3 Things I Learned from Dr. Karyn Purvis

 

 

As most families and agencies would say, Dr. Karyn Purvis, who lost her valiant battle with cancer on April 12, 2016, has been one of the most influential teachers for adoptive families. There are few conversations I have with adoptive families where I do not reference her words, wisdom, and expertise. “Be gentle”, “Are you asking or telling?”, and “Use your words” are so ingrained in me that they come out to just about any child (or adult) that I come across, in my adoption world or not. As a TBRI Educator, I was beyond blessed to sit and learn from Dr. Purvis at their intensive training, countless conferences, and Empowered to Connect before her passing. Each time I read her words, whether in the book The Connected Child or notes from past trainings, her lessons sink deeper, and I hope that I can turn to our clients and impart even a fraction of her wisdom as they care for their children from hard places. I took some time to reflect on all that I learned from Dr. Purvis and want to share those words with you today.

Adult Attachment Inventory

“We can only lead a child to a place of healing if we know the way ourselves.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis’s instruction on evaluating adult attachment has not only been instrumental in my own personal journey, but is crucial for adoptive families to explore. As we consider taking children into our homes that have experienced trauma, we must give space and time to our own healing journey. These children are likely to trigger our own past wounds, no matter how big or small, and as the quote says above, we must lead the way into healing.

I took a flight a few days ago where I was struck again by the instructions to place the oxygen mask on yourself first before helping a child. The idea here is that you cannot help a child if you are passed out or harmed yourself by the lack of oxygen. If oxygen is flowing to you, you can quickly come to the aid of a child, calming them down and providing the oxygen they need to survive. The same principle applies to our own healing journeys. You cannot help a child if you are preoccupied with your own needs. You cannot guide a child toward healing if you don’t know what a healthy, secure person looks like for yourself. How do you know where to lead them? How do you teach them secure relationships if you are not secure yourself?

So what are the characteristics of a securely attached adult? Dr. Purvis outlines them simply as an adult that is able to:

  • give care to another
  • receive care from another
  • be autonomous
  • negotiate their own needs

Do you struggle with any of these areas? I can give care very easily but receiving that care from another person is quite difficult. Parents must be honest with themselves about their own childhood experiences and how that impacts you as an adult. Take some time to give real consideration to the list above that describe a securely attached adult. Which of these areas do you struggle with in your romantic, family, and friend relationships? If you struggle to receive care, you won’t be able to receive the love your child wants to extend to you. If you don’t know how to negotiate your needs, you will lean toward anger or distrust in your relationships. Perhaps you don’t trust that someone will meet your needs if you say them out loud, so you stay silent and grow resentful.

I encourage you to be honest with yourself and give grace and kindness to the areas where you struggle. This will make you better in all of your relationships, especially with your adopted child. When you learn to give love in a healthier way, your child learns to receive real love. If you can learn to be autonomous your child learns to trust others and trust themselves. Seek out the perspective of a counselor, pastor, friend, or spouse to identify the reasons you struggle with any of these areas. Journal, pray, and bring it to God to start your own healing journey to mark the path for your child to follow.

Finding and Giving Voice

“Tell your children ‘you are precious, you are valuable, and nobody else is created like you’” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

I have heard people speak of going into orphanages in Eastern Europe, filled with babies and toddlers, and describe the eerie silence. Is that what you would expect to hear from a room full of 2 year olds? What was discovered is that neglected children will stop crying once they learn that their cries are not attended to. If no one will respond and connect with you when you cry out, why take the time to cry out and feel that repeated rejection? Crying is a way of expressing a need, especially for a child that is not old enough to put their needs into words. If they experience neglect or abuse as a young child, they begin to feel as if they do not have a voice. As I mentioned above, learning to negotiate your needs requires an environment where you feel safe to express your needs and trust that you and your needs will be valued by a response. This cycle starts for us when as infants. You cried when you were hungry, your mother heard your cries, and fed you. This creates a cycle of trust, value, and love. Our children from hard places often have that cycle disrupted which solidifies the message that their needs are not important and no one will respond with care for them. As they grow, they stop speaking out their needs and develop strategies to meet their own needs. This often manifests in negative behaviors such as lying, stealing, manipulation, or aggression.

