Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Science of Happiness: Can it be Taught?

Being a foster parent is alot of things. Exhausting, rewarding, both a blessing and somedays you might think a curse, haha, even a path to happiness. Sometimes. Sometimes not.

Recently my co-author and I were invited to be beta-testers and "pioneers" for a web-site called Happify. Basically its a science based website that uses games, surveys, and challenges to help increase your personal happiness. When you log on, you take a survey to find out where in your life you might need to improve your life, to feel more happy, then, using their research, you are given lessons to work on each day to increase your happiness quotient.

Diane just started this process, and it seems to have some valid and helpful advice and usefulness.  We thought as foster parents, some of you might want to check it out and use it as a stress release, and a way of tuning in to your own emotional needs; something we know as foster or adoptive parents is often put on the back burner. Check it out at

In any case, this whole idea about happiness got me thinking about my foster kids and happiness.  Due to abusive upbringings concepts like "happiness" aren't always understood naturally like they would be with other kids.  How do we teach happiness?

I came upon this Psychology Today article that talks about kids and teaching happiness. Basically, showing that happiness is felt through the act of Giving... I like that idea, and I can see that kids do feel happy when they give (as well as receive, obviously...)
Check out the article and see what you think.
Do you have any thoughts about teaching kids with troubled pasts about happiness? I would love to hear your stories.

Acts of Kindness: Key to Happiness for Children & Teens

Four simple steps to increase children's happiness.

Most parents and teachers want children to be happy.To that end, parents find themselves doing things for kids to make them happy, like buying gifts, taking them for ice cream, playing games together, or helping with homework.
Teachers are constantly doing for children too. In addition to understanding the link between knowledge and happiness, teachers often buy supplies from their own paychecks, bring treats to class, plan fun excursions, and support students in other immeasurable and enduring ways.
Do acts of kindness toward children make us happier parents and teachers? Of course they do.

In fact, studies consistently show that we feel happier when we perform acts of kindness – for our children, students, families, friends, and communities. Not only do good deeds make us feel better, but as David Brooks explained in the New York Times article Nice Guys Finish First, people who are kind and compassionate are usually the most successful.
The Kindness Dilemma – Receiving vs. Giving
Unfortunately, we don’t make children happy by simply enabling them to be receivers of kindness. We increase their feelings of happiness and well-being, reduce bullying, and improve their friendships by teaching them to be givers of kindness.
The truth is that children are born to be altruistic givers. But somewhere between birth and 4th grade, they are socialized to think more about themselves than others. (Yes, we all play a role in how this occurs.)
How do we change this trajectory and improve children’s well-being?
A recent study, Kindness Counts, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of California, Riverside, broke new ground by showing the benefits derived by tweens when they were taught happiness-increasing strategies.
For a month, several hundred 9-11 year-olds performed and recorded three acts of kindness each week for anyone they wished. Another several hundred kept track of three pleasant places they visited during the week.
Not surprisingly, the results were consistent with adult studies. When kids performed acts of kindness or took notice of the pleasant places they visited during the week, they significantly increased feelings of happiness and satisfaction.
Read more at:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Is Neurofeedback the Solution for Your Child? Follow Our Journey: Part 2 The First 3 Sessions

The below post is from our friend “Marie.” She is sharing her story with us as she tries a brain-retraining program (neurofeedback) with her daughter who has ADD and severe memory issues.  This will be an ongoing series following their progress and success.  We hope you find it helpful as you search for solutions for your own children.

If you missed the first post, read it here: 
Is Neurofeedback the Solution for Your Child? Follow Our Journey: Part 1.

