One of my goals for 2014 is to get organized, I've been going room to room clearing things out and preparing to get this all under control over here. When my three boys first came I tried to prepare the best I could, but you don't really know what you don't know, LOL! One of the areas that I totally could have done better in is organizing the massive amounts of paperwork, records, notes, and observations you have when dealing with foster care/adoption or children with medical/educational/mental health issues. For the boys I have a HUGE Rubbermaid filled with papers, it is completely disorganized. Today I am going to show you what I have been working on to get it all organized so I have a binder of documentation as it relates to the boys many needs and to make it easier to keep track of things going forward.
Documentation is extremely important when you are dealing with children from trauma or children with mental health issues. There are so many providers and professionals in and out of our lives that it is hard to keep track. Every time we see someone new, I swear we leave with a new diagnosis or therapy to try or recommendation. It doesn't matter if I tell them we have already tried X, Y, or Z for some reason they think I must not have tried it right or for long enough. The unfortunate thing about mental illness is that it is not easily seen by a casual observer. If my child had a cast on his leg and was taking awhile to walk down the aisle in the supermarket, no one would question that, people would try and help him or empathize with his situation. When my child is screaming profanities and hitting me in the supermarket, the response in one of judgment, there is no help or empathy. In the couple of incidences when we have had to take Matthew to the Emergency Room it has been hard to explain to the initial responders and later the hospital staff that we are here as a last resort, that we have tried all of our tools and strategies. They see a cute little boy, but they don't see the years of trauma and abuse he has suffered. They don't take you at your word when you try to explain the behaviors exhibited just mere minutes before. We are not there because we are lazy parents who don't feel like dealing with our kid who is having a "tantrum". This child that I am coming to you with has real issues, that are not his fault and not my fault. He doesn't need coddled, I don't need a lecture, we need help. By having all of your documentation in order and showing a history and pattern of behaviors you will have a much easier time getting the help you need and getting insurance coverage for some very expensive services that may be needed now or down the road. Several parents I know have also had the unfortunate experience of having to deal with their local Child Protective Services or their children have been involved in the criminal system. It is vital that you are able to protect your family from any accusations. Having all of your documentation in one place certainly helps during these times and can help keep your responses and actions fact-based rather than emotion-based!
I decided a Binder for each child would be the best way to keep everything in one place and well organized.
I've included individual links to most of my covers/forms, etc. as google docs so that you can modify them to meet your needs. If you want just one file to download the entire binder, click here.
BINDER COVER: You can get a copy of my Binder Cover here. I choose to leave the child's name off of the front, that way if I need to bring the binder with me the name is not visible to anyone. If you had more than one Binder you may want to put Initials or design a different cover to distinguish each child.
BACK OF BINDER: I have a copy of this quote from Mother Teresa on the back outside cover of my binder.
Flash Drive: Any time I receive paperwork, notes, emails, cards, etc. I scan them into my computer and put a copy on the child's flash drive. By having your information in several places (Binder, Flash Drive and Computer file) you also prevent anything coming up "missing". This is also a great way to keep copies of school work and crafts, just scan them onto the drive and you don't have to feel guilty about throwing away the weekly spelling test! If you need to get the information to someone, you can always burn everything from the flash drive onto a CD that you can give them or email the specific documents they need. I keep the Flash Drive and a few pens and post-its in a zipper pouch in the front of the binder.
BASIC INFO SHEET:This sheet goes in the front of the binder and contains any pertinent information such as, Name, Birthdate, Age, Grade, Height/Weight, Allergies, Medical Diagnosis. I also put a current picture of the child on this sheet too. If for some reason your child ever ran away or went missing this sheet could easily be given to the police. I also have my child's fingerprint card and DNA samples on the back side of the plastic sleeve this sheet is in, you can get a free kit at http://www.pollyklaas.org/index.html.
CONTACT SHEET:This sheet includes the names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers, and emails for anyone involved with the child. Behind this sheet is one of those plastic baseball card collector sheets to place business cards in from various professionals involved with the child. Always ask for a card or if they don't have one get their name and jot it down. You never know when you will need to recall someone who had an interaction with the child.
Siblings and Extended Family
Placements of siblings
Residential Treatment Facilities
In Patient Programs
Out Patient Programs
Partial Residential Treatment Facilities
CONTACT LOG: You can get a copy of my Contact Log here. Rather than tying to make all the information fit into columns, I've found it is easier for me to give myself as much space as needed to write notes or things I need to follow up on. I will also insert written communication such as emails, cards, etc. in plastic page protectors. I will still log these into the main Contact Log and then write "See Attached" in the notes section. That way I can keep track of everything in chronological order. Get a copy of the cover sheet for this section here.
IMPORTANT PAPERS: This section contains any important papers I need frequently, including copies of Adoption Decree, Birth Certificate, SS cards, Medical Cards. The other sheet I keep in here is a timeline of the child's life, including past placements and important events. This can be very helpful when you are talking to various therapists and doctors, I find that having a visual of all the dates is helpful in getting a full picture of the child. I can also add events to it as they come up or as new information is disclosed by those involved with the case. Get a copy of the cover sheet for this section here.
