Let me start by saying that a few months ago I knew only very little about therapeutic work myself, may it be with children or adults. We attended a 10 weeks long training course that focused on Attachment, Child Development, Trauma, Loss, Behaviour and similar heavy, but much needed topics. We learnt about the PACE model (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. click on word for more info), which we are now implementing with various results.
The most important aspect of this new way of parenting for us as a family of four is around empathy. A concept that everybody believes to have in abundance and practice it well when a disaster happens like a loved one dying or an unexpected natural disaster. What I am quickly learning is that it is a different kind of empathy that we need to practice when it comes to our very damaged children.
The 24/7 ability to let myself be attuned to their feelings and emotions in order to understand the deeper and underlying issues that manifest in them stealing food, lying, ‘being naughty’, aggression, lack of attention or willingness to learn in school and many more. Most of the time when I am able to reach this stage of attunement with either of my boys (regardless of the length of time) I can see the REAL problem and often times my immediate anger is replaced by compassion and yes, empathy. The kind of empathy that does NOT try to fix the problem for them, does NOT try to be patronising, does NOT try to tell them ‘It’s gonna be OK’, does NOT make predictions about the future, does NOT judge or threaten, does NOT offer solutions of any kind and does NOT start any sentence with ‘why don’t you just…’.
Instead, I sit down with my son on the floor, holding his hand, looking into his beautiful and incredibly sad eyes and let him know that I am just as gutted for him that he feels that way. I try to offer him comfort when he is the most vulnerable, utterly confused and very very scared. I try to show him without words that I am committed to this relationship, that I love and care about him a great deal and no matter how much he acts out or hurt us, he will never receive what he expects (fears) to receive from us!
And guess what! It’s the same for adults, too!
Yes, I am aware our adoption is still in very early stages; yes, I know (or hope) with time it will get better; yes, I am sure you could recommend a book I have not heard of; yes, I know you have the best intentions in mind; yes, I am sure your friend’s friend’s friend had similar problem (though I doubt very much it would work for us simply because different people are involved); yes, I appreciate you are just unsure of what to say or how to help and no, you don’t need to say ANY of these to us.
I try to be as polite as possible when I say: These DO NOT HELP!
Just like in the video what we, exhausted, discouraged, bruised and concerned parents need is you to climb down into the pit with us and empathise with our situation silently. With distance it can be tricky I know, but then perhaps letting us know you love us, pray for us/send positive thoughts is really the only thing you can do if you want to help. It may look insignificant to you, but more is not always better. Just like we can’t fix ‘IT’ for our children (whatever ‘it’ refers to) you can’t fix it for us either!
Connection – on the other hand… Now THAT could be a solution! Imagine the possibilities…