Detachment Parenting

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Much of my work with clients focuses on preparing them for and building on successful attachment with their children. Children who have been adopted often come from “hard places.” Parental expectations can be too high, and parents can find themselves overwhelmed with feelings of frustration and anger when their kids are acting out from fear, tiredness, overstimulation, or just plain acting out.

Parenting adopted children requires extra tools. Detachment Parenting: 33 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Kids Melt Down is a wonderful, “makes sense,” and easy-to-remember-and-put-into-action resource for parents. Author Heidi Smith Luedtke, Ph.D., is a personality psychologist who concentrates on helping others understand themselves better and build people- and parenting-skills that make life more fun and more fulfilling. She is known as the “psychologist next door,” and I’ve found her to be just that—accessible, encouraging and supportive.

This week, just in time for the crazy over-taxing holiday season, Heidi is running her “Festive, Not Frazzled” giveaway. Each day, one person will win a copy of Detachment Parenting  in their format of choice. Read on and see why you might want to enter Heidi’s contest. If you don’t win, a copy of Detachment Parenting: 33 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Kids Melt Down can be purchased here. My interview with Heidi begins below.

Heidi, in adoption there is a lot of focus on attachment. Adopting parents or parents who have adopted may think detachment parenting is the opposite of attachment parenting. Can you explain the philosophy behind detachment parenting, and how using it may actually enhance attachment between parent and child?

My detachment parenting philosophy rests on the assumption that parents must be able to handle the emotional demands of their role in a healthy way in order to offer consistent, loving care to their kids. Parents who practice detachment parenting are less likely to get caught off-guard by the “Fight or Flight” response that makes us want to hide in the master bedroom closet or snap in frustration when kids’ emotions are overwhelming. They can build stronger, more resilient bonds with their kids because they know how to manage their own moods and coach kids through difficult feelings. The result is a more stable, uplifting experience for everyone.

Detachment Parenting: 33 Ways to Keep Your Cool When Kids Melt Down provides wonderful strategies for being a “level-headed” parent when a child is melting down. What is the best way for parents to successfully incorporate these strategies in every day life?

Like any behavior-change effort, I’d recommend parents take small steps to incorporate detachment parenting principles. As I often say, “You can do it all, but not all at the same time!”

Find one or two strategies in the e-book that speak to you, particularly strategies from section 1, “In the Heat of the Moment.” Commit to using your go-to strategies whenever feelings flare. For instance, a parent might decide to use the slow and focused breathing technique I describe each time she feels the body’s stress response start to kick in. Over time, this calming response will become more natural and habitual.

I’d also recommend putting some techniques from section 4, “Household Mood Maintenance,” into play right away. The “3-Good-Things” game is a great way to end the day on a positive note with your kids. Make these strategies part of your family routine so you start (and end) each day feeling good.

Do you recommend parents change-up the strategy or just use one they become comfortable with? (I’ve used “Mom’s Time Out” periodically in the past.)

If “Mom’s Time Out” works for you, there’s no reason you have to start using the “Count to 100” technique to manage your own moods. But you may decide you want to try it out as a model for your kids. What works for a parent may not be the best fit for their child. For instance your child may be very sensitive to feelings of isolation/rejection and “time out” may trigger some of those feelings. For that child, a strategy that doesn’t require solitude (like Count to 100 or focused breathing) might be a better fit. It would be awesome if the parent could teach those mood management skills by modeling.

Heidi, one strategy you cover in Detachment Parenting, and one of my “go-tos” is “Clarifying Ownership.” Can you briefly explain for parents and parents-to-be what this detachment technique so that they can easily understand its effectiveness?

“Clarifying Ownership” means tuning in to whose feelings you’re feeling. As a mom, my own emotions begin to swirl when my child is hurt, physically or emotionally. In some cases, I may be so upset that I begin responding to my own emotions, rather than my child’s. (In fact I may overreact to something he isn’t all that concerned about!) When that happens, I can’t help my child cope with his feelings.

It’s important for parents to separate their child’s feelings from their own. When we clarify ownership, we’re able to take a consulting role and coach kids through the process of solving their own problems.

Many children who have been adopted deal with core issues inherent in adoption. These issues can be feelings of loss, grief, rejection, intimacy, guilt and shame, identity, and control. The depth of what a child, tween or teen feels can vary significantly, as can the internalizing and externalizing behaviors. What strategies would you recommend a parent using with their child when he or she is triggered?

Every child is different, and I believe parents need to meet each child where she is, in a way that makes her feel whole, accepted and loved. So I offer my “generic” recommendation here and encourage parents to tweak it to meet their child’s needs.

    • “Be Present.” Don’t try to escape from your child’s bad feelings even when they are overwhelming or your child does things that are hurtful to you (feeling rejected often leads to pushing other people away, for instance). Just sit with your child and absorb his bad feelings like a giant emotional sponge.
    • “Talk Less.” You can’t explain your child’s feelings away or talk her out of her own interpretation. Especially not in the heat of the moment. When things simmer down, go to step three.
    •  “Ask Questions.” Gently. Prompt your child to share his feelings with you. Be a good listener. Maintain an open posture and nod/murmur agreement to show you are accepting what your child says. Let him get the whole story out before moving on. If your child doesn’t want to talk, accept that. You can’t make a child do what they don’t want to do. Each of us has to feel our way through things at our own pace. “Label Feelings.” Give your child a rich vocabulary for describing her experience. Use words like scared, angry, hurt, left out, and ashamed in the proper context. Labeling emotions allows kids to step back from their feelings and regain a sense of centeredness and personal control. 
    • Offer Ongoing Support. Let your child tell you what they would like to do next. Maybe they want to be left alone. Maybe they want to talk to another adult. Maybe they’d like to write in a journal, draw pictures or play football with friends. Support your child as they find their own path to inner peace.

Detachment Parenting reveals simple ways to change course in the heat of the moment—when you’re about to lose your cool—and teaches you how to guide emotional discussions so kids feel valued and validated. Sound like something you should add to your parenting toolbox? Copies are available here.

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