Finding Hope

Parenting Challenging Children


10 Jul 2015

Holding Environment With A Good Enough Mother  0

I like this image because it makes me think of this quote that I heard, “Baby can risk being all over the place as long as they are held together by someone with their feet on the ground” or “Baby doesn’t mind unintegration if mom is minding”. The fragmented pieces in the backdrop of this picture causes me to think of the chaotic environment that some children grow up in and the protective factor of a consistent and predictable caregiver. “All over the place” and “unintegration” can be thought about as external behaviors, but here I am thinking more about internal states of the child.

A holding environment includes the actual physical holding of a child and also, their environment and psychological states. When the holding environment is successful, a child develops a secure sense of them self. Holding can be thought of as a “sensation based emotional state of being gently, sturdily wrapped in the arms of the mother. In health, that physical/psychological core of holding remains constant throughout one’s life” (Ogden, 2004). What begins as a absolute dependence on the caregiver, moves to relative dependence and finally a tending toward independence. As this development occurs at the child’s own rate, and the caregiver provides a loosening or withdraw in the child’s dependence, it must never become a “drop” or abandonment.

I like to think of “holding” as a complete sensory based experience. Pause for a moment, and consider taking care of an infant and all the ways the senses are involved…a successfully “held” baby learns to use those sensory experiences to regulate their emotions, develop the capacity for attachment, recognize themselves as separate from their caregiver (which is essential in developing boundaries), they learn to trust and can internalize the world as good. (I can’t help but think about the increase in the diagnosis of sensory disorders and how maternal (caregiver) deprivation may contribute to this).

The term “good enough mother” was coined by Winnicott to describe that the caregiver doesn’t have to be perfect. A short article explaining this concept can be found here. From this article, it’s important that a child learns to cope with failures that are, again, not a drop or abandonment. Very early in life we begin learning about failures and repair. A later post I’ll talk about the gifts of imperfection.

This may cause you to reflect on your own early childhood experience, or how your own parenting style incorporates this idea of “holding”. Did you experience drops? Was there repair? Are you parenting with your feet on the ground? With the ability to hold together your child states of mind? Are you minding? Are you mindful?

Next: What happens when the holding environment fails?


09 Jul 2015

A Way  1

I have been away, but that isn’t the topic of my post. Years of experience raising a child with a traumatic start and three years of graduate school have taught me that there are many ways to make sense of a child’s behaviors and a parent’s response. I offer you here, a way of understanding.

I don’t feel like I conceptualize things much differently than I did before. I just think I have more words to hopefully offer better explanations.

I think about early life experiences. I think about how a child internalizes their experience and how, with their limited capacity, tries to makes sense of the anxiety, confusion and fear that trauma creates. I think about how it impacts their development, especially in relationships, especially in forming a sense of self. I consider what defenses are used to protect themselves, and to tolerate the internal disorganization in an attempt to hold themselves together. And finally, I consider what is needed to organize their internal states, insure safety and move them beyond their frozen states. Mostly what is needed is an adult that can provide all of those things; often to a child that presents as rejecting. It isn’t easy.

I’ve wondered how to share all of these ideas that are floating around in my mind, and I think the best way is in concepts. I really believe, especially as parents, as we become more informed about early development, we can instinctively know what our children need in a way that a therapist or doctor can only guess.

Daily you will find pieces here that hopefully will begin to feel whole. I believe whatever kind of parenting you are doing, a parallel process is going on where in a effort to offer healing, we are also healed.

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” ~Chodron

I hope in this effort to understand your children, which is truly an effort of compassion, you are better able to understand yourself.




13 Sep 2014

What Is That Feeling?  3

An important component in helping children regulate their emotions is to be able to feel, recognize and name their feelings. The first thing I suggest is a feelings chart:

Check in often, multiple times a day, with your child and help them understand that a feeling like anger can also be disappointment, frustration, jealousy and even hurt. Ask them what it feels like and where they feel it in their bodies. The more aware they are of feelings and sensations, the more alert they can be to use skills to help them maintain control or ask for help.

Anger can become an overwhelming feeling for children that struggle with anxiety because it’s based in fear. The following is one example of how to help children gauge the intensity of their feelings and associated behaviors. You can write on the lines what externalizing behaviors the child has and what is happening inside of their bodies. This helps the child and the parent to be able to intervene before an explosion occurs.


And finally, a book that provides a great lead in to discussing different levels of intensity and how to cope with anger. Another idea is to work with the child to come up with a coping skill they can use at each stage of the volcano scale.

When Sophie Gets Angry - Really, Really Angry | [Molly Bang]

09 Aug 2014

Past Due Post  0

It’s been six months since I’ve blogged last. There are so many reasons why I have procrastinated but I’m letting all those excuses go now. V has been home almost a year. We have transitioned her back into “real” life very slowly. She was home-schooled this past year, attends church youth activities, went to Girls camp for five days with the church, walks the dog, rides her bike around the neighborhood, spent a week at her Grandparent’s house. Those are just a few of the things that I can think of that she has never done. There is more trust although there is still a lot of work ahead. She is very regulated. No more rages or out of control behavior. If anything, she has gone the opposite direction and holds it all in. However,  even in those cases, she is more willing to talk through her feelings.