Part 2. The First Three Sessions:

Hello again friends. Well, my daughter and I have committed to the process and we completed our first three sessions.
How's it going?
The short answer is there has been no change in her focus that I, or her teachers have noticed. 
The long answer is that we shouldn’t expect any change yet. 
There are 30 sessions. In the first session she was introduced to all of the equipment and how to attach the sensors to her ears and how to put on the belt and finger sensor that measures her breathing and heart rate. 
Breathing…from what I am gathering, this is a big part of the ground work training. 
The first thing she had her do is some breathing exercises by looking at the screen. She was taught to breathe through her nose making her stomach rise then releasing it through her mouth. She was cued to do that by a graph that moved up and down on the screen for about 3 minutes. My guess is that it helps to relax the mind (makes sense right?)  The technician advised me to have her do those breathing patterns at night before bed so she gets used to doing it right and doesn’t have to think about it. She said a lot of people actually breathe wrong and do it backwards.
The next step was to put a DVD, any DVD that she is wants, in the DVD player. This part seems so simple, but is much more complex than my feeble brain can understand or explain very well. Here is the essence of the program. 
They have a sensor placed on top of her head that measures her brainwaves. As she watches the movie it monitors her brain activity. If she goes out of the norms that are set in a certain area, the movie pauses briefly. So over time it trains the brain to stop wandering “over there”.  Sounds a little like a dog with an invisible fence with a collar that trains him to quit wandering “over there” – except of course there is no shock. Instead it is just annoying. 
In fact that was the one comment my daughter had about her first session. “Mom the movie kept pausing, it was so annoying.” I said, “that is all a part of it honey. It is strengthening your brain and over time it won’t pause as much.” She happily accepted that and hasn’t complained about going again. In fact, she is happy to be trying the program.  She knows how the drugs we tried make her feel, and she totally owns the fact that her daydreaming can cause her problems.
As a side note while in the waiting room I was reading one of the books they had there. It was called HEALING YOUNG BRAINS The Neurofeedback Solution by Hill and Castro. The first chapter was about Autism and how it can do amazing things to help. I didn’t get very far in the book, but I am anxious to learn more.
I will check back in with you all after session 10!
Keeping you posted – “Marie”

 ( Do you have experience with this type of therapy? Let us know what you think! ~ John: FPR

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Is Neurofeedback the Solution for Your Child? Follow Our Journey: Part 1.

Hi Friends,
I wanted to introduce you to our friend “Marie.” She is sharing her story with us as she tries a brain-retraining program (neurofeedback) with her daughter who has ADD and severe memory issues.  This will be the first in an ongoing series following their progress and success.  We hope you find it helpful as you search for solutions for your own children.

Is Neurofeedback the Solution for Your Child? Follow Our Journey: Part 1.