“Use your words” is one of my favorite catch phrases from Dr. Purvis because it teaches children to ask for what they need instead of using tantrums, lying, or acting out to communicate. It reinforces that their words, over negative behaviors, have power to get their needs met. They don’t need to hoard food if they learn they can ask for a snack and food will be provided to them. They don’t need to steal toys from their siblings if they learn they can ask to play with them.

Dr. Purvis encourages families to learn how to say “yes” over always saying “no”. This does not mean you become a pushover that spoils your child. You can learn to say yes to your child, even while technically saying no. For example, let’s say your child wants to watch a TV show or play with a particular toy but you are in a situation where they cannot do that in that moment. Instead of saying “no, we don’t have time for that” you can instead say, “right now we are doing this activity but tonight after dinner you can watch that TV show”. This message still keeps you on track for what you are doing in that moment while also telling the child that you heard their need (or want) and will meet that need, just not in that exact moment. Think over the last few days and all the times you said “no” to your child. Sometimes you must say “no” in situations where they are trying to run into the street or touching something that could harm them. However, I bet there are at least a few things that could be easily rephrased to turn your “no” into a “yes” and reinforce connection, trust, and security between you and your child.

Sensory Integration Disorder

“Deprivation and harm suffered early in life impact all the ways that a child develops – coordinator, ability to learn, social skills, size, and even the neurochemical pathways in the brain.” – Dr. Karyn Purvis

Dr. Purvis identifies 6 risk factors for children from hard places. Abuse, neglect, and trauma are the first factors that most people identify but Dr. Purvis also emphasizes earlier exposure to risk for the child in a difficult pregnancy, difficult birth, and early hospitalization. These risk factors influence the way children think, trust, and connect with others and these will impact our children regardless of the age they are adopted. One main area that these risk factors can hinder is our ability to process sensory input. Dr. Purvis states that our senses serve four primary functions:

  • To alert the body and brain to important cues
  • To protect the body and brain from becoming overwhelmed
  • To select what is important to pay attention to
  • To organize the brain automatically

We take in the world around us through our senses – taste, smell, see, hear, and touch. We will add to this list common list the senses of proprioceptive (deep tactile pressure) and vestibular (balance, body in relation to the earth). Our senses help us take in input from our environment, organize that input, and send us a message. For example, if we smell something burning, our brain very quickly processes that smell by telling us what the smell is (burning food or burning materials) and tells our body how to respond (look for fire in the house, run away from danger, stay calm because it is just a campfire, etc). When our children have a breakdown in processing, their brain is not able to compute the input their senses are giving them as quickly or in the same way are someone with typically functioning sensory processing.

For our children from hard places, a disruption in sensory processing often results in frustration, overstimulation, or dysregulation. If your child is oversensitive in one or more of their senses, they are taking in too much information and their brain cannot organize it in a way to keep us calm and understanding. These are children that cannot wear certain fabrics in their clothing because the feeling on their body is overstimulating. They may not be able to say to you this issue is occurring but if their brain is preoccupied with the feel of their clothes, they are not able to compartmentalize that input and are unable to focus in school or at the dinner table. They may be too easily startled by loud noises and their brain is not able to calm them down as quickly or interpret any loud noise they hear as a threat. Other children may be under stimulated by sensory input and need stronger or more intense input in order to organize their world and thoughts.

Children that have experienced any of the 6 risk factors that Dr. Purvis outlines are at risk of Sensory Processing Disorder. These children will often display these struggles with sensory input in their behavior and parents should keep watch this. Perhaps your child is aggressive when others come too close, shriek when their hair is brushed, or refuse to participate in certain activities. If your child has a complete meltdown when eating certain textures of food or certain articles of clothing, this could be misbehavior, but it likely indicates an issue with sensory processing.

