Saturday, September 6, 2014

Letter to Teacher... Clarification

Recently I got a legitimate comment criticizing my post, Dear Teacher, My Child Needs Us to be an Unstoppable Team.

The comment was pretty harsh, but it was well-intentioned and deserves a thoughtful response.  Thanks to being married to an incredibly humble man for the past decade, I’ve learned a couple things about criticism.  One thing is:  all criticism can be useful, if we are willing to be teachable.  

I was not born naturally teachable.  In fact, I would say it is a struggle for me to “learn” from criticism (initially, I would rather crawl into a hole, than respond), but I did learn A LOT from the below comment (from Margot) who was responding to the “Dear Teacher” letter:  

“I know this letter has only good intentions behind it - to have a child's needs met, to gain empathy for the child, to help the teacher know what works best for the child, and to encourage the teacher and parent to work together.

But it comes across as very self-centered and excessively burdensome on the teacher. Yes, teachers need to make some degree of effort to meet the unique needs of every child in a classroom. But a teacher has a large job to provide a general education to 20-30 kids in a classroom, let alone having to consider the personal parenting and discipline philosophies of every family in the class.

This part struck me as the most insensitive, entitled and out-of-touch: "Also, when he is stressed, he communicates that stress by checking out, lying, stealing, breaking things, and by acting violent. Worst of all, he can’t learn." Um, no. You are WAY too wrapped up in your own reality and the reality of your child when you assert that the WORST thing is that your child can't learn. You've just told a teacher that violence in her classroom is less bad than your child being temporarily unable to learn. Think about that. You've just asserted that all the other kids' need for physical safety and the teacher's need for physical safety is less important than your kid's need to learn. (I'd also argue that breaking things and stealing are also much worse than your kid's need to learn in that moment and cause much more trauma to a bunch of other innocent kids who are also trying to learn.)

Margot is right, the letter I wrote did, only, have good intentions, and I’m thankful that she pointed it out.  Also, many teachers (including my son’s teacher, whom I sent it to) have told me they would welcome the letter enthusiastically, and none of them suggested that it would be burdensome.

But, when I wrote it, I was honestly wondering if it would seem too burdensome.  

However, since I was absolutely sure it would be more burdensome not to send the letter, I decided to send it.  

Let me explain:

During the years Clarence had teachers who were not attuned to his emotional needs, his behavior was off-the-charts-bad because the teaching team refused to get on the same page with us.  His general education teacher was trying to support him appropriately, and yet she had no team support from the aides, special ed teachers, or administrators.  Clarence was stuck in the middle of a bunch of adults who didn’t agree on how to support him, and his behavior proved that was a very unsafe place for him.  

When Clarence feels safe, his behavior is not a problem- at all.  In fact, in his first week of school this year, this is what happened:  His teacher read the letter I wrote.  She considered it during her interactions with Clarence.  After a week, when the special education coordinator came to observe her class, she could not pick Clarence out.  He had no behavior that would distinguish him from his classmates.

Clarence’s school is more intensely structured than most schools, and he is getting the same behavioral interventions as every other child.  The only difference with Clarence is that when he earned his first behavioral violation, his teacher  saw on his face that he was upset and on the verge of losing it out of misunderstanding.  So, she gently asked him, “Are you worried about this?  This is nothing.  All this tells me is you are learning the rules.  Once you have them down, you won’t be earning these.  I wouldn’t worry about this if I were you.”

This is her whole approach to Clarence, and he is NOT earning violations.  He started school mid-August and there has not been one instance of stealing, lying, or violence.  His last year of school, when the teaching team was not on the same page with us and when they were not attuned to his needs, they had to contact us several times a day.  His behavior only got worse.  The whole class was unsafe.  Clarence wasn’t learning.  

