Self-care for caregivers

Today we continue in our blog series based on the book The Connected Parent. We began the series with a focus on attachment styles (our own and our child’s) and how they affect parenting. Written and researched by communications intern Emma Lehman, the second post centers around care for the caregiver. The Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) principles were established to care for youth from hard places. These strategies can be reframed to support the caregiver’s wellbeing so they can be their best self for their kids.

For parents of children from hard places, it can be a challenge to balance their child’s needs with their own. Hard work, creativity, and diligence are important when it comes to caring for children with developmental trauma. However, this amount of constant stress can lead to exhaustion. It becomes harder to maintain empathy when weariness takes hold.

In The Connected Parent, Dr. Karyn Purvis illustrates how the Trust-Based Relational Intervention principles (TBRI) are used to guide children from hard places toward healing. Dr. Purvis also notes that the principles of TBRI, empowering, connecting and correcting, can be used for your self-care. At its core, TBRI is meant to empower the body, connect to the soul, and correct behavior and thinking.

Caregivers of children who have experienced hardships can oftentimes find themselves consumed by their child’s needs. While attempting to meet the child’s needs, they can unintentionally neglect their own. Helping these children heal can also lead to secondary trauma and compassion fatigue. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network describes secondary trauma as, “the presence of PTSD symptoms caused by indirect exposure to trauma.” Compassion fatigue is, “negative cumulative effects of empathetic engagement with trauma.”

The effects of secondary trauma can affect parents and helping professionals alike. Don’t feel ashamed of these feelings. Acknowledge them and explore what you need to heal and regain resilience.

Empowerment

Empowering principles are for the body. This includes the brain, neurochemistry, and regulation of blood sugar. Secondary trauma and chronic stressors negatively impact the body. The key to creating a healing environment for wounded children is by countering stressors. Some examples Dr. Purvis suggested include sleep, hydration, and physical activity. Focusing on these areas will benefit self-care as well.

Sleep directly impacts cognitive functions and physical health. Many health professionals will encourage the use of sleep medication, but there are often alternatives that may be effective. Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t always realistic for parents. But making sure the sleep environment is appropriate for rest is. You might lower the lights about an hour before bed, limit access to bluescreens (such as mobile phones, tablets, etc.), and minimally furnish the room for a less distracting space. A sound machine and oil diffuser with a soothing scent can also provide a calming atmosphere.

Hydration is deeply connected to cognitive ability and metabolism. Even at 15% of dehydration, cognitive function declines. Health, physical activity, and environment play a role in how much fluids should be taken a day. One trick for checking hydration levels includes how frequently one urinates, its color, and its odor. Don’t forget, about 20% of daily fluid intake comes from food; the rest comes from drinks.

Physical activity helps organize the brain and release endorphins (mood elevators). Children are encouraged to engage in physical activity or sensory exercise every two hours. Since worldly demands don’t give adults that amount of luxury, a short walk while completing tasks is just as helpful. Engaging in physical movement outside can be even more beneficial. Extra points if your child is involved.

Connection

Connecting principles contribute to healthy relationships. For children with attachment challenges, this would be used for building trust-based relationships and helping them to find their voice. Caretakers can adjust these principles to support their relationships and voice. This principle is split into two strategies: mindfulness and engagement.

In connecting with children from hard places, mindfulness is about understanding each other’s histories and triggers and what we bring to relationships. In terms of self-care, it’s about practicing awareness and ability to focus on others. Take time to center your thoughts on the feel of your body, and how it connects to the world.

Engagement is about community. In caring for a child, engagement strategies highlight non-verbal ways to make a connection such as eye contact and close proximity. When it comes to self-care, research shows the correlation of social connection and overall well-being. During times of high stress and anxiety, having people around to listen and understand these struggles can make all the difference. Socializing creates emotional support, logistical support, information support, and a sense of belonging. All of which are essential for meaningful relationships.

Sometimes it might feel easier to push others away when things get out of control. In truth, it can be more beneficial for the caregiver and child if the caregiver allows others to participate. This includes caring for your child, and caring for you. Dr. Purvis encouraged parents to, “Make it a goal to pause and say yes when someone asks if they can help rather than automatically saying no and insisting you have things handled” (The Connected Parent, 165).

Correction

Correcting principles are about responding appropriately to fear-based and connection-seeking behaviors that are indicative of a child’s need. When using this principle for self-care, caregivers can address their own needs. Instead of focusing on family imperfections, it’s about proactivity and healthy responses.

Proactive strategies with a child might look like practicing social skills through play. To cope with all the daily stressors in life, what changes can be made to cultivate more joy and peace in your world? Even the smallest moments can be used for self-compassion, like swiping a checkmark next to an accomplishment on a task list or having a dance party in the kitchen.

