A Tale of Two ER Visits (pediatric physical illness vs mental illness)

This guest post is from my friend Elizabeth Curry, a mamma of 12, who writes the blog, Ordinary Time. Last fall we had some discussion about the disparity in treatment of children with physical illness versus mental illness. Elizabeth generously agreed to share some of her thoughts and experiences with you.


There is a world of difference between how physical illness and emotional/mental illness are viewed and treated by society.

Before I became an adoptive parent, I gave lip service to the fact that people with mental and emotional illness had an actual physical problem inside of them, but I will admit that there was always a part of me that thought, “But maybe if they just tried harder, things would be better.”

This little voice continued in my head even years after adopting my son who has significant past trauma and the effects that come along with that. “If only he could just try a little harder.”

It took me a long and humbling time to realize that he was trying his best. It was just that the chaos that the trauma wreaked inside his head never made his best good enough for me. I had to change before I could expect my child to change. It wasn’t easy to change, but I am now much closer to the parent he needs me to be than I was at the beginning of this journey.

And while I’ve been changing, I have also become more and more aware of the attitude that I at first internalized, but now have left behind. That attitude that at its core does not really believe that individuals are doing their best when they are suffering from mental and emotional illness.

Let me give you an example by telling the tale of two emergency room visits.

The children in question share the same gender, the same ethnicity, they happened at the same hospital with the same parents. The only difference was the reason they were each there. One visit was with a medically sick child, the other visit was with a child suffering inside the prison of developmental trauma.

The first child went through triage and was immediately placed in a private room. Evidently a young child with a 105+ degree fever means you don’t wait in the waiting room. There was extreme concern all around, and there was immediate action.

For the second child, arriving via ambulance, there was no waiting either, but that was due to the ambulance arrival. Instead of a private room, though, this traumatized child received a gurney in the hall, complete with guard standing nearby (for a NINE year old).

For the first child, the doctors could not find a source of the fever. As a result, he was emergency evacuated downtown to the children’s hospital for more extensive testing and treatment.

The second, even though his feelings and actions were equally mysterious, remained in the hallway with strangers, while we faced a vaguely scary and shameful feeling meeting with a social worker. This meeting was all about us, the parents. What did we think caused this? What was our plan? What were we going to do?

After that meeting, where we, the parents, were asked to self-diagnose and treat our son, he was immediately discharged and sent home for dinner.

 I have several children with significant physical conditions. I have a son with significant trauma issues. There is so much more outpouring of support and appreciation for parenting a child with a visible condition than an invisible one.

We are wonderful and amazing for the former and opinion veers between parenting that is too lax and too controlling for the latter.

Everyone knows that our parenting was not the cause of our children’s physical conditions, but very few people can wrap their heads around the fact that our parenting was also not the cause of our son’s emotional one.

I understand why people draw these conclusions: we all evaluate the world around us based on what we can observe. When we can see no visible condition that might explain behaviors, we must manufacture some explanation, which may lead us to assume that an individual, the child or the parent, is voluntarily responsible for the observed behavior.

Notice that this tendency can cause us not only to assign blame to a child or parent for behavior that results from unseen trauma, but it can also cause us to excuse behavior in a child with visible special needs that has nothing to do with the child’s condition.

My experience teaches me, whether I am dealing with my own family or another family, that I must continually pause and remind myself that this child and this parent are probably doing the best that they can under the circumstances, visible or invisible, in which they find themselves.

[You can also find Elizabeth on Facebook.]

You might also like:

Celebrities Don’t Visit Kids in the Psych Unit

The Silent Pain of a Children’s Inpatient Psychiatric Unit

Mommy's Camera up to 12.24.10 222

Elizabeth Curry is mother to 12 children, five of whom were adopted: two from Vietnam and three from China. She hopes that by sharing her family’s experiences she can encourage others in the trenches. When she is not taking care of children, Elizabeth writes, homeschools, sews, teaches piano, and loves reading. You can follow along with her loud and crazy life at her blog, Ordinary Time.

