“Lap Therapy” Time by Beth Powell, LCSW

Beth Powell, LCSW, is owner of Beth Powell’s In-Family Services, an outpatient psychotherapy private practice specializing in trauma informed care. Her new book, Fun Games and Physical Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt publishes this month.

Bye-Bye Baby Bunting.

Daddy’s gone a hunting.

To catch a little rabbit skin,

To wrap his Baby Bunting in.

                                       Mother Goose

When I was a small child being cared for by my aunt, she sang this song while rocking me to a slow 60-beat-a-minute rhythm.  My aunt took over my care when my mother’s mental illness made it unsafe for my sister and me to be with her. What a contrast in care! My aunt’s rhythm, voice, words, touch, and smell were so much more soothing than my mother’s.  With my aunt, I could relax. I didn’t have to struggle to get away or dissociate into a floppy, non‑moving, barely breathing, pretending-to-be-dead little girl.  My aunt exuded safety and calm that soothed my restlessness.

Resting against my aunt’s chest, I felt the slow, consistent beat of her heart.  I relaxed into the protection of her arms wrapped gently around me.  Her voice, vibrating from her chest into my ears, awakened the proprioceptive neural impulses in my face that told me where I was in time and in space.  Grounding me with her body, she held me so I wouldn’t fall.  Wrapped in her loving arms, I felt safe enough to close my eyes.  The sweet smell of my aunt’s skin pleasured the lower, emotional center of my brain, enticing me to lie close and be still just a little bit longer.

The more my caregiver sang and rocked me, the more her song and her rhythm calmed and relaxed her.  As she calmed and relaxed, so did I.  We shared a pleasurable experience.  We connected in a happy, healing way.  My receptive language was developing.  Her words and touch assured me that there was someone much bigger and stronger than I was who had my best interests at heart.  She was unafraid and confident in her ability to nurture.  She put me first.  By her loving actions, she was forming a template in my brain of safety–security–protection–trust in a higher power through a concrete, much-bigger-than-myself human being.  The safety and security I felt in her arms paved the way for my future belief and faith in a loving, abstract, not-of-this-earth higher, heavenly power.

Adults create healthy, secure attachment in children through positive “real” non-virtual, physical interaction with them.  Caregivers are able to instill in children safety–security–protection–trust because loving, protective adults instilled it in them.  My birth mother couldn’t instill that in me.  But my aunt and uncle, my grandma, and my first‑grade teacher, Miss Beetles, could. They were the human caregiving angels God sent my way. Thus, in spite of the hard beginnings I had, the template was established, in childhood, for the “me” I am today because of caregivers like them who somehow understood what I needed and were able to provide it when I needed it.

Internalized safety–security–protection–trust is the base from which self-esteem, self-confidence, self-responsibility, self-strength, and altruism develop. It is the support upon which mature character or the internalized Fruit of the Spirit must build.  Without an internalized secure base, children develop anxiety and self-deception.  When a child has a secure base in childhood with positive attachment to a preferred, stable, protective, and physically present primary caregiver, then a healthy relationship with God, whom we cannot see, is much easier.

Insecurely attached and developmentally traumatized children often succumb to unhealthy control, anxiety, mistrust of those who love them, and abusive behaviors.  As adults they either become their own God (unhealthy narcissism) or they may find God in substances or toxic behaviors. Reversing unhealthy belief systems is difficult but not impossible. It’s work that is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for parents who take a child’s antics personally, as if it is “them” whom the child is out to get by interpreting their“can’ts” as “won’ts.”

Therapeutic caregivers of hurting children seek the sources of the unpleasant symptoms that they see, and they address those sources from a psychological, neuro-behavioral, socio-emotional and spiritual growth perspective.  Children need to trust that adult caregivers can and will protect them.  This trumps any other socio-emotional need in childhood.  This is the base upon which the quality of the relationship with self, with others, and with God is built.  A child who has experienced significant neglect, abuse, loss, and chronic and acute stress has an even greater need for safety-security-protection-trust experiences with loving, mature, and stable adults.  They have a harder time developing trust because it has been broken, sometimes again and again.

Below is a therapeutic activity that caregivers can share and enjoy with the children in their care to help them establish an essential base of safety–security–protection–trust.

Caregiver–child rocking chair time to help calm brain and body

It’s not just about rocking infants any more.  Larger children who hurt can benefit from rocking, too.  And so can the caregiver.  This comforting act helps regulate children when they are fretting and need help regulating themselves.

It also provides caregiver–child quality “love and bonding” time.  How comforting rocking feels for both parties involved.  Caregivers can even rock themselves when they feel out of sorts, and it helps to re-set their brain.