Here are some things you can do if you think your child may be struggling with sensory input:

  • Keep a log of your child’s odd or problematic behavior to see if there are patterns. Perhaps your child always has aggressive behavior after you come home from a crowded activity (party, church, grocery store, shopping, etc). This could indicate your child was overstimulated by the noise or bumping into others and their brain is not able to calm them down like it should once they are away from the overstimulation.
  • Give your child lots of sensory rich activities each day. This will help them meet their sensory needs and teach their brain to sense, organize, and respond to sensory input. You can search online for sensory activities you can do at home with your child.
  • Have your child evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder by an Occupational Therapist. They will do an evaluation and treatment plan to help your child learn to regulate and get sensory needs met.

These three lessons are simple concepts but take a lot of intention and practice for you as a parent. Contact us at the Post Adoption Connection Center to learn more about how to integrate these concepts into your parenting, especially if you are experiencing difficulties with your child.

Supporting BirthParents Through Adoption

 

 

Working with birthparents and seeing the emotions they go through in making the decision to place their child for adoption is not an easy task.  But it is necessary to support them through their adoption.  One way to prepare yourself to support a birth parent is by educating yourself.  There is a book for that! And this book has something for each member of the adoption triad.

 LifeGivers: Framing the Birthparent Experience in Open Adoption by James L. Gritter

It is a raw look at the decisions that birthparents make and what could and will occur in the often difficult journey of life lived without the child that she gives birth to.

If you are a Birthparent, I encourage you to read this book.  If you ever wanted to feel validated in the emotion you have felt as a birthparent, you will find it in this book! Guilt, regret, joy, pride, envy, grief, letting go, hanging on, worthiness, self-love, and so on.

In the chapter Why the Public Dislikes Birthparents:
“Pregnancy at an inopportune time in life raises complex moral questions. I believe we learn at least as much about the moral strength of these folks from the way they work through their situations as we do from the circumstances leading to their pregnancies. The adoption choice reveals a great deal about their character and basic values.”

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness: 
“How sad that the extraordinary strength underlying the adoption decision is so often mistaken for failure – but that’s the way it is with adoption.” …and goes on to say… “Those who ignore the complicated nature of adoption will never understand its astounding depth and its mysterious capacity to enrich even those who endure loss.”

In the chapter Circumstances of Necessity:
“Women who are thinking about adoption should not base their ideas on propaganda: They deserve a reasonable description of its costs and benefits.” It is so important to educate yourself before entering into adoption. Keep learning to feel what your heart needs to feel in order to live life.

In the chapter Holding On and Letting Go, had this to offer when speaking of a birthparents ambivalence and the heart – head factor:
“…she faces a conflict between mind and heart, between thought and emotion – a potent clash between different internal systems of perception and appraisal.” …and goes on to say … “We find inventive ways to deny, avoid, delay, ignore, and minimize those factors that move us down a difficult trail.”

Adoptive Parents should read this book.  It will help you understand many different factors that birthparents must go through in order to help your family grow. Respect and communication are two factors that are imperative in adoption and the author reaffirms this. This book will help you understand that your child’s birth family will be very important to them.

In the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness:
“The decision to entrust a beloved child to more promising arms requires great strength of character, for it is never easy to stand alone and counter conventional thought.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In, when speaking of envy:
“If the hurt and frustration of infertility has not healed to some degree, it will be predictably difficult for adoptive parents to honor and appreciate the importance of the life giving role.” Learning to accept the things you cannot change, and living with what you have been given will play a huge role in your relationship with your birthparents.

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“…children are not confused by the involvement of birthparents (in their lives). To the contrary, open adoption kids are especially well-positioned to figure things out.” … and goes on to say … “And when children feel the unconditional love and affection of all the crucial contributors to their life stories, they are positioned to thrive.” It is crucial for adoptive families to understand this and believe it.

Adoptees should read this book.  It will help you understand the mind of a birthparent.

From the chapter The Pursuit of Worthiness, regarding answering those difficult questions from an adoptee:
“A question from his soul deserves an answer from hers, and she prays she can somehow find ways to explain her lonely experience, all the while knowing this is an experience for which there is no adequate language.”  There is hope that understanding will be there.

In the chapter Birthparent Regret:
“An expression of wistful regret that simultaneously wishes things could have been different yet accepts the reality that they cannot be is important and constructive information for an adopted child” … and goes on to say … “It reassures the child that she has always been loved and that she is where she belongs.”