Also, learning helps Clarence overcome negative behaviors.  Much of his unruly behavior is a function of the fact that he misunderstands language, motives, and nonverbal cues.  He has not learned these.  For instance, one time he became angry and violent at his brother because his brother said, “Mom almost died in a car accident, today!”  He raged for a half hour before Andy figured out, Clarence didn’t know the meaning of “almost.”  He was feeling threatened.  He thought his mother had just died in a car crash!  He was scared.  He was dangerous.   It is dangerous for Clarence, our family, his classmates, his school, and society if he does not learn.  

I am thankful for Margot’s critique of my wording of the “Worst of all, he can’t learn,” because I’m sure many educators, who have not previously had experience with a child like Clarence, would feel the same way as Margot.  And, I’m sure it would be difficult for them to be on a team with us.  So, thanks to Margot’s feedback, I’m changing the wording.

We are lucky in that Clarence’s actual teacher has extensive experience working with high needs students in urban districts.  She understands that hurt people hurt people and scared people look scary.  It was natural for her to see Clarence’s hurt and his fear and respond to it- so her whole class would be safer and so her whole class would have opportunity to learn.  

I’m thankful she has that perspective, and yet, it is extremely helpful for me to remember many teachers do not have the same broad experience or perspective yet.  

Thank you for the reminder, Margot, and for your thoughtful comment.  I am a better communicator for it.  

Monday, August 11, 2014

Dear Teacher, My Child Needs Us to be an Unstoppable Team

{Please feel free to share this Letter with your children’s teachers and administrators}
{Info below on Resources specific to teaching Adopted and Foster Children}

Dear Teacher,

Before this academic year starts I want you to know I am on your team.  I want to be and I have to be.  And, I’m asking you to be on my team too.  

Before coming to live with me, my son suffered more trauma than I am willing to describe in detail.  He loves to learn, and yet that is not always obvious by his behavior.  

You need to know that when my son looks impulsive or checks out, it is not because he has ADHD or is defiant.  He’s scared.  He’s ashamed. He’s sad.  He’s lost.  He doesn’t understand.

So, please do not try to motivate him by creating a reward system for him.  Please do not  give him a chart to monitor his behavior.  

Those things add to his stress.  To his shame.  When he’s stressed out, he cannot  do his best thinking

He needs to know that whether or not he is ever capable of earning any reward, you and I are cheering for him and excited about him.   He needs to know he cannot earn our favor because he already has it and he cannot lose it.  He needs to know we will stick with him and help him learn the skills he needs to succeed in life.  

Also, when he is stressed, he communicates that stress by checking out, lying, stealing, breaking things, and by acting violent.  In a state of stress, he can’t learn.  In fact, he regresses socially, academically, and emotionally. And, when he is stressed at school, he disconnects from his family members at home.

In those moments, he needs you to help him feel safer.  He needs you to ask him how he is feeling and empathize with him.  He needs you to get down to the root of his behavior.  He needs you to clear things up when he misunderstands.  He needs to hear your concerns about his behavior.  He needs you to problem solve with him to help him gain the skills he needs to do well both in your classroom and in life.  He needs you to remain calm and compassionate.  

Most of all, he needs to know we are a team.  So far he has had one academic year that was a success.  The main ingredient to that success was that his parents and teachers were on the same team cheering him on.  

Remember, he has not been home long.  At this moment, he has spent more of his life in extremely volatile and unsafe living situations than he has spent home with us.  When you do something to tell him you disagree with his parents and how they raise him, you are once again causing him to question his own safety.  Is his mom safe?  He’s not sure...again.  

And, again, he’s stressed.  Again, he can’t learn.  

The best thing you can do for my son is be on a team with his parents.  When you don’t agree with us, please, give him absolutely no indication (verbally and nonverbally) and bring your concern to us later.  It will help him greatly, if you give us the benefit of the doubt.  And, of course, we will do the same for you.  Without a united team, my son has very little chance of being educated, and he has very little chance of making long-term meaningful connections with other human beings.  

Sadly, my son has known the world’s cruelty more intimately than the majority of adults I know.  He understands the world is cruel, and unfortunately, he expects it.  He expects pain.  He expects loss.  He expects rejection.  

