Tag Archives: crisis

“Empowered to Connect”


empowered to connect

On April 7th and 8th I had the opportunity to attend an “Empowered to Connect” seminar, offered as a simulcast through a church in Beaver. It was 16 hours of education and insight into the effects of trauma on kids and how to parent kids from hard places.

I attended with hope that I would glean even a crumb of knowledge that would help me parent my adopted sons. We have been in crisis mode for the last six months and it has taken its toll on our family. I went, desperate for help, hoping for the missing key…and I got it.

It is not an exaggeration to say it was life changing.

And for the first time in a long time I felt HOPE.

It has been a dark, long, lonely winter and it was as though I had caught sight of the first frail crocus pressing up through the snow with promises of spring on its petals.

I felt the hope of “what could be” course through my veins as I drank in the answers to all the “whys” and hows” that have consumed me for so long.

I felt God calling.

I finally had the map to this foreign land I have been wandering through for the last four years. The key is in the trauma and how we address the trauma, rather than focusing on the behaviors which are the external manifestation to the trauma.

It was my Oprah Winfrey “ah ha” moment.

We had some pieces of the puzzle. Some of these things we were doing instinctually, some were tips we had read, and much of our wisdom came in the form of puzzle pieces given to us by our therapist, Miss Tina , but this experience was as though someone finally showed us the lid to the puzzle box. I finally understood what all those pieces were meant to look like when put together and it gave me an end vision of what we were working toward. It finally all made sense.

Now that we have answers we jump into this new way of parenting. It will be hard. It will require commitment. It will be a long, tiring, ever evolving road. But we now understand where that road began and where we are headed, and so we will begin again, better prepared for the journey!

I now give “an out” to all of you who follow and support us but perhaps aren’t in the trenches yourself from having to finish reading the second half of this blog in which I share a small sprinkling of this amazing therapeutic parenting strategy,

But if you are one of my fellow RADish families, or you are a friend or family member of someone who is struggling, perhaps you will find a nugget of wisdom that will help ease some of the weight you carry or someone you love is carrying.

For local friends: If you read this and feel so called to learn more there will be a rebroadcast of this incredible seminar, “Empowered to Connect”

“Pathway Church will be hosting the rebroadcast of the Empowered to Connect conference on Friday and Saturday, April 28th and 29th from 10:00am.-6:00pm. The program was developed by the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, a child development expert. Since its a rebroadcast, it will be a free event however childcare and lunch will not be provided. If you would like more information about the event, please contact Michelle Smith at milomiche410@gmail.com

(What you will get from the conference far exceeds what little information you can glean from my notes!)

Here is a smidgen of what I learned:

Understanding the science behind the effectiveness of TBRI:

The trauma our kids have experienced have had a neurological effect on how their brains function. Kids from hard places tend to have an underdeveloped “upstairs brain,” the part of the brain that allows us to think, reason, learn, remember and regulate our emotions. They also have a hypersensitive “downstairs brain,” that is responsible for survival responses. This means kids who have been traumatized react in extreme ways and take more time to regulate and calm down. They may even perceive non-threatening situations as threatening.

Trauma is a wounding. It overwhelms the ordinary adaptations to life. Trauma can create PTSD.   This is not just an emotional response to troubling events; it’s the expression of a persistent deregulation of body and brain chemistry.   Brain is assaulted by neurotransmitters — brain chemistry can be altered for decades.  With this change, arousing events can trigger flashbacks.

Trauma creates chaos in our brain.   The amygdala is a small, almond-shaped portion of the brain.  It’s the emotional part. It’s the primitive part of the brain.  It interprets messages that there’s danger or it’s safe.  It knows nothing about reasoning or cognitive functions. It deals with feelings and emotions. It controls emotional reactions such as fear & anger.

(Amygdala) It’s the alarm portion of the brain. It becomes highly active during and while remembering a traumatic incident.  It controls our behavior. When you’ve been in trauma it’s hypersensitive–overreacts to normal stimuli.

 Trauma freezes thinking.

Traumatized people have alterations in their brain. Memory is affected by lapses–there are deficits in verbal recall.

The frontal cortex ability is decreased. Less ability to do left-brain functions–it can’t distinguish a real threat from a false threat.  Intense stress or trauma is accompanied by the release of hormones.   A nerve running out of the brain to the adrenal glands triggers adrenaline and noradrenaline secretions.   Adrenaline and noradrenaline surge through the blood stream causing the heart to beat faster and prime the body for an emergency.

