Filling up the “Love Banks”

Do you have a child who has sensory issues or who for other reasons does not always respond positively to hugs or other normal signs of parental affection? This is very common in foster and adoptive families as well. At the “Refresh” conference in Chicago this weekend, I shared one idea that has worked well for us — we call it “Filling up the Love Banks.” It allows the child to communicate the kind of touch (and the duration) he or she needs to the parent in a way that respects boundaries and makes the child feel safe and loved.

When I sense that Sarah (or Chris) is in need of a hug, I ask her, “Do you need your love banks filled?” This will generally produce an immediate, positive response. She strips off her socks and shoes and sits on the couch with me, her feet close to my lap. Gently I stroke or put gentle pressure on the instep, musing aloud, “Hmm… let’s check your hug bank first. Is your hug bank full?” If she wants a hug, she says, “No, I think it’s empty.” Then she cuddles up to me and we hug for ten seconds or so. Then I touch the same spot on the foot again. “Is the hug bank full yet? No? Let’s try again.” We hug again, a little longer this time. Then back to the foot rub… until she says the bank is full.

Next, it’s the “kiss bank,” on the other side of the foot. We give butterfly kisses and raspberries, “Mommy kisses” (on the forehead) and fairy kisses (blowing the bangs from the forehead). Buffalo kisses, in which I swish a lock of my hair across her cheek, seem to be a favorite, with “baby buffalo,” “mommy buffalo” and “daddy buffalo” (bigger bunches of hair) each taking a turn. Each time, we check the foot to see if the “Kiss Bank” is full.

The ball of the foot is where the “tickle bank” resides. We like “rub tickles” at our house, gentle pressure on the arms and calves. If your child has a history of abuse, you may want to skip this one at first if you think it will create a trigger. Or you might let your child tickle YOU. Always check every couple of seconds to see if the “tickle bank” is full.

Finally, the “face trace bank.” The child closes her eyes as with one finger the parent traces the eyebrows, eye lashes, nose, lips, and ears. Finish by swooping the whole face in an oval, just beneath the hairline to under the chin.

Feel free to improvise as you discover the kind of affection, respectful touch your child responds to the best. At first you might start with a simple foot massage or scalp massage. Put on some relaxing music. Choose a time of day when you are most wanting the child to relax and “wind down.” This can be a great way for parent and child to bond in a loving, appropriate way that teaches the child to establish and practice healthy boundaries while still getting the love he or she needs to feel happy and


“Mom, You’re Famous!” Honoring Milestones

The other day fifteen-year-old Chris came home from school and said to me, “MOM! You’re FAMOUS!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANot having the slightest idea what he was talking about, but not wanting to show my hand, I hedged: “Really? Where?”

“On the Internet! I typed in your name and got ALL THESE PICTURES! Some of them are me, too!” (To my relief, he wasn’t unhappy about this.) “I showed the kids at school and they all thought it was cool!”

And, just like any mother, I smiled. Not at the thought of being famous, but at the thought that my son thought (at least for the moment) that I was . . . cool.

His comments prompted me to go back and look at some of those images, and to be honest, my favorites were not of me. I’ve never been particularly photogenic . . . but looking back and seeing all these photographs of the kids at the various stages of their lives made me realize just how blessed I have been.

If that wasn’t enough, one of my old professors at Bethany (where I got my degree in missions as well as my start in book publishing) reached out to me to tell me he’d seen my blog and was so pleased to see all the things I’d done with my life.

Your career and your interests and your schooling and your authoring of books–how many people have done what you’ve done? Impressive. But I’m sure you’ve discovered, as I have discovered, that all the accomplishments and really wonderful things God has done as you’ve been out and about really pale compared to your family and especially the kids. All of that is great, but without the love and joys and challenges of the family, the other stuff doesn’t mean much.

He was right, of course. That’s not to say that it’s been easy, or that there haven’t been other things I’ve enjoyed doing as well (including my day job). But even during the rough patches, my family has been the centerpiece of my crazy, frenetic life. And today, as Ave Maria Press (the company I work for) celebrates 150 years I decided to take a moment to honor the “big picture” of my life.

It all goes in the blink of a moment. But there’s so much treasure there. Including my two beautiful teenagers, who think I’m “famous.”