When you are on the same team as his parents and you offer him the safe place he needs to learn and problem solve, you are proving to him that his world does not have to be a scary place.  You are proving to him he is worth you getting to know.  You are proving to him that he can be a healthy community member.  You are proving he is worthy of a loving family.

It is true.  He needs a lot from you.  He needs a lot from me.  When there is consistency between home and school, life is easier for all of us.  

And, he can learn.  

We can do this together!

If you happen to find this letter too burdensome, please read this clarification.

Please follow and/or join our Adoption and Foster Care Collaborative for Parents and Teachers on Pinterest!

My other posts on our specific school experiences:

Uncharted Success...Rewards that Stick

The Confounding IEP Meeting

I'll Tell You Where You Can Put Your Sticker Chart

Monday, July 21, 2014

The “No Consequences” Confusion

There is a book I highly regard called, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, written by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post.  Here’s my interpretation of the basic principle:  “Our children’s alarming behavior is rooted in fear, and they feel further threatened when parents give them consequences.  In fact, the result of consequences [for our children] is generally worse behavior.”

Unfortunately, I’ve heard a lot of great parents read the above book and other similar resources (such as The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis) and explain to their friends and family:  “We don’t give consequences because they don’t work.”

And, that’s it.

Frequently, the “no consequences” explanation is met with bewilderment, frustration, and completely freaks family members and friends out.  They have seen the child’s dangerous behavior (and heard of his violence, perpetual lying, and stealing). So, they [understandably] jump to the conclusion… This child is going to end up in prison!

Here’s a confession:  I’m not a “no consequences” kind of parent.  I’m more of an “I-don’t-give-consequences-but-I-will-keep-you-and-your-siblings-safe” kind of parent.  

[Disclaimer: When our boys came home, Andy and I desperately needed to simplify our parenting ideas so we could be on the same page. Prior to simplifying this thing, we lived in a constant state of stress, and there was tension around each individual intervention. So, the following is a description of what the "no consequences” principle looks like in our [very simple] family.]

Our children experience consequences; however, we do not “give” them consequences.  We set limits to keep them safe.  

The limits we set are according to our individual child’s emotional ability (not chronological age) and that limit is adjusted according to circumstances and external stressors.   

For example:

When my son hit his brother with a wiffle ball bat, I did NOT say, “You lost the privilege of playing wiffle ball.”  I calmly pulled him aside and said, “I’m so sorry you aren’t feeling safe enough to play with your brothers  right now.  My job is to keep you and your brothers safe.  You can come sit with Mom and Dad and watch your brothers play for now.”  

He still was NOT playing wiffle ball.  

And, in the moment, he was too stressed for a deep discussion.  Being close to Mom and Dad was regulating for him.  

Later that day, I asked him about how he was feeling before the wiffle ball incident. I wanted to see if he felt safe enough (and had processed enough) to put words to his feelings.  He hadn’t gotten to that place, but because I had some idea of what might be going on I offered, “I think you may have felt sad when you were having a difficult time hitting the ball, and it was hard to watch your brothers hit more balls than you. Am I right, or was it something else?”  He said I was right and I could read from his expression he was telling the truth and he was relieved I understood.  I said,  “I completely understand. We’ll keep practicing when you are able to be safe with your body.”

If problems persist with a particular activity, we will remove the activity (setting a safe limit) until he is ready.  He tells me with his behavior how safe he is and, when I’m reading his behavior well, I am able to set the safest limits for him to have opportunity for success.  Eventually, he develops a higher tolerance, and we can adjust the limits according to his new ability.  

When I sense he is ready to do something he has not been safe to do in a long time, I preface with this, “Your brothers are about to go play wiffle ball.  Are you safe to play with them?”  [Believe it or not, he has responded, “No,” in the past.  Then, he asks if he can watch.  Most of the time he decides he is safe, and he has never told me he would be safe when he wasn’t safe.]

So, my children do “experience consequences”, and yet what they are feeling is Mom and Dad are keeping me safe.