Rocking caregivers should add a slowly-sung comforting song, hum something spiritually soothing, or just gently make a “shush” sound with their lips and tongue while taking slow, long, and deep breaths to not only better regulate themselves but to give the child something to match.   A regulated parent helps regulate a child.  The drawn out “shush” sound and the slow, rhythmic rocking replicates the sound and the movement the gestational infant at least should have received in utero.  This movement and sound helps the baby’s lower brain develop in a healthier way to better manage stress.  It also helps the older brain do the same.

Caregiver-initiated knee-bouncing games to help install rhythmic synchronicity and nurture trust in children

One of my favorite close times with the adults who loved and enjoyed me as a child was to “Go See Mr. Brown.”  I’m not sure where this knee-bouncing game originated, but it could have been passed down generationally through my South Mississippi maternal ancestors.

To perform this adult-activated activity, the child first sits, facing the adult, on the adult’s knees.  It’s important that the adult’s face and body language convey confidence and fun with lots of facial expression and eye contact.

The adult securely holds onto the child while the child securely holds onto the adult. Then the adult bounces the child slowly and consistently up and down on the knees in synchrony with the words and the 60-beat-a-minute rhythm of the following song:

Mr. Brown went to town

Riding a goat and leading a hound.

The hound barked; the goat jumped.

Threw Mr. Brown right down on a stump!

Surprise! The child does not tumble onto the floor.  Instead, the adult gently, slowly, and securely tilts the child backward as far as the child can comfortably tolerate without showing signs of anxiety and fear.  Then slowly, the adult returns the child to a sitting position on top of the knees.  The adult then asks the child, “Who kept you from falling on that stump?”  “You did!” is the desired answer.  “And I will every time!” can be the adult response.

As the child grows in trust that the adult performing the activity will keep him safe from falling, and will stop if the activity scares him, then the adult may gradually increase the speed and the depth to which the child is tilted back.  In the situation of a hyper-vestibular child (child fearful of too much movement), that may not be by much because the part of the brain which reads and adjusts to movement isn’t working as optimally as it should.  Heed the expression on the child’s face and take notice of resistance in the body to the tilting back movement.  Ask children if they are ready to tilt back.  Don’t force a child to tilt back farther than he or she is ready to go.  That doesn’t build safety-security-protection-trust.

“Lap therapy” time is supposed to be pleasurable and bonding.  It should be mutually enjoyable with lots of eye contact and joyful, loving facial expression on the part of the caregiver!

Children’s services aren’t placing enough emphasis on life work in helping adopted and fostered children

life workJoy Rees discusses the importance of life work in helping children to understand their personal stories and experiences, but says that too many children’s services lack enough time to carry out this vital work.  Her article has been adapted from her new book, Life Work with Children Who are Fostered or Adopted, which emphasises that life work is best achieved using a collaborative approach.

As a social work practitioner, manager and trainer, I have worked directly and indirectly with children in care throughout my career.  Most of these children were living with, or about to move to, permanent substitute families.  Many were placed years prior to my involvement, and it was with the benefit of hindsight that I began to reflect on the purpose of life work and the effect that this had on the children I met. Continue reading

Christmas can be a tough time for children who have experienced trauma. How can we help them to enjoy the festive period?

child trauma christmas

Betsy de Thierry, author of The Simple Guide to Sensitive Boys and The Simple Guide to Child Trauma, explains how Christmas isn’t necessarily a happy time for all children, especially those who have experienced trauma.

Television adverts and social media are full of happy families at this time of year. Tables are laden with delicious food, presents can be found under trees and all around everyone is smiling. Beneath this image, however, there are many children who, for various emotional reasons and past traumatic experiences, can find the contrived festive spirit overwhelming.

For those who care for a child who fits this description, I thought I’d highlight a few challenges and potential triggers to be aware of during Christmas.

  1. Adult expectations that all emotions will be positive

As parents and carers we do love it when our photos make us look like a happy family.  We enjoy dressing up our kids in Christmas jumpers and taking photos that make us look way more perfect, peaceful, harmonious and happy than perhaps the reality is.

Children who have experienced trauma can pick up on a parent’s anxiety for everything to go ‘perfectly’. They are often hyper-vigilant which means that they notice the small detail of your facial expressions, others emotions, smells, sights and sounds – such as a raised eyebrow – because their subconscious has been trained to notice such things in order to survive unpredictable frightening scenarios. Whilst it has been a survival strategy to pre warn them about anything frightening about to happen, it also means that they can see clearly in your eyes the look of hope, fear and uncertainty as you speak about the plans for Christmas celebrations. They want to please you so they may try and be all that you want them to be- but the cost to them can be high. If they feel that your need for perfection and a ‘happy Christmas’ is important for their ‘survival’ then they may deny their own struggles to focus on your needs, which could lead to a volcanic eruption of negative emotions at some point as they will be struggling to hold all their strong emotions internally for too long.

