When a Stranger Calls You Mom

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When a Stranger Calls You Mom

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    “Most foster/adopted parents of traumatized children have three burning questions: “Are my children behaving badly/oddly deliberately or can they just not help it?” “Why are they behaving so badly/oddly?” and “How do I parent a child who is acting badly/oddly?”

    “We became obsessed with finding a cure for them, and our lives revolved around thinking and strategizing over and over again about how to help our children. Unfortunately, no matter what we did (changing ourselves and changing the environment), they did not change. Over time their behaviors and our sense of helplessness escalated, throwing my husband and me into identity crises both as parents and as professionals.”

    “The research on social/emotional development has shown that the structure of the parent-child relationship functions to produce a variety of attachment dynamics, enhances or deters children’s sense of autonomy, self-esteem, and self-concept, and increases or inhibits children’s social competence.”

    “Children, who are abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents, learn to mistrust their parents and, therefore, the world. These children differentiate (separate from caregivers) too early, and then defend against closeness. Because they believe they are not lovable, they defend against any relationship that evokes dependency or love with provocative or distancing behaviors. They fear intimacy as much as non-traumatized children fear separation.”

    Attachment vs Bonding
    “Attachment is manifested in emotions and behaviors. For example, stressful situations and separation from and reunion with the “other” activate attachment behavior (e.g., level of distress, level of anger, seeking or repelling closeness, consolability, interest in resuming activity). Bonding, on the other hand, occurs during events in which these emotions and behaviors are activated.”

    Big Message
    “This may be the most important point of this book: The formation of a healthy attachment to others during the first three years of life takes place during a sensitive time in development. Therefore, it can be acquired later on in life, although it is quite effortful. The real problem with not acquiring healthy attachments during the sensitive period is that certain other capacities that are supposed to develop during this time, via a healthy attachment, may be lost forever; future potential is severely threatened when the first three years of development are forsaken.”

    Out of Sync
    “Children with underdeveloped object-relations-capacities almost never demonstrate untethered, stress-free interest in the world or interactions with others. Their proportional and figure/background perceptions are often faulty (Rygaard, 2002). That is, they often have trouble focusing on or attending to salient aspects of situations and are easily distracted by unimportant peripheral noise, visuals, etc (sometimes resulting in a diagnosis of ADHD). For example, they don’t feel danger when they should, but feel it when they shouldn’t. They may express little excitement over big events, but a walk through the grocery store causes huge emotional outbursts. They may minimize the hurting of others, yet feel severely persecuted if scolded for hurting others.”

    Shame & Guilt
    “Shame and guilt are important cornerstones to a civilized society as they demonstrate concern for ourselves and for other human beings. The right amount of shame motivates people to take action, and the right amount of guilt stops people from taking action. However, too much or too little shame and guilt dictates mental instability. Excessive shame inhibits one from loving others and is characteristic of homicidal or sadistic tendencies, while excessive guilt inhibits one from loving himself and is characteristic of suicidal or masochistic tendencies.”

    Negative vs. Positive Behaviors
    “As suggested earlier, many traumatized children fail to manifest pro-family behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, while manifesting a plethora of negative behaviors, attitudes and beliefs. In addition, decreasing their negative behaviors does not always result in an increase in these positive behaviors. Again this is due to the fact that negative and positive behaviors may be quite independent from one another. Using the survey tool I developed parents and practitioners can identify the positive behaviors (if any) children do give to the parent-child relationship. A low number of positive behaviors suggests that these children are not actually in parent-child relationships even though they live in family environments, and the surrogate parents are expecting a parent-child relationship.”

    Book Reviews

    When a Stranger Calls You Mom

    Elaine M. Gibson The Challenge of Difficult Children  web site wrote…

    “I found the book to be fascinating and well-constructed. It is an invaluable resource and a must read for foster parents and parents adopting children. A guide to the world of traumatized children for people who want to love and care for them. Anyone considering adopting a traumatized child needs to read this book first, then chose to adopt with eyes wide open. Knowing what can and can not be done is critical in caring for a child while maintaining one’s sanity.”

    “Timely, well written, organized: About time someone said the hard things that need to be said. A loving, caring family can’t always make everything okay for traumatized kids. Foster parents and adoptive parents need to know it isn’t their failure. Parenting such children takes patience, understanding, skill, and acceptance beyond normal parenting.”

    Fostering Perspectives, Sponsored by the NC Division of Social Services and the NC Family and Children’s Resource Program

    Book Review by Becky Burmester

    When a Stranger Calls You Mom is the catchy title of a new book by Katharine Leslie. The authors impressive list of credentials include a doctorate in developmental psychology from North Carolina State University and years of experience as a foster and adoptive parent. This kind of in the trenches experience gets the attention of foster and adoptive parents. We know that it is one thing to talk the talk and another to walk the walk.Many times we receive advice from childless experts or experts parenting only birth children, and we know that the children we are parenting present us with unique challenges and needs.When a Stranger Calls You Mom contains some fascinating information about brain development in young children and what happens as a result of abuse and neglect. However, the real clue to Dr. Leslie’s presentation of the information lies in the books subtitle, A Child Development and Relationship Perspective on Why Traumatized Children Think, Feel,                          and Act the Way They Do.

    Becky Burmester is a foster parent and a member of the North Carolina Foster Parents Association and its former president

    Click to visit Fostering Perspectives

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