It is a feeling that is free from shame.  And, it is non-threatening.  

When our sons feel safe and less ashamed, they are able to connect with us.  They can trust us.  They can “feel” loved, and they are proud of their success.

And, they are able to connect with others’ feelings and give love.  

So…. here's to never saying, “You lost the privilege of…” and to doing our best to help our children feel safe.  

And, in our family, safe children aren't violent and they don't lie and steal.  


{A secondary reason I wrote this post is because, for a long time, our children were too scared to respond positively to the majority of specific interventions mentioned in The Connected Child. We realize our children came home with more fear than most (so we've been told) and yet it is important for us to share that when we focus on helping our children feel safe, they are still able to make incredible progress.}

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Letter I Should Have Written

Before our sons Clarence and Abraham came home, Andy and I studied A LOT.  We also knew our sons and had seen their rages and insecurities.  We prepared like champions (or so we thought) to bring them home.  We had an amazing, supportive community of people ready to welcome them.

One problem: we didn’t realize how much it would have helped to provide a couple of succinct expectations for our family and friends so THEY would know the best way for them to welcome our sons.

The result:  we unintentionally hurt a host of relationships, many of which are unlikely to be repaired.   

So, in a better-late-than-never kind of way, I would like to share with you, “The Letter I Should have Written” (if I had known then what I know now):

Dear Friends and Family,

You have prayed for, waited for, and hoped for our sons, and you have also supported us so well as we’ve waited for them.  You have seen us preparing like crazy for their arrival.  You know we have been reading, connecting with adoptive parents, connecting with adoptees, connecting with biological siblings of adoptees, and even building furniture!  We are writing this letter to share with you some of how our lives might look when we become a family of five, and we’re asking for your patience during the transition.  Here is a general description of what we expect:

  1. We plan to stay home (as much as possible) as a family of five so that our sons understand who their new family is.  
  2. We will try to establish a predictable routine for our sons.  
  3. We do not expect to be able to answer many phone calls, text messages, or emails because we will be super focused on bonding with our children, learning how to care for them with their special needs, and setting them up with services they need to have in our hometown.
  4. We will be thankful for any meals you would like to bring, but, for the near-term, we won’t be able to invite you into our home because visits could add to our sons’ anxiety.  

Our children are lovely.  They are amazing!  They are scared.  The request that may sound the most unusual is…

  1. When you finally do meet our children (and we look forward to that day--even though we have no idea when it will be), we ask that you please do not show them physical affection.

Our children are very confused about relationships.  

As is extremely common with children who have experienced trauma, our sons have a tendency to show an inappropriate amount of affection to strangers.  We have seen them sit on the laps of people they have never before met!

Our two sons have lived in three places so far.  In all three places, the people closest to them hurt them. The only people they trust are strangers.

As they come to know us, as their parents, it is likely they will no longer “feel” safe with us.  We need to patiently provide them with [what they realize as] safety so they will eventually feel comfortable enough to accept hugs from us, as their parents.  

So, please remember, that while our children are not strangers to you, you are strangers to them.  You could very much complicate their ability to bond at home, with our family, if you are too physically close to them (as a stranger).  

In closing, I want to thank you for sticking with us through this journey so far.  It has been emotional and unbelievable at times!  We hear the most trying times are ahead.  Please do not take it personally if we are too overwhelmed to be good friends.  If you are getting this letter, we love being in community with you!  It would be very meaningful to us if you continue to call and text, even if you don’t hear back from us.  We likely will be too overwhelmed to be part of the planning but please know that we will enjoy every bite of a meal you drop off for us.  

It is awkward for us to ask for such a high level of support from you when we know that we will not be able to reciprocate in the near future.  We’re asking you to stick with us when we have nothing to give and for your support of our family even though you won’t be able to hug our beautiful children.  We’re asking you to help us build a safe foundation for our family so our sons can grow and thrive and feel connected in our family and in our community.  

