KecPare 06-8-125      


Helping Adoptive Families Heal and Grow


Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky

Pinon Press (Division of NavPress), 2002, 295 pp.  ISBN 1-57683-314-3


Keck is founder of the Attachment Bonding Center, specializing in working with adoptive families.  Kupecky is a specialist working with adoption issues.  An earlier book is Adopting the Hurt Child.  This insightful book explains why hurt children behave as they do and offers attitudes, techniques, and responses to help make parenting rewarding.


Parenting a hurt child, including most adopted children, is almost always rocky.  Nothing can turn a normal household into a dysfunctional environment like a rebellious child who doesn’t understand love. (10)  “The chaotic past living inside their heads becomes the chaos they project onto others in their home.”  (11)


Every adopted child suffers abandonment by the woman who gave him life.  Most adopted children have suffered trauma.  (15)


“The problems that adoptive parents often see in their children are most likely the result of breaks in attachment that occur within the first three years of life.  This condition is often diagnosed as Reactive Attachment Disorder, which impairs—and even cripples—a child’s ability to trust and attach to other human beings.” (26)


“…healthy children first attach to their mothers—beginning in the womb.  Most adopted children blame the birth mothers for their abandonment, abuse, and/or neglect, and target adoptive mothers with their most negative behaviors.” (26)


As a result of attachment interruptions a children may exhibit many different symptoms, among them “superficially engaging and ‘charming’ behavior, indiscriminate affection toward strangers, lack of affection with parents on their terms, lying about the obvious, stealing, destructive behavior to self, to others, and to material things (accident-prone), abnormal eating patters, no impulse controls (frequently acts hyperactive), ….” (27-8)


Often mental health professionals do not understand the special circumstances of adopted children and blame the parents for these problems. (29)


Most parents are good parents but all parents make a few mistakes.  Some make many.  Parents raising a hurt child are often misunderstood.  (38)


“Children who have been hurt—either emotionally or physically—have fears that differ from those of other children.”  “They are terrified of losing control and are fearful of control by others.” (39)


“Traumatized children are afraid to be cooperative, compliant, and receptive.  To them, such behavior represents giving in, which translates to losing.”  “Consequently they choreograph battles over the most insignificant issues.”  “The child…resists the intrusion and direction by others and perceives it as fight for his life.”  “Abused children learn to rely on control as a means to survive….”  “They associate control with hurt and, therefore, are internally mandated to resist control by their parents.” (41)


“…your kids need to be with you.  They need to experience you as the parent, the guide, the teacher.”  “Without good parents, hurt children will stay stuck in their developmental quagmire.  Parent-centered families are better able to be child-focused than are child-centered families.” (43)


“Daddy, what do we get if we’re good in the store?”  Still keeping his pace, the father replied nonchalantly, “A happy dad.” (44)


The family is not a democracy.  “Children are not—and cannot be—equally participating members.  They are not developmentally equivalent to their parents.  Parents who try to follow their children’s lead as their major style of parenting are bound to lose—and lose the trust and faith of their children….” (45)


People who parent need to believe, among other things. that “parents have the right to parent;” “parents know more than their children do;” “character building begins anew in adoptive families;” parents must impose values upon children; “parental expectations will encourage children to reach those expectations.” (47)


Chap 3.  What Doesn’t Work

“Children should not be rewarded for doing what they are expected to do.  This is not the way the world works.” You don’t get awards for stopping at stop signs. (51)


“An angry kid likes angry parents.  He likes the energy and the stimulation.  He likes the resulting chaos….” (51)


It is difficult to keep loving a child who may never love back.  But the child has been abandoned by his birth parents.  There is no loss on earth worse than what he has experienced.  Do not punish him further by withholding love. (52-3)


“When a consequence is given in anger, the child’s focus is on the parent and the parent’s anger.  It is not on the behavior that caused the consequence.” (53)  “Empathy and consequences are more effective….” (54) 


“Time Outs” cause further separations and disconnections when we are trying to create connections.  (54)


“Grounding” gives adolescents the idea that when they are not grounded they are completely free do anything they choose.  “It is far more effective for the adolescent to know that he needs to get permission to do anything.  In a way, he is permanently grounded until otherwise arranged.” (55)


Angry children love to cause others to be angry.  When parents are furious they sometimes seem most content.  “Anger is the hurt child’s friend.” (57) “Anger generates distance, and the parents’ goal with a new child is to bring about closeness.” (58)


“We’re all different, and the world doesn’t always treat us fairly or equally.  It’s much better to learn this at a young age than on your first job assignment.” (58)


Chap 4.  What Works

“When a child has not securely attached as an infant, it is critical to give him the opportunity to experience the attachment cycle with his adoptive parents.  This should be done over and over again—in ways that build trust, decrease anger, and meet the child’s real needs.” (59)


“…the most effective ways are by employing the components of touch, smell, speech, motion, warmth, and eye contact.  Touch is key to attachment….”  “Eye contact is also critical….” (60)


In handling problems keep in mind the child’s emotional age.  A technique that works for a four-year old might work wonders with a ten-year-old stuck at a younger age. (62)


Controlling children learned it at a very early age.  They learned not to trust adults and they must unlearn that lesson by giving up control and getting the message that it won’t hurt them for parents to be in charge.  This is not easy.  “Don’t worry about the battles you can’t win or the ones you don’t know about.”  Three rules:

“1. Avoid control battles whenever you can.

