I have a couple of friends who have adopted older children. When I said that I was going to hear Karyn Purvis speak, both of them got dreamy, jealous looks on their faces. "She's so amazing," they both said. "She helped our family more than anyone in the world." I could not wait to see what the big deal was.
I saw. Within five minutes of listening to this soothing, gentle, emotional, brilliant woman, I wanted to be her when I grew up. You know the Dog Whisperer, the Horse Whisperer - Karyn is the Hurt Child Whisperer.
And I thought so many times, I am so glad that she is on our team. As in, a woman who is so dedicated to using her PhD in psychology and what she has learned about the science of the brain to help little ones to the glory of God. As she said, everything we've learned about brain science is completely outlined in the Bible.
Karyn works at the Institute for Child Development at Texas Christian University. There is a webinar online right now about how to parent children from Haiti and other "hard places." You can access it here. If you have adopted an older child, you must learn from her. If you have adopted a younger child, you must hear from her. If you are a parent, you must hear her. Because as I listened, I wasn't even thinking about our future Bethie baby - I was just thinking about how I wanted to go home and implement the things I learned with the kiddos that I have now.
Karyn has written a book called The Connected Child and on the website Empowered to Connect there are a ton of resources, including videos you can download, and there is even a bible study that can be downloaded and printed.
I am just going to give you some of the highlights and quotes that jumped out at me during her talks:
- We are designed for connection. We are designed to know God in each other.
- You could have parented 15 biological children, but adopting a child who has come from a hard place is going to mean you are starting over at ground zero.
- Relationship is primary. If we are fixed on a strategy instead of a relationship we will fail the child. (that one stung)
- Women naturally cradle their babies on the left (this definitely is true of me) - those who are depressed cradle on the right. Why? Because love/bonding/connection is a right brained activity. Wow, huh?
- You can tell immediately how a mother will attach to her child: mothers who will use their entire palm to caress their newborn's face and body; depressed/disattached mothers use only their fingertips
- The most tender-hearted children, if not cherished in early childhood, will become the most aggressive.
- Children who are in perpetual fight or flight mode from an unsafe childhood cannot learn. They are too busy just surviving, so learning delays are almost certain. This made me visualize myself in the middle of a circle of people yielding knives pointed at me. If I felt a poke, I would immediately jump. The same is true of children who came from a traumatic background. Even after being placed in a safe home, the fight or flight instinct remains. The slightest 'poke' can cause them to fall apart and seemingly over-react. The good news is - they CAN be retrained. Karyn said over and over she has never seen a child so traumatized and difficult that cannot make tremendous, tremendous strides. And this woman has worked with the type of kids who have committed murder.
- Sad and scared children look crazy. Sad and scared children look angry.
- Children who come from hard places do not have an understanding of time. They think: my past was bad, my future will be bad, all I have is now and if my immediate needs are not met, I will die. So saying, "you can't go swimming now, we will go this afternoon" can lead to a nuclear meltdown. Many breakdowns may occur throughout the day, and many of them will be violent.
- Trust is built on consistent yeses for the newborn. Newborns get told yes I'll hold you, yes I'll feed you, etc all day long. Around two years old we begin to tell them no, but they can handle it because of all the yeses they received from us in their infancy. Children from hard places missed out on all that, and it led to their brains not developing properly (when you feed your baby at 3am, you are doing some serious positive psychological and physiological work. Fascinating, huh?) So when dealing with the older child who was deprived of a secure infancy, the infancy stage must be recreated. She tries to give a child seven yeses for each no in order to gain trust. This takes much creativity! And it is why she is called the bubble gum lady. Children in her clinics get lots and lots of bubble gum! This also involves rocking them and looking into their eyes, just like a baby, and feeding them every two hours. This causes their brains to develop differently. All that loving we do on a baby - it is more than just bonding, it has a neurological effect on them. (See why I was so blown away?)
- 36 months is the optimal age for attachment. She did not elaborate on this, but I think it explains why Ike resides in a condo wrapped around my little finger at the moment.
- Regarding foster care: there is nothing sadder than a foster mother who is only doing it for the money (as a former CASA worker, I can attest to this fact. The sad, loveless foster homes I visited are what made me determined to be a foster mom someday.) And Karyn claimed that half of the children she has served in the past eleven years were abused in their foster home. Can you imagine the horror of being removed from an abusive home and put right back into another one? What does that do to a child?? CHRISTIANS!! STEP UP!!! (more on that later.)
She also told a true story about some little barn swallows that had built a nest on her front porch, and how her grandchildren and she took great delight in watching them make their nests and raise their babies. Then one night in her neighborhood, there was a horrible situation where a man took his stepdaughter hostage. For hours, swat teams and snipers et al took over her block while the neighborhood, terrified, watched and waited. Finally, the man pushed his daughter outside and set the house ablaze.
After that, the birds were so traumatized, they forgot how to be birds.They destroyed the nest they had and frantically built another. It was huge, three feet across, and full of holes and looked like they had gone crazy. Their eggs would fall through, and sometimes they would push the babies out of the nest and she would find their little dead bodies on her sidewalk.
Finally, Karyn tore down their crazy nest, threw it away, and forced them to build a new one, hoping it would make them remember how to be birds. It worked, and the birds were happy, good parents again who raised happy little bird babies. (You get the analogy, right?)
Those were the highlights. You want to read more, don't you? Go on over to Empowered to Connect and learn how to better love your chicks. And Mary at Owlhaven also wrote a great post.