She is more cooperative and willing. And yet, feeling connected in the relationship still struggles. I think we are both to blame for that. I’ve spent much of the past few months beating myself up about my resistance and then I realized, if I am willing to patient with her progress, I need to be patient with mine. There were many years of destructive behaviors on both sides of the relationship…it will take time to heal.

She will begin public school in fall in a self contained special ed classroom that works to slowly transition the kids into regular ed classrooms. She will be in 7th grade. I don’t know why this time around I am getting so much support from every school administrator I have spoken with. They have been so willing to understand me and set V up for success. I don’t know if seeing she has done 2 years in residential treatment suddenly gives me credibility…if so, it was a high price to pay.

I look forward to what the future brings, in whatever form it looks like. I just continue to pray for guidance, seek for strength, accept support and am constantly letting go and trying to be patient with the process.


11 Jan 2014

Maybe It’s Not More Limits but More Safety  0

“Limit setting has much to do with normal development conceived in terms of ego skills including frustration tolerance, delay of gratification, and impulse control” (A Freud). Awesome, right? That’s exactly what we want for our children that struggle with intense emotional dysregulation. So, especially for our older children, let’s add more limits. The problem is that normal development was derailed.

“Moral development depends on a sufficient amount of early attachment experiences that provide an enduring sense of safety” (Sandler)

Normal healthy development takes a predictable pattern where early childhood experiences find the child’s need for love and care being met. When this consistent pattern is in place, a sense of safety is provided. It is in this context of safety that a parent’s need for limit setting can be accommodated by the child and even sought after as child pursues their natural wish to explore their environment with a wish to be safe (Burlingham and Freud).

When children have experiences early in life where their need for love and care were not being met consistently, safety is jeopardized. Traumatized kids don’t look like they have wish to be safe. They often engage in high risk behaviors that are fueled by the fact that they don’t think someone else can provide them safety. And yet, often when we are looking to improve a child’s behaviors or help their moral development we are thinking in terms of limits instead of safety. However, when a child that has missed out on the crucial developmental milestone of trusting their needs to be met, will find it difficult, if not impossible to use those limits to improve their ego skills. I believe a sense of safety must be securely in place before a child will see those limits as a way to tolerate frustration, learn to delay gratification or help them with their impulse control. Again, these are all the things we need them to acquire to help them regulate their emotions.I think it’s intuitive with an older child to set limits, have rules, expectations, incorporate rewards and consequences but those that have raised children that suffer from early childhood trauma knows how frustrating this part of parenting can be, as the children don’t respond in a developmentally typical pattern. Just because a child, or even an adult, missed important developmental milestones, doesn’t mean they can be skipped or suddenly expected to work backwards. Certainly raising an older child, one is confronted with a more difficult task of creating a safe environment while recognizing appropriate limits.

My caution is simply this: it is often easier to just want to take care of the behavior rather than provide a enduring sense of safety. A feeling of security and safety must be established before we can expect a child to respond developmentally appropriately to limits and strengthen their moral development. This can take years. It’s also why early intervention is key and why we often make our children’s world so small (think infancy). Each time we put them in a situation they can’t handle, it compromises their feelings of safety. Once again, I am not saying limits are not needed, I am just suggesting that next time in a moment of frustration you want to impose more limits consider their need to feel safe. This is more than physical, it’s a psychological sense of safety that builds trust.

23 Nov 2013

“Reading the Signs When Things Are Falling Apart”~brave girls club  1

2-please-be-gentleWhy does this seem hardest with the people I love the most?

Sometimes it’s hard to ask for what we need or explain what we are feeling~it would be so nice if we walked around with signs instead of communicating through confusing behaviors. Sometimes things are not what they seem.


It would be so nice if we were more gentle with each other, recognizing that we are doing our best.  But, I get impatient. I get hurt. I get demanding. I get frustrated. I suppose my best can look different every day but your’s can’t. I can see how I am at times unfair and terribly judgmental. It’s given me some things to focus and work on.

For one month I am going to try to look at each person I interact with as if they have this sign hanging around their neck. I’m going to see how it changes me.

21 Oct 2013

Miracles  1

In October 2011 we dropped off this very scared little girl who sought no comfort from the adults around her….

v1v2Her heart was numb

while my heart was breaking.


In October 2013, I picked up this young woman to bring her home. For Good.

Our hearts were tentative but vulnerable and brave and loving. Miracle for both of us.


DSC00272At 11 years old when we dropped V off, she

wore size 6 jeans. When I brought her home at 13, she is wearing 14/16. Miracle.







V is more regulated, focused, motivated and sensitive than I have ever experienced. And so

am I. Miracle.


And without much practice, I can nearly do a perfect braid. Miracle.






