACH, which stands for Resources, Education, Advocacy, Crisis Intervention and Hope was designed to support and enrich the lives of adopted children and families, as well as others who have been touched by adoption.   REACH services are family-centered and recognize the core issues of adoption. Services are designed to support and preserve all family relationships and maximize the child’s potential and full integration into a family. REACH services are provided at multiple locations throughout California to help families effectively prepare for the experience of adoption and to ensure families receive support at all stages of adoptive parenting. There are REACH programs in the following counties:  Contra Costa, San Benito, Solano, Kings, Mono, Madera, Mariposa, and Tulare.

Dave Thomas Foundation  Access the link for a guide to Strengthen your Forever Family:  A step-by-Step guide to Post-Adoption.  This free resource booklet includes information for parents about the types of resources available after adoptions have been finalized. Topics include how to select and locate providers, what to do if your community doesn’t have resources available, and recommendations of other national non-profits that can help.

NACAC North American Council on Adoptable Children is an organization that offers numerous articles designed to help families who have adopted children with special needs.

PACT, an Adoption Alliance, was begun by two adoptive parents in 1991.  Pact has developed a range of services that can connect you to other families like your own.

CWLA Child Welfare League of America is the oldest national organization serving vulnerable children, youth, and their families. CLWA provides trainings, consultations, and a variety of conferences including teleconferences found at the link.

Voice for Adoption is a national organization that works to make a difference in the lives of children in foster care who are waiting to be adopted and the families who adopt children from foster care

Adoption Learning Partners provides educational adoption resources for adopted individuals, parents, families, and professionals through web-based and interactive courses. Adoption Learning Partners offers courses for families parenting adopted children to learn how to sort through issues and learn new skills. Courses address topics like talking to your child about adoption, helping your child cope with feelings of grief and loss, and answering questions about your child’s heritage and background with sensitivity and respect.

Evan B. Donaldson Institute is a non-profit organization that dedicates itself to adoption by improving the current policies and practices of adoption. Through a wealth of publications, the Institute seeks to end negative stereotypes and misinformation about adoption by providing an accurate picture of its rewards, as well as its challenges.  Search by topic to locate resources you may need.

Adoptive Families Magazine is an excellent magazine with well-written articles for all adoptive parents.

What have we missed? Please add any resources you have found to be helpful to your family in the comments.