Life Isn't Fair

Today I’m thinking about fairness. For a variety of reasons. I’m leaving with my younger son in a couple weeks to do the first of what is looking like many trips to look at colleges. Now he’s a smart, talented kid who’s been involved in a lot of activities and has pretty good ACT and SAT scores so I think he’s got a pretty good chance of getting into one of the schools he wants. But a couple of weeks ago, like many of you, I was caught up in the news about the vast cheating scandal that had been going on for years at many of the country’s top colleges and universities where affluent parents were paying enormous sums to get their kids into schools they would never have gotten into otherwise. Essentially take a spot of a deserving child who had worked and dreamed their entire life of playing soccer for USC or studying at Yale. For our kids with RAD, fairness is a tough concept. They have been so deprived for so long and live in a space where their own survival is dependent on their being constantly vigilant about what they can get. I was recently talking with a friend about how to divide a cookie we were going to share and I said when my boys were little, the way I did it was one would cut but the other got to choose which half first. Man, they were out there with a slide rule and protractor and ruler and calculator trying to figure out how to make those pieces the closest to equal they could! Many thanks to their father’s mother for that trick! But explaining to a child with RAD, or any child, the idea of fairness is not easy. It’s where community sports invented the “participation trophy”. An idea I loathe to this day. We don’t have to pretend that our children can’t grasp the idea but we do have to remember how they think and make sure we have the words to explain the differences. It is part of their growth and development to understand that not everything will be the way they want or what they see as “fair”. To help with explain this idea of “fair”, here are some tips to explain to children:

  1. Kids think fair means equal. Back to my point about the cookie. And you probably know some adults that think this as well. You’ve been in a kindergarten class where every child has to have a green crayon of the same length. No one can have more potato chips than anyone else. We do that with our children from a very early age and they learn the idea that fair means equal. We train them to expect that. We then work for the rest of our lives to undo what we’ve done because it’s hard (and annoying) to see a child unhappy.
  2. What it should mean is “just”. Being “just” means considering all variables, people, and sides of an issue. Sometimes it’s a practicality issue-your younger child needs new shoes because he grew a half-size in six months but your older child hasn’t. Sometimes it’s emotional-your teenager had a rough day and you offer to take them out to dinner for some one-on-one time. If your pre-teen then screams that they want to go out to dinner to and you cave and agree to take them out tomorrow night, then all is lost. It’s the participation trophy. It undermines the consideration of the feelings of the teenager and it fails to teach the younger child that what doesn’t seem fair (in their eyes) is still right and just. Because attention is solving a necessary problem and healing a hurt.
  3. Don’t say, “Life isn’t fair.” I’m sure I’m not the only RAD parent (or parent period) who’s said or been tempted to say it hundreds of times! One kid counts the number of pieces of popcorn they have and you go through the roof! Well don’t be surprised to learn that this phrase means nothing to a child. It is OK to acknowledge the feeling: “I think what you’re really saying is you’re unhappy and you don’t like it.”. And you can explain what happened, “Yep, I’m not going to scoop ice cream the exact same way every time.” But don’t overexplain. But don’t draw attention to the child and their fit by making the “fairness fight” a big deal. You can talk through when a child does recognize a truly unjust situation, like when your child comes home upset because a child acted out and the teacher punished the whole class. That’s an opportunity to discuss that maybe you wouldn’t have handled it that way but you can try to see why the teacher handled it like that.
  4. Good News! You’re building resilience. In addition to developing empathy, children are learning to tolerate disappointment. We rob them of the ability to learn resilience when we make everything equal and fine (thing again of the loathsome participation trophy). Your younger child is mad because they got one present when their older sibling got three? Explain how three smaller gifts add up to one big bike. If your child thinks they got a raw deal, sympathize then move on. Be genuine and maybe share your own disappointment, something you wanted and didn’t get and thought was unfair. Always be a model for those concepts we want our children to learn.
It’s always hard to see our children disappointed. We want them to have everything. We want them always smiling and laughing. But we do them a disservice if we don’t help them learn the skills that will make them able to handle the realities of life. Because while we can’t say it…Life isn’t fair! Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