In the chapter How Birthparents Fit In:
“Adopted children deserve a firsthand account of their birthparents’ rationale for adoption.” and goes on to say … “So many people are uncomfortable with the pain of adoption that adopted children often learn to deny their feelings of sadness.” I feel very strongly that every adoptee deserves the right to know where they came from. There should be no secrecy about who you are.

I think this book is a wealth of information and could be beneficial to anyone who wants to learn more about a birthparent’s choice.  In adoption, life keeps evolving, growing and shifting with each and every year.

Sensory Processing Disorder: Why Does My Child Struggle With Sensory Issues?

 

I was greeted at the door by a mom and her two year old newly adopted son dressed in a very cute sailor outfit. However, by the time we walked about ten feet into the kitchen and sat down, the child was naked and flooding the bathroom! Although at first glance, one might assume this child had ADHD, when in fact he had a Sensory Processing Disorder. What this mom learned very quickly, is that therapy and the use of some accessible activities can really help calm the senses of children dealing with sensory integration disorder.

Sensory processing disorder (or SPD) is also known as Sensory Integration Disorder—a condition where the individual struggles to process or have appropriate responses to the demands of their environment. Basically a ‘sensory overload’ where the brain becomes overwhelmed with smells, sounds, sights, textures, temperature and other sensory input—affecting a child’s social skills and behavior.

If you have concerns about your child having these issues, speak with your pediatrician. Your child might benefit from a referral to an occupational therapist. They are trained to evaluate and develop a plan of care or interventions that can be helpful for your child.

Occupational therapists refer to a ‘sensory diet’—activities that are sensory based and help the child to calm down. It might be helpful to keep a diary of your child’s behavior as that will help the professionals identify issues of stress and possible interventions. Be aware of activities or situations that cause your child to go into sensory overload. Avoid them or have ‘escape’ plans with your child, so that your child feels more in control of the situation.

Here is a list of some of the activities or interventions used as part of the treatment for SPD.

  1. Miniature trampoline – jumping can actually help the brain settle down.
  2. Sandbox with Measuring cups and items hidden in the sand to find.
  3. Packing plastic that can be rubbed on the child, or popped.
  4. Weighted blanket – cover the anxious child in a weighted blanket
  5. Weighted vest – sew weights into the pockets
  6. Bubble gum – chewing will help to calm the senses.

Addition Resources:

Websites:

Books:

Celebrating Read Across America Day With Your Adopted Child

With the goal of motivating children to read and ultimately creating successful and life-long learners, over 50 organizations and over three million educators partner with the National Education Association to celebrate reading and provide materials and resources to help children continue to read 365 days a year! Through much research, we have learned that “children who are motivated and spend more time reading do better in school.”

The NEA’s website offers a wealth of resources to be able to celebrate throughout the month. Look for the following exciting and helpful resources: an opportunity for families to participate in a Facebook Live Event, an article noting book recommendations written by a diverse group of children’s book authors, a fun Share Your ‘Shelfie’ Challenge, reading resources for each month of the year, and much more!

Read Across America Day provides a great opportunity to introduce your adopted child to some great children’s books that they can relate to and enjoy!  Many are great tools to celebrate with your child their unique and beautiful adoption story. Perhaps you have a family member or friend preparing to adopt a little one—something like this would be a helpful and treasured gift. Below, we have provided some of the book titles that many adoptive families have enjoyed sharing with their children.

Children’s Books for Domestically Adopted Children:

A Blessing from Above: Patti Henderson

A Koala for Katie: Jonathan London

A Mother for Choco: Keiko Kasra

Did My First Mother Love Me: Kathryn Ann Miller

God Gave Us You: Lisa Tawn Bergren and Laura J. Bryant

Families are Forever: Deborah Capone

Horace (Reading Rainbow Book): Holly Keller

Is That Your Sister: Catherine and Sherry Bunin

Just in Case you Ever Wonder: Max Lucado

The Keeping Quilt: Patricia Polacco (September 1994)

Let’s Talk About It: Adoption: Fred Rogers

Little Miss Spider: David Kirk + A Christmas Wish

A Little Story About a Big Turnip: Tatiana Zunshine (ages 2-8)

