Friday, April 20, 2018

breathing slowly

dys·reg·u·la·tion
ˌdisreɡ(y)əˈlāSHən/
noun
  1. abnormality or impairment in the regulation of a metabolic, physiological, or psychological process.
    "family dysfunction may contribute to emotional dysregulation"

    When we are dysregulated, one of the first things that typically happens is our breathing changes. The body literally changes by increasing our heart rate, tensing our muscles, and starting shallow, rapid breathing.

    This article describes it perfectly. The central nervous system adapts so that we can either fight off a dangerous threat or run away from it.

    The problem is - we sometimes have these responses to things that are perceived threats.
    When you tell your child they can't have a bag of chips 15 minutes before supper, sometimes they get angry. Their body responds like they are in physical danger. Even though you are cooking dinner right in front of them, the child can't "see" it. Instead...they start to get dysregulated.
    Or say your 10yo is walking past your 8yo and brushes against the younger one's shoulder. The sensation startles the younger one and they jump up to get even. Now both kids are tense. Their pupils are dilated and their breathing is short and quick.
    The fight or flight response is a vital self-defense mechanism. But kids that have experienced trauma, and often those that care for them, have an overly sensitive response.

    When you're in a funk (dysregulated) you have to learn how to respond the right way. The first thing I recommend is to calm your voice. Stop yelling (or don't start). Then you need to sit down. Then you need to breathe slowly.
    I use the term "square breathing" to create a visual for how I literally want to breathe to calm myself (or a child) down when they are dysregulated. I'm all about the visuals. In fact, if I'm trying to help a child breathe this way, I will grab any sort of a square that I can find to trace around the edge as we breathe together.

    It's simple. You draw in your breath for a count of four...then you hold it for a count of four...then release the breath for a count of four...then hold for a count of four. You can trace around the visual of a square when you do this.

    The long, slow deep breaths send a direct message to your brain that you are NOT in danger. In order to get out of a funk,  you have to remind yourself that you are safe because your body is responding, physically, like you are in a real honest-to-God dangerous situation.

    If you can do this slow, calculated breathing for several cycles, you will calm the fight or flight response. I'm not saying that you or the child won't still be dysregulated. But the long breaths will help your muscles un-tense and help you be able to stay centered in reality (for lack of a better way of describing things). 

    On this page in the book My Genius Sister and I put together, we also list a couple other things to help calm your breathing.
    - short meditation
    - long meditation
    - using a mirror to watch your face

    My Genius Sister likes to use guided meditations to help her relax. I, too, find them helpful, sometimes. (I especially like body scans that can put me to sleep at night.) I downloaded the Calm app and I use some of the free meditations on that. (The Calm app also has a visual for controlled breathing. Instead of a square, it's a circle. You can chose the speed and whether or not you hold  your breath between the inhale and the exhale or hold your breath only once.) I also utilize an app called Insight Timer. There are lots of different guided meditations available on YouTube and through different downloadable apps. These suggestions were put on this page in the book specifically for my sister and for Sparkler as this technique works for them.

    The mirror thing is something that can often help kids. They like to look at themselves. It's hard to stay angry when you're looking at your own face. It's not a strategy I'd use every time a kid is dysregulated. But the idea of getting a mirror out while they're breathing slowly isn't a bad idea. You can then transition into a quick, silly game of making faces in the mirror. Or, they can just watch their face and see if they can get all the muscles to relax. Anything to get the dysregulated person out of the intensity of the initial fight/flight response.

    If you'd like a copy of the simple book we put together, you can download one for free. All I ask is that you give credit if you're sharing it on social media. Feel free to print and use any of the pages that work for you and your kids.

Monday, April 16, 2018

an update on Ricky...

While cooking dinner, I washed my hands and grabbed a towel to answer a knock at the door. Ricky was there. He stopped by to catch us up on his life.

Ricky is joining the Coast Guard.

He's leaving for San Antonio on Wednesday to handle some paperwork and whatnot. Says he's going to be there for three days. My hubby is ex-military. We're not exactly sure what stage of the process he's taking care of in SA this week. But Ricky seems to have it all under control.

He says he'll be back and hanging out in our part of Texas for a couple months. Then, around July I guess, he'll head out to New Jersey for basic training. Ultimately, Ricky hopes to be trained to do underwater welding.

Ricky isn't living in his own apartment anymore. Said that endeavor lasted about six months. I can tell that he's bounced around through more than one job. (It takes awhile to do this kind of growing up.) Ricky is so positive though. He seems confident in his decision to join the Coast Guard.

