Movies move us.
Movies tell stories. Storytelling is a powerful way engage your audience, to provoke thought, to connect with others.
Movies often involve popcorn, soda and other treats.
Bottom line: movies are fun.
Other bottom line your kids don’t need to know: movies provide the opportunity to craft therapy experiences specific to your child. Often, the best therapy involves realizing others have similar battles to our own.
Let me give you an example of what I mean:
The last few years have been a struggle. I wonder if anyone else thinks the way I do, or if I’m just weird and everyone else is doing fine. Maybe I’m just different from everyone else on the planet, but when life throws a difficult experience in my lap, I feel alone. I feel that no one can understand. I feel different from everyone else on the planet.
Oh, you’ve felt this?
Perhaps I’m not so different. Maybe you’re a kindred spirit. If you’ve experienced a similar difficulty and survived, so can I. We are connected.
When we connect with other individuals—real or imagined—who experience similar hazards or painful crises, we no longer feel isolated. We find community. We find hope.
My aim for Hypervigilant.org is to provide a place where foster and adoptive parents (and their supporting cast members) will find hope, healing and the knowledge that not one of us is alone in the fight to help our children survive and thrive.
As parents, we must find ways to help our children reach hope, healing and community as well—and the best place to start is at home.
Sometimes, this goal feels so far out of reach, it might as well be in outer space. When RAD is in full swing, when kids have screaming tantrums, when your child is continually defiant, when they’ve broken every possible object, when you’re ready to pull your hair out…it’s time to pull out a secret weapon.
FAMILY MOVIE NIGHT!
Break out that popcorn machine (or toss a pack in the microwave). Pour special drinks for the kids (and possibly “extra-special” drinks for the adults). As long as candy doesn’t send them over the edge, buy a couple boxes of “movie candy” at CVS.
Get the kids excited. (But not too excited…we’re looking for positive participation, not chaos…)
And then, play a movie with a theme aimed at their hearts.
While watching, point out key elements.
“Wow, I bet that made him angry.”
“Do you think she’s feeling sad, or just confused?”
“I think maybe he reacted that way because he misses his dog.”
After the movie, spend a few minutes getting the kids involved in conversation. Remember, this is not a full-on therapy session. No need to extend it unless your kiddos become invested in the process.
*Key component: if it’s after bedtime, inform the kids they may stay up “__ minutes more” as long as they’re contributing to the discussion in an active and positive way.
Ask what they thought the character felt during ______ scene. How could the character have reacted differently (either positive or negative) and in what way might that change the story?
Often, asking, “can you think of anyone who might have similar feelings/could have had a similar experience/may understand a character in the movie?” works better than a direct, “does this apply to you?” The way your kids connect to the stories may surprise you; sometimes we think the kids will attach to a certain character, but they relate to another for other reasons.
It’s okay to watch the same movie more than once; investment in characters may change as kids develop. I experienced this myself, watching The Fault in Our Stars. I expected to empathize with the young girl experiencing cancer, since I contend with chronic illness. Instead, the scenes involving her mother made me sob, thinking of how I’d feel if our girl were so sick.
Cinema Therapy, as it’s called in some circles, is gaining ground with professionals (although I doubt insurance providers will pay for movie tickets anytime soon). Especially for kids who have difficulty opening up because they feel no one understands, the right movies can bring healing. For families struggling to connect, Family Movie Night can facilitate finding common ground—even if it’s just a shared love of buttered popcorn.
Next up: Resources for Cinema Therapy at home
I just realized that some of your comments went to spam. Several of you are longtime followers, so I have no idea why it happened.
Sorry about that! I promise, I was NOT ignoring you.
We met with a neurologist a few weeks ago. She ordered an MRI for our boy, to rule out any physical brain issues. The appointment is tomorrow.
I assume we won’t have any answers for several weeks, but at least we are finally getting some traction.
The problem is that you are putting in all the effort to see me and I’m not doing any effort to show you that I want you to visit.
This was my son’s explanation of the main problem in our family relationship during a phone call.
