If you have adopted or are fostering a child with attachment wounds as a result of early trauma, daily life offers many challenges, detours, and seeming dead ends. These can stop you in your tracks, causing you to get stuck in the morass of feeling overwhelmed, or they can act as the impetus to a better way of being.

Marissa Peer, therapist and author of I am Enough, tells us we can move from surviving to thriving just by changing the way we communicate — with our children and ourselves.

Here’s Marisa’s top five suggestions:

1. What is expected tends to be realized

Have you heard yourself say to yourself or your child, “What is wrong with you?” “Why can’t you remember?” The mind responds to words and makes it the blueprint. If we say these words enough to a child, he becomes wired to believe he can’t remember anything or there is something wrong with him and will continue to make your expectations realized.

The same goes for putting pictures into the subconscious mind. If we approach a child playing in a tree and say, “You will fall! Get down now!” What do you think will happen? The same applies if we say to ourselves: “I’m wet, now I’m going to get a cold.”

Example: When you are leaving for school and your child runs back into the house, swap “What did you forget?” for “What did you remember?” When your child is exploring, chuck out words that suggest the worst case and say, “It’s amazing how your feet know exactly where to go!”

2. Trick the mind out of negativity

When things happen in life, our mind is hardwired to go straight to the negative. We tell our children and ourselves, “You’re useless,” “You’re hopeless.” It is important that we move the mindset from negative to what could be or what might be. Trick your mind to think everything is for a reason, even when it may be random.

Example: If you or your child is running late for a party, instead of beating yourself up or berating him simply say, “We were meant to be late for a reason” and see what unfolds.

3. Imagination is more powerful than logic

We all know that the imagined or perceived has more influence over our mind than reason or knowledge. Think of the person who is afraid to get on a plane for fear of crashing, yet statistics tell us more accidents happen on the way to the airport. Or the child who is afraid of a dog biting, despite it being on a lead or behind a fence.

Example: When our child asks for extra food having just eaten a meal, we often feel irritated and say, “Why do you need more?” Or worse, “Shouldn’t you be grateful for what you’ve had?” Take a few minutes to think about your child’s background and the beliefs behind the request. Then deal with it imaginatively, without logic. A child who has experienced scarcity will not believe [logically] that there is now plenty of food; despite visiting the grocery store or perusing the pantry. It’s better to say, “Wow! Your body is so clever telling you what you need!”

4. Make the unfamiliar, familiar

Ever had a habit you just can’t break? Or, when you are triggered, revert to old behaviours? We are wired to reject the unfamiliar and to return to the familiar. This is part of your brain’s job; to recognize the familiar to keep us safe. It is evolutionary. But science tells us the brain is neuroplastic and with a lot of practice it is possible to make the familiar, unfamiliar and make the unfamiliar, familiar. Repetition is the key but so is having the will to create lasting change (and not self-sabotage).

Example: We all know it’s important that we praise our children yet many of us find praise unfamiliar. We need to make praise familiar to our children and ourselves and make criticism unfamiliar. When your child is down on himself, such as “I’m the worst at Math,” “I can’t do this!” you can choose to up-praise: “Your coping skills and ability to stick with it are impressive!” And when we get annoyed, instead of saying “Useless,” “Idiot” or “Loser,” try: “You are such a Silly Billy” (which is guaranteed to never put anyone in a therapist chair).

Sometimes you can make the unfamiliar familiar quite intentionally…

Example: If you have a child who has a tic that he is perhaps unaware of, you can ask him to try doing it more (not less). “I notice that you are blinking a lot. Perhaps this is soothing. Do you want to practice doing it more?” You will find that the more your child focuses on the habit, the more it becomes familiar and he realizes he has control over it.

5. Try less conscious effort for increased subconscious response

Have you ever tried looking for something and found that once you stop trying, the information or item turns up? This is because the more conscious effort you make, the less the subconscious responds. Try telling an insomniac to sleep or telling a person who is anxious to relax or breathe. We need to back off the conscious effort sometimes and let the subconscious takeover.

Example: When your child is stressed because they can’t find something, remind him “You have an amazing memory” or when he can’t go to sleep “Your body knows when it is ready to sleep.”

Other helpful tips:

  • Children can only work in the present tense.
  • A child’s mind can only respond to words that make pictures. If you say “don’t stomp in the mud”, the mind will take in “stomp in the mud” because that is the picture.
  • Some words like “don’t” and “can’t” are neutral words that children can’t take in.
  • Children respond better to specific words and instructions. Words like “later” have no meaning.
  • Children can’t future pace, for example if a caregiver was scary when your child was young, he will believe it will always be like this. Practice saying, “This is your life today, but is not your life tomorrow.”

© Fel Stewart, 2019

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