CALENDAR: I have a monthly planner that I picked up at the dollar store in this section. I find it is an easy way to keep track of appointments as well as jot down any behavior notes or incidents that I want to remember. It is very thin so doesn't take up much space and it is bound, so I can store it each year much easier than having a bunch of loose monthly calendar pages. I find it is helpful to develop some kind of rating system for the day (Red=Bad, Yellow= OK, Green =Good day OR a 1-5 scale), this way you can keep track of mood swings or patterns. I keep the calendar indefinitely, this way you can compare patterns yearly as well. For example, maybe you notice that every year around the date of the child's removal from birth parents things go downhill. Once you get an idea about the patterns you can better anticipate and head off issues.
MEDICAL SECTION: If you have a child with significant medical issues you may find it best to have a whole binder divided by type of Doctor/Specialist. For me, I keep a summary sheet in the front with doctor/dentist information, how often and when they are supposed to see them, when the last appointment was and when the next one will be. If the child has medical issues that require medications (not psych related) I keep a separate sheet listing current medications, dosage, directions, who prescribed them as well as a medication history sheet showing past medications and notes on any side effects or how well they worked. I have a medication log to document that I have given any medications. I then just keep all medical documents by date, if something is important and I will need to find it quickly or often I will put a post-it note on it that sticks out a little from the binder. In the back of this section I keep Incident Reports which I fill out if there are any bumps or bruises that I want to document. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
EDUCATION SECTION: I keep a sheet of important information up front, School contact info, teacher name, grade, room #, schedule including "specials" (for example 'Gym Day' so we bring sneakers), school calendar, IEP dates. Next is a copy of the current IEP and Evaluation in page protectors as well as a copy of the most current Procedural Safeguards for the state. Afterwards all important documents are hole punched and put in reverse chronological order, with the most recent up front. If a child receives early intervention I keep that paperwork in this section rather than medical section. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
PSYCHIATRIC SECTION: In this section I keep a summary sheet listing all current therapist/counselors with contact information as well as current medications. I keep a separate sheet listing current medications, dosage, directions, who prescribed them as well as a medication history sheet showing past medications and notes on any side effects or how well they worked. I keep the pamphlet that comes with the child's medication from the pharmacy and place a copy in the binder, it is a good summary of the possible side effects as well as useful for medical history when you are trying to find the right combination/dosage of medications. I use the back to write detailed notes and observations on the medication. I usually keep a few copies of their current medication sheet so I can hand it out when asked what medications the child is on ( I also include any Over the Counter medications or vitamins that are given regularly). I have a medication log to document that I have given the medications. I then just keep all medical documents by date, if something is important and I will need to find it quickly or often I will put a post-it note on it that sticks out a little from the binder. I then have a copy of any current treatment plan in a page protector with all past treatment plans or therapy information hole punched in reverse chronological order. This would include psychiatric evaluations, intake/progress/discharge records from psychiatric emergency room visits, inpatient/outpatient treatment centers, residential facilities as well.
SAFETY PLAN SECTION: In this section I keep a copy of our family's current safety plan in plastic page protector. Any past safety plans are hole punched and placed in reverse chronological order behind the current one as well as any notes as to why it needed changed. A safety plan is extremely important for a family to have BEFORE you are caught in the middle of a crisis. It is very hard to think clearly when all hell is breaking loose and you are trying to keep everyone safe. See my post on creating a family safety plan here. Click here to see my post on creating safety plans.
BEHAVIOR SECTION: This section will vary depending on what behaviors need to be addressed in each child. I keep a Monthly Calendar at the front of the binder where I can jot down things, but keep note pages where more detailed summaries can be placed here. Its often easier to make some quick notes on the calendar so I don't forget and then come back a the end of the week and put in some more detailed explanations here. If we are using a specific behavior sheet or reward program I will include those here. I have an incident report form that I use to document events that I feel are bigger or more serious than the minor daily issues. Get a copy of this sections cover sheet here.
COURT RECORDS: If your child is involved in any court actions you can keep a summary sheet of any court info you may have, court house address and contact information, judge assigned, attorney information, case number, important dates. The rest of the Court paperwork gets organized by date. I will also include a note page with a summary of what happened at a court date and include it accordingly. This section can also be used for any Police reports you may have, for example if Police had to be called to help get an unsafe child to the hospital. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
ARTICLES/DIAGNOSIS EXPLANATIONS: I keep a copy of important articles as well as summarized versions of the child's diagnosis in this section, along with a few extra copies. These are great to hand out to people who are not knowledgeable about the diagnosis or who genuinely show an interest in learning more. I also keep a copy of the side effect sheets for any medication they are on. Get the cover sheet for this section here.
I've heard a lot of talk this week about RAD kiddos and Christmas presents. Parents at the end of their ropes contemplating not giving any presents or leaving a note from Santa saying their behaviors don't warrant the presents they wanted, but here's some socks.
Do I get this? 100%, in fact I have stared at the Nintendo DS box wrapped up under the tree every morning and contemplated taking it away. My son has been particularly challenging and I have been particularly annoyed and irritated by his behavior. Does he "deserve" the Nintendo DS? Absolutely not!
I could go into a diatribe about how Christmas isn't about deserving presents and Gods love has covered us despite our sinful nature, so shouldn't we also put aside our kids "sins" and show them love this Christmas. I could, but I won't, this year I want you to stop and think about yourself on Christmas not your child.
As parents of special needs kids we've given up a lot of "normal". Our holidays are often stressful as we hyper-vigilantly plan out every minute. We don't get to sit around the adult table and converse with friends and family as our kids play nicely in the next room, we are stuck watching our child like a hawk trying to put out fires before they are started, all the while holding our breath waiting for the next crisis. If we do get a chance to talk with adults we end up listening to others critique our parenting or telling us that 'boys will be boys' or 'oh my kid does that, it's normal'. Worse yet we hear about all of the perfect kids the other adults have as our son waters the plants with pee.