He continued, “when I don’t do what I’m supposed to do, I’m sending the message that I don’t care if you come to see me.”
The kid is smart. He knows what he’s doing.
In the beginning of his residential treatment stay, we visited our son every weekend. However, his behavior escalated and his actions became increasingly violent. We reduced the frequency of visits based on his behavior.
His therapist agreed he needed to have some responsibility in our family connection, unrelated to other behaviors. As part of his therapy, we created a behavior plan which required our son to do a chore and a lesson in a Bible devotional each day in order to earn a visit.
Because our main objective during that time was also to ensure his sister’s safety, deleting the visit was a negative consequence if he had a violent outburst during the week. Assuming he did not assault anyone, we would show up.
Our son agreed to the plan.
The therapist ensured the chore would take fewer than 5 minutes. The devotional page also required about 5 minutes. In order to fulfill his behavior plan, our son needed to put in only 10 minutes of effort each day.
We purposely kept his responsibility simple, to ensure that he would easily be able to attain success. We wanted to show him that when he did what he needed to do, he would get what he wanted.
As the therapist worked with him to prevent thoughts from becoming behaviors, he stopped assaulting other humans. Instead, he began beating on the walls, doors or windows when frustrated. Sometimes he threw or flipped chairs.
He made the mental connection that we were not visiting during times when he had been violent with another person and assumed that we would visit if he didn’t hit someone else.
By this time, though, the behavior plan was in place and he needed to complete those two simple actions in order to have a visit. Instead of complying with the plan, he became angry that we were not visiting even though he had not hit anyone. He refused to complete chores or the devotional.
For weeks, we encouraged him during nightly family calls—as well as during family sessions with the counselor—to complete his plan.
Eventually, he began doing the chores but still refused to do the devotional work. He said he didn’t see a point because he already knows who God is. No amount of reasoning worked.
It became a power struggle and I asked the counselor if we should simply give up, but he agreed that if we did so, our son would simply see us as liars, even though we would be breaking our word in a positive way.
The counselor and I began to wonder if he was simply convinced we wouldn’t visit and was making sure that he was in control of the situation.
I wanted to make sure that he knew we would visit, so the counselor and I came up with a compromise. If our son did not finish seven lessons by Thursday, I would do the rest of them on the phone with him so they would technically be completed.
We were able to get him to do three of the lessons on his own by Thursday. On our evening call, I told him to get the book and completed the last four lessons with him on the phone so that we could make a plan to visit him on Friday.
Last night, I saw my son for the first time in over a month. Waiting until he completed his behavioral plan may seem extreme, but we wanted him to grasp the necessity of putting effort into the relationship. We also wanted him to see that we would immediately reward that effort.
We want him to know that he can trust us to show up. We also need him to grasp that relationships take work.
Last night, we had the best visit we’ve had since his treatment began. He was thrilled to see us and knew that he had completed what was required of him in order to make it happen. He had done his part and we had done ours.
Interactions weren’t perfect, and he was still less than truthful when it came to owning up to behaviors during the week. However, I have never seen him so happy.
I believe he experienced the kind of joy you feel when you know you’ve been responsible and done your part.
We played a couple of card games and spent the rest of the time playing Monopoly. It was the first time we’d ever played the game as a family, mostly because I wasn’t sure he would react well to some aspects of the game.
He amazed me, interacting and trading and paying rent and going to jail without flipping out.
I had a foot-in-mouth moment the third time his sister went “straight to jail without collecting $200.”
“I never expected you to end up in jail a bunch of times; I always thought it would be your brother,” I grinned at her.
Then, horrified, I realized what I’d said and slapped a hand over my mouth.
He cut his eyes at me, then cracked up with a true belly laugh.
He patted my arm. “It’s ok, Mom. Don’t feel bad. That was pretty funny.”
For the first time since October, I think perhaps we are making headway.
I know it’s a long road ahead. Expecting things to be perfect (or even to consistently go well) would be ridiculous.
But for the first time in months, I believe we will be able to have game night in our own living room, together. Not tomorrow, but someday.
