Adoption TODAY — June 2012
Change Language:
Healing Parents
Terry M. Levy, Ph.D. And Michael Orians, M.A.

Concepts and Skills<br /> <br /> Healing parents has a double meaning. First, it refers to the role of a therapeutic parent. Your job as a therapeutic parent is to promote emotional, mental, social and moral growth in your child. You are creating the opportunity for your child to heal wounds from the past and develop positively in the future. The second meaning refers to you, the parent or caregiver, and the importance of being mindful. As you understand more about yourself and evolve as a person, you are in a much better position to help your child. All parents need to be stable and mature to successfully raise children. Parenting children with histories of abuse, neglect and compromised attachment is particularly challenging. They will “push your buttons,” test your coping abilities, and make you question your competency. To be a healing parent you must be able to “look in the mirror;” take stock of your own life, know your emotional triggers, seek healthy relationships and plenty of support, and pursue personal growth.<br /> <br /> Core Concepts of Childhood Development<br /> <br /> • Nurturing and dependable relationships are the building blocks of healthy childhood development. Secure attachments develop when caregivers are dependable, available and sensitive to the child’s needs, enabling your child to count on you for protection Need-fulfillment and guidance. Secure attachment leads to healthy development in all important areas — emotions, relationships, self-esteem, core beliefs, self-control, brain growth and morality.<br /> <br /> • Human beings are hardwired to connect. All babies are born with the ability to attach, but this “prewired” instinct can only develop in close harmony with a loving and responsive caregiver.<br /> <br /> • Attachment changes the brain. The presence or absence of sensitive and loving care during life’s early stages not only determines emotional and social development, but also affects the way the brain develops. Children without secure attachments often have altered levels of brain chemicals such as noradrenaline, cortisol and serotonin, resulting in aggression, lack of impulse control and depression.<br /> <br /> • Child development is shaped by the interplay of nature and nurture. It is not nature versus nurture but nature through nurture. Biology, including genetic tendencies and vulnerabilities, may provide the starting point, but it is the child’s relationships with caregivers that shape the course of his or her growth and development.<br /> <br /> • Learning self-regulation is essential for child development and lifelong health. Learning self-control is deeply rooted in early attachment. Children must have supportive and attuned caregivers to develop the ability to regulate their emotions, impulses and attention.<br /> <br /> Secure and Disrupted Attachment <br /> <br /> Attachment is the deep and enduring biological, emotional and social connection caregivers and children establish early in life. The attachment relationship is the core of a child’s world and the foundation on which life is built. Attachment security is the most powerful predictor of life success.<br /> <br /> Children who are securely attached are more well-adjusted over time in the following areas: positive self-esteem; loving and respectful relationships with parents and others; able to trust, be emotionally close, and feel empathy and compassion; effective coping skills, such as anger-management, impulse control and frustration tolerance; positive and hopeful view of self, others and life; develop independence and resilience; successful in school, both behaviorally and academically; grow up to be mature, loyal and caring partners and parents.<br /> <br /> Know Your Child <br /> <br /> Understanding your child rests on three pillars: developmental history, symptoms and diagnoses, and the attachment history of parents/caregivers. Developmental history includes information about your child’s biological parents and family, experiences prenatally and in early childhood, and strengths and resources. It is necessary to know your child’s current, as well as prior, symptoms and diagnoses. Children commonly have a number of concurrent conditions, including ADHD, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, depression and bipolar depression and oppositional defiant disorder <br /> <br /> Know Yourself <br /> <br /> To be a healing parent you need the ability to look in the mirror. This is called mindful parenting because your state of mind is focused on your own thoughts and feelings, as well as those of your children. Knowing yourself is the first step in helping your child heal and grow.<br /> <br /> Corrective Attachment Parenting: Skills and Solutions<br /> <br /> To be a healing parent you need information, skills, self-awareness, support and hope. The skills and solutions described below are from our book, “Healing Parents: Helping Wounded Children Learn to Trust and Love” (Orlans & Levy, CWLA, 2006).<br /> <br /> Limits, choices and consequences. Children with compromised attachment need considerable structure. The rules, limits and consequences you furnish must be clear, consistent and realistic. Let your child know exactly what your expectations are and hold him or her accountable.<br /> <br /> How to deliver a consequence. The way you deliver the consequence — your style of communication — can determine how constructive you are.