How to Find Hope When Everything Seems Hopeless

Today’s post is from my good friend, Mike Berry. Mike and his wife, Kristin are writers, speakers, parents, (very young) grandparents, and the creators of the blog, Confessions of an Adoptive Parent. They have a thriving Facebook page, offer an online course, AND, Kristin has a new book coming out soon. I’m looking forward to spending time with Kristin when we both speak at Created for Care in January and February!

airplane window

It’s easy to find yourself at a hopeless point on the foster and adoptive journey. You wonder, “How did I get here?” Soon, that wondering can turn into, “Will I ever find hope?” We believe you can.

It’s late but I’m finally on a flight home after an incredible weekend in New York City. I’ve just spent the day interacting with an amazing adoptive parent community in Brooklyn. I’m inspired as I listen to their stories, hear their hearts, and see their smiles. I can’t help but feel grateful to be a part of this special day. I love this crowd. They’re my crowd. They’re my people. I’ve seen hundreds of faces today, but one I can’t seem to get out of my mind. One mom, who desperately longs for a positive relationship with the child she adopted years ago.

With a longing look, she says words that are still echoing in my mind- “How did I end up here?” She’s parenting a child who is distant and defiant. At the smallest notion, she blows up. It’s exhausting and defeating. I’ve seen the look in this precious mother’s eye more times than I can count. Heck, I’ve seen that look in the mirror staring back at me.

“I feel you sister,” I say to her as she shares her deepest pain. And boy do I. Lord knows, I wear the same scars on my heart, and in my mind, from the battles I’ve been locked in with some of my children over the years. I’ve been pushed farther than I ever thought I could be and lived to tell about it. I’ve survived some of the most desperate moments on the journey. I’ve asked the question, “How did I end up here?” a few (hundred) times. I’ve felt that lost feeling as I’ve taken a step back and surveyed our life. I’ve questioned if I’m a good father, or even a decent human being, when I’ve lost my cool with my kid. And most importantly, I’ve had many moments where I failed to see how any hope could come out of such a hopeless situation.

Feeling Hopeless.

 Have you ever been there? Ever felt this way? Ever been in a state of complete hopelessness? Ever felt lost or alone?

Ever wanted to throw in the towel, call the agency, your case manager, or even your kid’s birth parent, and say, “Yeah, I quit?” If so, you’re not alone. Me too. It’s okay, you can be honest here. Say it out loud if you need to. No one’s listening. And even if they are, they have no idea why you’re saying “Yes” to a computer screen, or nodding your head so hard it may come detached from your neck. 😉

Let me repeat myself…me too. Oh….my….goodness friend, me too! In fact, most days, I don’t even know what hope feels like. It’s easy to find yourself in this place on the foster and adoptive journey. I know you love your kids. I do too. I love them more than anything and nothing will change that. But the constant battle can take the life out of you.

How do you find hope in this? How do you lift your head one more time and believe in tomorrow? Here’s how….


   1    Understand that you are not alone. I don’t know what it is about camaraderie but it’s healing. To find other foster and adoptive parents on the journey who have the same wounds as you, the same fears, the same love in their hearts, and the same desperation, is….healing. As I listened to stories from many other adoptive parents (in New York…far from my small borough of Indiana), my problems didn’t go away. The issues my children face are still real. But, I feel hopeful when I meet others who are limping like I am.


   2    Believe that the sun still shines behind the clouds. Behind every dark and gloomy cloud, the sun is still shining. Do you realize that? Even in the middle of a massive storm, the sun is there. It’s just hard to see behind the clouds. But, it’s there. The picture I’ve used in this post is an actual picture I took a few years ago just after my plane took off from Denver International Airport. You can see the wing and engine of my plane in the bottom half of the picture. Just below the cloud line was one of the worst storms I’d ever experienced. It had left us delayed for more than 3 hours. I was frustrated. I felt hopeless. I even uttered words like, “I’m never getting home.” I know, ridiculous right? But once we took off and, moved above the clouds, I saw one of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen. I pulled my phone out and took this picture. I was reminded that this sunset was there the entire time I was in the storm below…. delayed…. frustrated…hopeless. The sun still shines when all you can see are clouds and storms.