The Things We Do for Love: “Chopped”!

"Chopped" All StarsWhen you’ve been married for more than a decade, it’s easy to fall into a bit of a routine: He nods off around 9 o’clock while I “channel surf” until I land on a decent movie or one of my cooking shows. My current favorite is “Chopped.”

Each week four professional cooks vie for $10,000 prize money by creating culinary magic from a basket full of unlikely ingredients, creating first an appetizer (from grape jelly beans, conch, purple potatoes and kale), main dish (tofu, rabbit tenderloin, raddicchio, and Sambucca), and dessert (pumpernicle, lichi fruit, quail eggs, and corn nuts). Thirty minutes, starting NOW.

In each round, one chef gets “chopped.” A messy plate, unseasoned vegetable, or (gasp) forgotten ingredient — a regular occurrance at our house, I might add — is enough to send the ‘choppee’ on the walk of shame to those glass doors leading out of the studio.

“What is it ABOUT that show?” My husband usually stirs awake about 10:50, just as the last contestant’s crestfallen visage gets the requisite closeup as he (or, more often, she) recognizes the rejected dish. A fair question, that. Heaven knows I’m a utilitarian cook most days. But there is something about it that resonates with me. I can just see it: Getting trussed in a gown, forced to turn an armful of strange and not a little intimidating raw materials into something approaching a civilized dining experience, on pain of facing a chorus of alternately disapproving and appreciative “experts” whose opinion can make or break your future.

Yeah. A LOT like parenting . . . foster and special needs parenting especially. Alternately exhausting and exhilarating, satisfying and alarming. Sometimes you have to make do with a Cuisinart when what you really need is the sausage grinder, or the broiler when what you really need is the brulee torch. But somehow, inexplicably, joyfully, wondrously . . . it all comes together in the end.

And in the end, you get something a lot better than ten thousand dollars: You get to be “Mom” to a kid that some das you can’t but love so fiercely, it takes your  breath away. And on those other days . . . well, on THOSE days you hold on and just pray that bond between you holds tight. ’cause love never says “chopped.”

OK, all you secret chefs out there: If you could created a “Chopped basket” to challenge your favorite cook, what would go in YOUR basket?

Photo Credit:  “Chopped” airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m.

“We the Unwilling…” Thought for the Day

Every time I visit my parents, I return with a piece of their lives. It’s a little disquieting. Pictures. Other collectibles and memorabelia. The family silver service.

Throughout the house, Mom has tags on things — a chest of drawers for my sister, my father’s childhood portrait, taken when he was the age Sarah is now (that one’s for me).

It’s a lbit sad, really. Obviously, I’d much rather have them around for the next several decades than to take hold of their most precious possessions, one shrimp fork at a time. And yet, if pressed, I’d have to admit there is something …. two things, actually … that I’d really like to have. They’re in Dad’s workshop, so I doubt they’ve been tagged yet.

Dad has two little signs posted above his workbench, reminders of his days in the Air Force and National Guard. They read:

“We the unwilling, led by the ungrateful, have done so much, for so long, with so little, that we can now do the impossible with nothing.”

And right next to it:

“Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick any two.”

Can you relate to this?

Not-So-Miraculous Monday: Feeling Overwhelmed?

The kids and I spent the day in our jammies … me never more than a couple of steps from the bathroom. Yes, that kind of day. Craig put off going to work until after lunch — but then it was just them and me and a snowy afternoon just yawning out ahead of us.

Since Chris wasn’t feeling much better than I was, he was happy to snuggle next to me and watch a movie. Sarah, however, was not a happy camper. Alternatel poking the dog and changing outfits and standing between Chris and the televison to get him to emit squeals not commonly heard in nature.

There are times, my friends, when you just hunker down and deal. And so, today I’m sharing this tidbit of wisdom that I encountered when I came up for air on Saturday afternoon. When motherhood gets to be a bit of a load, managing your own expectations can be 9/10s of the game.

Are you still listening? (Sorry for the silence….)

Okay, it’s been nearly two weeks now since I’ve posted something. By all the blogging rules in the universe, no one will ever read this, since EVERYONE knows you have to post fresh content at least several times a week, or your readers will go in search of something fresher/better/more current.