<br /> <br /> Tips for giving a consequence:<br /> <br /> • Connect with eye contact.<br /> <br /> • Be aware of nonverbal messages.<br /> <br /> • Set the stage.<br /> <br /> • Focus on the behavior, not the child.<br /> <br /> • Work as a team.<br /> <br /> • Be consistent.<br /> <br /> • Don’t lecture.<br /> <br /> • Control your anger.<br /> <br /> • Don’t threaten or give warnings.<br /> <br /> • Give positives.<br /> <br /> • Make it relevant.<br /> <br /> • It doesn’t have to be immediate.<br /> <br /> • Don’t overdo it.<br /> <br /> • Don’t give up.<br /> <br /> Practice competency-based parenting. How do you know how much structure or freedom to give your child? This should be based on your child’s competencies in four areas: knowledge, skills, self-control and judgment.<br /> <br /> Keep the bar high. Expect your child to be responsible, respectful, resourceful and reciprocal. Provide positive messages: “You can succeed.” <br /> <br /> Giving chores. Doing chores is a way for children to increase self-confidence, build responsibility and become cooperative family members <br /> <br /> Provide a secure base. You are a secure base when you are being:<br /> <br /> • Emotionally available<br /> <br /> • Sensitive<br /> <br /> • Responsive<br /> <br /> • Helpful <br /> <br /> Don’t take it personally. Your emotional reactions can get in the way of being a healing parent. Knowing yourself is the first step toward creating a healing environment. Be aware of your:<br /> <br /> • Mindset<br /> <br /> • Self-talk<br /> <br /> • Emotional reactions<br /> <br /> • Attachment history<br /> <br /> • Body signals<br /> <br /> • Coping strategies <br /> <br /> Look beyond behavior. Negative mindsets cause children to misinterpret a parent’s behavior, viewing you as controlling and punitive rather than helpful and supportive. By looking beyond behavior and understanding his or her point of view, you can help his or her develop a more trusting, positive and healthy mindset. Your goal is to help your Child anticipate something new; to expect positive responses, such as empathy, support, honesty and guidance.<br /> <br /> Know your child’s defenses. Children without a secure base develop defensive coping strategies in order to survive in a world they see as unsafe. New relationship experiences lead to new expectations and behavior.<br /> <br /> Stay calm. There are three steps to staying calm:<br /> <br /> • Stop: Don’t act impulsively. Take a deep breath. Relax your body. Calm your mind.<br /> <br /> • Tune-in: Be aware of your self-talk, emotions and body signals.<br /> <br /> • Act: Once you are calm you can think logically, you can do constructive problemsolving.<br /> <br /> Respond therapeutically. Remain calm, yet in a firm and serious way convey the message: “I will not accept your behavior, I will do all in my power to help you change, and I will not become aggressive or abusive.” Your goal is connection, not control.<br /> <br /> Down-regulate your child. Your job is to help your child calm down, switching his or her brain out of survival mode (limbic system) into reasonable thinking (cerebral cortex), and slowing the flow of stress hormones through the brain and body. Model calmness.<br /> <br /> Use one-liners. One-liners are brief phrases that focus the problem back to your child, leaving him or her without a means to continue arguing. Examples of one-liners include: “I’m sorry you feel that way,” “Thank you for sharing,” “That’s an interesting thought.” <br /> <br /> Give behavior-specific praise. Children will only accept positive comments about themselves if consistent with their self-image. Unconditional praise and approval (e.g., “You’re such a great kid”) is only constructive when a child has a positive self-image, and will backfire with wounded children.<br /> <br /> Use humor. Humor is often an effective tool to reduce tension and negative behavior. Humor can catch children off guard, divert their attention, break through resistance, and make them more receptive to a change of attitude.<br /> <br /> Play with your children. Play is not only fun, it is crucial to children’s cognitive, social and emotional development.<br /> <br /> Be proactive, not reactive. You create the emotional climate in your family when you are proactive, and your child creates the emotional climate when you are reactive.<br /> <br /> Increase a sense of belonging. The experience of being a part of a clan, with regular customs and traditions, gives children a feeling of security, a sense of identity, and teaches loyalty and altruism. Family routines and rituals increase your child’s sense of belonging.<br /> <br /> Attachment Communication Training<br /> <br /> ACT is a way to develop healthy communication skills. With practice, ACT leads to safe and constructive confiding and problemsolving. Effective communication skills are necessary in all relationships.<br /> <br /> Terry M. Levy, Ph.D., and Michael Orlans, M. A., are co-directors of the Evergreen Psychotherapy Center and the Attachment Treatment and Training Institute in Evergreen, Colorado, and co-authors of “Attachment, Trauma and Healing” (CWLA, 1998), “Handbook of Attachment Interventions” (Elsevier, 2000), and “Healing Parents” (CWLA, 2006). They have been therapists for more than 35 years, and have trained mental health professionals and therapeutic parents in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. Contact them at Evergreen Psychotherapy Center, 32065 Castle Court, Suite 325, Evergreen, Colorado, 80439;; www.; 303-674-4029.