There Is Hope.

 Friends, this journey is hard. This journey is exhausting. If you’re anything like us, you entered with a full heart, passionate, ready to love children from hard places. But soon you discovered you were in an uphill climb. You weren’t prepared to handle the major attachment issues. You knew nothing about disorders like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, food insecurities, or separation anxiety. You didn’t know about trauma informed care. I get it. That was us. Just a couple of years in, we hit a wall head on. It didn’t change the love we had for our kids, but it did thrust us into a major battle. One that still rages.

We’ve learned that hope exists in the middle of the battle. We’ve learned to see the light in the middle of the darkness. As people of faith, we believe that our Father in Heaven walks into the hell with us and holds us. We believe the sun still shines even when we’re surrounded by storms and dark clouds. Yes, there is hope. It’s found when you realize you’re not alone. It’s discovered when you understand and believe there’s a beautiful sunset just behind the raging storm.

I shared this with my new friend in Brooklyn. And before we parted ways I saw the light return to her. I saw hope. Sometimes you just need to be reminded that you’re not alone and the sun is still shining, even when you’re in a massive storm.

Special thanks to Mike for this wonderful post.

Friend, are you struggling to hold on to hope? Share your thoughts with us – we want to hear from you here or on my Facebook page.

Next time we meet, it will be 2017. Can you believe it?

Take a little time to reflect on 2016 and look ahead to 2017. I’ll be back Monday with some of my thoughts and plans, and I would love to hear yours.

Have a happy New Year!


kalkidan mom dad ahope

Preparing for the New Year

I hope your Christmas was wonderful. How did your kids do with the lack of routine, too much sugar, and the excitement of presents?

Christmas morning

We were up very late Christmas eve with Russ and Isaiah arriving home from the airport at 1:00 AM.  Thankfully, the roads weren’t too snowy and Russ only had to drive a little slower than normal.

Christmas morning was fun, with lots of coffee, good food, laughter, and patience as everyone opened presents one at a time. It took many hours, with breakfast eaten between opening stockings (filled by siblings), and gifts under the tree.

To my great delight, we finished hanging ornaments on the Jesse tree as we read the Christmas story during breakfast.

Later in the day, Russ and the kids built a HUGE igloo in the backyard; I’ll post pictures on Instagram and Facebook.

It’s especially wonderful having our big kids here. Samuel is in town until the 28th and Isaiah until the 29th. Noah is on break between med school rotations until after the New Year. I’m very thankful.

Our foster daughter, Zoe, is visiting her family for several days at a local hotel with a very nice pool, so we’re heading there later today to let the kids swim and play together. She has two younger sisters who will have fun swimming with the boys.

I’ll be writing posts wrapping up 2016 and moving into 2017, but I want to share three things now just in case you want to join me and need a little time to prepare.

1. She Reads Truth | One of my goals last year was to read the entire Bible in one year. I am very happy to say, with the help of a free app from She Reads Truth, I’m going to accomplish my goal! If you’re interested in reading the Bible in a year, find it in the app store now so you’re ready to go on January 1st. She Reads Truth also has other Bible reading plans for a small fee of $2-$3.

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

2. One Line a Day Journal | I’m very excited to start this journal on New Year’s Day. Each space has room for one or two sentences for the given day, and each page is divided into five sections, so the daily entry appears five times over five years. It’s easier to show than explain.

line a day journal

I gave one to Hannah five years ago and she has kept it, more or less, the entire time. I have never successfully kept a journal (ironic, I know), but I think I can manage one line a day. Want to join me? You can use this Amazon link to order if you like.



3. Five Minute Journal | My friend, Signe, used this app last year to chronicle her family’s life. I decided to give it a try. $4.99. If you hate to write, you can simply do one photo a day, or you can add three “I am grateful for,” or “3 Amazing things that happened today”.

