I had known this eight-month-old baby boy for only a few days. I didn’t know what to expect as we walked into the Child Protective Services office for the first parent visit. But this baby’s reaction didn’t seem normal to me.
Leaving the building, I carried him close to my chest. He watched his mommy and daddy over my shoulder walk in the other direction to their car. I expected for him to cry out for them. Instead, not a sound. His eyes glazed over.
I don’t remember him crying or fussing on our way to our home. But after we got in the house, this baby boy who was beginning to crawl and pull up, took hold of a toy that came from his home. I assumed that the toy was familiar to him.
What he did next took me by surprise.
Grabbing the toy, falling to the ground, wailing, he began hitting himself on his head over and over with the toy.
Wide-eyed my wife and I looked at each other. My heart broke. My heart and eyes filled with compassion. I knew now, if not already before, that I would do anything for him so he would not hurt again.
Fast forward almost three years later.
This three-year-old running, talking, laughing, demanding, challenging little boy is now our son.
Partly because of his age; partly because of the trauma in his life; partly because of the bent toward rebellion that we all have; and, yes, partly because of my inexperience as a parent, I often find myself pushed to my limit.
Buried in my memory is that day I vowed to do whatever necessary to help this child heal from trauma and protect him from any more harm. Now I have days when I wonder if I am helping or simply adding to the chaos.
Empowered to Connect
Danielle and I are taking a “train the trainer” course for Empowered to Connect (ETC). ETC Parent Training is an interactive learning experience designed specifically for adoptive and foster parents. The ETC Parent Training was developed by Michael & Amy Monroe and relies heavily on the Trust-Based Relational Intervention® (TBRI®) model developed by Dr. Karyn Purvis and her colleagues at the TCU Institute of Child Development.
We want to lead other parents through this training (as sojourners, not experts!). However we desperately need the training for us.
We first were introduced to Dr. Purvis’ principles in 2010 at an adoption conference. We read her book, The Connected Child. We watched some of her videos. And we took the ETC course last summer.
Still, in the heat of the moment both Danielle and I easily default to common parenting styles that simply don’t work well with children from a hard place.
- Verbal reprimand – “I am not going to tell you again…!”
- Isolation – “Go to your room!”
- Consequences – “If you don’t stop (that behavior) I am going to take away your toys!”
- Corporal punishment
Many of you are thinking, “what is wrong with that list?” “One or all of those work with my child!”
I am not saying that any of these approaches to parenting are wrong. However especially for children who come from a hard place, I need to some tools “that are fit for the purpose of meeting the unique needs of children with unique histories”.
Dr. Jon Burgeron of Hope for Orphans says it like this, “the primary goal is not right behavior. It is relationship.” And, “you have to do the right thing for a long time in order for a child from a hard place to feel safe.”
Remembering to look through eyes of compassion
In those moments when my son can’t hear me because he is uncontrollably crying and yelling, or a parent tells me that their child can’t play with my son anymore because of his bad behavior, or I watch as he commits some unexplainable defiant act, I repeat over and over to myself, “it is not about behavior. It is about relationship.”
Dr. Purvis shares that what helps in that moment is remembering to look at this child through eyes of compassion. When I notice myself parenting out of the need to correct his behavior, I recall his glazed look as he watched his parents walk away. I remember the lump in my throat as I watched him hit himself repeatedly on his head with his toy.
“Our children desperately need to learn to trust, but they also need to grow and understand what it means to live within healthy boundaries. Both are essential for fully experiencing healthy, healing relationships.” (ETC training manual)
My prayer for today—Give me eyes of compassion that can see what is behind the outward behavior of my son.