Responsive strategies include acknowledging the way one responds to a difficult interaction with their child with unique needs. Reflection with understanding friends, or counseling from a professional, can help in figuring out what went wrong, and how that interaction can be improved for the next time. Start by being curious. Pay attention to how you respond to mistakes. Talk to yourself as a coach rather than a warden, just as you would for your child or a close friend.

Allow for slow progress, and celebrate successes. Don’t push too hard and expect rapid change. Your mental health as a parent or caregiver is just as important as being there for your child. There’s no shame in asking for help.

If you would like to speak with a licensed counselor about self-care strategies or mental health struggles, our Encompass team would be honored to support you. View our locations and reach out for an appointment.

Skills for meaningful attachments

Today, we’re starting a blog series based on the book, The Connected Parent, to give caregivers support as they raise youth who have experienced trauma. Written and researched by communications intern Emma Lehman, the first post highlights the various types of attachment and their significance when it comes to relationships and parenting.

As a faith-based foster care agency, our mission is to cultivate healing for children who have experienced trauma and neglect. Our therapeutic approach follows the Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI) as prescribed by Dr. Karyn Purvis of Texas Christian University. This method of intervention follows a holistic philosophy of healing as the harm these hurt children have experienced affects the child’s development as a whole.

One strategy Dr. Purvis advised was to examine the heart of relationship attachments. Parents long to have a deep connection with their children. There is lasting emotional damage in disconnection and rejection from those they love. This strategy is used to understand the impact of the broken relationships these children experienced early in their life. It’s also an invitation for caretakers of foster/adopted children to “go back to the beginning” of their life for their own childhood experiences. Emotional education is important for intimacy and relationships. Parents who use their story as an example can help their children to better understand themselves and the world around them.

In her book The Connected Parent, Dr. Purvis provided four skills, outlined in Jude Cassidy’s article “Truth, Lies, and Intimacy: An Attachment Perspective.” These skills are developed to create meaningful relationships and attachments into adulthood. Dr. Purvis then prompts parents to actively, and honestly, reflect on their strengths in these areas. By doing this, parents can discover which skills come easier, and which ones may need improvement.

Receive and Seek Care

The ability to seek care is what attachment theorists call the “attachment behavioral system.” It’s thought to have evolved from individuals’ closeness to attachment figures when threatened, ensuring a greater chance of survival. In prime development, this area of attachment occurs within the first two years of life, as a child learns that their caregiver is safe and their needs are met.

For children who had secure relationships with their caregivers, studies show a strong correlation between children’s ability to recognize an attachment figure for security and the attention they received. This attention also connects to worth. A caregiver who responds to their child’s needs with attentiveness lets their child know they are safe and that their needs matter.

People learn about themselves from seeing how others view them. When youth have a positive, mental representation of others caring for them they are viewed as worthy of care. There is then a greater capacity for comfort in seeking care. This can include caring for sensory needs, emotional needs, and physical needs, for both adults and children.

Unfortunately, not every child receives security in their early life. Insecure relationships can appear in three ways: avoidant (dismissive care), ambivalent (inconsistent care), and disorganized (unpredictable care). Studies showed that individuals who grew up in an insecure relationship with their caregiver[s] are less likely to seek attachment later in life. This can interfere with care-seeking and intimacy in future relationships. Without a stable base for being cared for, it’s more difficult to view a connection as safe.

The outcomes of how a child received care while growing up can be demonstrated through how they react to receiving genuine care later in life. Do they push away the caregiver? Do they ignore their own individual needs? How difficult is it to admit they need help or accept kindness from others?

Give Care

The ability to give nurturing care sprouts from how someone received care. It means being available to others – children, spouses, romantic partners, strangers, etc. – in times of trouble. It’s the ability to recognize another person’s needs and respond lovingly and respectfully. It’s becoming an attachment figure for someone else, so this skill develops while being cared for.

Studies show that adults who experienced secure, childhood attachments will be more sensitive to giving that same responsive care to their children. Likewise, adults who received negative experiences in attachments may be more likely to project that same care. Selma Fraiberg (et al.) called this predictor the “ghosts in the nursery” in her research on the cycle of attachment dynamics between adults and their children (“Ghosts in the Nursery: Psychoanalytic Approach to the Problems of Impaired Infant-Mother Relationships”).

Be Autonomous

Autonomy, the ability to find contentment in solitude or with others, is crucial for intimacy. It allows oneself to truly be close to another person. It also requires the confidence in understanding oneself to make choices based on needs. Secure attachment must be established for autonomy to flourish. This security provides a safe base to explore from and return to.