Then these hormones activate receptors on the vagus nerve running back to the brain. This causes the heart to continue to beat faster, but also signals various parts of the brain to supercharge that intense emotional memory.   These hormones assist the individual to mobilize in the event of emergency. They also sweep through the body, return to the brain, and trigger the release of more equally powerful hormones (cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, oxytocin, vasopressin and opioids).

This flood of hormones produces the “fight-flight” response in most people.  When a trauma hits up to 70% of your brain-bound oxygen is diverted into your muscles to propel you somewhere else.

(This will read as bad behavior in our kids…hitting, breaking, biting, bolting)

But for a few individuals, it produces a “freeze” mode. In this instance, all those hormones are rushing through the body and have no appropriate physical response.  The stress has paralyzed the victim.

(This can read as defiance in our kids)

The behaviors can’t be fixed through consequences or bribes because what we are dealing with isn’t a “I won’t” issue. It is a “I can’t” issue. The response is a deep seeded physiological response to a perceived threat.

Every behavior has a function so we must ask ourselves, “What is the need behind the behavior?” In other words, “The behavior is the smoke. The need is the fire. We must train ourselves to look past the smoke to see the fire.”

When parenting kids from hard places we must see the trauma behind the behavior if we are to respond in a healthy healing way.


“If we attack behavior without compassionate insight as to why a behavior exists, then we never generate true lasting healing for our children.” -Karyn Purvis

What does that mean in a practical sense?

Step 1: Recognize what is happening in that moment by practicing mindfulness in our parenting. We must think “trauma” not “behaviors” when we see our children losing control (ie: fight, flight, or freeze mode.)

Step 2: Once we are in the trauma mindset we must step in to help our children regulate. We do this by approaching our children calmly and connecting by getting on their level, making eye contact, through touch, behavioral matching and playful interaction.  “Connection must come before correction.”

Step 3: Ask our child two key questions:

  1. Do you need help regulating? (We need to serve as our child’s external modem until they learn to self-regulate)
  2. Then ask, “What do you need?”

Step 4:  As you engage with your child apply strategies that empower our kids to succeed.

  1. Consider their physiological state. Are we addressing their cognitive well-being by meeting their physical needs? (i.e.: sleep needs, managing hydration, managing blood sugar, regular physical activity, etc.)
  2. Apply ecological strategies. The ecological strategies help us design our schedule and environment so that we can avoid common breakdowns through the day. We do this by:
  3. Managing transitions. Transitions are hard for our kids (even good transitions) because they represent change and the unknown. Consider our children’s life experiences and what transitions they have lived through and we suddenly become more empathetic with the heightened emotional response we get when a daily or life transition takes place for our kids. We can help them manage by giving them reminders, announcing upcoming transitions, and giving five minute warnings.
  4. Develop regular rituals (routines that foster connection) to anchor parts of your day which will increase feeling of security in kids that come from hard places (i.e.: prayer times, bedtime stories, playtimes)

Step 5: Give our children the tools needed to self-regulate. Help them discover a tool box of self-regulation tools that help them regulate when they go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Some ideas include: the use of a weighted blanket, chewing gum, physical activity, or calming activities.

Step 6: Respond in an IDEAL way.

Immediately. We should be addressing behaviors within 3 seconds.

Directly. Go to them, make eye contact, use an authoritative voice, use appropriate touch and playful interaction.

Efficiently. Our level of response needs to meet the level of the behavior. “Don’t use an elephant gun to kill a fly.”

            Levels of escalation:

Level 1: (Playful Engagement) Low level of escalation, sassy tones,  interrupting.    Parent response: playful engagement, “re-dos,” actively learning.

Level 2: (Structured Engagement) Higher level but there is no physical threat. No one is in danger. Parent response: Be firmer, try to get them to express their needs verbally through negotiation rather than using behaviors to express their frustration.

Level 3: (Calming Engagement) Situation has escalated to the point where a child needs help regulating and calming themselves. Parent response: help the child regulate.

Level 4: (Protective Engagement) Active threat of danger and harm.  Parent response: Provide safety for all involved.

(If engaging in an IDEAL way the situation should never escalate to a level 4.)


Action Based. Resolution should be action based, allowing our kids to make amends through their actions.