Ricky is living with Rebecca right now. She's been his support for so many years. I'm glad to know she's still a good landing spot for him!! And I was thrilled he thinks enough of us to keep us in the loop as he grows up and moves out of Texas for awhile.

Ricky stayed for supper. We made small talk for awhile. He took some brownies, that I had made yesterday, to go. I gave him a hug and told him we're here for him whenever he needs us. He smiled, said goodbye to everyone, and took off to go do his thing.

I'm awfully proud of that kid.

-----

Along those same lines, we're working hard with Herman this week to help him make some major life changes. If all the paperwork goes through, Herman is going to move up to Iowa to live with My Genius Mother and finish up his automotive mechanic schooling there.

The opportunities in this part of Texas are so few. Herman needs better employment. Herman needs a more organized school. And since we believe both of those opportunities exist in Iowa...along with a much wider support base of family...it's time for him to move.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Do the opposite of what you want to do

When you've got a kid that is losing their garbage – have you ever thought about doing the exact opposite of what you want to do when you respond?

Your kid is yelling...9 times out of 10, I'm betting you want to yell back at them.
Whisper instead.
If your kid is running all over the house...I'm betting you want to stand with your hands on your hips and your shoulders back in an authoritative position.
Sit down instead.


The book my sister and I put together, to help her and Sparkler, lists the first two things to do when you're in a funk:
1. I need to calm my voice.
2. I need to sit down.

This advice is for both care givers and children.

As much as I identify with being a yeller...because Lord knows I'm a yeller...I'm almost always more successful at diffusing a situation when I use a calm and quieter voice. So, before I redirect my children, I try as hard as I can to calm my voice down. Take your pitch down a little if you need to. Not too high...not too low. Dr. Karyn Purvis describes slowing the cadence of your voice as you redirect. Being intentional with how you talk makes a difference.

Eventually...therapeutic parenting says that the children in our care will learn to mirror our behavior. I can promise you this doesn't happen 100% of the time. But I will say that it works more often than it doesn't in my house.

Our kids, when they're yelling, are trying to communicate. If we're trying to stay connected with our kids, we need to listen to them. The first step, when there's conflict, is to pay attention to your voice. This applies to care givers and kids.

The next step is probably the most important in my house.

Sit down!

My kids don't respond well to the big, authoritative stance of me with my hands on my hips or my finger pointing out at them and my shoulders back and my voice lowered. While that might work for wild animals in the forest who think I'm bigger than them and cower to my greatness, my kids look at me and go, "Yeah?!?!....bring it. Game on. You wanna fight?! I'll fight ya!"

And then they fight.

When I very purposefully sit down and put myself in a submissive position, they realize that I'm not really trying to threaten them. Sometimes I sit on a chair. I've even been known to sit all the way down on the floor while they stand up. No matter what, I give them my full attention and I do everything in my power to not challenge or try to threaten them. If I'm really on my game, I'll sit and put my hands in my lap with my palms up. My rules don't change. I don't start allowing the negative behavior just because I sit down. If my child is doing something dangerous, I still do what it takes to keep the area safe before I sit.

It's a way of shifting my attitude though. If my kid starts to lose their garbage my initial response can set the tone or even help diffuse things before they get out of hand.
Say Bart is yelling at TT and TT is yelling back. My first response would be to yell over the top of them to shut up. 
If I'm on my game though, I'll go to them first. That means I don't holler at them from my desk or the kitchen. I go to them.  
When I get close to where the argument is escalating, I give them my full attention by making eye contact. I don't keep my phone in my hand. I don't watch the TV or anything else. I slow my speaking down and I use a quieter voice to tell them they need to lower their own voices. 
As I assess the situation, I do what is natural. If I can sit down without it being super awkward, that's exactly what I do. If it would be weird for me to sit right then and there, I watch my own posture and positioning of my hands. I don't get too close to the kids. I don't tower over them.
Kids that have suffered trauma can respond to threatening adults rather explosively. They have survived things that kids shouldn't have had to survive. They will do what it takes to protect themselves. When we sit down as we correct them, it makes our correction less of a threat. It's all about felt safety.

Kids need to learn how to sit down when they're in a funk, too. If you model the behavior and teach them to do it when they're upset, it becomes more natural. They can't really start to calm their own bodies if they're pacing around.
JUST NOW...Bart came to me and asked if he could have a sleepover this Friday night. I was sitting at my computer typing this blog post. My attention wasn't really on him. I stopped what I was doing, turned to him, and told him that it was unlikely that I would allow a sleepover this Friday. I mentioned that I have a full day of B.A.C.A. events on Saturday and I don't want to stay up late dealing with a house of testosterone the night before.
Bart started to get upset. He raised his voice. He started pacing around the room.
I rolled my desk chair out away from my desk. I put my hands in my lap. I stayed calm with my voice. I looked at him. I then tried to discuss the situation with him again. 
He paced for a bit but his voice started to match mine. He started to get a little bit more upset and I pointed to a chair. He sat down. We actually discussed the situation. We even came to a bit of a compromise. I'm still leaning toward "no" for an answer. But if he can get me some information, I might change my mind.