We've already lost so much at the holidays, do we really want to lose presents too? The rest of the day may totally suck, the kids will be ungrateful and unappreciative. They may break the very thing you bought them and that they wanted so badly. BUT before all that there is a moment where they are excited and happy, truly happy. It may only be a second, but YOU did that. That happiness you see, the twinkle in their eye, it's not there often is it? That smile is what "normal" parents live for, and YOU have given that to them. This year on Christmas morning I want you to take that moment, however brief it is, and cherish it, because you brought joy to an often joyless child. YOU had a moment where you felt like a "good" parent, a "normal" parent enjoying their kids happiness on Christmas.
What will you get for YOU if you take away the presents? Your child will NOT learn a lesson, there is no logic or cause and effect thinking with attachment disorders. Your child will not remember this next time and say "Hmmm...last year I misbehaved and didn't get any presents, by golly this year I'm going to behave so I can have what I want." Not. going. to. happen. Likely the lack of presents or a note will only solidify what they feel inside, worthless, bad, un-loveable. They will take that feeling and run with it the rest of the day their years. You can guarantee a raging tantruming melt down will be had, ruining not only their day but certainly YOUR day, cause you will now spend your Christmas trying to contain a crisis and keep everyone safe.
Why do that to yourself on Christmas? Sure you may have a moment of satisfaction, a moment of "See what happens when you don't behave! See what happens when you treat me like crap, the one person who pours out their heart and soul to help you every single day!". But is it worth it? I for one would much rather have the fleeting moment of joy in my child's eyes then that moment of satisfaction. A moment that in reality continues to make me feel like crap, a crappy mom who cant even enjoy Christmas with her kids, a crappy mom who can't help this child, a crappy mom who will never be enough. This year I am going to be enough for me and enough for my kid. I'm going to watch him open that Nintendo DS and see the quick twinkle of his eye however brief it may be.....and Ill hold on to that twinkle and remember it when he breaks this Nintendo DS (just like he broke the last three**! LOL).
***To my oldest son's credit the third DS was dropped in the toilet by his younger brother (he also has attachment issues) who thought peeing and playing at the same time sounded like a GREAT idea ;)
ENJOY YOUR CHRISTMAS THIS YEAR MOMMAS, DO IT FOR YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE ENOUGH!
We are still trucking along with our Christmas Challenge. I did MUCH better at getting hugs in this week. Matthew still pretends to resist physical contact but it is clear he needs and enjoys getting hugs. I had a babysitter coming to the house on Friday night and no real plans on what to do, so I took Matthew out for a Mommy and Me date. We had a great time. We went to a movie and then over to Dave and Busters for dinner and games. He really is such a great kid! I am constantly amazed at how far he has come.
The other night Matthew and I were watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" on TV. As riveting as the movie is, I was scrolling through face book at the same time. I ran across a post from Matthew's birthmom that she was watching "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer." Three years ago I would have just kept scrolling. Three years ago I wouldn't have wanted to deal with the fall out from mentioning his birthmom. I figured it would be best to just ignore it, he doesn't bring her up, so why push the issue.
What I have realized over the last three years is that even though he doesn't bring it up or talk about her, there is still a connection. It doesn't matter if that connection is rooted in trauma and hurt, it is there deep within his heart. That connection can grow in his heart towards resentment and confusion, anger and guilt if left alone to fester without guidance. If the fall out isn't dealt with now while he is young and can be guided, imagine how large that dark stain on his soul will grow. Trauma like that when not dealt with is not easily contained when we are adults.
So I shared with him that his birthmom was watching the same thing right now. He was giddy and excited that evening, it grew to a manic episode over the next few days. BUT it was manageable, contained. We discussed big feelings and holidays and missing birthfamilies. We discussed that it is okay to be mad and sad and happy and curious and all the things that come with adoption and trauma, but it is not okay to hurt others, to be defiant and disrespectful, to be unkind and unfun to be around. We discussed that he has all the tools he needs to handle his emotions, to sit with them and feel them, acknowledge them, and to be okay.
Three years ago I would have kept scrolling, today I relish the chance to practice everything we have learned, to look at how far we have come, to appreciate the fact that despite everything his birthmom will always be connected to him and love him even if she wasn't able to keep him safe.
Balancing openness in adoptions with kids who have suffered early childhood trauma is difficult, but worth it.
I was reminded on facebook today about "special needs" business cards a dear friend of mine had made years ago. When I saw these cards I just had to make my own, so that is what I did. About a year ago I made these business cards to keep with me when we are out and about. They have come in handy not only when my children are having some issues, but also to spread the word about early childhood trauma, mental health, and attachment issues. You can easily make these to fit your unique family situation or answer questions and comments that you frequently here.
December 1st- I got in my hugs with Joel and James, but not with Matthew! Ill have to work harder on his hugs tomorrow :) We read "The 12 days of Christmas" and did a craft together followed by a family dinner. It may have all taken place around the coffee table BUT we did it! After I got everyone to bed Matthew and I played Speed and I didn't even cop out after a couple rounds, I played all the way through,
December 2nd- seriously it's the second day and I'm already failing miserably at this hug thing, ugh, it's just not something that comes naturally to me and I don't think about doing it! I did eat together and read the book. We did some drawing together as a family. BUT I'm most proud about the fact that despite Matthew pushing my buttons I still played the game with him. I SO wanted to just leave him in his room, but I called him down and played for awhile! Now hugs tomorrow.....I can do this!