As a tip, it can be helpful to laugh together at the media’s image of Christmas and talk about how many feelings all the adults and children can have at Christmas. It’s always helpful to tell stories of when you were a child and received a weird or unexpected present and how you navigated the expectations and feelings you felt. Laughter at expectations is important and can dilute the pressure that can be felt.

2.  Overwhelming feelings of happiness, loss, sadness, excitement all at the same time

For almost every child, Christmas is a time of experiencing lots of different emotions. Most children will feel excited and hopeful and then on the day of presents will feel happy alongside short, sharp moments of awkwardness, disappointment and sadness that a few presents were not received or weren’t quite right.

For children who are struggling from trauma, these emotions will be significantly stronger but can also be coupled with a strong feeling of loss. Loss seems to be a strong emotion at Christmas; in an environment where things ‘should be perfect’, the loss of a family member, their birth family, a life experience, or a loss of innocence can be felt powerfully, although sometimes on an implicit subconscious level. The strong feelings of loss, which can be felt as sadness and anger, can be overwhelming in the context of ‘happy people’. Somehow the contrast can feel explosive. To add to the cocktail of strong emotions is the most potent of all feelings, which is guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame is often carried at the core of traumatised children as they feel the weight of self-blame for what they have experienced, despite the obvious fact for us that they never caused or deserved anything that happened to them. Shame is the sense that they are bad, dirty, worthless people at the core of who they are. Christmas can feel so overwhelming that their shame levels can rise because they feel that they will probably be ‘the one to ruin everything’ and make everyone unhappy. This can create anxiety or terror, which can lead to some children emotionally exploding before Christmas events have even begun.

3. Relatives commenting on how they look, small talk and expected hugs

Children who have been through trauma can sometimes feel confused about adult requests (‘oh give your granny a hug’) and ‘small talk ‘conversations (what a lovely, happy chap you are!”). When there are unfamiliar relatives who hold expectations such as hugs, it can feel like being traumatised. Trauma can be defined as experiencing powerlessness and terror at the same time. A child could feel powerless (inability to say no) and terror (strong fear) when adults ask them to hug, tickle them or tease them. We need to be able to explain to children that they can say ‘no thank you’ and be confident in ‘being shy’ because that is a normal response to such demands. It’s also helpful if we can chat to relatives and other adults who may visit and explain that, for safeguarding reasons, we are teaching our children that they can take the lead on their own body and say ‘no’ when they want to.  We can also explain that sometimes children may not engage in small talk because they are learning how to be authentic in their conversations and so may not say ‘the right thing’.  It can also be important to point out that children certainly don’t like being teased or commented on because they are children with real emotions and sensitivities.

4. Needing to pretend they like the presents they are given

This is fairly obvious but can be a huge pressure for children to navigate. They see the look of hope on the present giver and don’t want to disappoint whilst also feeling a sense of disappointment themselves. Let’s be kind to children who are honest and have emotions that are authentic and enable them to process negative feelings in a way that ends well and gives them a life time of skill.

5. A strange fat man (Father Christmas) is coming into my bedroom while I am sleeping

As an adult I would not be keen to think that an old man is coming to my bedroom at night while I am sleeping. It doesn’t make me feel safe. I have no idea why we think children would be ok with this! If your child doesn’t sleep around the Christmas season, it could be due to fear about this experience. They may feel too much shame to tell you as others seem so excited about it, but actually the feelings of anxiety can rise leading up to this ‘special night’. For those who have been sexually abused, by a man at night coming into their bedroom, it would seem obvious that they may not be feeling that relaxed. Popping the fantasy bubble about Father Christmas can be the kindest thing you can do to some children!

If you would like to read more articles like Betsy’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption, Fostering and Social Care books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Sally Donovan reflects upon her journey as an adoptive parent and discusses adoption’s place in the future

adoption futureSally Donovan, bestselling author of No Matter What and The Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting, recounts how her journey as an adoptive parent has changed and shaped her as an individual, and discusses adoption’s place in the future. Her article is taken from 30 Years of Social Change which gathers together over 30 leading thinkers from diverse disciplines to reflect upon how their fields of expertise have evolved during those years.