I have hope, because last night, for a few hours, we had a Monopoly on Happy.
When you have children, you finally appreciate all your parents have done for you.
You’ve heard this phrase, I’m sure (possibly from a frustrated parent when you were a teen).
For me, adopting the children did not bring the magical instant awareness, mostly because my parents never dealt with this brand of crazy or needed to make the kind of decisions we do. (That’s why I started this blog, because almost no one I know in person can say, “yes, I understand exactly what you’re talking about!”)
However, when we began home-schooling this year, I finally realized the level of work my mother did behind the scenes while teaching four children at home.
Sometimes I believed I was homeschooling myself, even in elementary grades.
I’ve seen a specific expression on my daughter’s face when I direct her to go back to the textbook and look for information. I recognize the look because I remember the way it felt from the inside of my face.
I was less forward about communicating my feelings. My girl… Not so much. She actually says the words sometimes. With that tone.
Why don’t you just teach me instead of making me look it up? Since you’re my teacher…
I smile and explain she needs researching skills.
Almost everything I do these days is with an eye toward the time she no longer needs me—which will arrive even sooner than I expect.
Being needed is a powerful urge. I find myself stepping toward my kids when I see them struggle, even for just a moment. I’m learning to stop, fold my arms and wait.
When I was 6 or 7, I read a story about a little girl who lived on a farm. She and her father were waiting for chicks to hatch. He left the barn for a bit, instructing her to leave the eggs alone.
After he left, one of the chicks managed to create a hole in the shell but struggled to break free and seemed to give up. The young girl cracked the egg for the chick. When the father returned, they cheered the birth of their first chick, but the celebration was short-lived as the chick passed away.
The man asked his daughter if she had helped the chick. When she admitted she had pulled the shell apart, he explained that the chick needed to struggle out of the shell on its own in order to be strong enough to live outside the shell.
The story was actually about obeying parents even when children don’t understand exactly why they should. However, now that I’m the parent, this story holds different meaning.
I watch my friends do things for their children (even grown children)…and in spite of my best intentions, sometimes I catch myself “doing” as well.
Tying the 10 year-old’s shoes. Cutting the 12 year-old’s food automatically. Helping the 14 year-old with the math problem before the child has attempted solving it alone. Never teaching the child to cook, clean up, work a dishwasher or clothes dryer, run a lawn mower, or change the oil. Driving a licensed teen to work or school, not for the lack of an extra car but because we can’t seem to let him go on his own.
Hamstringing and handicapping our kids with love.
Sometimes we can’t seem to fight that strong urge to be needed. Watching them grow up SO fast is a bit too painful. Tying the shoes “one last time” reminds us they are still our children.
I’m not suggesting we should never help our kids, nor that an occasional helping hand will keep them from learning. (Also, definitely not advocating a completely hands-off approach. Children require healthy boundaries and guidance.)
However, since my kids experienced a rough start, I found myself falling into the habit of “doing” for them. Trying to make up for their tough beginning.
About 6 months after the kids came to live with us, I was still helping them dress in the morning—using the rationalization that although they were five and seven, they were emotionally closer to two and four.
Hubby put a stop to it one morning, telling me, “the kid is capable of putting on his own underwear. He’s five. Stop holding him back.”
Disgruntled at Hubby’s interference in my fabulous parenting, I handed the boy his clothes and stepped back to prove that the child needed my help.
And I suddenly realized I was “doing” for them to try to make up for all we had missed. Innocent and loving intent, but in the process, I was actually hindering their development.
I fight the urge to over-help every day. I can’t speak for dads, not being one, but I think this is a struggle for most mothers and possibly all women. I’m not being sexist—I just think that we as women are wired to care deeply and sometimes we take it a little too far.
Allowing them to be children for as long as possible is fine. However, even children can learn to do things for themselves.
And they should.
Once, when I interviewed candidates for an open position, a mother arrived with her son and sat through the interview with him. She handed me his resume. She answered a few of the questions. She presented her unsolicited, glowing commendation of his best traits.