But hopefully my “regulars” won’t give up quite that easily.

The first two weeks of Advent have been busier than usual, due to the fact that (a) Boosters has taken over 80% of my life and (b) various health issues (doctor’s appointments or actual sickness) have taken over the lion’s share of the other 20%. Well, maybe 10%. Whine. Whine. Whine.

Today was especially fun. Took Chris and Sarah to the doctor’s for their H1N1 booster (second dose), and found that Chris would have to get the injection because they’d run out of mist. Sarah heard the word “shot” and asked me point blank if she was getting one, too.

Not even the promise of McDonalds could stop the emotional tsunami that followed… After squirreling herself behind a storage cabinet as her brother bravely took his turn, Sarah nearly kicked a hole in the Venetian blind as we pulled her from her hiding place. It took three of us (two nurses and one red-faced mom) to restrain her legs long enough for the poke. From the screams (before, during, and after the actual poke) you’d have thought we were skinning her alive.

Later, when she was feeling more philosophical, Sarah asked me why the shot didn’t seem to hurt Chris as much as it had hurt her. I tried to explain to her that her muscles were all tense from her screaming and kicking, so it made the shot hurt more. “Next time, you might try taking deep breaths or singing a song, and not pay attention to the shot. I bet it won’t hurt as much.” (My nurse friend later suggested that we do Sarah first to avoid a similar scenario…)

Driving home, I thought about that. How often do we brace ourselves, worrying about some painful event until it turns our lives inside out? Just last week, I nearly made myself sick waiting for a particular confrontation that I had been warned was coming my way. When the moment finally came … nothing happened. No fireworks. No accusations. Nothing.

Most parents, I think, can relate to this sense of foreboding, the proverbial sword of Damocles hanging overhead. So much of the stuff that worries us, never comes to pass. No wonder the Lord urges us to brush worry from our lives (from Matthew 6:25-33):

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

“If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, 19 and all these things will be given you besides.”

“No-Cry Sleep Solutions” by Elizabeth Pantley

no cry sleepThe “No Cry” series for parents offers lots of practical tips for parents who are struggling to parent their child through some developmental phase.  I especially appreciate her “The No-Cry Sleep Solution” for my little insomniacs! (Although the cover has an image of a baby, the tips work well for older children, too!)

On her website, Elizabeth Pantley writes:

Nighttime Fears

It’s normal for a child to imagine monsters or other things that generate a fear of the dark. Even if you explain, and even if you assure him that he’s safe, he may still be scared. You may reduce his fears when you:

♦      Teach your child the difference between real and fantasy through discussion and book-reading.

♦      Find ways to help your child confront and overcome his fears. If dark shadows are creating suspicious shapes, give your child a flashlight to keep at his bedside.

♦       Leave soothing lullabies playing, or white noise sounds running to fill the quiet.

♦        Give your child one, two, or a zoo of stuffed animals to sleep with.

♦        Put a small pet, like a lizard, turtle, or fish, in your child’s room for company.

♦        Take a stargazing walk, build a campfire, or have a candlelight dinner to make the dark more friendly.

♦         Ask your child what will make him feel better.

Preventing Sleep Disrupters

Some things have been found to reduce the number or severity of sleep-disturbing episodes. Since they are all based on good sleep practices, they are worth a try:

♦             Follow a calm and peaceful routine the hour before bedtime.

♦             Maintain a consistent bed time seven days a week.

♦             Avoid books and movies that disturb or frighten your child.

♦             Have your child take a daily nap.

♦             Provide your child with a light snack an hour or two before bedtime, and avoid a heavy meal, spicy food, sugar or caffeine during that time.

♦             Remember to have your child use the potty just before she gets in to bed.

EMN Blogroll …

The other day I noticed that all the wonderful little links that had once filled the right margin had disappeared. So much for “network.”

I’ve now added a dedicated PAGE that you can click on to find what you need. If you’re having trouble, here’s the link.

Also, as long as I’m telling you where to go and what to do, I have a post at “Mommy Monsters” you may find helpful if you have a child that struggles with insomnia. We had Christopher at a specialist yesterday, and she suggested we check his iron levels — apparently ADHD is sometimes treated when in fact the kid is just sleep deprived.