Thirty years ago, as Jessica Kingsley Publishers was being formed, I was 18 and about to embark on my first experience of parenting. After finishing sixth form college I took the Eurolines coach to Paris and started work as an au-pair for an Anglo-French couple. He was a floppy-haired British banker who had something of a blonde Hugh Grant about him and she was a beautiful Parisian who spoke English like Princess Diana. I lived with them in their rented house just off Place Charles de Gaulle and cared for their 1 year-old son Pascal. It was kind of normal back then to go to a foreign country, move in with people you knew virtually nothing about and, with no experience, look after their precious child. Continue reading

How has adoption changed professionally in the past 30 years?

30 years adoptionBestselling author of Creating Loving Attachments and clinical psychologist Kim Golding reflects upon the major changes in the world of adoption over the past 30 years and looks towards the future. Her article is taken from 30 Years of Social Change which gathers together over 30 leading thinkers from diverse disciplines to reflect upon how their fields of expertise have evolved during those years.

The year 1987 was life-changing for me. I was a relatively newly qualified clinical psychologist and was embarking on motherhood. The birth of my son was a long way removed from the world of adoption and fostering but, unbeknown to me at the time, this latter world was on the threshold of great change.

It would be another decade before I took on the responsibility alongside colleagues to develop a support service for carers of children living in and adopted from care, but this service would be shaped by changes that were already starting. The 30 years during which my son has grown into an  adult,  and Jessica  Kingsley Publishers  has become a leading publisher in literature focused on adoption and  fostering,  have  coincided  with  a  period  of intense scrutiny, research and change within the world of fostering and adoption.

Continue reading

Join our Adoption and Fostering mailing list for a free catalogue

adoption fosteringSign up to our mailing list to receive a free copy of our new Adoption and Fostering catalogue for parents, carers, professionals and children.

Our adoption and fostering resources offer valuable guidance on important issues including attachment and trauma parenting, foster and residential care, life story work, education and schools, creative therapies, transracial adoption, parenting teens, special educational needs and more.  We also have a great set of therapeutic children’s books to help them manage big feelings.

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What is Theraplay® and how does it help children with attachment difficulties to connect with their parents and carers?

TheraplayVivien Norris and Helen Rodwell discuss what Theraplay is, how it works and why it is such an easy yet powerful tool for helping children with attachment difficulties to emotionally connect with their parents and carers. This extract is taken from their new book, Parenting with Theraplay®, and is preceded by a foreword from Dafna Lender, Programme Director of The Theraplay® Institute. Their book is a simple guide for parents which explains everything you need to know about Theraplay, with practical tips to apply it to everyday family life.

Click here to read the extract

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How to make an effective special guardianship assessment

special guardianship

With the number of Special Guardianship Orders (SGO) on the sharp rise, the need for thorough analytical assessments has never been greater when deciding whether to place a child with a potential special guardian. Here Joanne Alper and colleagues draw on experts in the field to provide information and guidance in the promotion of improved analysis when undertaking these complex assessments.

Click here to read the extract

Joanne is the author of Assessing Adoptive Parents, Foster Carers and Kinship Carers, Second Edition. Now fully updated and expanded to cover the assessment of kinship carers and special guardians, the book enables professionals to establish a meaningful understanding of parenting capacity and what it takes to support a child with a history of trauma, loss or hurt.

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Recommended reading for new and prospective foster carers

recommended reading foster carersAn extract from Welcome to Fostering, for foster agencies considering books for their recommended reading lists for new and prospective foster carers.

Download the extract 

If you’re thinking about becoming a foster carer, or have recently become one, this book is the one companion you’ll need to understand the experience of fostering. Edited by Andy Elvin, CEO of the UK’s largest adoption and fostering charity TACT, and Martin Barrow, former news editor at The Times and a veteran foster carer himself, the book demystifies the process of fostering by combining invaluable advice from long-term foster carers, the expertise of the professionals who support them, and priceless experiences of foster children themselves; it answers all the questions you’ve had about how to become a foster carer, what the challenges and highlights are, and what it takes to thrive as one.
If you would like to read more articles like this and hear the latest news and offers on our Fostering books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You may also be interested in liking our Adoption, Fostering and Parenting Facebook page.

Tips for promoting young children’s wellbeing

Young children's wellbeing

Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, author of Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing, provides some very useful and easy tips for supporting young children’s happiness at this important stage in their development.

Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, and we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off to a great start in life. But to help children have a good wellbeing, we need to be proactive about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved – that they are loved for the unique and precious individuals they are. Parents and grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that key workers, teaching assistants, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use and the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day. I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together. Continue reading