Megan’s Birthday Tree: A Story about Open Adoption: Laurie Lears

My Special Someone: A Child’s Perspective of Adoption: Brittany and Sherry Kyle

The Mulberry Bird: Anne Braff Brodzinsky

Never, Never, Never Will She Stop Loving You: Jolene Durrant

Oliver: A Story About Adoption: Lois Wickstrom

Our Twitchy: Kes Gray and Mary McQuillan

Sam’s Sister: Juliet Bond

Tell Me Again About the Night I Was Born: Jamie Lee Curtis

Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies: Kristine Wise

 

Children’s Books for Internationally Adopted Children:

At Home in This World. . . A China Adoption Story: Jean MacLeod

Just Add One Chinese Sister: Patricia McMahon and Conor Clarke McCarthy

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes:  Rose A. Lewis

Moonbeams, Dumplings and Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales:  Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz and The Children’s Museum, Boston

Waiting for May:  Janet Morgan Stoeke

Families Are Forever: Deborah Capone

Horace: Holly Keller

I Love You Like Crazy Cakes: Rose Lewis

Is That Your Sister?: Catherine and Sherry Bunin

Babies Come from Airports: Erin Dealey

 

Children’s Books for Transracially Adoption Children:

The Keeping Quilt: Patricia Polacco

Little Miss Spider: David Kirk

The Little Snowgirl: Carollyn Croll

A Little Story About A Big Turnip: Tatiana Zunshine

A Mother for Choco: Keiko Kasra

Over The Moon: Karen Katz

Seeds of Love: Mary Ebejer Peteryl

Three Cheers for Catherine the Great! : Cari Best

Through Moon and Stars and Night Skies: Kristine Wise

Helping Your Adopted Child

Helping Your Adopted Child: Understanding Your Child’s Unique Identity by Paul David Tripp

Publisher’s Description: Long before you decided to adopt, long before your child was born, God planned to put your adopted child into your home. Your child is an amazing gift from God, but nurturing an adopted child also brings unique challenges.

Understanding your adopted child from God’s perspective will allow you to address those challenges by faith and with hope. Learn from counselor and adoptive father Paul David Tripp how to help adopted children understand their identity and place in God’s world.

Dr. Joel Beeke on the Doctrine of Adoption

Dr. Joel Beeke talks about the importance of the doctrine of adoption for the Christian. His new book, Heirs with Christ: The Puritans on Adoption, will be available on June 3rd.

Book recommendation: The Connected Child

The following is an informal book review by Claudia-Jacqueline Semar, M.Ed. She has granted us permission to reprint it here.

Ms. Semar is the Executive Director of International Child Foundation. She has worked in adoptions for more than 15 years, and as an adoptive mother, she has first-hand experience in the things she writes about.

ConnectedChild_BookCoverI’ve been reading a book called The Connected Child. It’s recommended often by families on the listservs. This is a bit that you may consider more relative to older children, but in fact it has deep significance for babies and toddlers, too.

Children who have been neglected or abused – and let’s redefine this as children who have had their needs ignored, their cries unanswered, their food inadequate, and children who have been repeatedly frightened by events in their environment, chaos and violence, even if it did not touch them physically – these children have established biochemical brain patterns. No amount of talk therapy rewires the brain. (As you may have discovered when trying to persuade your spouse to change his or her behaviors.) In children, this is a particular challenge, because the younger they are, the less their cognitive skills have developed. Reason is not a tool they have at their disposal. Continue reading

Gifts to Each Other: new children’s book about adoption

GiftstoEachOtherToday I’m writing to recommend to you a recent children’s book about adoption by Andrea Stephens, Gifts To Each Other. Assistant Director, Lisa Prather, says that the book is “a very good resource for talking to children about adoption.”

The book is available from the publisher and from Amazon.

Here’s what the author had to say about her book in an email to Carolina Hope:

I recently self-published a children’s book about our family’s adoption experience. It is called Gifts To Each Other and is geared for young children approx. ages 2-8, with beautiful watercolor pictures and a very tender message. The story is not so much about how the adoption took place as it is about a little child coming into a family that already had 3 children – and the changes that took place in the family as a result. It honors both the adopted child and the child’s new siblings. The concept of adoption is introduced, making it appropriate and enjoyable for both traditional and adoptive families. And adults and children alike will love the way the story and pictures come full circle to complete the message.