So … “Sleep-Deprived, or ADHD?”

Monday Miracles: RIP, Mean Mommy!

monster-momLast night my son didn’t want a book story. He wanted a “Mommy story.” It had been a rough day — lots of snarking about the unreasonable and arbitrary limitations mothers put on their poor, defenseless children. (I’m paraphrasing here.) Listening to him, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’m destined to join the ranks of adoptive parents who are (sometimes publicly) denounced for not living up to the “perfect parent” image. I hope not.

But just to be safe, I thought I’d put the whole “Mean Mommy” to rest by giving my wonderful son … another perspective.

Once upon a time, there was a MEAN, MEAN MOMMY!!!  (Uttered in best growly voice. Pause for giggles.)

This MEAN MOMMY had two beautiful children, Christopher and Sarah. (Maddy’s ears perk up at this.)

Every day MEAN MOMMY would make them do their homework, pick up their clothes, and tell them they couldn’t watch TV or play DS anytime they want. They even had to eat their VEGETABLES instead of PEEPS.  (“But I like vegetables,” Christopher observed.)

And every day poor, poor little Christopher and Sarah would have to go to bed WAAAAAAAAAAAY early so they would be fresh-faced for school the next day. While MEAN MOMMY sat in the living room, watching TV and eating all the Peeps! GRRRRRRR!

Poor Christopher would lay in bed at night, wishing very hard that MEAN MOMMY would go away, and he could have a better mommy. (Guilty looks.) One who would let him watch TV before homework, who didn’t make him read, and did all the work around the house all by herself. One who never yelled, or made him sit on the stairs, or made him walk the dog. (Christopher’s eyes brightened up at this. “YEAH!”)

But then one day . . . something sad happened. MEAN MOMMY fell down, and hurt her back. She was in the hospital for three days. (Christopher gets sober at this, remembering the time I was in the hospital.) And no one remembered the snack in the car. No one knew how to make bird-in-the-nest. No one knew how to fill his love banks the right way. No one remembered the Jell-O with oranges or strawberry syrup at the grocery store.

And when she finally came home, MEAN MOMMY seemed like the very best mommy in the whole world. She is definitely the happiest mommy in the whole world . . . because she has the very best kids. *MWAH!*

Ghosts and Superheros: How Children Cope with Loss and Grief

shadowRecently Christopher has been preoccupied with ghosts (thanks in part to his older brother, who in typically older brother style regaled his little brother with horrific stories of things that creep and bump in the night). We’ve talked to him about the guardian angels, who protect him through the night. But the imagination is a powerful thing, and several times Christopher has wound up in our room (on the floor in a sleeping bag).

His preoccupation with ghosts and superheros borders on the obsessive, I think … and yet, I hear that this is not uncommon with children who have experienced trauma. It’s part of the way they process what has happened. For Christopher, the superheros (such as his Pokemon DS) provide a distraction and escape from Big Feelings that just won’t quit.

I recently came across this article that describes the “Basic Ph Model” for how children cope with ongoing trauma and stress. This would have real applications for children who have experienced a real — and not just anticipated — loss. Many foster and adopted children would fall in this category, as well as children who has lost a parent through death or estrangement through divorce.

The article describes the six “copying styles” most frequently used by children, which include:

*  Beliefs (drawing comfort from their family’s religious and cultural values, especially through meaningful ceremonies)

*  Affects (venting feelings and emotions, often by talking with a trusted adult)

*  Social (seeking support and comfort from friends and extended social network)

*  Imagination (processing feelings through creative outlets such as drawing, play therapy, creative writing, etc.)

*  Cognitive (processing through problem solving and planning safety contingencies)

*  Physiological (physical activity as a way of providing a welcome distraction, giving the child a “break”)

Author Frank Zenere observes about this last strategy: “Directed physical activity has a dual benefit, allowing necessary buffer time and permitting informal processing of traumatic experiences to occur in a non-threatening format. Opportunities for formal and informal physical activities should be abundant.”

One of the hardest things any parent can do is help a child navigate the uncertain currents of loss and trauma. However, knowing what to look for — and how to adjust our approach to accommodate the needs of a particular child — can make all the difference.