We’re looking forward to the day when our family is a stronger part of our community, and when it is healthy for our sons to be hugged by all their amazing friends, aunties, uncles, and grandparents!  

We cannot do this alone.  We are so thankful for your support!  

With great love and thanksgiving,

Alex and Andy

Monday, July 7, 2014

If I Could Go Back

Before I start with specifics, I want to share, that for our family, we have noticed a significant correlation between a) Josh’s emotional health, and b) Clarence and Abraham’s emotional health, attachment to us, and behavior.  

Everyone in our family suffers when Andy and I are not doing the work to 1) keep our marriage healthy, and 2) invest heavily in Josh and Eli in ways that make their world safe… even when that means we have relatively less time with Clarence and Abraham.

I wonder if Clarence and Abraham lose hope when they see Josh hopeless.  

Here are two things I would do differently for Josh (if I could go back...and again, this is specific to him and our family):  
1.  I would have kept my cool and been more patient with his adopted brothers.
When Clarence and Abraham came home, they brought screaming, swearing, and out-of-control impulsivity with them.  For the first two weeks, I frequently held Clarence while he would try to punch anyone or destroy anything.  As I held him, he would scream in my face, “Stupid A$$.  I’m going to kill you!  I’m going to burn you with fire!!!  I’m going to make you dead!!!”

Come to find out, Clarence had no idea what any of his words meant.  He was scared.  He felt threatened, so he used the ugliest words he’d heard so far.  

But, Andy and I were scared out of our minds.  Our three year old, Josh, had been so safe up to that point.  Until Clarence and Abraham came home, we had delighted in every single step Josh had taken.  We had had unlimited patience with him when he needed redirection and correction.

When we saw Josh’s safety threatened, we were immediately angry with his brothers’ behavior that we saw as a threat.

What we didn’t know at the time was: our response to the behavior was a much more important variable than his brothers’ actual behavior- even the violence.    

Months into the chaos, when Josh finally could express his anxious thoughts and fears with words, he expressed, “You don’t really seem to love Abraham.”  [By then, Clarence was doing quite well.]

Traumatized brothers was one thing, but parents who were incapable of loving them through their behaviors was an altogether other thing.  He began to doubt the reaches of our love.  He began to doubt our love for him.

He began to push us away.

2.  I would have “Herded” less, and I would have made more “Individual Time” specifically for him.
Since all three of our sons were pretty much the same age, it was pretty easy to “herd.”  And, I needed intense structure to create a safe place for myself and the children.  Yet, as I was “herding,” I missed countless opportunities to meet Josh and give him a safe place to even give him some glimpse of familiarity.

I focused so long and well on providing Clarence and Abraham with items, foods, and activities that they would find familiar.  I didn’t realize that by doing that, I was essentially taking away every single thing that had been familiar to Josh.  

He needed us to provide him with that safe place so he had opportunity to process in a non-stressful environment.  

Eventually, we started doing the following for Josh:

1) Spending Time with Him Before Getting his Brothers up in the Morning:

Because of the emotional/developmental ages of Clarence and Abraham, we have always had them play quietly in their rooms until we get them in the morning.  We are much better parents because of this boundary, and it seems to be great for their imaginations.  [Sidenote:  We’re learning that any safe and consistent routine can create a healing rhythm for Clarence and Abraham.]

For a long time, Josh had difficulty with sleeping.  It seemed odd to us that he took several hours to fall asleep and he also woke up significantly earlier that anyone else.  It finally occurred to us he needed time with just Andy and me in the mornings.

So, we’ve incorporated a rhythm of mornings with Josh, and it has made a huge difference in his ability to process, express himself to us, get along with others, and even his ability to initiate care to others.  

2) Extending his Bedtime until After his Brothers Went to Sleep:

For Josh, reading with Andy and me has always been a very important part of his life.  For a few long months, bedtime stories with Clarence and Abraham were stressful and full of distractions.  It was months before it occurred to us that, from Josh’s perspective, these bedtime stories were not even close to a substitute for our old bedtime stories.  