2. Choose your battles carefully.

3. Win the ones you take on.” (63)


Avoid battles you can’t control, like food, bedwetting, and what comes out of a child’s mouth.  (64)


“It is not necessary to be consistent with hurt children.”  They do not have good cause-and-effect thinking.  “Even when faced with natural consequences, they truly do not comprehend that their actions caused their predicament.” (67)


Don’t be too predictable.  Hurt kids learn what makes their parents angry and push their buttons.  Leave them guessing how you will respond.  (68)


Infants learn reciprocity early.  They smile: mom smiles.  Neglected children learn uncertainty.  “They do not know how to make amends when they offend someone.  They don’t understand why Mom is angry about Monday’s offense on Tuesday.  After all, that was in the past.  Parents must artificially teach this skill….” (72)


Parents must keep their expectations in line with the emotional age of their child. (74)


Regarding chores, most hurt children do better with your help, dusting the furniture together.  Work side by side.  “A moment spent completing a job together is another chance to attach.” (75)


“If parents stay angry, the child will not get well.”  “Because these children reject nurturing, it is easy for parents to stop….  This is self-defeating because children cannot become whole without nurturing….  “Don’t put power in the child’s hands by saying, ‘We’ll all go on a picnic on Saturday if you’re good all week.’”  “Instead, live out the week, see how things go, and decide for yourself if the picnic will take place.” (76-7)


Chapter 5.  Nurturing the Hurt Child

“Attachment is not an event—it is a process.  Any activity that completes the cycle adds to attachment.”  (80)


It is difficult to understand why children that need nurture so badly, reject it.  But it’s because they learned early in life not to trust.  “These children are terrified of being hurt again, so they reject nurturing from their new parents.”  ‘When they reject me it won’t hurt so much.’ ‘And if they do get rid of me, it will be because I made them do it.’ (81)


Their rejection is not directed at you but at anyone who would be the parent. “So the challenge becomes how to nurture someone who repels nurturing…how to sneak in enough fun so that the little cactus will begin to bloom.”  (82)


“Playing a game on the computer allows the child to be nurtured by the computer, while playing a board game with Mom or Dad helps the child attach to the parent.” (83)


Emphasize eye contact.  Look at them.  Look at things together.  (85)


“Many hurt children avoid touch but without it, they will not join the family….”  “Holding your child at home, in a nurturing and nonconfrontational manner, is effective no matter what his age.  The more you hold him, the healthier he gets.”  (87)


“Nurturing through food is not just about calories.  It can be about making dinner fun and eating meals together.” (93)


Depriving the child of his favorite foods makes food issues more severe.  Give him more control over what he eats (not all sweets).  If the child has suffered food deprivation in the past it may provide some security to leave a small basket of healthy foods in his room at night.  (94)


Language development can be assisted by a series of possibilities listed on pp. 98-100.


“Without fun the world is a barren place.  Family memories are usually about funny incidents, and laughter is a great stress reliever.”  Ideas for having fun are listed on pp. 103-106.  Quality time doesn’t replace quantity time: they need both.  “You always find time to do what you think is important.  So take the time.  Make the time.  ‘Too busy’ or ‘too tired’ just won’t cut it.” (106)


“Don’t ask them what they want to do; they don’t know.”  “…it’s the parent’s job to show them—to force them, if you will—to have a good time.” (107)


Chapter 7.  Rough Waters

Some children do not have the capacity to change.  There are no guarantees. “You cannot make your child change.  What you can do is construct situations and responses that will maximize the chances for change.” (143-44)


“If your child’s issues are a threat to your own state of equilibrium, it follows that there will be intensified emotional responses from you.” (144) A self-inventory is provided on p. 145.  An inventory can help you see what you can change to become less vulnerable.  “Living with hurt children automatically brings hurt into the family” and it is difficult to adjust.  (146)


“Children who have had early trauma that interrupts their development often continue this primitive form of lying long past its developmental appropriateness.  It is reflective of developmental delay, and it frequently becomes habitual and automatic.” (147)  “When dealing with an automatic liar, it is important to interrupt the process immediately in order to end it.”  “If a lying person isn’t asked too much, he obviously lies less.  Tell him what you know rather than asking. (148) 


“Limits help heal the ‘breaks’ that a child has experienced, just as a cast holds broken bones in place long enough to let them heal.  Keeping the child close to the family—and involving him in family activities, chores, and day-to-day life—helps to promote growth, attachment, and both external and internal regulation.” (153)


“It is better to err on the side of restriction than freedom.  Odds are, these hurt children were once very unrestricted, unregulated, and unstructured.  For someone to hold them, limit them, and demonstrate obvious concern sends a most important message: ‘You are loved, protected, and safe.’” (155)


Further chapters include major issues and sources of help, questions and answers, real stories, reprinted articles, and a list of resources. 


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