If you want a copy of the small booklet you can download one here: My Funky Flow Chart. It's completely free. It's a small tool for anyone to use to help get you or someone else out of a funk.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

What's a funk?



When My Genius Sister and I complied The Funky Flow Chart, she knew the title of the book would be important. So often, when our kids are getting dysregulated, they will use a tremendous amount of energy trying to convince us that they are "just fine". We didn't want to call the book something as obvious as The Calm Down Book. No kid would be interested in that!

I decided that a "funk" would be a good term. A funk can be anything just a little off from baseline. It doesn't have to be angry or crabby. A funk is just a state of being that isn't the healthiest to remain in.

When my cherubs were little, I used the term "wonky". In fact, we named it. When kids were getting out of sorts, I'd ask if Mr. Wonky had come for a visit. As we de-escalated, I'd ask what they needed to do to make Mr. Wonky go away. Calling the dysregulation something different can help a kid accept the situation a little bit. Nobody wants to be told they're in a bad mood or that they're angry. But if you ask a child if they're in a funk, you might peak their interest in having a conversation.

Another word My Genius Sister uses with Sparkler is "smad". Sparkler will be engaged with someone or something and she will get triggered and get sad by the trigger. Her initial response is to almost always transfer that sadness into anger. And we all know that angry little children rarely behave the way society wants them to. By naming this reaction "smad" in their house, they've been able to work through some behaviors simply because a silly word stops Sparkler and allows her to transition into being able to communicate about the sad trigger.

Click here to download a copy of The Funky Flow Chart. It's free. Print it and/or share it as you wish. It might help you or your cherubs get out of a funk. I just ask that you give credit where credit is due if you share it.

Monday, March 26, 2018

A Funky Flow Chart



In an effort to keep my sister's parenting toolbox varied and deep, we worked together to make a book to help her and Sparkler (the little girl she and her husband have guardianship of). Sparkler has been through a LOT in her 9 short years. She has suffered unspeakable trauma.

Even though there are a lot of things online like this, I decided to share the one we made.

Let me know what you think and if you think any changes should be made. Feel free to share. I don't look to make money on this. I'd just like no one to take credit for it, please.

Click here to download a PDF: My Funky Flow Chart

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Taking a break

We take a break between each and every placement. We always have. I've seen some parents say, in support groups online, that they'll say goodbye to one placement in the morning and they'll welcome a new one in the afternoon.

I could never do that.

I think it's important to take a break in-between placements for multiple reasons.

1. It gives our family a chance to regroup and reconnect as a core unit of five.

Every time we add children it changes the dynamics of our family. There's more work. There's more chaos. There's the drama that IS foster care. Often bedrooms get shuffled, the living room gets rearranged, and the whole house changes to meet the needs of our new guests. It's a physical and emotional change of epic proportions.

When cherubs leave, I try to put things back. We put away the toys, clothes, and whatnot from the last placement. I clean a little. We do things that we couldn't (easily) do with the foster kids. When Whiz and Rex left, the first weekend possible we took off for Six Flags. No babies meant long car rides weren't a problem. There were no naps to worry about. We could stay out as late as we wanted.

This is important for me and for the "forevers". They invest a lot as foster brothers. They need a chance to feel what it's like as just our core unit for awhile. We're not always going to do foster care. The boys need to continue to make connections, separate from the kids that come and go, with each other.

2. It keeps me grounded.

I know that I sometimes get caught up in the title of "foster mom". I surround myself with not only my drama...but I am friends (online) with other foster moms and I absorb their drama. I am in support groups that I will get too entangled in. The title of foster mom takes on more than it should.

By taking a break, I am forced to let go of that title and any entitlement that I might have tried to think comes with being a foster mom.

As a foster parent I am caring for OTHER PEOPLES' children. It is insanely important that I remember that at all times! These are not my children. I am not entitled to them. I have a role to fill as a temporary care-giver.

I'm not even "in this" to adopt for the most part. And with my last placement, I most certainly did not want to adopt in any way shape or form.