When I'm Angry…

ay about being angry. Why? Well, because I am. If you’re the parent of a kiddo with RAD it might feel like this is your “normal”. And I’m sorry for that because it sucks. But I understand. 1fbe05090597f69b06922d161f59693e.jpg You’re angry at your child. A lot. You’re angry at your partner. Oops. You’re angry at all the systems and services that don’t work for your child. You’re angry at the grown-ups that were supposed to protect your child and didn’t and caused the trauma that resulted in the RAD that you are now paying for. You’re angry at the “perfect” friends and families you see on Facebook or at the store or at school who have the lives you are being denied. And if by some chance one type of angry subsides, there’s always two or three or TEN kinds of angry to take its place. Angry takes a lot of energy. I remember seeing one of those annoying posters or memes once that said it takes more facial muscles to frown than to smile so you should smile because it’s easier. Yes that may be true but it would also take a lot more energy to find anything to smile about! What I’m angry about the most today is that right now THE WORLD  SEEMS SO ANGRY. I’ve been guilty of adding to it too. And it’s exhausting. Yesterday I posted a picture of a kitten sucking its thumb-seriously-watch it herejust to have something happy to see for myself. I read this article about the two Parkland students who have committed suicide in the last week. I cried. And I got angry. The shooting in New Zealand. The floods in the Midwest (more Midwest than me) and the horrible disaster in Mozambique. And I got angry. And then there’s politics. Which seems to have made most of us angry for two years no matter what side of the aisle you sit on. Spring and summer need to hurry up and get here so I can escape to my garden for even a few minutes/hours each day. Plants don’t get angry. I don’t think. Though mine probably get a little irked because I’m not the best at watering and weeding all the time. I get lazy. But they seem to produce and love me still. I wish brains worked like that. We could throw all this mess at them and they could filter it and produce and love anyway. Our RAD kids would be so much better off. But brains work more like a compost bin. Everything that’s old and decaying goes in and stays. Our brains keep everything, packing it down into the smallest, deepest nooks and crannies. And it will stay there and just start to smell unless we turn it and let in the air and the sunlight so it can become something good and beneficial to our world.  d44329466e8bc44a7b089b8c5c30e432 My challenge to myself and to you today is try and be a plant, not a compost bin. Let your brain soak in the sunlight (hopefully there is some in your part of the world) and breathe in the air and churn up the angry thoughts and burn them out of your beautiful mind. Only through constant focus on what is good and healthy can we all make our world less angry. I truly believe we are at a turning point where we can “Be the Change You Wish to See in the World.” Ghandi didn’t seem angry very often. Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

Mothers and Sons

When I was young there were no boys in the house, just me and my sister. So I became the boy. I could bait my own hook, played soccer, went out at night looking for night crawlers, went ice fishing. Neither my sister nor I were particularly girly (she was a swimmer), no matter how many matching dresses my grandma made. But when I grew up I just assumed I’d have girls because that’s what I knew. And when my friends started having children their first-born’s all made sense…of course! She’s a “boy-mommy”. I just KNEW I was going to be a “girl-mommy”. Now when you adopt, the surprise is gone and when you adopt from Russia there’s even less. We knew we’d be getting a boy. It flew in the face of everything I believed about my path to motherhood. But at that point my path to motherhood had taken every twist and turn it could so I was just along for the ride. But when I saw the video…that face…he was my son. As sure as I was giving birth to him. I was a “boy-mommy”. I’ve said this to friends before but I truly believe that August saved me and his brother. Getting pregnant with Spencer wasn’t planned and if I didn’t have August, I wouldn’t have been nearly as healthy during my pregnancy. Having August meant I stayed active, ate better and didn’t obsess about being pregnant which I’d tried for eight years to become. I am forever grateful to him for that. All along this journey he has fought me. We have fought over bedtime, food, school, medication, therapy, clothing, haircuts, computer time, TV time, video time, girls, curfew, drinking, drugs, and so much more. But mothers and sons. And this mother and THIS son. I know before it’s over this current conflict will have us arguing more I’m sure. And I’ll take it. And give it back. Because that’s what mothers do. And maybe I’m having to do it on a scale many of you won’t ever have to deal with and can’t possibly comprehend. I certainly hope so! That’s the point of this whole blog and my wish for you who are dealing with these precious damaged children. Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

What to do if you have a child with RAD in your Classroom

  • A substitute teacher was a problem because it got all the students keyed up and that teacher didn’t know about August’s special needs. We created an outlet for August to be able to go to the office on days when there was a sub and the class was being loud and he felt he couldn’t keep it together.
  • Being able to run and expend energy was a stress reliever for August. In 4th grade he was in a trailer due to the school being over-crowded. This allowed for a gift of his being able to “go to the bathroom” while getting outside and running round for a bit in sight of the teacher when he was feeling overwhelmed because of the logistics of being in the trailer.
  • I discussed with the principal about the importance of the teacher match with August and how wonderful 4th grade had been for him and the entire 4th grade staff looped up to 5th grade which gave August the same teacher two years in a row!
  • In middle school he was given a “hot pass” which was a red laminated card which he could put on his desk any time he was feeling overwhelmed. As soon as the teacher saw that August was excused from the room to the office no questions asked.
  • These are just a few of the ideas we worked out to manage August’s behaviors while trying to keep the classroom structure and help the teacher stay sane! For some other tips, I found this very helpful article here. Please share your stories and ideas on what has worked (or not!) with your child in school. As a community we all benefit from everyone’s successes and challenges. Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