So although I don’t know what tomorrow will bring and neither does she, we are

both learning to live in the present and enjoy the journey.




The transition home, while only a week, has been remarkable. Miracle.

09 Oct 2013

“I’ll Be Going To College Soon”  1


The last Skype therapy session I had w/V focused mostly on her coming home and what that would look like in reality and not her fantasy expectations. It was a hard conversation but necessary in understanding how we were going to work together to make this successful. As we were wrapping up V’s final thought was, “Well, I will be leaving for college in a few years.”

I was shocked into silence. I thought, “Here we are talking about coming home and she’s already thinking about leaving again. In six years.” I was a little angry. And then a few days later I was talking to Jay about how we were going to manage having V back home and the conversation went to sending her to summer school and considering boarding schools. I was doing the exact same thing, just not in her face.

I think it’s a testament to how hard this transition feels for all of us already. We haven’t even been together, the plane for this journey hasn’t taken off and we are all thinking about the emergency exits. And I think that’s fair. We were all in a situation where we didn’t feel safe for a lot of years. I just hope my perspective can focus more on the horizon and less on the illuminated lights leading to the nearest emergency exit.



05 Oct 2013

I am. I know. I hope. Part II  1

“Seven years ago I took my daughter out of an institution but the institution didn’t leave her. I am racked with torment visiting facilities that will once again put her in a place where no family exist.”

I wrote this two years ago while V sat in a psychiatric hospital. It was a very lonely and painful endeavor.

V will be coming home for good in 7 days.

I’m not very excited.

I am scared.

I am worried about how this will impact the boys.

I still am still sad and hurt by what I lived through with V.

I am not paralyzed by the uncertainty~I just know it’s not going to be easy.

Victoria didn’t “graduate” from her program. I honestly think she would need to be there for 5 years to address all of her issues. The facility didn’t recommend bringing her home ( they aren’t paying for it) but I knew it was time. I don’t know if it’s going to work but I do know she needs the opportunity to make relationships in her family work, grow spiritually and develop morally. These are three things that can really only be accomplished best in the walls of our home. The same walls that witnessed things no family should have to endure. What no little girl should ever have to experience.

But underneath all of this trepidation is a hope that has never ever left me. Not even on the nights when I sobbed in my bed as I hung on for the light to come, whether it was the sunrise or God’s presence. The things is, as I have walked this road, I can’t deny the presence of a Heavenly Father who has never forsaken me. I wish everyone could know of and experience Heavenly Father’s guidance, love and comfort. And a continuous hope from His Son.

V wasn’t the only one learning and changing over the past two years.

I have learned that inducing shame cannot ever provide lasting change and only brings momentary compliance.

I know that building relationships is not about perfection but forgiveness.

I know that we all have an innate need to feel connected and we often struggle to feel it, ask for it to be met or trust it.

I know not to get caught up in the content and focus on the emotions.

I know I will need a lot of support and have been blessed with family and friends who have been devoted and unfailing in their service.

I know that support will allow me nurture my other relationships in my family and not get sacrificed by V.

This isn’t all that I’ve learned but it’s all I can come up with tonight.

I am as excited to share the rest of this journey with you as I have been the last five or six years.

I’ve hired her former aide to home school V for as long as she needs. I am in no hurry to transition her into public school. While she is better regulated emotionally, she still struggles with relationships, especially peers. It is still hard work to get her to feel connected but she can get there. Her lack of trust in relationships still makes it hard to ask for her needs but she is working hard on that. She doesn’t rage, pee in random places, or destroy things. She still struggles with lying and feeling remorse. But she is more willing to work through her struggles and accept help from caregivers. So really in spite of my fear, trepidation, worry and sad~there is a part of me that is so hopeful for what is possible. And I know V and I are feeling the exact same things. It isn’t the first time we’ve been mirrors of each other.

I’ve decided to invite V to start blogging here with me and carefully and sensitively let her tell her story. Emotionally she is still very young but she is very smart and insightful. And she wants to tell her story. I’m hoping we will start this weekend.

Welcome to another chapter.
















23 Aug 2013

Hope on. Journey on.  0

I feel like this will be my mantra this school year as I have one starting college, high school, middle school, my second year of graduate school and mostly, bringing Victoria home.

There is so much uncertainty in bringing her home…the unknown and the traumatic history want to freeze me in fear.

I feel like I dropped off a two year old and am picking up a five year old that scores in eighth grade math and tenth grade reading. Her high intellect and low emotional maturity continue to cause her to be challenging and perplexing.

The emotional support she will continue to need will be challenging for me. I will not be able to replicate the facility she is in. I don’t want to.

There has been tremendous growth in her and I since she has been gone. That isn’t to say that she doesn’t still have big struggles, she does. However, her ability (and mine) to manage them is so much better. It is this faith, that allows me to hope on.

I’m working on my next blog post which tries to capture what I’ve learned in the past two years. It has far more to do with connection than consequences. And everything to do with relationship, repair and empathy.