Monday, February 18, 2013

Pinch Me! I'm At Empowered to Connect.

Mike and I spent Friday at Empowered to Connect. Along with hundreds of other adoptive and foster parents, we listened to Dr. Karyn Purvis and her team teach about Trust-Based Parenting.

Dr. Purvis is a developmental psychologist and author of The Connected Child. Dr. Purvis specializes in working with children who are at risk for social, behavioral, and emotional problems. Most of our kids who were adopted at older ages fall into that category.

I always say that The Connected Child was the best thing I read as we prepared to adopt Wenxin. Coming to us at age 7 1/2, he'd already had a lot of losses in life. When one of the nannies at the orphanage gently pushed him through the door and whispered, "Say Mama and Baba," we were strangers to him. We didn't even speak his language.

Thinking back to those early days, I'd like to thank Dr. Purvis for teaching us that play is important.

Because of Dr. Purvis, when we went to China. . .

We were silly.

We giggled.

We played.

Arriving home in the U.S., we reminded each other that the playful approach seemed to be working. Sure we had rules and routines, but we tried to keep things light, and whenever possible, we played.

I wasn't sure why it worked, but I knew that it DID work. Wenxin relaxed. He began to let us love him. And he began to attach.

It was a treat to hear Dr. Purvis in person on Friday. I was so impressed with her heart for children from hard places.

On Friday, Dr. Purvis talked a lot about brain development in babies. She shared that, ideally, over the first year of life, a baby learns that "when I express a need, my need is met." Babies cry when they are hungry or wet or over-tired, and soon a parent comes and feeds them or changes them or rocks them. According to Dr. Purvis, the science is there to show that this actually aids the baby's brain development.

Dr. Purvis also reminded us that with our newborn biological kids we spent almost a year saying, "Yes," before we ever had to say, "No."

"Yes, I'll feed you."

"Yes, I'll change your diaper."

"Yes, I'll pick you up and hold you."

Of course, once babies are mobile, it becomes necessary to say, "No," as well, but by that point, the baby has learned that the world is a safe place for him and that he can trust his parents.

However, for many of our adopted kids, it was a different story. They cried and no one came. They were hungry, and no one fed them. They lay for hours in wet and dirty diapers. The baby in chronic distress is on high alert. He learns that no one will meet his needs, and he has to fight for survival. His default brain responses become aggression, violence, manipulation, control, and triangulation.

Dr. Purvis says that neglect actually changes the way the neglected child's brain works.

With that is mind, a playful approach makes so much sense. Our kids from hard places are afraid. They are on high alert. Play helps them relax.

And do you see why finding ways to say, "Yes," is important too? As we say over and over again, "Yes, I'll meet your need, " we build trust.

In a sense, we need to give our kids what they missed as babies. I've seen this work in our home.

As Wenxin got to know and trust us, he liked to be held. Please know that this came in time. I didn't hold Wenxin in China. He wasn't even sure he liked me at first. We let him get to know us and never forced physical affection. But still, we found non-threatening ways to touch him. We tousled his hair, or held his hand as we walked. I put sweet-smelling lotion on him after his bath.

As he relaxed a little, he began to want me to hold him. Look at this photo. Doesn't this remind you of how a mom holds a newborn?

Once, one of the other kids commented that I was spending a lot of time holding Wenxin. Wenxin replied, "Momma's catching me up. She's been holding you all your life. You even got to grow in her tummy. Momma's catching me up."

Smart boy. That's exactly what I was doing.

If you're adopting an older child, I urge you to read The Connected Child and even attend an Empowered to Connect Conference , if possible. Our children who experienced trauma or neglect face huge challenges, but Dr. Purvis shares that an informed, loving parent is a powerful tool. There's a place for counselors and therapists too, but they really can't take the place of a loving, informed parent.

I have some other things to share this week from Empowered to Connect, but for today, let me close with a short video from Dr. Purvis.


  1. Dana, I was there too. Wish we had met! You did a great job of summarizing in this post! I was so blessed by Dr. Purvis' compassionate heart. It is clear that she is motivated by love, and I LOVED that. Blessings on you and your family!

    1. Oh, I would have loved to meet you too. I think we're in the same area, so maybe we can work it out another time. Mike and I were only able to be there on Friday, so I didn't get to meet a lot of new people. Still, even one day was totally worth it.

  2. Thank you so much. We are in a rough patch with one of my daughters and I so needed to hear this and be reminded to reread the book. I am fearful that this daughter is going through a rough time as we are about to leave for China to being home a new little one (could be part of her problem is stressing that she will be "replaced" as the baby). Thank you!

  3. This is excellent, Dana. I wish you could have come both days. I would just like to add that these things are JUST AS MUCH applicable to babies you get as newborns. Most babies you adopt, even from the hospital - the moms had a stressful pregnancy, which totally affects their brain chemistry. This conference has literally compeletely changed how I view my 3 and 4 year old boys that I picked up fom the hospital. I SO WISH I knew this stuff from the beginning - it would have changed what I did with them, and helped me to be so much more patient with them. After going to the conference and now watching them - I am seeing that what before I interpreted solely as rebellion, strong will, sin, etc. is NOT always the case with our adopted kids. My 4 year old has sensory processing issues which we haven't been dealing with - now I am eager to figure out how to help him. My 3 year old has major attachment issues. He still wakes up in the night frequently. The other parenting books I read tell me to do what I needed to do to get them back in bed so he is not dependent on me to get back to sleep. Last night, when he was awake at 1:30, instead of getting angry (ok, so I was a little frustrated, I HATE being woken up!) and fighting with him, I held him and rocked him - just like the pictures you shared, Dana, of you and Wexin. I'm going to be doing that more. This conference was utterly amazing and I can't wait to read the book and learn more!!!!! If you are an adoptive parent of any age or stage, READ THE BOOK!!!!!!! Learn all you can, it is all AMAZING!!! I think the best thing for me was to hear that it is NEVER too late for any child. Even though I have made so many mistakes, some very serious - they can be healed. Our God is a God of restoration - all praise be to Him!!!


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