Leveled at the Behavior. We never attack the child’s character. That only feeds into feelings of self-loathing and shame. Correction should ALWAYS be leveled at the behavior not the child. Making it clear that while their behavior is not o.k. they are still deeply loved. Children who come from a trauma background have a very powerful shame core. Our interactions with our children should never feed into that internal shame. “These children bled before they came to us. They shouldn’t bleed in our care.”

Step 7: Powerful response tools to help our children and the situation from escalating:

  1. “Are you asking me or telling me?” (level 1)
  2. “Try that again with respect.” (level 1)
  3. “Do you need a re-do?” (level 1)
  4. “No hurts. Please try that again.” (level 1)
  5. Give two choices. “Which one do you choose?” (level 2)
  6. “Do you need a compromise?” (level 2)
  7. “It looks like you are having a hard time regulating. What do you need right now?” (level 3)

Step 8:  After the interaction everyone involved should leave the experience feeling calm, connected, and content. That is successful engagement.

Step 9: Other strategies that build trust and foster attachment:

–         Say “yes.” For every “no” you give your child you should be seeking seven opportunities in the day to say, “yes.”

–         Use Time-in rather than Time-outs.

–         When things are hard bring the child closer rather than sending them away.

–         Parent with resolutions rather than consequences.

–         Have daily planned one on one time daily to connect with each child. This time (10 minutes) should begin with connection (eye contact and touch), should be child led play. During this time the parent should not teach, parent, or question. Let the child lead the play. Match their behavior, praise their character and engage in healthy touch. Daily one-on-one time fosters attachment.

–          Create purposeful learning activities to teach life skills during non-escalated times. During a meltdown is not the time to teach the importance of saying, “please.” Instead these important life skills should be taught through playful engagement. (ie: playing “Mother may I “PLEASE” take three steps?”)

So how will you know if TBRI is working? Karyn Purvis’s answer:

“You will know it is working when joy and laughter return to your home.”

“Equipped with deep understanding of attachment, sensory processing, brain chemistry of fear, the impact of my history, and strategies to connect, we can bring deep healing to our children.” – Karyn Purvis


The Squeaky Wheel


It has been said:

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”


As head “emotion and behavior mechanic” of our family, I must say there is undeniable truth in this old adage.

In past blogs I have referred to this parenting struggle as “triage”…a necessary practice used to focus the most time, energy and resources on the child in greatest crisis at the moment. It is a survival tool for any family as sacrifices are made to keep the weakest, sickest, most hurting family member in tact for the sake of the entire family unit.

It is a necessary practice but regardless of its necessity with it comes its fair share of heavy parental guilt.

We all long to be the super mom that can effortlessly meet the needs of all our children equally, with no single crisis or struggle taking priority over another, but as mere mortals we are limited in our own strength, in our own capabilities, and in our own power. This  humbling realization is usually brought to our attention when child #2 is born and previously high “supermom” standards are dropped for the sake of survival and sleep. Then #3 is born and any illusions of motherhood perfection are tossed out the window as we engage in parenting behaviors we swore we never would…that no true “supermom” ever would.

You know the ones I’m talking about:

Using the TV as a babysitter so you can take a 3 minute shower,

Giving in to your toddler’s plea that ice cream is an acceptable lunch,

Bribing your preschooler with a toy from Dollar Tree IF THEY WOULD JUST GO TO SLEEP. PLEASE JUST GO TO SLEEP!

It seemed that with the addition of each child my Momma Mojo decreased exponentially.

In my early years as a mother I struggled with frustration and feelings of failure as I compared my parenting skills as a mom of one with my parenting skills as a mom of three. I considered all that I wasn’t able to do for my kids now that there were multiples…you know: the homemade baby food, the mommy and me playgroups, the daily crafts built around the letter of the day. Now I was simply trying to get everyone fed and have them all still alive and well when Toby got home from work, raising my arms in victory when his truck pulled into the driveway:

“WooHoo, we survived another day! Everyone is alive!”

Now that I am older, and maybe a bit wiser, I recognize that the shift in focus and priorities that occurs between baby #1 and each additional child isn’t a weakening of Momma mojo but a strengthening of it. We learn that we can do longer rely on our superhuman powers but now, in our weakness, turn to a greater power. In my frailty and failures I have become more dependent on the Lord and have found a strength and sweetness in the journey of motherhood that only comes when we have reached the end of ourselves. It is often when we are at the very end of our rope that we look up an take note of who is holding us up at the other end of that rope.

