Monday, March 25, 2013

Book Review: "The Connected Child"

In line with our March social media focus this month of "Attachment Matters", we will be reviewing "The Connected Child". This book review is written by our Clinical Director and Counselor, Lisa Keane. She works out of our Birmingham office, and if you would like to read more about her, click here


If you are looking for a book to help you better understand your foster child/adopted child, this is it.  The Connected Child is the number one book I recommend when it comes to working with children from hard places.  Dr Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross do a fantastic job of helping the reader understand why children from hard places behave the way they do as well as how to practically help them regain control of their emotions. 

I first heard about this book at a conference that Dr. Purvis spoke at in Nashville, TN. I was blown away by the information she had to offer as a therapist and knew that I needed to read more. I bought the book and had it read within two weeks. 

The Connected Child is a great, practical resource for foster/adoptive parents. Topics range from dealing with defiant behaviors, disarming their fear response, teaching life values, re-dos, nurturing activities and being proactive.  One of the major tenants of Drs. Purvis and Cross’ work is the idea that you need to set your child up for success.  It is so important that we set the bar at a place that the child can succeed.  If we continually put them in places where they are likely to fail then we will only perpetuating their negative feelings about the self and the world. 

What did you find helpful about this book:

The most helpful items in the book for me, as a therapist, were the applicable and practical suggestions they make.  For example, they write often about being as proactive and preventative as possible.  The more often a child can experience the right way to do something, the more likely they are to choose the right often in the future.  Here is an example below:
“Challenging situations such a visit to the supermarket will go a lot easier with planning and preparation.  As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  By anticipating problems and rehearsing solutions with your child, you can reduce the unpleasant surprises.  This technique works for a variety of situations – from supermarket visits and bedtimes to social situations.  By explaining guidelines for your child ahead of time and practicing ‘scripts’ together for the potentially problematic scene, you can make many situations go more smoothly.”
Once a foster/adoptive parent has done this and begins to help prepare the child for challenging situations, they begin to see improvements.  I love that I can recommend this book to foster/adoptive parents and know that there are interventions they can use the very next day!

What do clients find most helpful about this book:

Interestingly, most of my clients find the second and third chapters to be the most helpful.  Drs., Cross and Purvis believe it is vital that we view children from hard places through the lens of their past.  The goal is not to feel sorry for them or to make us sad all the time, but rather to help us have a true perspective on why they behave the way they do.  It often helps foster/adoptive parents work at not taking the behavior so personally. 
In a section titled, Seeing Beyond Misbehaviors, the authors say:
“Children who act out may appear strong but are surprisingly fragile inside.  When their externalized misbehaviors are met with an assault of adult force, they come to believe that no one understands them or cares about their needs.  This simply motivates further acting out…Behavior provides clues to the history of the child – his paid, his far, his needs.  Although we address misbehavior directly and quickly, we also must address it sensitively and responsively as a clue to the deepest need of the child.” 
If a parent learns nothing else from this book other than learning how to see their child with compassion, they will still make great strides and gains in their relationship with that child. Often times, however, learning this compassion is the gateway for making great changes and motivating parents to meet their child where they are emotionally and behaviorally. 

Favorite Quotes:

  • “Deep down, these children want desperately to connect and succeed but don’t understand how.  As parents, it’s our job to show them.” – page 6
  • “Shift your mind-set so that you see misbehaviors not as a head-ache but as an opportunity to teach a child new skills.” – page 94
  • “This is an investment model of parenting; the foundation you establish while the child is young will reap rewards as he or she matures.” – page 132
  • “The analogy that comes to mind is that you and your child are being asked to team up and perform an unfamiliar dance together.  Oth partners are struggling to observe, get coordinated and learn the new steps. This is a shared process that, with practice, will soon seem effortless.” – page 234
*This column is not intended to substitute for an actual session with a licensed counselor.
If you have a question you would like to ask, EMAIL US: or leave a comment. We would love to answer one of your questions.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Attachment: What is it and Why it Matters

Q. I have an adopted child that I have had since he was six months old.  However, due to some struggles that we have been having with him, I have been doing research on attachment and why it matters so much.  I never thought that we would have attachment issues with my son since he was six months old when we adopted him.  Can you shed some light on this for our family?

A. I am sorry to hear that you are having some issues with your son. I know that can be disheartening and frightening. The good news is, there is hope and healing for your son and his attachment. Parents often believe that because they received their child at such a young age that they could not possibly struggle with attachment. However, what most parents find is with all adoption comes some level of grief and with that grief the possibility of attachment challenges.

The time your child spent in utero, their first few days, and first few months are crucial for their attachment and development. It is hard to imagine that those first few days are the building blocks for later attachment. Regardless of what your child's life looked like those first few days though, research tells us there is hope to help fill in any missing building blocks.

First, let's define what attachment is. Attachment is defined by many components but the most common definition is: an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person. This is usually the mother, father or significant caregiver. This relationship is also characterized by, "safety, comfort, soothing and pleasure. Loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress" (Perry, 1999).*

So how does this attachment take place? It takes place through sequences of events called bonding.  Bonding is having shared interactions with child and caregiver. It is through these countless numbers of interactions that the child is able to receive the safety, comfort, soothing and pleasure. My favorite description of this comes from Dr. Karyn Purvis of the Texas Christian University Child Trauma Institute.  She refers to this process as a dance**. As a child and care-giver dance with one another through the parent meeting the child's needs, then the child learns the world is predictable and safe.  When they are hungry and they cry, the parent meets that need with food and learns they are valued and worth taking care of. When the child is wet and needs to be changed, the parent changes that child and the child learns they are safe and will be made comfortable. Through hundreds and thousands of dance sequences like this, the child builds their attachment with their primary caregiver.  This sets the stage for their entire life and future relationships.

So what happens when something goes wrong? Unfortunately not every child has the best start in life. In those cases, the parents and care-givers must work to help that child rebuild. You can accomplish this through a healthy, attuned relationship with your child. Because their trauma is relationship centered, it will only be through relationships that they will experience healing.

You and your child may need additional help. If you would like more information about a specific type of therapy called Theraplay, please click here to learn more.

If you would like to read a heart-warming story of a family that has experienced healing and hope, please click here.

Be on the look out in two weeks for our book review on The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis.  In that review, we will have the opportunity to talk more about different strategies with children who struggle with attachment. 

*Perry, Bruce, 1999, Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children
** Purvis, Karyn