So, he started staying up after we put his brothers to sleep, and we read a couple of books to him in a very peaceful environment.  

Occasionally, Andy would take Josh for evening walks with Josh in the Ergo carrier (Josh was 3 ½).  Josh is almost seven now, and he still recalls the evening Ergo walks as a very special time.

3) Retelling Stories about Awesome Memories:

Josh’s memory has always been exceptional!  About a year after Clarence and Abraham came, I realized that Josh’s memory seemed less active.  Around the same time, I learned about some research that showed how childhood memories are stronger when caregivers constantly retell events and encourage the child to retell events.

So, I started retelling stories from before Clarence and Abraham came as well as fun stories of Josh and his brothers together.  Not only did his memory improve, but we were also able to smile and laugh together often.  

4) Summer Camps for Clarence and Abraham:  

This is the most difficult one from my perspective.  Camp means time away from the rest of our family.  So, does that mean it will disrupt the bonds that have been built?

I have to go back to the principle of Clarence and Abraham being more stable when Josh gets what he needs to be healthy.  Of course, camp is its own challenge.  We had many failures on our way to success.  Eventually, we found a day-camp that follows a page of interventions we use with Clarence and Abraham at home.  The camp actually asked for it!  The camp has the campers outside almost the whole day..  With less structured activities, Clarence and Abraham do best out-of-doors.  

Camp weeks have been SO healthy for Josh.  By day three, he usually is able to verbalize his concerns and we are able to have a great conversation.  

5) Keeping Him Home as Long as I Could:

Josh went to pre-kindergarten for about two months.  Then, he said, “It’s my job to heal Clarence and Abraham.”  

That’s when we decided he was staying home for the year.  That year was not easy.  Eli was a newborn.  Clarence was having major difficulties at school and he was having emotional trouble at home as well.  Josh was not sleeping well.  He had a tremendous burden.  Although we told him it was, in fact, not his job to heal Clarence and Abraham, we knew he wasn’t sure.

We had a lot of fun together too and tried to keep things as familiar as possible for him, to remind him how much we cherish him.  

I am thankful I can tell him now, “I’m so glad you were home with me until you were almost six!  Not many Mom’s have that opportunity!  That was very special time for me.”

He always beams!

6)  Giving him his Own Safe Spaces:

Clearly, we have always considered safety first, and yet, it took some time before we realized Josh just needed space.  Safe space.  To himself.  He is an introvert and needs time alone.  His imagination is beautiful and, for a few months, he felt stifled by his brothers’ immediate presence.  So, now, he can go to the basement or the attic and play, alone.  

We can see an obvious difference in his ability to cope and process when he gets time by himself.    

As I conclude this insanely long post...Shortly after Josh Punched Through the Window, Andy and I were up playing with Josh after everyone else had gone to bed.  Josh began to laugh at something and both Andy and I began to tear up.  The laugh sounded exactly like his “pre-brother laugh”.  

It was the laugh of a carefree boy who knew his parents enjoyed him and were keeping him safe.  

And, it was a cherished song to his mother.  

Please share what you would do differently (if you feel comfortable). Also, I would love to hear how you've helped your “healthier” children stay strong through the difficult behaviors of their siblings!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Biological Blues

[You can read what we would have done differently here.]

Three years ago, in our first (and likely only) Christmas Letter, I mentioned that Andy and I were extremely nervous we would be sacrificing Josh to raise Clarence and Abraham.  Even before they came home, we were exposed to behaviors that frightened us.  

So, you can only imagine, how Andy and I felt when eighteen months in when almost-five-year-old Josh was not sleeping.  In fact, it was taking him several hours a night to fall asleep.  I could see how anxious he was, but my main concern was that he wasn’t telling us what was wrong.  I thought he was choosing not to tell us.  Now I can imagine he had big feelings and didn’t exactly know how to express them.  He has always been verbal for his age, so I couldn’t imagine him feeling something that he didn’t know how to tell me.