December 3rd- I did pretty good on hugs today! Got in 5 with each of the boys! Did our book and ate together, we didn't have time for a craft since it is the mobile therapist night.
December 4th-We read our book and ate our dinner together. I played a game with Matthew, he didn't like loosing and began yelling that I was a cheater....things went downhill from there. BUT I did eventually get him to his room so we could both calm down. He came down a little later and apologized, we had a good talk so I guess it was a win!
December 5th- Got in some hugs today, played several games. Of course Matthew had yet another blow out for not winning the game which resulted in him breaking the security/video camera upstairs....he is still up there dysregulated, but not breaking anything so Im taking a minute! We had dinner together and illustrated a story we made.
December 6th- It was a busy day today and we had a rough morning, but we got everything in!
December 7th- I may or may not have just hugged my kids 20 times in a row to get in my hugs this week, LOL. I am going to do better next week, I have to do better! Everything else went pretty smoothly this week, despite Matthew really working on sabotaging the games. 2 more weeks to go :)
Having a safety plan in place is vitally important when you are dealing with a child who struggles with mental illness, whether it is a threat of suicide, manic or aggressive/threatening behavior, knowing what to do when in the midst of crisis needs to be second nature to ensure everyone's safety.
When developing the safety plan it is important to have input not only from any family members or caregivers who it may effect, but also additional third parties such as counselors, therapists, first responders, etc. It is important to know what your options are and what supports are available to you before a crisis occurs. Having input from other trained professionals can help you find other available supports you may not know about as well as determining the best course of action for your particular child. Involving others also protects you in the future and helps you to explain to first responders/hospitals/treatment centers the actions you took before contacting them and how the family has gotten to this point in the safety plan. Most importantly don't forget to include your child in this process. Keeping the discussion open may help them recognize their own warning signs for crisis and respond better. asking your child about what would help them in crisis is a great place to start.
Having a written safety plan is only helpful if everyone in the family knows their role and what to do in an emergency. It is extremely important that all family members participate in "practice" runs much like a fire drill. In our house we have a code word we use to indicate that they are to go to the play room, lock the door, and pick a TV show to watch. I use the code word every once in awhile when they least expect it and give out treats for good listeners. By making it fun and non threatening I think it reduces any stress or fear when an actual need arises.
Our safety plan includes a page (front and back) of basic/background/summary information including:
Common Behaviors including known triggers/antecedents, things that can escalate/calm the behavior, strategies that may work.
The second page includes the actual plan "If child is doing X, then you do Y." This will be very child-specific, but here is a copy of ours so you can get an idea.
So now that you have your safety plan, you can just stick it on a shelf and forget about it right? NO, the safety plan will have to constantly be amended and changed based on your families current needs and support systems. It is also important to reflect on the safety plan and any changes that need to be made following a crisis. You may want to ask What situations or triggers led to the crisis? What worked and didn't work? What can we do differently to keep everyone safe and calm?
I like to make notes right on my safety plan and then develop a revised version based on my notes for the next crisis.
If any of you have ever sat in a psychiatric emergency room for hours on end, you know how boring, stressful and unproductive you can feel. Creating a bag that can be left in the car or near the door is a great idea to prepare for a crisis. Things are happening so fast when you reach the point of transporting or having your child transported to a hospital or emergency unit. The last time we were in crisis the first responders wouldn't even give me the time to find my youngest kids shoes!!
This bag should include your crisis plan, documentation binder and some snacks, games, music or books for both yourself, the child in crisis, and any others who may be waiting for long periods of time.
You may also want to pack an emergency bag that includes a change of clothes and basic hygiene supplies in case it is determined the child in crisis will be admitted or transferred to another unit.
Here's the picture I found this morning on our coffee table:
This was MY interpretation:
In the top left corner is a boy scribbled over in black, he has an arrow next to his feet pointing to a heart and breathing fire onto the house. I interpreted this to be Matthew burning the house down and not having a heart. At the bottom of the house is a boy smiling holding a bloody knife, which I interpreted as Matthew. There are three ghosts with stabbed hearts in the house which appear to be throwing up blood, I interpreted this to be myself and Matthews two brothers.
I started freaking out......I contacted some of my other Moms who get "it" and they calmed me down. They told me to take a breath and just ask him to tell me about the picture when he gets home. Don't react, thank him for sharing his feelings with me and keep the conversation open.
So tonight after Matthew and I played a few rounds of Speed, I pulled out the picture and asked him to tell me what was happening in the story.
Here is the explanation:
There was a Halloween drawing contest at school. He drew this picture of a black crow shooting lava at a house. The good guy is going into the house to kill the evil vampire ghosts. The ghost have broken hearts because they asked a girl out and she said no. He didn't win the contest, another kid who had a picture of evil zombies won. He was pretty mad he didn't win.
I totally overreacted, MY PTSD took over, LOL.
Let this be a lesson for you, don't freak out till you get all the facts :)
As Thanksgiving comes to a close and we enter the Christmas season, I am finding my "therapeuticness" is being tested more and I'm failing miserabley! When my boys are excited their behavior goes downhill fast, when you throw in the excitement if the hilidays with all the trauma history holidays bring up it is a disaster. When my stress level is up u loose my temper quickly, my patience is minimal and I ten to blow small behavioral incidents into massive ones. Something has to change this holiday season and its gonna have to start with me!
