I celebrate the growing interest in adoption in our churches today. Children in need of a home are finding places of safety, belonging and love in Christian families and churches. Yet often adoptive children come from hard places: international contexts where the care did not provide the love and safety that was needed, domestic adoptions in which expectant mothers did not provide a safe place for the baby’s development, and families where abuse and neglect were experienced in a repeated fashion until parental rights are terminated.
Into this challenging reality comes the book The Connected Child with hope and proven strategies built on years of research and hands on experience. Its tenets are helpful not only for parents but also for Children’s Ministry leaders and volunteers. In fact, the strategies in this book are helpful for all parents as they walk the parenting journey!
Dr. Purvis and her team speak of compassion as a starting place, and then delve into brain chemistry, issues of attachment and chronic fear. She emphasizes how the common approaches of respect, using words, gentleness and kindness and offering choices and consequences can be shaped to connect with children who are struggling with behavior issues. They explore why the “old way doesn’t work” with children from these contexts and how misbehavior can be seen as an opportunity for teaching. Offering hopeful strategies of “re-do’s”, “time in” rather than “time out”, firm yet gentle touches, sensory activities, playful engagement and positivity Purvis fills the tool box parent and children’s ministry leader.
Multiple strategies can be summarized in their IDEAL approach to dealing with challenges which includes responding immediately (within 3 seconds of the behavior), directly (making eye contact and bringing the child nearer to you to better teach and guide), efficient (using the least amount of firmness and the least amount of words to make the point clear), action-based (physically leading the child through a “do-over” and then praising when she/he is successful) and level (response is targeted at behavior not at the child).
They give helpful advice for dealing with the defiant child and call on parents and caregivers to nurture at every opportunity. The call to be pro-active invites parents and caregivers to prepare before they are in the situation, rehearse what is coming, leaving something (or someone) that the child enjoys when separation is difficult, and even doing social skills practice with a timer! They speak of the importance of good nutrition and adequate hydration as key to supporting healthy brain chemistry. All of these strategies give parents and caregivers concrete ways to connect and build bridges with children who have lacked connection in the past. The authors are realistic as they help the reader anticipate and deal with setbacks as a normal part of the process of leading children to a place of sustained and healthy connection.
Finally, the authors wisely call on parents and caregivers to recognize how their own journey intersects with the journey of the child. Caring for children from hard places invites adults to address healing in their own lives since “Like Parent, Like Child” rings true. The authors call on adults to address their own attachment style and seek help and healing for themselves, noting that until adults tend to their journey, they will be unable to offer sustained hope and healing to their children.
In addition to this book I would highly recommend the “Empowered to Connect” website which is filled with resources. They offer a study guide, Created to Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child which would be a great small group option for churches. Take note of the conference schedule and attend an incredibly affordable two-day conference in a city near you. Take a group of adoptive parents and children’s ministry leaders with you! I was privileged to attend their first global simulcast April 10-11, 2015 (with 25,000 plus attendees) and I would highly recommend their next simulcast April 8-9, 2016.
Dr. Karyn Purvis and her team offer hope and healing to a much needed group of parents who have been driven by passion and calling and now find themselves in the midst of challenges that can derail, deflate and discourage. They offer proactive strategies that “expectant” adoptive families can learn and put in place from the beginning when they bring home a child to their forever family. Children’s ministry leaders would do well to read this book so that they can partner well, resource and encourage all families in church and community.