Lastly, I have a guest post on the fabulous site, Confessions of an Adoptive Parent, How Parenting Children From Hard Places Can be Blessings in Disguise.

I hope you’re enjoying your family. Tomorrow is a hard day for our family; if you think of us, please hold us in prayer.

Many blessings to you, friend.


Holiday Survival Tips for Kids From “Hard Places”

Today’s post was co-written with my friend, Carrie Blaske, for the Refresh support group at Overlake Christian Church and the Refresh Conference Facebook page. I think you’ll like it too. Please share!

Just like the mortgage or a utility bill, the holidays show up each year, right on schedule.

Holidays are great fun, but they add additional challenges for our kids from “hard places.” With a little reflection on past successes and complete disasters, we can plan ahead and give our kids a better chance of creating new memories of happy holidays.

christmas ornaments


Time sequencing is hard for our kids; rather than build excitement, it often creates anxiety. It’s common for them to repeat questions over and over in the hope of gaining understanding or control over what is coming next.  This need to understand often produces behaviors that seem defiant, manipulative and ungrateful.  

We can support our kids by creating visual cues, opportunities for verbal processing, and tactile movement.

Visual Cues

Visual cues answer the question of “how many more days,” for us. A child can look at the cue many times during the day or week, plus these cues are fun.

  1. Paper Chain: numbered links with names and dates of outings, special events and visits
  2. Calendar with big boxes to cross off as each day passes
  3. Candy countdown to Christmas hanging to visually see how many days are left

Verbal Processing

Play “What we Like and What is Hard”

Divide a sheet of paper in half down the middle. On the left side, work with your child to draw, “what I like,” about Christmas morning, and on the right, “what is hard,” about Christmas morning. LISTEN and don’t take offense. Come back to the list on another day to troubleshoot with your child how to prepare for those hard things and find positive ways to prepare.

[For example, Lisa’s daughter, Kalkidan, was very worried about the length of time it would take to open stockings before breakfast, so we served snacks, including a large bag of pepperoni sticks, which made for a very happy girl who patiently managed the wait until breakfast.]

Tactile Processing

Role Play

Children learn best in low-stress situations and familiar surroundings. We also know that new brain pathways can be formed with repetition and exposure to new responses in familiar or new situations. This is good news! Our kids’ brains (and ours), can be rewired in positive ways.

Role play is a great way for the brain to learn new ways of responding in a non-threatening way. Kids also love being silly, so this activity is a win all the way around.

Example 1 : Play the Wrong Way/Right Way Game

“Hey kids, let’s practice our best RUDE response to Grandma when you open her gift!” (Give everyone a high-five for their response.) “Now, let’s practice our best RESPECTFUL response to Grandma when you open her gift.” (Give high-fives and talk about how great they are with respect and how happy Grandma will feel when she sees them open her gift.)

On Christmas day when you’re walking into Grandma’s house, give a small wink and whisper, “I’m excited to see you give that great respectful response to Grandma you practiced at home.”

You can practice all kinds of responses: fun, rude, unkind, mean. The key is to always end with the response you want in order to grow new brain pathways.

This is also good practice for trying new foods at parties; we want to avoid our child yelling out, “What is this gross stuff? It makes me want to puke!”  If that happens, roll with it and remember, humor goes a long way in moments like this. You might say, “Wow, you have some really strong feelings about that, let’s talk about it in the kitchen.” 

Example 2: Practice Unwrapping Gifts

If the Rude/Respectful role play isn’t your style, here is another role play option.

“Wrap” a couple of things in kitchen towels and let your child practice unwrapping.  Then have your children sit in a circle, each with a “gift” in front of them.  Let them unwrap the gifts one at a time, taking a moment to admire each person’s gift.  You can make this very silly and have fun.

Example 3: Rehearse saying “thank you”

Give your child an item and have her practice saying two nice things.  One can be “thank you” and the other should be something about the gift. Explain that you understand that she may not love the gift, and it’s okay to think it in her mind, but it’s not okay to say it that very moment, when her sister who lovingly picked it out is sitting next to her. You will be happy to talk about it later.