The young man seemed pretty sharp and appeared uncomfortable with his mother’s presence. Based on her personality, I got the feeling she didn’t give him a choice regarding her involvement.
I’m sure she thought she was giving him his best chance. She probably assumed, “as his mother, I know all of his best qualities and can vouch for his worthiness of this position. Who knows this kid better than I?”
Guess who didn’t get a second interview.
That was an extreme case, but she probably started out by tying his shoes when he was 12. The desire to be needed is difficult to release.
But I strongly believe we need to let our kids fight their way out of their own shells.
Require them to have experiences that make them uncomfortable. Allow them to fail while they still live in our house and are able to come home for support and advice.
I’m doing my best to keep myself from cracking that shell. To let them struggle. To allow them to develop the strength they’ll need to survive without me.
Especially since, some days, I’d rather duct tape the shell and let them remain children forever.
I’ve been trying to catch up on writing about the craziness in our life. Let’s not leave out the good craziness.
The kids started begging me to homeschool them almost as soon as they came to live with us. They spent some time in a foster home with homeschoolers, which prompted the begging.
That particular household embraced the philosophy that many of the minutes during a public school day are wasted.
I agree with the logic.
Kids in private school also deal with transitions and lost moments, but in a large public system, the problem is exponentially larger. Time is wasted in transitions, in moving between classrooms, waiting for everyone to get a drink of water at the fountain, waiting for everyone to finish toileting, waiting for everyone to finish lunch, waiting, waiting…
And waiting for at least 80 percent of the class to catch on to ideas.
Kids who “get it” more quickly must wait, bored…and even worse, the child who might understand with some one-on-one attention is left further and further behind.
At least in the U.S., I don’t see a viable solution within the public school system (especially for the child who misses the first step and struggles to climb the second step as his classmates sprint up steps four, five and six).
It’s not a “bad” system for most kids. It’s the best possible education for a grand spectrum of children, targeting the widest possible swath of average kids.
I agree that one-on-one attention can be better, but I didn’t particularly agree with the homeschooling philosophy of the family with whom they stayed.
The mother informed me that her kids (spanning elementary, middle and high school grades) were almost always finished with school in two hours per day. I imagine this could be possible for the lower grades, but homeschool done well in upper grades can’t be finished in a couple hours per day.
I’m no inexperienced snob…our family was one of the first in our area to school children at home (although each of us spent at least two years in either public or private school as well). At that time, the choice to homeschool was unpopular with the school system, county officials and even our church. My mom ensured our education was stellar—and it definitely took more than two hours per day.
All that in a nutshell: Public school wastes tons of time and leaves slower children behind. Homeschool can be a great alternative IF—and only if—done properly.
Sorry, I’m soapboxing. I digress.
Because of their need to learn how to integrate with society, we agreed with counselors and school administration that public school was the best beginning solution for our two.
However, Hubby and I promised them we’d consider home school when they successfully completed elementary school.
Fifth grade finished last year. We decided to take the plunge.
The school had me convinced that our girl required special needs support in math and reading. I had mild concerns about my ability to give her what she needs, but reasoned that I could learn anything necessary to help her.
We purchased the 5th grade math curriculum and completed it over the summer. The ease with which she moved through the program surprised me, but we weren’t studying other subjects.
When we began grade 6 in September, I expected she’d struggle. In some ways, this was true; if she considered a concept difficult, she gave up easily. We worked together and she began to realize that difficult math problems became easier once she learned the strategy. As long as she followed the strategy we put in place, she had almost no trouble.
Finally, I convinced her that the size of the number wasn’t an issue as long as she followed the math strategy (by requiring her to complete a long division problem involving a ten-digit number).
She stopped hating math.
Her handwriting improved.
She slowed her reading, decoding instead of skipping unknown words.
Quoting The Help, I informed Hubby that he is smart, kind and important.
Grinning wildly, she corrected my grammar.
She loves finding facts I don’t already know.
She is bright. She is talented. She is fabulous.