When he was not sleeping, he was also acting out-of-his-mind.  He would shout, “I hate you!” and then go to the bathroom and write notes about how much he loved me on toilet paper.  Sometimes the notes were hate mail and other times they were love notes.  He was in and out of his room and up and down the stairs.  He would go into our room and get into stuff he shouldn’t have.  He cut his hair.  He drew pictures all over our upstairs hallway (quietly).

In the years before his brothers came home, Josh had always been a child who loved and needed sleep.  He never even left his bed after saying goodnight.  In fact, I called his pediatrician one time when he was nine months old to say, “He went to bed at six last night and woke at nine this morning.  Is that okay?”  He continued to love his rest, until his peace was disrupted.  

This is the part of the story where you’re waiting for me to share my major parental “ah-ha moment” and tell you how you too can fix your own kid.  

Sorry to let you down.  That doesn’t really happen in this story.

One night, about a month before his sixth birthday, Josh had been “sleeping” in our sunroom.  [We had moved him closer to us, hoping that would help him feel safer.  It didn’t seem to make a difference.  He also couldn’t fall asleep with me laying with him (although I fell asleep).]  I went up to check on him and he was screaming and out of control.   There was a window in the sunroom door.  He was looking at me through it and before I knew what was happening, he punched right  through the window.

Shattered glass everywhere!  Blood!  Lots of blood.  Blood on his blankets.  Blood on his pillow.  I wrapped his wrist up (cut in two places) and held him.  He cried.  I told him how much I loved him.  I rocked him.  I sang to him.  

Andy put him in the shower.  We still had no idea how serious his cuts were.  Andy was outside the bathroom and heard Josh crying loudly and praying, “Jesus, please help me!  I don’t want to be like this!” over and over.  

When Josh got out of the shower, we realized he needed stitches.  Andy took him to the hospital. The hospital staff said it was imperative Josh speak to their child psychologist.  

She was sober about the situation and was obviously looking for signs of abuse and suicidal ideation.  She asked questions like, “When you punched the window, did you know it would break?  Would you punch a window again?  Were you trying to hurt yourself?”  He was absolutely earnest as he answered her questions.  He told her he didn’t know it would break.  When she asked him why he punched the window, he said (matter of fact) “because I didn’t want to go to sleep.”  

By the end of their time together, the psychologist was really enjoying her time with Josh and was no longer concerned about his well-being.  

He did have to get six stitches and wear huge bandages on his wrist to kindergarten until it healed.  After that night, he began to sleep.  He stopped telling us he hated us.  And he started expressing his feelings better.  

Recently Josh told me, “You know before Clarence and Abraham came home, I was a lot happier.”

It is true.  Josh had about the most enchanted first three-and-a-half years I can imagine.  While Andy was in graduate school, Josh was the life of every party. Every person he met adored him. For awhile, we even lived with Andy’s parents. For nine months, Josh had four adults hanging onto his every word and taking delight in every step he took.

He was enjoyed by others more than any other human being I’ve ever met.

As a result, I think, he is one of the most empathetic children I’ve ever met.  His brothers’ hurts hurt him.  For a long time, he couldn’t express it.  

Now, we can have a conversation about it.  I can respond by asking, “Do you feel sad that Clarence and Abraham are your brothers?”  

And he says, “No!”

I can ask, “Is it sometimes hard to love them?”

And he says, “Yes.”

I can even ask, “Would you miss them if they were gone?”


I’m not telling you to have your kid punch through a window so he can talk with you.  I will share a quote I learned while working with adults in recovery that resonates with me:  Don’t quit until the miracle happens.

And, miracles are happening.  

[We also took the advice of Josh’s pediatrician and got him into therapy.  She thought since he functions as the firstborn in our family, he may have times where he’s afraid to let us down by sharing his true feelings with us. So, she suggested he build a relationship with the therapist now so that “when” (not if) something happens, they would already have a relationship.  So, now there is one more person in the world who thoroughly enjoys Josh.]