Here's my goals for this holiday season, will you join me in one or all of them?
25 books to read this month: For the last few Christmases I have tried to wrap up 25 Christmas books and read one each night. Any time I find a Christmas Book at Goodwill I grab it and put it in my stash. I have yet to actually make it through all 25 days! Inevitably an evening starts going downhill, I get frustrated and send everyone to bed without the story. This year I am going to do it!! There is nothing they can do to loose the story, I am going to remain calm and patient and read that story as if my life depended on it :)
25 games played this month: Matthew loves card games of any kind, he usually waits till the end of the night when I am drop dead tired and then starts begging me to play. I end up denying him way to much cause I'm tired and worn out from the days activities. This month I am going to play a game every day. Ill try and play earlier in the day so I'm not too tired to do it and I will try to ask him to play instead of the other way around :)
25 crafts this month: As you probably already know from my Art Therapy Thursday posts, my kids LOVE crafts. My goal is to get at least 25 crafts done this month with them! I'm sure Ill be sharing them on Art Therapy Thursdays!
25 meals eaten together this month: I love the idea of eating together, but in all honesty what happens is I get everybody everything and by the time I sit down to eat they are all done. Nobody is getting up from the dinner table till we are ALL done.
25 hugs per week: James is anxiously attached he has a constant desire for hugs. I usually require him to ask first because of boundary issues and personal space issues he has. I am not a touchy feely person, I generally don't like hugs all that much! BUT this month I am making myself initiate hugs at least 25 times per week! This morning I came down and asked everyone for a morning hug. Afterwards, James says, "We should do this every morning Mommy, have a morning hug right when you come down!" He was so excited. How can you say No to a cute face like that!
25 minutes of family time a night: This could be reading the book, making the craft or playing the game, but it has to be ALL of us spending time without electronic distractions!
Any takers? Ill keep you updated on how it goes for me! Follow me on Facebook and let me know what you will be doing this holiday season to connect with your difficult kiddos! (Click the facebook badge on the right to follow me on FB).
We spent the morning decorating our tree, putting up the ornaments and hanging Christmas things around the house. Other than a few broken ornaments as we were hanging them, things went relatively well. After the decorating was a different story! Matthew somehow thought it would be a good idea to chase his brothers around and throw a glass ornament at them. This of course resulted in chards of glass ALL over the living room, in blankets, in the carpet, all over the coffee table and stacks of papers. James of course proceeds to run through the broken glass to tell me resulting in bleeding feet. Then Matthew began the lying, he didn't do it, nobody did it, the dog did it, Joel did it...blah, blah, blah. I have to admit this one pushed me over the edge, we had JUST gone through what a pain it is to clean up the broken ornaments when we were decorating the tree. We had JUST gone over the fact that the broken ornaments can hurt somebody. For goodness sakes you are almost nine years old, don't throw crap!!!!!!!
Deep breaths momma, deep breaths.......
Ok onto our gift giving this year. I am not going overboard this year. For the first few years the boys were home I bought tons of stuff, partly because it was fun and partly because of the guilt factor of all the crappy Christmases they had before me. However, they don't take care of their stuff, they don't appreciate anything, and it just ends up being a total waste. This year I am only buying four things each: Something they Want, Something they Need, Something to Wear, and Something to Read.
Something they Want: I told them I was only buying one fun present/toy each. Surprisingly so far they have been totally fine with it, maybe it will hit them on Christmas, but I'm sure they will get tons of fun stuff from my family. They each have put in their requests. Matthew wants a new Nintendo DS, but this would be his 5th DS in three years. I happened to have found the extended warranty I purchased on his last one, so I just shipped it off to be fixed for him...shhhh, don't tell him! I will be "giving" it to him for Christmas with the new Pokémon X game I bought at GameStop (It was used so I saved 20 bucks and the man shrink wrapped it for me so it looks new!) and the Pokémon 'skin' to put on his DS. James wanted BeyBlade stuff which I had found a bunch of on clearance last summer and Joel wanted drums, so I ordered a VTech drumset off Amazon.
Something they Need: There really isn't anything the boys "need", so I decided to get them lessons/memberships for this category. Matthew is getting a family Zoo Membership, James is getting a online subscription to ABC Mouse, and Joel is getting ice skating lessons.
Something to Wear: I hit up Gap's Black Friday sale of 50% off everything and got Matthew a new sweatshirt and James and Joel got new super hero sweaters.
Something to Read: I have been on the look out for really nice hard cover new or like new books at goodwill. You cant beat it at .50 a book!! I have found some REALLY nice classic new hardcover books for each of the boys this year. I even found a couple of series of books for Matthew that he has been wanting. I splurged and bought the new Diary of a Wimpy kid book for Matthew. He has been reading like crazy lately and that makes a momma proud!
Christmas Eve we always get new pajamas and a movie and of course there will be the stockings on Christmas morning. This year I have some dollar store items and will be getting gift cards for fast food places for the stockings.
Now I just have to stick to my guns and not buy all the good deals I see :)
Today's Art Therapy Thursday (or Friday since I'm a day late due to Thanksgiving) are these adorable I Spy jars!