Rehearsing can be combined with practicing opening gifts, but it can also be done throughout the day.  When you make her a snack, she can say, “Thank you.  I like apples cut in slices.”  Be sure to let her give you things too – especially silly things that require creativity for a thankful response, “Why thank you, I just love this empty yogurt container. It will look beautiful on my dresser”  Kids love it when we’re dramatic and silly.

Activities and Outings

Each family is unique in the number of activities they enjoy, but an overall rule of thumb for our kids from “hard places,” is less is better.

Think carefully about your children as you plan. Set boundaries before the holiday season on the number of outings and activities you choose in order to safely create memories and reduce the possible resentment that easily creeps in when our expectations aren’t met.

Consider choosing:

  1. Only your favorite outings
  2. Less stimulating outings – a tree farm, but not the annual craft fair with 300 people
  3. Shorter times spent at family gatherings and friends’ homes
  4. Inviting family and friends to your home where your children are in their familiar environment
  5. Some activities done with part of the family while the rest of the family does another. For example: Dad and some kids go to the school Christmas concert, while mom and other kids stay home to bake cookies and watch Elf.

Holidays are a wonderful time to create memories and we want to do our best to make those memories sweet. With a little preparation, reasonable expectations, and a whole lot of grace for our kids and ourselves, we can do it. When all else fails, take a nap, eat a snack, and start over.

What changes have you made in your holidays to help your kids from “hard places” have success?



Tips Stolen from the Kids’ Therapist #2 [Do-overs]

The holidays are coming, and with the fun, stress also rises. We may need to dig deep to keep ourselves regulated along with our kids. Today, I’m talking about Do-overs for grown-ups.

Over the years, Russ and I sat through many therapy sessions with our kids.  While the knowledge we gained continues to be invaluable for our kids, there are unexpected gifts for us – insights and skills we use to heal, cope, and manage our own relationships and lives.

This post is the second in the series Tips Stolen From the Kids’ Therapist.


Don’t miss:

Tip #1 This feeling won’t last forever

Tip #2 Even grown-ups need Do-overs

One of my favorite tools for parenting kids, and especially kids from “hard places,” is the Do-over, or the Re-do, (depending on who is teaching).

The basic concept is to give a child the opportunity to quickly correct a behavior making better choices the second time around. When the child tries again and has success, the brain literally begins to form new pathways that become stronger as this positive behavior is repeated time and time again.

Let me give you a simple example, that of course, would never happen at my house.

A child storms in the front door, throws a backpack on the floor, rushes past mom (lightly bumping into her) with no greeting or eye contact, opens the refrigerator and yells, “I’m hungry!”

Mom says, “Wow! Slow down a minute. Let’s try that again. How about a Do-over and then I’ll help you get a snack? Grab your backpack and let’s go back to the front door.” (Mom keeps a light, playful tone.)

If the child is receptive, they repeat coming in the door again with a big (maybe even silly) greeting, hanging up the backpack, and mom offering an extra good snack. When it’s done well, Mom says, “Way to go, you did such a great job, I’m really proud of you. Let’s eat a snack together.”

In The Connected Child, Dr. Purvis writes,

By actively replacing misbehavior with correct behavior in your child’s memory banks, you can help the child encode competency.  A re-do “erases” the muscle memory of the failed behavior and gives the child the physical and emotional experience of substituting a successful one in its place.


A re-do can be as simple or complex as needed.  As many doors as it took your child to go off course, that’s how many you have to revisit and correct each false step.  The Connected Child p. 98

If re-do’s are good for kids, they’re good for adults too.

Two examples quickly come to mind.

One is the type of morning when nothing is going right, I’m irritable and snapping at the kids. I know I need to pull myself out of the downward spiral, but it’s just so hard to do. That’s when I need to step into my laundry room whisper a prayer, take a few deep breaths, walk back out and start over again. Sometimes I even tell my kids I need a do-over.