But I still get too caught up in the title. So by taking a break I let go of that title for a little bit. When people ask how many children I have, I only answer three. Sure, I can talk about foster care. But I try to not make it be the first thing that pops off my lips. I try to reestablish who I am as me, Cherub Mamma. Not who I am as a foster mom.

3. It keeps things in perspective.

When I step away from foster care for a month or two, or even longer, it also helps me let go of the stress that I absorb from The System. Foster care is seriously jacked up. My blood pressure can rise when I think about traveling with foster kiddos and getting permission from the State. I dislike some caseworkers. Thinking about them makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. I can get so worked up thinking about the kids that really need foster care...and how they are sent home (or to relatives) where they are not safe....and the kids that do not need Care that languish in The System for no good reason.

When we take a break, I do a better job of letting go of all the negativity. I let go. I reestablish who I am separate from foster care. When I think about taking a new placement I think about my role as a temporary care giver and how I can make a difference. I almost get a little pollyanna about it all. And that's OK. By taking a break to recharge, I'm better able to stay focused with the real goals of foster care...not anything that is actually my own agenda.

-----

Whiz and Rez left 1.5 months ago. I don't know how long this break is going to last. Our licensing agency still hasn't redone our home study. I don't know when that is going to happen. I've tried talking to the lady from the home office, in Houston, a couple different times. Her schedule and ours did not coincide in the month of December. She has to meet with every single member of our family separate and she has to observe us all together for at least 20 minutes. (With two teenagers, one young adult, and two working adults -- we are rarely all together anymore. And we almost never know ahead of time when we're all going to be together due to erratic work schedules and extra-curricular activities.) Our new licensing agency blatantly plagiarized our home study from our first licensing agency. They have to correct that. And until they do, we won't be allowed to take any placements.

I've stayed busy cleaning the house. I've organized and purged. I want to have a garage sale.

TT has been working hard with his case worker from the mental health clinic. She is nothing short of amazing and he has made tremendous progress. I knew we wouldn't add to our family as long as TT was (basically) in a state of crisis. Things are far from perfect. But I'd say he's much more stable now.

Herman and Bart have leveled off a bit, too.
(I've got three very VERY very intense kids.)

We have reconnected well as a family though. This break was very necessary. As awesome as Whiz and Rex were, they also put a huge stress on top of things that were already pretty stressful. Their developmental delay and the crying and tantrums and difficulties that came with that did a number on all of us. I honestly do not miss them even one little bit.

I'm ready to take new placements. I can tell because I've gone on to the Texas Adoption Resource Exchange website to look at kids that need adoptive homes. There's an 8yo little boy with his 9yo big sister that would be a great addition to our craziness.

But right now I'm not doing anything about that. Not having a current home study sort of stops me in my tracks. (Whew!) Hopefully my agency will contact me soon about updating things. Then we may, or may not, jump back into foster care. We may, or may not, inquire on kids needing a permanent home.

I honestly don't know what's going to happen next. I'm taking all this one day at a time. I'm 100% OK with that!! I need this break. It's been good for all of us.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

foster care did something right - court recap

I left for the courthouse at about 10:15am with the babies. I don't live that far away. I had plenty of time to load them into the stroller, go through security, and walk over to outdoor waiting area next to the CPS courtroom.

As always, there were many families outside in the covered waiting area. Some parents seemed upset. Others were speaking with lawyers. There is zero amount of privacy. It makes me uncomfortable every single time I have to go there. I hear things that should be said in the confines of a lawyer's office - not out in the open for all to hear. I seriously hate everything there is about court.

After waiting for some time, our CPS worker came over to talk to me. She admitted that she was very, very nervous. (Never a good thing in my book when one of the most important decision makers is sick to their stomach about doing their job.) The worker also volunteered that the babies' mom had a warrant out for her arrest. She seemed to think that maybe Mom and Dad wouldn't come to court. When I asked what the warrant was for, the CPS worker admitted that she didn't understand what she had been told about it and she didn't know.

I gave the CPS worker a copy of the medical history request I wrote awhile back. She said she would go over it with her supervisor. She even mentioned something about bringing it up in court.

A couple minutes later Mom and Dad arrived on the scene. They immediately came over to the babies to say hi. I left the babies in the stroller. There's NO way I could let them out and get them back in without a fight. And if I wanted to be in the courtroom, the babies would have to be in their stroller. It was weird. But it was all that could be done. Waiting outside a courtroom for a serious legal hearing isn't exactly time to have a healthy visit with two babies.

A sheriff and his partner came over just a couple minutes later and began the process of arresting Mom. I had to turn the stroller around so the babies couldn't watch. Mom just started crying, but I didn't know if maybe the reaction might get stronger and not be appropriate for the little ones to watch.