    When Every Day is Monday

    “If your heart is broken, make art with the broken pieces” –Shane Koyczan So what do we do? Where do we get our fuel to continue day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? It takes resolve and training to be resilient to the blows that just keep coming and find some way to see hope and something positive in the midst of all that seems to wear us down. Here are a couple of tricks doctors say will help:

    • Let yourself feel sad: I know, right? So here’s the deal. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself. When something awful happens, cry, scream, eat a pint of ice cream, binge watch Netflix. Feel hopeless. Because if you don’t feel hopeless, how can you know what hopeful feels like? You don’t have to be stone-faced and strong all the time. But watch that it doesn’t last too long because that can be a sign of depression.
    • Control what you can: If you’ve read about having a child with RAD this may sound like a page right out their playbook! But it’s true. If you do just one thing you can to affect your situation, you will be amazed at what it can do for your mood. If your child is destroying his or her room, clean your room and put a lock on the door. Just one little thing, however small, will make a huge difference.
    • But be flexible: There will be times when there is nothing going right. You know it. We’ve all been there. At those times, you can’t expect to be able to do what you had planned, go where you want, wear what you want, maybe even more dire consequences. But the key is to be able to find a way to make choices that are the best in a bad situation. Don’t be afraid to take that sharp left or right turn.
    • Find resilient role models: We have all been through tough times. Maybe you know someone who has been through health problems and survived and thrived. Someone who had financial struggles and started a business and got on their feet. Use these individuals as motivation that you, too, can survive your trials.
    • Be a role model: We are all as parents working so hard to provide the best, safest, most loving homes for our children. They are hurt and we didn’t hurt them. I am so angry that my son is paying for what was done to him that he couldn’t control. But now I want to pay it forward and help others with what I’ve learned and what will hopefully help other children. You can do that too. Wouldn’t it be great if all RAD children could learn from our knowledge and care?
    • Talk it Out: Having a support system when parenting a child with RAD is so valuable. And it doesn’t have to be other RAD parents, though I found that helpful. There are groups on social media, adoption groups if your child is adopted. Maybe it’s just a close friend if you’re not very outgoing. Me, I’ll talk to anybody! But sometimes when it doesn’t feel good in your heart, hearing it out loud can help!
    • Know that You’re Already Doing It: Did your child wake up this morning? Did you feed them? Will they wake up tomorrow? Are you reading this? Then you are doing the work to help your child and be the best parent of a RAD child you can be. You are getting it done. Pat yourself on the back and cut yourself some slack.
    That last bullet is the most valuable. You are already doing it! I would love to hear your stories of resilience. Please feel free to share as you feel comfortable. Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

    Reactive Attachment Disorder Reference Guide

    Books When Love Is Not Enough: A Guide to Parenting with RAD-Reactive Attachment Disorder Nancy Thomas This has long been considered the gold standard in RAD therapy but it is also somewhat controversial. Nancy Thomas was the first person to really write on the subject of RAD in depth. She also has a website and conferences. I did not choose to use her treatment with my son but if you read, you will find many families who swear by her treatment methods. Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors  Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post This was the second book I read after Nancy Thomas. It’s approach is radically different to hers but has also been very popular. I hoped this method would work with my son but it wasn’t the method that worked for him. His issues were too severe and required more intensive therapy. Building the Bonds of Attachment: Awakening Love in Deeply Traumatized Children  Daniel Hughes This book was wonderfully helpful to me. I found its information very real and could understand the connections between an older child’s behavior and the early infant’s trauma. I read almost everything by Daniel Hughes after this book. Parenting Other People’s Children: Understanding and Repairing Reactive Attachment Disorder John L. Stoller This was another book I loved. It explained RAD very well and I think it would be a great book to give to family who may not understand what’s involved in parenting a child with RAD. While it’s not necessarily for a child to have been adopted to have RAD, that is primarily where the illness arises. The Jonathan Letters: One Family’s Use of Support as They Took in, and Fell in Love with, a Troubled Child Michael Trout and Lori Thomas This is a remarkable book. It is as it says a series of letters between a mother and a therapist about a sweet, 4-year-old boy the family chose to foster. It follows their journey of his first year with them and his RAD behaviors unfold in a most profound way. You hear her heartache and resolve to breakthrough and love him and how they work together to reach him in spite of his trauma. It was a great read for me. This is not even close to an exhaustive list. There are nine pages of books on Amazon! But these are ones that I have found helpful over the years I have been living and learning with RAD.  I will continue to develop these resources as I said, over time, and add websites and other tools which I hope will help you all deal with, and maybe avoid, some of what I experienced. Knowledge is power! Till next time! Shannon  

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    International Travel with a RAD…Just Kidding!