Another example happens in communication. Not long ago I said something to Russ, and as soon as I did, I realized the way I said it and the words I chose, were going to take us down a path I did not intend. As the words left my mouth, and I saw the expression on his face,  there was a moment of silence between us.

It was just long enough, I jumped in, “Let me try that again. It was not what I meant to say or the way I meant to say it.” I went on to choose my words and tone more carefully. Rather than repairing a bigger problem, I was able to quickly correct it with a Do-over, which saved us a lot of time and energy.

There are many examples of this in my life, and I’m guessing in yours too.

Do you use Do-overs? With your kids? With your husband?

What are some of the best tips you learned from your kids’ therapy sessions or from parenting books, etc. you apply to yourself?

How was your weekend? Annarose had a dinner party Friday night for 40 friends, which grew to 60 later in the evening. It snowed so much that Russ had to pull some kids out of precarious places on the driveway and then plow the driveway with the tractor so they could all safely leave.

We went to a very nice Christmas party for foster families on Saturday and came home with presents for the six youngest kids.

It snowed all weekend, which was good and bad.

Russ was supposed to leave for Oregon on Saturday, but the interstate was closed. Then he was leaving Sunday, but it kept snowing and there were issues with the trailer, and in the end, he couldn’t leave. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to enjoy having him home much because he was loading the trailer, working on problems with it, and preparing to leave all weekend. Despite that, I’m very thankful he didn’t drive on snowy roads – we need him.

Now he’s home for a couple of unexpected days so we may get our Christmas tree, which will make us all very happy.

How was your weekend? Don’t forget to tell me  your best tips stolen for the kids’ therapist!

Have a great Monday, friends.



Tips Stolen From the Kids’ Therapist #1 [Feelings]

As parents of kids from “hard places,” Russ and I read stacks of books, attended many therapy sessions, and sought every resource we could find.

We were flooded with information in the early years –  like drinking from a fire hose.

While the knowledge we gained continues to be invaluable for our kids, there are unexpected gifts for us – insights and skills we use to heal, cope, and manage our own relationships and lives.

This post is the first in the series Tips Stolen From the Kids’ Therapist.


Tip #1 This Feeling Won’t Last Forever 

[This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]

Last weekend was very hard for me and, by Monday, I was a bit of a wreck. I felt terribly sad and despairing. In the midst of it, I remembered something I learned from the author of The Whole-Brain Child, Daniel Siegel,

“Let the clouds of emotion roll by. Feelings come and go.” [The Whole-Brain Child p. 103]

We need to teach our children to identify their emotions, and then help them understand that emotions won’t last forever.

Feelings are like the weather – they change.

It was snowing at my house this morning. Now, as I write this afternoon, the sun is coming out.

When I felt terribly sad yesterday, I knew the feeling wouldn’t last forever, even though the sadness felt like it would never end.

As Siegel says, “…feelings need to be recognized for what they are: temporary, changing conditions. They are states, not traits.”

I also know I can do things to help those bad feelings change more quickly:

  1. I took a walk | With the dog in the car, I drove Claire to her piano lesson, parked at the teacher’s house, and went for a walk.
  2.  I called a friend | I walked with an earbud in my ear and called one of my best friends. It helped to tell her what I was feeling and have her help me process.
  3. I opened presents | This was a complete blessing and surprise. I signed up for a Secret Santa exchange on Facebook, and three presents arrived yesterday. When I opened them, it was so fun and happy; some sadness lifted off in a sweet way.

Just like this morning’s snow, by Tuesday, the darkest clouds of sadness had rolled on by and I was quite a bit better. The situation isn’t fixed, but I felt I could bear it with more hope. Feelings do come and go.

I would love to hear from you. What are  some of the best tips meant for your kids that you use in your life? Tell me!

One last thing: This Saturday, 12/10, is the last day to order from my Etsy Shop for Christmas delivery. We have lots of orders to fill and special custom orders to complete. Cate is creating each piece, I’m taking orders, and helping her with details. Once we’ve filled all orders, we’ll take time off to be with our families.]