I believe this book would be enjoyed by the families you represent who are adopting children.

Book recommendation: Handbook of International Adoption Medicine

TheHandbookofInternationalAdoptionMedicinePublished in 2005 by the Oxford University Press, Laurie C. Miller’s Handbook of International Adoption Medicine: A Guide for Physicians, Parents, and Providers is both wide-ranging and thorough. Although I haven’t personally had the opportunity to hold it in my hands, this adoption resource comes highly recommended.

Handbook of International Adoption Medicine is written with both the adoptive parent and the medical professional in view. The book’s 36 chapters are divided into 7 sections. Here are the sections, with a sampling of the chapter topics (these are not always exact chapter titles, and some chapter topics are combined or omitted in this list):

  1. Before the adoption
    • Effects of institutionalization
    • The referral

 

  1. Prenatal exposures
    • Drug and alcohol exposure
    • Maternal smoking
    • Effects of stress

Continue reading

The Jesus Storybook Bible

I’m in the process of reviewing a book that was written specifically for adopted children and will post an interview with its author in a few weeks. We plan on recommending helpful books that address issues unique to adoptive families, but we’ll also recommend books that are helpful for any family whether it’s been touched by adoption or not. After all, a family is a family no matter how children enter it.

The Jesus Storybook Bible, authored by Sally Lloyd-Jones, is a book that I can highly recommend to every family (whether they’ve adopted or not). Everytime a Jesus-centered book is published, I’m pleased; but when one is published specifically for children, I’m especially pleased. I want all of my children to be reading books that help them understand the gospel more deeply, books that point them to Jesus. So, when I heard about Sally’s new book, I was thrilled. We’ve had our copy for several months now. My children are thoroughly enjoying it (and so am I). It is very well written and does a fantastic job capturing Scripture’s big picture. Sally has served Christian families very well with this book. If you are looking for another resource that will help your children better understand the significance of Jesus’ person and work, this is a book you’ll want to pick up.

Sally graciously agreed to be interviewed about the book. My hope is that this interview will help make more people, particularly parents, aware of this excellent storybook Bible.

1. Let me begin by asking the question that I’m fairly sure is on most everyone’s mind. Given that you are British and a Christian, it’s a question I know you’ve answered more times than you can probably count. Are you related to the Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones?

I love being asked this because I am a huge fan of Dr Lloyd-Jones, and it usually means I’ve found someone else who is, too. But even though I am from the same passionate celtic corner of the world (Wales), no, I’m not related to him. It’s all a bit of a let down, I’m afraid, and it’s all I can do not to apologize (which I’ve written more about and had some fun with in my blog)

2. When I first heard about The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every story whispers his name, I was thrilled that there was now a children’s Bible story book that put Jesus at the center. What I especially appreciate about it is that you do this with 21 stories from the Old Testament. Why did you set out to write a children’s book like this? Why did you feel the need to write a Bible story book that presents Jesus as each story’s hero?

When I first saw that everything in the Old Testament, is pointing to a child—the one who is coming—it blew me away. Suddenly, here was a way to read the Bible without it leaving you condemned (I’ll never keep all the rules all the time) or in despair (how can I ever be as brave as Daniel? or David?).

I found it so moving when I started to discover how the Old Testament is basically one long record of failure—the failure of God’s people time and time again to live rightly, to rescue themselves—and that the stories in the Old Testament are all getting us ready for the One who is coming. They are all signposts to the True Hero, the True King, the True Prince, the True Servant, the greater David, the greater Daniel. The Rescuer.

As a child, I thought the Bible was packed with rules you had to keep (or God wouldn’t love you) and heroes setting examples you had to follow (or God wouldn’t love you). I thought, in short, that the Bible was all about me and what I should (or shouldn’t) be doing. Until I read a Story.

It’s the Story running like a golden stream underneath all the other stories in the Bible: the story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. Suddenly, I realized the Bible wasn’t about me and what I should be doing at all. It was about God and what he had done. And it changed everything. Continue reading