    French Mon Dieu, non, je ne connais pas ces enfants qui traversent le Louvre à toute vitesse. Ils sont plutôt mal élevés, non? My goodness, no, I don’t know those kids running through the Louvre at top speed. They are rather badly behaved, no? German Ich freue mich sehr über den herzlichen Empfang, aber wir brauchen nur einen Platz zum Laden von 50 Geräten, danke. I really appreciate the warm welcome, but all we need is a place to charge 50 devices, thanks. Ich bin sicher, dein Weg ist besser, aber sie werden ihn niemals so essen. I’m sure your way is better, but they’ll never eat it that way. Spanish ¿Alguna posibilidad de que este sea uno de los países donde las personas trabajen juntas para criar a todos los niños y que no tenga que lidiar con esto? Any chance this is one of the countries where people work together collectively to raise all the children so I don’t have to deal with this? ¿Qué nos trae a tu pueblo? Una serie de direcciones GPS confusas, en realidad. What brings us to your town? A series of confusing GPS directions, actually. Dutch Je dichtstbijzijnde, grootste en meest privé-toilet, alstublieft. Your nearest, largest, and most private toilet, please. Russian Pozhaluysta, ukazhite mne v blizhaysheye mesto, chtoby kupit’ gelevyye stel’ki, kleykiye povyazki i tu obuv’, na kotoruyu ya poklyalsya, chto nikogda ne nadenu. Please point me to the nearest place to buy gel insoles, adhesives bandages, and the kind of shoes I swore I would never wear. Finnish Kananugetteja. Kaikki kana-nuggets. Vain kana-nuggets. Jokainen kana nugget. Kananugetteja. Chicken nuggets. All the chicken nuggets. Only chicken nuggets. Every chicken nugget. Chicken nuggets. Italian Perché volevamo che vedessero il mondo e perché siamo pazzi. Qualsiasi altra domanda? Because we wanted them to see the world, and because we are fools. Any other questions? Portuguese Na sua opinião, este local turístico vale a pena o esforço necessário para entrar? In your opinion, is this tourist site possibly worth the effort it takes to get in? Gaelic Tha sinn duilich, agus is urrainn dhuinn airgead a thoirt dhut airson sin. We are deeply sorry, and we can give you cash for that. Big thanks to the January issue of “Real Simple” for the phrases! So what other phrases would you need to travel overseas with your RAD child? I’d love to hear them in the comments! Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

    Talking to teachers about Reactive Attachment Disorder

    https://youtu.be/xlyBfInS7ec Wouldn’t this be wonderful? For RAD kids, school can be a series of landmines. And teachers can set those mines without even realizing it and certainly without intending to. When August started in school I couldn’t get him and IEP for RAD; I had to get him one for ADHD under the “other health impaired” category. His learning issues didn’t show up on any tests. Yet his behaviors were classic RAD behaviors. It wasn’t until second grade that we found a therapist who gave us a proper diagnosis and fourth grade that we found a school who heard me and I started to find my voice for my son. Below is a letter developed by Nancy Thomas who is one of the most widely recognized therapists in the field of attachment disorder. I purposely do not advocate for any particular treatment on this site as I believe it is up to the parents and the family to decide what is going to be the best for their child and their needs. But this letter does lay out exactly what a teacher can expect from a child and how to respond and how to interact with a child and their family to hopefully get the best outcomes. https://www.attachment.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Letter-to-Teachers.pdf Going forward, we will talk about more specific issues. Please feel free to ask questions in the comments, share your stories and sign up by email if you’d like to receive these posts directly to your inbox! Till next time, Shannon  ]]>

    My First "Family Friday"!

  • Plant a garden. Start with a seed and see how it grows (incrementally) each day. No yard? A cup of soil on the windowsill works just as well. You don’t need a fancy store-bought kit!
  • Get cooking. “It works well because you have to get the ingredients, combine them, and then wait before you get your reward,” says registered nurse Rona Renner.
  • Make a wish list. It’s never too early to start a birthday list. When your child finally gets her coveted toys, the payoff will be especially sweet.
  • Do jigsaw puzzles. Bring on all 400 pieces! Resist the urge to help your child find the place for that one tricky piece.
  • Plan a surprise. It doesn’t have to be a birthday blowout. Your kids will learn the value of delayed gratification, says family physician Deborah Gilboa, even if they’re bringing Dad breakfast in bed.
  • Raise caterpillars. “Every year, I order a cup of caterpillars. First, we wait for the package to arrive, Then it takes 7 to 10 days for the caterpillars to attach to the cup and another week before the emerge as butterflies–a spectacular reward,” says parenting expert Lori Lite.
  • Now with RAD, some of these are easier than others. But hopefully one or two might be a calming activity you can do together or spark some other ideas. Getting that mind engaged and focused where you can see the beautiful mind inside is a reward worth fighting for. Please share your ideas and your success stories! I’d love to hear from you!    ]]>