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>Relationship, Trauma & Attachment

June 10, 2011

>It is always this way: start thinking about something and it begins popping up every where.”Relationship” has been the theme of the past few months.

Several month’s ago I ‘fessed up that with some retooling, a secular parenting paradigm called the Nurtured Heart Approach (NHA) helped us turn a major corner with Hope. Early this year, when the psychiatrist doing Hope’s FASD evaluation asked me if we had found anything that helped, I mentioned NHA. A few months ago, when we got the draft report from the evaluation, I was a little surprised to see it reported like this: “Parents have used the Nurtured Heart Approach to build attachment with Hope.”

Attachment? I thought. Hope’s attachment to our family after she came home actually went very well. I never really thought of NHA as being about attachment.

But the seed was planted.

More recently, I shared that after reflecting on it, I realized that we don’t often discipline Hope –if discipline is defined as a punitive consequence designed to teach the child to conform with expected behaviors. Instead, I had found it more effective with Hope to proactively teach in the context of relationship.

There it was again: Relationship. Attachment.

Even more recently, I have spoken with several moms who are at the end of their rope with children who came home 5-7 years ago with a history of prenatal alcohol exposure, kids who are now displaying signs of RAD (Radical Attachment Disorder). Things have been so hard for so long that they can’t clearly remember back to those early months before their child hit toddler hood and behaviors started going downhill so fast: if they ever felt attached to their challenging child. Some of these moms now feel they have no relationship other than intellectual commitment and even that is wearing thin.

That took me back to the NHA support group I attended after my husband and I received NHA training. The eight families represented all had kids either with diagnoses of RAD or with prenatal alcohol exposure. Our mentor/trainer’s children had ADHD. I was too new to the subject to do more than puzzle over the evidence that this same set of parenting tools worked on kids who seemed very different to me: on one hand, kids who came to their permanent families with significant trauma histories; on the other, kids whose challenges were rooted in atypical neurobiology.

“…have used the Nurtured Heart Approach to build attachment with Hope,” hit a unifying chord. Some kids in my support group brought significant trauma into the family, which in turn spilled over into trauma on the family, as well. But for the rest of us, living for years in ignorance with FASD and ADHD behaviors had created trauma that significantly strained our attachment to each other. We were living the early chapters in the lives of those older kids adopted out of disrupted adoptions.

No wonder NHA worked on both groups: we were all moving up the strained end of the attachment continuum, with the children who had RAD leading the way. NHA is only superficially about behavior management. That’s the result gained by intensive work rebuilding relationship.

No wonder, then, with a painful understanding of just how easily attachment is strained under stress, I guard against disciplining in any way that might threaten the attachment we have so carefully rebuilt. We now have a shared trauma history, Hope and us. We are stronger for having healed together because we don’t view it as her problem. It is our problem. Through no fault of her own, she was born with atypical neurology and through no fault of our own, we didn’t recognize it or know how to cope with it.

Yet that idea sits heavily on my heart because it is not widely acknowledged how hard it is to parent children who have challenging behaviors. So we tend to struggle alone. We tend to not ask for help until we are at the very end of our rope and have exhausted every other option –and by that point, our relationship may be significantly damaged. We have not been taught that our attachment to a challenging child can be a fragile thing that we must actively nurture because that relationship is the foundation of everything else we hope to build.

A bonus, if you haven’t already read it, NHA is on Kari’s heart today, too.

To locate the previous posts on grace-based NHA, click on the “Faith and FASD” tag in the label cloud.

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