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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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.)

 

 

On Thanks & Giving…

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November is National Adoption Awareness Month.  In the spirit of bringing awareness to adoption, our agency mission and the successes of families we serve — we are filling our blog with guest stories throughout this month. Chrysalis House, Inc. believes in the power of sharing experiences and in learning from the stories of others.  We present this series, realizing the words might be the insight that an adoptive family, adoptee or birthparent is searching the internet for!

Our sincerest thanks to the families who have put their lives into words.  We are still accepting submissions through the month of November!  Please send your submissions to stacy@chrysalishouse.com.

Please enjoy the story of a family’s: Foster/Adoption. In the event you wish to discuss our fost/adopt program, please contact the office at 559.229.9862.   

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As we gear up for the Thanksgiving holiday, we feel this story is especially beautiful as it depicts a child’s giving heart.   We’ve chosen to share it during Thanksgiving week, as it perfectly mirrors the spirit of the holiday season! 

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A Story of Thanks & Giving

In February 2010, a sweet freckle-face smiling girl walked into the room to meet us, and sat down opposite from us at the table, full of nervous giggles. We had just met our little daughter Julianna. It would be months more, long nerve-wracked months of waiting, before a judge would make this official. In the meantime, our bright sunshiny girl quickly found her way into our hearts for a permanent home. That first meeting was something special, in spite of the nerves.

Surrounded by social workers observing your interactions, as a prospective adoptive parent, you can’t help but feel judged for every action. It’s only appropriate, after all, for the caseworkers to make sure it seems like a good fit. Of course, that’s only the beginning. Holden in particular, being completely deaf, was unable to lip-read a single word that Julianna said, since she lacked most of her front teeth at the time. Drawing art in a doodle book became an easier way to begin to get to know each other.

We treasured our time with the few visits we had while she was still with her foster placement, and each time it felt harder to leave. She already felt like our girl. When she finally moved in at the end of March, we were so thrilled. We felt blessed by the addition of this incredible girl into our lives. After reading her a few storybooks before bed and tucking her in, followed by a lullaby, we sat in the living room with such a sense of amazement. Could this be real?

On the other side of a wall, a sleeping child in her room. Our child. And still we felt the stress of waiting, of uncertainty, in the back of our minds. As the months flowed by, we got to know our little girl so much better, and she learned who her new parents were. We had our ups and downs, but for the most part, we knew we were in many ways having it easy compared with what many go through. Holden’s biggest challenge for a while was Julianna’s lack of experience in having a present father. Holden had expected that language would be the biggest challenge, but Julianna progressed with learning American Sign Language as if she were a natural, so communication soon wasn’t such a big issue.

Having a father around was definitely something new for her, and a turning point came around Father’s Day 2010, when all of us went for a hike in the Sequoias. We became even closer as a family that day, and ever since then we have only grown stronger.  Over the last year and a half, we have loved being her parents.

We have been thrilled to see her get involved with Girl Scouts, a kids’ singing group, softball, and now 4-H. She loves to be active and is an amazing student. She’s got the greatest sense of humor, loves attention, and is extremely creative. And yes, like many kids, she’s not so great at entertaining herself when we’re zapped from a long day at work, and her closet might be overflowing with a plethora of toys she doesn’t play with. We have our challenges, to be sure, but that’s part of the joys of parenting.

A few months ago, Julianna’s 8th birthday arrived, and we’d like to share with you this story, in Julianna’s words:  “Before my birthday, I decided to not have gifts but to do something else for foster kids, so I told my friends to give me money instead of gifts. After my birthday party, I took the money and bought clothes for the foster children. After I bought the clothes, I took a picture of me with the clothes (pictured below). Then I took the hangers off of the clothes and packed them in a box to send to the agency. I felt very proud.”

We as parents, of course, were also proud of her for this selflessness –especially since it was her decision to do so, after being inspired by seeing a news story about two teen boys who raised money for a different cause. Julianna thought for quite a while about what she wanted to raise money for, and decided it would be for foster kids since she had been one herself. After contacting one agency, they suggested clothes rather than money, so that’s what she focused on. She admittedly avoided buying any clothes in her size that night, because she didn’t want to feel jealous about the new clothes. Now life has gone on, and continues to be worthwhile in every moment that we have as a family. We are now searching for a second child through Chrysalis House, whose staff we will always be grateful toward, for all the hard work they did in helping us expand our family. Chrysalis House is a non-profit with a lot of heart and a lot of commitment toward the families they serve.

***Family Names have been changed to preserve Confidentiality.

Holiday Blues?

“The best of all gifts around any Christmas tree: the presence of a happy family all wrapped up in each other.” ~Burton Hillis

The sentiment of this quote is beautiful and warm.  Except, in each unique family it may not always apply.  If you’ve adopted a child or sibling set and notice escalating behavioral challenges during the holidays ~ there may be a tangible explanation (such as the child being taken into protective custody near a holiday). It may also be caused by something that goes quite a lot deeper.

If challenges are overshadowing your holidays ~ please contact your social worker for support.  Our Chrysalis House Social Workers want your holidays to be merry and bright and are here to help!

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You may also find this resource helpful in understanding how previous traumas may be impacting your child’s holidays.

Please accept our Merry Holiday wishes ~ from the Chrysalis House Family to yours!