A lower level of autonomy during exploration can be experienced by children who didn’t grow up with secure attachments. With uncertainty about their caregiver’s availability, children who experienced insecure/ambivalent care often turn their attention toward their caregiver instead of exploring. This decreased autonomy occurs because they are focused on finding stability in their relationships.

Comfort with one’s autonomous self also results from the caregiver’s responsiveness to their child’s interest in exploration. For example, if caregiver ignores a child wishes for independence, the child may feel guilty when they explore. Caregivers who have difficulty with their self-intimacy may even abandon their child in retaliation for requesting more freedom. In contrast, if a child who learned that being close to another person is dangerous, that child may become suspicious of intimacy.

Negotiate Needs

Finally, there is the ability to negotiate needs. For children from hard places, this is an important skill to help guide them toward correct behaviors. However, this is also a skill that is important for everyday life when interacting with other people. Intimacy relies on the ability to negotiate closeness, not in the closeness itself.

This is another skill that is learned through child-caretaker relationships. The caregiver and child must negotiate one another’s needs day-to-day to give and receive care. This skill also plays a part in autonomy as it requires the individual to trust in others, and trust in themselves to know and receive what one wants, in relationships, or in meeting other needs.

For relationships to be smoothly functioning, negotiation must be involved. Studies on relationships between adult couples reported that those who grew up with secure attachments are good at negotiation within their relationship. In another study by M. Carole Pistole (“Attachment in Adult Romantic Relationships: Style of Conflict Resolution and Relationship Satisfaction”), secure attachment couples were more likely to use integrative, win-win negotiation strategies to maintain the wishes of both individuals in the relationship.

The echoes of one’s childhood are reflected in the skills used day-to-day when building attachments, as well as how one parents their children. Empathy is key for strengthening connections. Using one’s own experience as a tool can help both the child and that individual heal from past traumas.

While parenting children from hard places, one’s own past struggles frequently come to light and create barriers in caregiving. TBRI encourages reflecting on them with a therapist, mentor, pastor or mature friend. There is no shame in admitting the need for help.

Attachment affects our relationships including the caregiver-child relationship. For more support in this area, we invite you to connect with one of our counselors at Encompass.

Works Cited
Cassidy, Jude. “Truth, Lies, and Intimacy: An Attachment Perspective.” Attachment and Human Development, vol. 3, no. 2, 2001, pp. 121-136. EBSCOhost, http://ezproxy.uakron.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=psyh&AN=2001-11895-001&site=eds-live.
Purvis, Karyn, et al. “Know Yourself.” The Connected Parent. Harvest House Publishers, 2020, pp. 47-60.

You are not alone

As we continue in this challenging time due to the coronavirus, we are incredibly grateful for your prayers and support. We want to be a resource of hope and encouragement to you as well.

We want to remind you of truth. Jesus overcome sin and death and He is still in control today. Sovereign over every detail. Our shield and defender. Our comforter and friend.

The changes brought on because of the health crisis will affect each of us differently. Triggers to past trauma. Job loss or financial insecurity. Relationships complicated by sheltering in place together. Isolation from family and friends. Depression. Anxiety.

You are navigating uncharted territory. But you are not alone. Encompass counselors are just a phone call away to support you.

Our dedicated therapists support individuals and families with mental health and relationship concerns. We’re also here to help with increased anxiety and other struggles due to COVID-19. Counseling services are available for children, teens and adults through our new confidential telemental health option.

In the days and weeks ahead, our experienced Encompass clinicians will also be sharing resources to help keep you encouraged and connected. Check back frequently for our latest information.

View COVID-19 resources.

Parenting from the heart

Encompass Christian Counseling, a ministry of Christian Children’s Home of Ohio, is hosting a four-week parenting series called Parenting from the Heart on Mondays at Parkview Christian Church in Wooster.

Designed for parents with children of all ages, we’ll focus on topics relevant to raising today’s kids. Encompass’ clinicians will teach practical skills and strategies to help manage emotions and behaviors. Plus, it’s a great opportunity to connect with other parents.

February 17 with Michele Valois, MA, LPC
Social Media Rules of Engagement:
The consequences of sharing inappropriate pics

February 24 with Dave Hicks, MA, LPCC-S
The Heart of Parenting a Youth with Trauma

March 2 with Frank Yost, MA, LPC
What’s Really Happening in Your Child’s Brain:
No, your two-year-old isn’t oppositional and your 16-year-old isn’t arguing just to argue.

March 9 with Marecia Harris, MSW, LSW
The Heart of Parenting a Youth with Depression or Anxiety

Sessions are free. Sign up for one or all four. RSVPs required for adults and kids.
Pizza dinner and childcare (ages 5-12) provided.

RSVP to Kandy Frame at 330.345.7949 or framek@ccho.org by the Friday before your session of choice.