Although we wish he didn’t have to be at the treatment center, our son’s absence has allowed me to spend twice as much time with our daughter, helping her finally catch up academically (due in part to their time in foster care, she’s two years behind).
In December, we completed the core subjects for grade 6. We started grade 7 in January. As long as we stay on task, we should be able to complete 7th by June.
School is cool.
Continued from Desolate
When the kids first came to live with us, I clocked three to four hours of sleep a night. The girl wailed until after midnight; the boy woke screaming around in the wee hours.
Every. Single. Day.
The initial sleep deprivation lasted about six months; four months for social services (still the legal guardian) to approve meds and two more months for the doctor to find the correct dose.
I still remember the relief I felt the first morning after we found the right combination, waking around 6 instead of 4 am.
I’d forgotten how it felt. September brought it all rushing back.
This time, I think, was worse.
Digressing a bit: I’ve had a recent epiphany that I experienced almost no change in stamina from the time I was seventeen. Until now.
Sometime this year, I looked in the mirror and realized I am no longer twenty-seven. Or thirty-seven, for that matter. Am I too old for a ponytail?
Apparently, up to this point my brain has been convinced I’m a decade younger, and the shock of realizing I am OH NO middle-aged was a bit too much.
This time, sleep deprivation almost killed me.
Ok, that’s hyperbole.
But I was beyond exhausted. By the end of September, I started telling Hubby I might like a weekend in the acute center, if they actually had white padded rooms available. 48 hours sleeping in a soundproof room…sounds like heaven.
Unfortunately, checking myself in at one of those places wasn’t an actual option. Hubby took over on weekends and let me nap as much as possible while he was home.
Finally, after weeks of phone calls and meetings and waiting, we got the approval call from the treatment center.
Because we were concerned about what our son might do if we informed him ahead of time, I packed him a suitcase during the night. I crept into his room and slipped his stuffed dog from under his arm. The next day, as we drove to the treatment facility, we explained.
We are not counselors or psychiatrists; we have researched and prepared as much as possible, but we are not trained to provide the care you need.
We care very much about you and want to give you the best chance to succeed in life. The people at this facility have the qualifications to help you.
We are NOT giving you up, letting you go, abandoning you or sending you away.
Our son responded with little emotion.
Like I said before, you’ve tried everything. We might as well try this.
His absolute lack of reaction still stymies me.
The experience at this treatment center was a complete change from the acute center. We met the director, head nurse and several staff. While the nurse completed the intake with our son, we toured the facility.
The staff explained to our son that the initial stay would be thirty days; he perked up and I watched determination firm his jaw.
At the time, we didn’t realize this would become a problem.
He thought if he could “act good” for thirty days, they’d release him. And he decided to make it happen.
He hugged us goodbye without a tear, then walked through the metal door with a staff member. It closed behind him with a heavy thud.
We walked to the car.
I expected to feel guilt at leaving him with strangers.
I expected to feel great sadness at leaving him behind. For almost seven years, we’d been four. Now, at least temporarily, we were three.
I expected to feel lonely, to feel his absence, to experience a boy-shaped hole in my existence.
I expected to feel that I was a failure as a mother, having not been enough to help him.
But here I must admit: I felt nothing but relief.
I truly believed the people in that building would be able to help him in a way Hubby and I could not. I knew we weren’t leaving him permanently; we would, soon enough, once again be four. I understood that I’d exhausted every possibility available, turned over every proverbial stone.
As for missing him—maybe this sounds awful, but…I didn’t.
My only source of guilt: the relief at being able to relax.
No checking every thirty seconds. No worrying whether he’d wake before I did. No concern about destruction or harm to property or living creature (including his sister) if my visit to the loo lasted an extra minute.
The first three days after drop off, I slept like the dead.
A week later, Hubby looked ten years younger.
And the nurse called to tell me our son was the best behaved child in the center.
He is so polite. He is kind to everyone. I wish they were all just like your son.
I was gobsmacked. Flabbergasted. Shocked.
How could this be the same child?
Until now, I’d never realized how determined he could be.