About a week ago while at the grocery store I was conned into buying these cute little Apple juices by one persuasive three year old. We were about to head up to New York for a lunch get together with some other "trauma moms" from Orlando. This would be a four hour trip up and a four hour trip back for lunch, crazy right?! BUT oh so worth it ;). Anyway, we had to pick up some snacks and these made their way into my cart.
(This picture is of the plastic bottles, our grocery store only had glass....I'm keeping my eye out for these!)
I decided these little bottles couldn't go to waste and found the perfect craft to put them to use.
I had picked up several different beads at a craft store awhile back on clearance. You will need letter beads and an assortment of others. I had soccer balls, footballs, baseballs, and animals. I also had some sequins that I thought would look great.
We filled the jars up with rice. You can dye the rice using food coloring but we didn't do that this time. You will need to leave some space in the jars so they can be "shaken" around.
I had the kids each pick a color of sequins and dump them in the jar and then let them pick an assortment of beads to put in.
In Matthews jar we put the letters "RELAX" and in the younger two kiddos we put their names.
Once everything was in, we superglued the caps on, hopefully avoiding any curious hands from dumping rice everywhere. The glass jars themselves may be a little iffy for a child prone to throwing things when upset, but were gonna hope for the best! You could always use a little plastic water bottle instead if you're worried about it breaking or maybe you will be lucky enough to find the plastic version of these jars in your local store.
For now we put our jars over in the calm down corner. The boys have gone over several times to play I Spy and find their letters or other beads.
In addition to using Art to help the boys and I connect, one other great way to communicate with children is BOOKS! I love using books that are relevant to whatever a particular child is going through. I've got a great give away for all my readers of a new book written by Ricky Martin. The book is called "Santiago the Dreamer in Land Among the Stars":
"Santiago’s biggest dream is to perform on stage. But when he doesn’t get the lead role in the school play, he can’t help but doubt himself. Encouraged by his father’s inspiring words, Santiago rebuilds his confidence and finds that with passion and dedication, you can achieve amazing things beyond your wildest imagination." - Amazon
What a great message for our kiddos, despite everything they have been through they can still reach their biggest dreams. I hope you win and can enjoy it with your kids!
The M&M games were a big hit with James and Joel yesterday, as well as with the Mobile Therapist! I decided to create a few more games to have on hand, these ones use skittles. Free printables for these games can be found here, which links you to google docs.
This game board connects with our "Calm Down Corner" and relaxation exercises we have been practicing. There is another game board for emotions located in the packet as well!
The basic directions of the game: Each person will receive a fun size bag of skittles. They will pull out a skittle and move their piece to the next space of that color. They will then do the activity listed for that color and eat the skittle. Whoever gets to the finish first wins!
My kids LOVE m&m's, they may or may not be used frequently as a bribe in our household.
I found this idea on Pinterest and it's been sitting around on one of my "Boards" forever!! I've modified he original game a bit to fit my families particular needs and I think it turned out great! We will be doing the activity on Monday when James' Mobile Therapist is out, so Ill let you know how it goes.
I've made two versions of the M&M game, the first one focuses on feelings and the second focuses on feeling Angry and calming down. You will need to print out a game board, you could either print one for the whole family to share or print mini boards so each person has their own. I laminated mine so we can use them again without getting them ruined. Each person will need a fun size bag of M&M's or an assortment of 10 or so M&M's. You can go around in a circle each taking a turn, pulling out a M&M and doing what the game board says.
Here is a link to my post about our Calm Down Corner and strategies: Calm Down Corner
Here are both games to download from google docs. They are full page size, I just set my printer to print multiple pages to make them half or quarter page sized.
If you want to follow me on Pinterest for more great ideas, click the link on the right hand side of my blog!
Be sure to join us on Art Therapy Thursdays, for great arts and crafts ideas to use with special kiddos:
Have you read this article about how PTSD could lead to sizeable weight gain in women.
"The women were asked about the worst trauma they experienced and if they had symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms included re-experiencing the traumatic event, feeling threatened, avoiding social situations and feeling emotionally numb. PTSD was defined as having four or more symptoms over a month or more."
Often times the "trauma" that we as mothers of attachment challenged children is referred to as secondary PTSD, although not an official diagnosis, it refers to the mirroring of PTSD symptoms that our children exhibit. I think this is dismissive to what we as mothers have gone through. I hear from families all over about the constant threats and violence that some of them have endured, often for years. They have lived with locked doors, hidden their kitchen knives, installed video monitoring systems and developed safety plans. They have been physically and verbally abused by their own children. They have been isolated from the outside world. Our homes and experiences have moved beyond "secondary" trauma.
Ill take it a step further and say that the majority of moms I know go beyond Secondary PTSD and meet the criteria for full blown PTSD. Yes, our children may have PTSD and we very well may mirror their symptoms. However, the longer you live with a child who has experienced trauma the more direct and indirect trauma you receive from the child. I can confidently say that even though our home is relatively free from direct trauma, threats and violence at this time, the effects from the PTSD that I suffered early on are real and still something that I am working through.
I encourage you to take a look at the PTSD criteria, read over the article and discuss it with your doctor. I know I for one am totally blaming my weight gain on this..........it definitely has nothing to do with my love of cheese fries and hatred of exercise!
Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to a traumatic event that meets specific stipulations and symptoms from each of four symptom clusters: intrusion, avoidance, negative alterations in cognitions and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity. The sixth criterion concerns duration of symptoms; the seventh assesses functioning; and, the eighth criterion clarifies symptoms as not attributable to a substance or co-occurring medical condition. Two specifications are noted including delayed expression and a dissociative subtype of PTSD, the latter of which is new to DSM-5. In both specifications, the full diagnostic criteria for PTSD must be met for application to be warranted.
Criterion A: stressor
The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (one required)
Witnessing, in person.
Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g., first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.
Criterion B: intrusion symptoms
The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in the following way(s): (one required)
Recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive memories. Note: Children older than six may express this symptom in repetitive play.
Traumatic nightmares. Note: Children may have frightening dreams without content related to the trauma(s).
Dissociative reactions (e.g., flashbacks) which may occur on a continuum from brief episodes to complete loss of consciousness. Note: Children may reenact the event in play.
Intense or prolonged distress after exposure to traumatic reminders.
Marked physiologic reactivity after exposure to trauma-related stimuli.
Criterion C: avoidance
Persistent effortful avoidance of distressing trauma-related stimuli after the event: (one required)
Markedly diminished interest in (pre-traumatic) significant activities.
Feeling alienated from others (e.g., detachment or estrangement).
Constricted affect: persistent inability to experience positive emotions.
Criterion E: alterations in arousal and reactivity
Trauma-related alterations in arousal and reactivity that began or worsened after the traumatic event: (two required)
Irritable or aggressive behavior
Self-destructive or reckless behavior
Exaggerated startle response
Problems in concentration
Criterion F: duration
Persistence of symptoms (in Criteria B, C, D, and E) for more than one month.
Criterion G: functional significance
Significant symptom-related distress or functional impairment (e.g., social, occupational).
Criterion H: exclusion
Disturbance is not due to medication, substance use, or other illness.
Specify if: With dissociative symptoms.
In addition to meeting criteria for diagnosis, an individual experiences high levels of either of the following in reaction to trauma-related stimuli:
Depersonalization: experience of being an outside observer of or detached from oneself (e.g., feeling as if "this is not happening to me" or one were in a dream).
Derealization: experience of unreality, distance, or distortion (e.g., "things are not real").
Specify if: With delayed expression.
Full diagnosis is not met until at least six months after the trauma(s), although onset of symptoms may occur immediately.
There are some really great therapies out there for PTSD, if your looking for more information I would check out EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and see if it might help you or your child in your healing.
If you all are anything like me you love reading other people's adoption stories! You may remember Nia Varalos from the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, well she has recently came out with a book documenting her adoption story. Nia and her husband first met their daughter when she was almost three years old. The book tells her families story, "Some families are created in different ways but are still, in every way, a family."
The activity involves the children making their own animals out of clay. You can pick up the Sculpey brand clay at any craft store. I got mine at Walmart for about $8. This type of clay can be baked after the kids are done to make the sculptures hard. You could use regular modeling clay as long as you didn't want the sculptures to be able to stick around for awhile!
I explained to the kids that they needed to make an animal out of the clay that they would want to become. It could be a real animal or a made up animal, but it had to be 3D (able to stand up) not flat. I also told them when they were done they would get to tell us all about their animal and why they would want to be that animal.
When they were finished I gave them each the opportunity to tell me all about their animals. I asked some guiding questions like "What does your animal eat" and "Where does it live" if they needed help telling us about it. It really was amazing the insight I was able to get by observing and interpreting their choices when creating the animals.
Matthew created an Elephant. He told us he wanted to be an elephant so he would be big and strong and have sharp tusks that could defeat anybody. This has been an ongoing theme for Matthew since he came to me three years ago, the desire to be bigger and stronger than everyone, "defeating" the bad guys. Makes perfect sense given his history, clearly there is still a lot of vulnerability and feeling helpless here.
James made an octopus. When asked why he wanted to be an octopus he told us that he could swim after people in the ocean and catch them with all of his arms. This describes James to a "T". He is an attention seeker and a hugger with some serious boundary/personal space issues :) I can definitely picture him swimming around the ocean chasing people and hugging them with all those arms.
Joel made some rock thing that he called his "baby", cause....well, he's 3 and he liked to smoosh the colors together, LOL!
We had a great time together doing this activity. The boys were all engaged in their own sculpture. They had to ask me for pieces of clay so it gave us an opportunity to practice manners and sharing.
I'd love to see pictures if you try this activity at your house!! Feel free to link to your blog post in the comments!
If you are new to my blog, let me give you the quick summary of my family! I am a single mom who has adopted three boys through the foster care system. I am still a foster parent so we may or may not have some extra children in our home at any time. My three boys suffered a great deal of early childhood trauma before coming to my house due to abuse and neglect. As a result of their trauma my oldest two have experienced varying degrees of difficulty forming healthy attachments. If you want to know more about the effects of early childhood trauma and attachment resistance I encourage you to check out Beyond Trauma and Attachment, Inc. (BETA) at www.momsfindhealing.com . Parenting kiddos who have experienced trauma is unique and challenging but every step of progress they make is a huge blessing. Knowing you played a hand in their healing is beyond satisfying, it is a comfort to your soul. There are thousands of kids right here in the United States waiting for homes, it is not easy road and this whole parenting gig is not easy, but to that one child it matters. I encourage you to look into foster care and/or adoption in your area. If you have any questions I'm happy to discuss it with you!