I think it's wrong that Mom was arrested prior to her CPS hearing. As one of my online friends put it, it's unacceptable and prejudicial! Even though it's not safe for these babies to return home right now, having Mom in cuffs for a different charge hardly keeps things fair for her when she was there to address the CPS issues. I looked things up online - the arrest yesterday was completely unrelated to her current CPS case. They could have waited and arrested her following the CPS hearing if it was absolutely necessary. As it was, they put her in cuffs and took her into the courtroom. I didn't see her again. Dad came over to the boys several different times before the case was called. It was very awkward. He was so upset.

I stayed in the outdoor waiting area because Whiz and Rex kept taking turns crying. I assumed - silly me - that their lawyer would come visit with me prior to court. Legally, she is supposed to meet with her clients before each hearing.

The lawyer never came.

Then I realized that Dad was gone as well. The case had been called and we were left outside. I was frustrated. But I knew that I wouldn't have heard anything if I had been IN the courtroom anyway - what with the babies fussing and all. They would have excused us.

I couldn't leave. We waited outside. I paced around and pushed the stroller in circles. I knew I had to stay until it was done and CPS officially dismissed me.

It didn't take too long. CPS came out and said that the boys would be moving to California. The worker admitted to not knowing much, but figured it'd take about two weeks or so to get everything in order. That's really about all I heard. I don't think she mentioned anything about the medical history information I wanted.

The boys are still going to be in foster care. The aunt and uncle aren't getting PMC (permanent managing conservatorship) right away. I don't know if the State is even going to ask for termination. Adoption might never happen. But, that won't involve me. The boys are going to California and the next hearing is set for sometime in January.

The babies' lawyer came over to see the boys. She smiled at them and pet their hair. I gave her a copy of the medical request letter. She basically blew me off. She mumbled something about Mom never agreeing to be tested during her previous cases.

There was some back and forth conversation between me, CPS, Dad, and the babies' lawyer. A visit has tentatively been set up with Dad for this Sunday. I have no idea if it will really happen or not. I think Dad is homeless. Mom is in jail. Dad might be unemployed. He has no phone. His life is crumbling under him. And he just lost his kids. He was pretty upset.

As I was leaving the courthouse, I spoke briefly with Mom's lawyer. As much as I dislike this lawyer (she represented Daisy and, IMO, is responsible for sending Daisy back home the first time and ultimately has a role in the death of Dandelion)...this lawyer was upset and she showed her human side. She was frustrated that Mom isn't doing anything to be able to keep Whiz and Rex. This lawyer has represented Mom multiple times (in all her other CPS cases). She said she's been nice to Mom. She said she's been angry with Mom. And still...Mom keeps abusing alcohol and continues to stay in the abusive relationship with Whiz and Rex's dad.

Foster care is ugly stuff y'all. People don't do their jobs. Parents get screwed over regularly. Kids get screwed over even more often.

But this time - as messy as it all was - the State did something right. ICPC went through reasonably fast. They aren't waiting until TPR to move the boys. Maybe that's because they arrested Mom prior to court yesterday and that was the final straw for Mom and Dad. I don't know. But Mom and Dad agreed to let the boys go to California. Whiz and Rex cannot safely live with their parents! They just can't. And as tragic as it is to watch a family come apart at the seams - I'm glad these boys have family to go to!!

Auntie Carla is super excited about the babies coming. We've spoken on the phone and we've been texting a lot. I'm going to do all I can to prepare her for the arrival of the boys. She's ready. It's so awesome to get to be a part of THIS. Sadly, I have to watch the boys' parents fall apart. But I do get to watch the boys be welcomed into safe and healthy family that loves them and can't wait to have them.

I don't know if the State is going to fly me to California to help with the transition or not. I told CPS a long time ago that all they need to do is buy me a plane ticket and I'll fly with the worker to help transport the boys. If CPS has half a brain...they'll do it. I can't fathom how Whiz will act in an airport and on a plane if he has to be transported by strangers and then dropped off at a stranger's house. The trauma would be so bad!!

I'll know more as soon as CPS figures out how they're going to do all this. I have no idea how long it will really take. A vindictive worker moved Dude and Dolly from my house to Dallas with six hours notice. A decent worker took a month to move Pumpkin from my house to El Paso. I suppose the two weeks that CPS seems to think this will take is probably about right.

I'm looking forward to a home with a lot less crying in it. We've talked things over and we're going to keep our license open. We'll take a break for a month or so and then open back up for a new adventure probably after the first of the year.