This is a lesson that has become more powerful and more pronounced in my life in the last four years. The addition of two children from traumatic backgrounds though foster care adoption has completely changed my parenting game and make me completely dependent on the Lord’s guidance and power as I parent through some of the hardest, darkest struggles a parent can face. The “supermom” that parented Grace  17 years ago has nothing on the Super God that leads this broken, hurting, lost Momma today. It is His power that has sustained us and lead us through a minefield of scary and traumatic moments these last few months as we help one of our adopted treasured face down some enormous demons from his past.

In the midst of this war I have found myself trying to get a handle on the mom guilt that comes with the triage of caring for the child in crisis while the other kids simply must hang on for the ride…

and while I, as a parent, know that all the kids need some oil. It is the squeaky wheel that was the recipient of all we had to offer during these last two months.

Now that Toby is home and the patient is stable enough that I can leave his bedside, or at least take shifts with my handsome coworker, I can now check on all the other patients wandering around the hospital in their open backed gowns.

This is what parenting triage is all about. Good or Bad, this is reality…at least in our home.

This “checking in” with the others is coming in the form of some adjustments in the schedule, reprioritizing, and setting of some new goals as a family in 2017. One of the big adjustments we made this past week is to pick up on our “one on one dates.”

“One on One time” is a practice we began 10+ years ago, when the kids were little, as a means of making focused, individual time with each child a priority. As a home school family it felt as though we moved through life as a group, with all family members present for most activities. This togetherness, while a blessing to our family as a whole, didn’t allow for a lot of individual, specialized attention for the individual. This noticed need led to us setting up a weekly date that was written into our daily schedule for each child. As our family grew this specialized focused time became even more important as it gave me an hour of  uninterrupted time with each child every week to take their vitals and really know where they were at emotionally.

This special time is something the kids look forward to. It occurs every day between 5-6 pm as one child meets with me for a date. The kids get to choose what activity they want to do with me in the uninterrupted hour they have with me. The activities are as varied as my children and their interests. One might choose to bake, another might want to go for a walk, one of my boys usually will choose a Wii sports showdown against mom, while still another might choose to do a craft.

This special time each week is a chance for me to check in with each child, to make a memory, to listen to that child without sibling interruption, and let that child really have a safe and open forum to discuss what is on their heart, as well as an excuse to lay down the broom or pile of dirty clothes and just play with my children.

It is a parenting tool that has served us well.

Unfortunately it is a tool that had to be set to the side these last two months, during a tough season, so that all my time and energy could be spent on the child who was in crisis. Now that things have stabilized we have begun “One on One” time again.

Grace was up first.

And she wanted to make homemade bath bombs…a new hobby of hers.

She gathered up all of her supplies. From my mom she was gifted with hand-me-down soap making supplies, including molds, dyes, and scents that have made crafting bath bombs all the more fun.


She pulled up the recipe she always uses and we got to work.


We began by mixing the ingredients


Until the texture and consistency was right.


Then we added our scents and dyes.

There was 20+ scents to choose from and it was fun sniffing the different flavors and deciding on what combinations would smell good together.


Once the scents and dyes were mixed in to make the perfect color we were ready to pick what mold shapes we wanted.


The mixture was pressed into molds and then popped out and laid on a towel to dry.


The end results smelled so yummy and will be a fun addition to our bath time.

But the real reward was not the completed bath bombs. The real reward was a sweet hour spent with my sweet girl and the chance to listen to her talk about her concerns, her wishes, and her hopes for the future as we sniffed the sweet smells of citrus and blossoms.

It was a wonderful hour spent with my oldest.

Parenting can be hard, exhausting, discouraging… heartbreaking. When you are on the battlefield, hunkered down in a trench with one of your children who is “bleeding to death” …just trying to keep them alive… it is easy to feel overwhelmed and incapable of this parenting stuff,

But then the sun comes out,  a cease fire is called, the bullets stop flying, and you can emerge from the darkness…

check on the other troops…

and breathe a sigh of relief.

That is what parenting is all about.

The struggles are inevitable.

It is not about being a “supermom.”

Sometimes the goal is simply to not go AWOL.

Take  deep breath, Momma…

You will survive this battle.

You will win this war.