Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Our First "Connected Child" Experiences

We've been home with Eli only four days now.  In some ways it feels like he's been a part of our family for much longer, but we know that all three of us are still going through major adjustments.  Learning about each other, establishing routines, setting and testing boundaries.

Overall, Eli has been a champ.

That's not to say we haven't had our struggles already.  Eli has a pretty solid defiant streak in him; some of that is probably typical four year-old behavior, some is probably cultural (particularly when it comes to him resisting discipline from me), and some is probably his grief and pain manifesting as controlling behaviors.  But whatever the cause, it's something Brad and I must address as it happens, so as not to allow larger issues to develop.

We've been able to put into practice what we've learned in Dr. Karyn Purvis's book, The Connected Child and in her two-day workshop last spring.  If you're an adoptive parent, either waiting or home with your child, and you haven't yet read The Connected Child, you should make it an immediate priority.

Dr. Purvis writes about establishing a "trust account" with your child.  And employing firm, gentle touch to bring your child close to you, even while disciplining them.  It's an extremely compassionate approach that resonates well with me.  And it works.

One example is using a "time-in" instead of a "time-out" in response to bad behavior.  A time-in is a variation on a time-out, but instead of sending the child away to consider their behavior, an adult always stays close by.  Being sent away to a time-out can mirror the rejection and loss of losing their first family, so instead of being sent away the child is brought closer.  The message is always "we are not going anywhere, even when you misbehave."

The true Purvis time-in involves a "think-it-over" place, where the child can be near the adult until they're ready to talk about what they did and develop a strategy for a do-over.  We can't really explain a think-it-over place (or the concept of a do-over) to Eli right now because of his very limited English, so we have employed time-ins by holding Eli close to us when he misbehaves.

Our first time-in was in response to Eli refusing to come to Brad when he called him.  We had just finished lunch and Eli scrambled away from the table without being excused, and while Brad and I were still eating.  This is not how we've established our mealtime routine; the family eats together and finishes together, and if Eli is done first he may ask to be excused.

Eli was only about ten feet away when Brad called him back to the table.  He looked straight at Brad and gave the double shoulder shrug (the adamant Gambella "HECK NO").  So Brad went over to Eli, picked him up, and brought him back to sit on his lap at the table.

Eli was furious.  He screamed, he cried, he kicked, he flailed.  And the harder Eli resisted, the closer Brad held him.  Brad told Eli what was expected of him at mealtime, and that he must always come when called.  But Brad also told Eli how much we loved him, that he was a good boy, and that even good boys sometimes make the wrong decision.  This went on for an hour and fifteen minutes, until Eli finally quit struggling, quit crying, and would look Brad in the eye.

We don't know how many of the actual words Eli understood, but I'm confident that Brad's firm but compassionate approach reached him.  Because the next defiant episode (that night, at bedtime, with me) was resolved with a much shorter time-in, probably only ten minutes.  And the one the following day (again with me) was so brief I could almost describe it as instantaneous.

One of the routines we've established with Eli is that we all help clean up after meals.  While Brad and I clear the table, Eli takes our napkins upstairs to the dirty clothes hamper.  When we all got up at the end of our meal, I tried to hand Eli the napkins but he turned away from me and gave me the shoulder shrug (just one shoulder this time).  I gave him another chance to do it, but he still refused.

So I scooped him up, sat him on my lap, and held him tightly.  I put the napkins on the table in front of me.  He screamed and struggled for about a minute, then reached out and grabbed the napkins and looked at me.  I let him get down and he went straight upstairs and put them in the hamper.


I'm so proud of you, Eli.


  1. great work mama!
    love The Connected Child

  2. I love these! You have a gift, Kathleen! And great job! :)