With that background out of the way, my kids love arts and crafts of any kind! They beg to break out the glue, glitter, and scissors and I cringe at the suggestion. Do any of you know how MESSY boys are??? My sons teacher calls him Houdini due the amount of mess he can make in mere seconds. So how do I solve this dilemma, I turn this arts and craft time into a learning opportunity. We have Art Thursdays at our house. It is almost as popular as Pizza Friday! This means that Thursday afternoon/evening we have a craft.......well they think it is just a craft. In reality the "crafts" that I pick for us to do serve many purposes. First, we do the "craft" together to encourage some family bonding time. Fun, no pressure bonding time is GREAT for our work on attachment issues. Second, we focus on the kids using positive social skills, if you want to participate in the "craft" you have to use manners and be kind to one another, passing the materials, encouraging one another, and focusing on the task. Third, the "crafts" focus on therapy type things (so official sounding right 'therapy things'), feelings, self-image, social skills, trauma, etc. There is always a hidden goal to the activities. Despite my randomn unsuccessful attempt to get into Johns Hopkins University and study Art History, I know little about art or therapy! There are some GREAT activities out there that you can do with your kids, especially if you spend an insane amount of time on Pinterest like I do :). Sometimes are activities are more "therapeutic" than others, the point is just to get the discussions and thoughts started. Many times when I have thought the activity was a disaster, weeks later one of the boys will mention it in relation to something they learned. Melts your heart!
Each Thursday I will be featuring a craft or art activity that you can use in your home. I'm hoping you find them as fun and helpful as we do. Feel free to link up an activity or ask questions in the comments!
We went to the doctors office today for my boys' annual physicals. I also needed physical forms filled out for our foster care license. We get to the part where they tell them to undress and leave on their underwear. Apparently none of my kids were wearing underwear............REALLY??!!!!! Oy vey, I give up!
ETA: Shortly after this the neighbors came over to tell me one of my lovelies had thrown a stick of butter in their yard. They found their dog eating it and were afraid he would be sick. REALLY???? BUTTER?????
As I am mentally preparing to head back up the mountain with my middle son James, I spent the week making a "Calm Down Corner". There were a few reasons behind having this corner. First, I'm trying to develop a positive parenting approach with James to help with his underlying attachment issues. Spending so much time focusing on everything he is doing wrong and being upset with him is not helping either of us with bonding and increasing self image. We had been using the typical "Time-Out" with him, but it never resulted in any changed behavior. Instead his anxiety increased exponentially and it turned into a battle of wills. If I am trying to teach him to change his behavior I need to focus on his anxiety first. Then we can focus on the actual behavior. Which brings me to the calm down corner. We are working on a variety of strategies he can use when he gets upset or anxious. I have placed these in the calm down corner with the hope that he will be reminded to utilize these skills to get himself back under control. Once everyone has calmed down then we can discuss the behavior, what he can do differently next time, and then coming up with a way to repair any damage to relationships he may have done.
Here is the "Calm Down" Corner side. It is located on the landing of our stair case. This wall contains the calm down strategies and the other wall is out "Command Center".
We are working with James on identifying emotions and picking up on emotional social cues. I put this emotions poster in the corner so he can point out what he is feeling throughout the day. Above the Emotions Poster is our House Rules which are Be Kind, Be Respectful, and Be Safe. No matter what they are doing wrong I relate it to one of these rules. For example if they are jumping on the couch I say, "That is not safe". By focusing on these three words I believe we have seen a lot more understanding from my younger boys. Less Talking equals More Listening :)
Here are larger print outs of the Relaxation Books I have talked about previously. There are eight relaxation techniques that are kid friendly. James really likes the Lemon one where you pretend to squeeze lemons with your hands for ten seconds. Next to that I have a print out of a rose/candle to practice deep breathing. I have the boys pretend to smell a flower through their nose and then blow out the candle through their mouth when we are "breathing". Behind that is a printable to keep track of taking 5 breaths in the shape of a star. I cant find the link for that one, but will add it if I come across it again!
Here are a smaller version of the relaxation cards that we can grab and take with us outside or to the store.
This is our calm down box, inside we have a few books about being angry, some I Spy books and a few little other things I will show you in the next few pictures.
We have a few glitter bottles that you can shake up and watch the glitter.
Here are balloons that have been filled with Play-Dough. We drew sad and mad faces on them. They can be squeezed like stress balls. So far they are a favorite in the corner.
This was just a dollar store lacing activity.
The other wall has our command center, basically everything important goes over here!
We have a weekly verse that the boys can memorize for a prize and a Character Trait that we are working on this week. I will emphasize this trait throughout the week, giving out high 5's or stickers when I se someone demonstrating it!
Our bulletin board has the weekly menu's and calendar of appointments. I also have an individual behavior sheet that is used when someone is working on something individually. Underneath the board we have what we are praying for this week, I have six categories (Family, School, Church, Friends, Country, Other Countries). We rotate pictures and pray for different people in each category. The "Friends" Category includes not only neighborhood/school friends but I have also laminated pictures and descriptions of kids we have received from Compassion International, so we will pray for them as well. The Blue Schedule on the side was something I had picked up from the dollar store. I keep James and Joel's afternoon schedule there since that is when we have the most issues. It includes picture cards for the activities. The white board above is Matthew's board. It lists his chore for the day on the top. Then there is a checklist for morning and a checklist for afternoon things that need to be done. This has really helped, instead of me nagging him about making his lunch or putting away his coat, I just ask him if he's completed the list! Its helped eliminate some control battles as it is no loner me telling him what to do.