My daughter cannot stay focused and these drugs don’t work! I am wondering how much of her problem is chemical, or is it trauma, drama or a combination of all three?
My middle child, 11, has a serious problem staying focused and on task. She is intelligent, bright, and creative, but cannot finish most ANY task set before her. It doesn’t matter if it is getting ready and remembering to put on underwear, or doing simple school work.  My sweet girl still had a problem wetting herself in 3 grade because she wasn’t paying attention and would wait until it was too late.  She just goes off in to her own world. She is never defiant about it. It is just as if she would “forget to remember.” 
At first I thought it might just be the emotional stress we were under as a family. She has had a lot to deal with in her life…2 long distance moves, an older brother with Asperger’s syndrome that drained MUCH of my attention, a failed business and marriage, and anger issues in the house from father and brother before the divorce. So as you can see, I always wondered how much of her focus problem is trauma, how much is drama (she tends to be VERY expressive and creative) and how much is truly “chemical”. So I set out to find my answer. I have prayed over this many times asking for wisdom, and I believe I am getting some answers!
Working the Problem…
I think it would help to give a little of what I tried to do first.
 I started her with a child psychologist when the divorce first happened that specialized in EMDR; a special technique that helps the brain deal with and move past trauma. He didn’t spend much time on that, but instead worked with her on social issues and self esteem which has been greatly helpful to her.
As she got further along in school, her attention problems became more glaring. I would hear from teachers that they were seeing all the typical ADD symptoms. I finally had her tested and they did confirm that she has ADD.
I began the grueling task of “finding the right medication.” None of the stimulant drugs helped her focus. They made her irritated and of course interrupted sleep patterns which made her more tired and grouchy. Normally a cheerful and energetic girl, I just could not do that to her any more. I also tried Strattera, a good non-stimulant option, that I thought for sure would do the trick. It didn’t make a dent in her problem!
I got some help from the foster parent rescue blog when I used some of John’s techniques and checklists to find out if she had a real memory problem or if there were other things at play. I offered her twenty dollars at the end of the week if she could get ready in the morning and remember to do everything without a reminder ( normally I have to constantly remind her to do everything). I wondered is it my parenting, is she lazy, does she have a learning problem??? If it were laziness then she would have been able to follow through because she was motivated to get that money. It wasn’t a surprise to me that she didn’t make it past the first day without forgetting most of the things on the list. (And she was even allowed to look at the list!)
Training the Brain
A turning point came when a friend of mine referred me to a company called Neurocore. This is where the real story begins. Neurocore is a company that was founded by Dr. Timothy Royer, Psy. D.  Dr. Royer was the Division Chief of Pediatrics Psychology at Helen Devos Childrens Hospital in Grand Rapids, MI. During his time there Dr. Royer worked closely with teams of neuropsychologists, neurologists, and behavioral pediatricians to address the cognitive, emotional and behavioral needs of children. He began Neurocore in 2004.
I learned that they use advanced EEG and EKG technology to train the brain to be healthier and stronger without the use of medication. They have helped people with ADHD, migraines, sleep disorders, stress related illness, anxiety issues, athletes with performance problems because of anxiety, and focus problems! Eureka! I couldn’t wait to try it.
I had my daughter tested.  It is a very simple, non written test that even a youngster can do. All you do is watch a screen while they measure your brain waves, breathing and heart rate. When her results came back it confirmed so much for me.  It turns out part of her brain developed abnormally high in the daydreaming area. I am convinced that this happened early in life as a coping skill to entertain herself when she was somewhat and unfortunately neglected, while I had to deal with an out of control special needs older brother. Anyway, now those daydreaming patterns kick in whenever she is stressed, bored or doing mundane tasks!  Brilliant! It all makes sense now.
 After telling John at Foster Parent Rescue about this he asked if I would write a progress report on how my daughter does with the treatment. We are all very hopeful that it can make a difference.
 The program includes 30 treatments. We will start next week! I will keep you posted.

( Do you have experience with this type of therapy? Let us know what you think! ~ John: FPR)

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Friday, May 3, 2013

Respite Care for Foster Kids: Preparing to Do It or Receive It (Yes, Even for RAD kids!)

by John
Recently we got heard from a friend of ours who was going to be doing some respite care for a foster child who had a RAD diagnosis.  This was the first time she and her husband were going to be doing respite, and she had some questions about how to best prepare to make it a successful and smooth process for everyone.

After talking with her I realized we really hadn't covered this topic before on the blog, and although we talked to her specifically about a child with RAD, the advice really applies to any foster child.
The advice here is directed at the family that is receiving the child into the home, but if you have a child that you are sending to respite care, prepare the child and the receiving family in the same way.

How to Prepare To Do Respite for a Foster Child: 
  • Contact the people who are taking care of the child now and find out what they are using as a system of discipline and rewards.   If you can continue what they are doing, then the child wont see a difference between your home and theirs and his behavior should be the same (hopefully controllable.)
  • Have a meeting with the caregiver before the respite care date,  with the child present, at your house, to discuss any issues the child might have.  This way, the child knows that you are aware of any restrictions and rules he has to follow. By doing this in front of the child, they'll know they can't play any manipulative games with you and play you against the other foster parents.
  • During this meeting time, show the child around your home, introduce him or her to any other members of the household, including other children and allow for a little play time if possible. Talk about possible activities while the child will be staying with you to help alleviate any stress or fear the child may have about the respite visit. 
  • Show the child your own home's house rules as well, and let them know your expectations of good behavior.  Chances are you would not have any issues with the child during a short visit. This would be a typical "honeymoon" period with a foster child, and the child will most likely be on their best behavior.
  • Ask to have a written confirmation of drop off and pick up times for the child, and any scheduled activities or appointment times and locations. This way you have clear and written directions from the child's caregivers so their should be no misunderstandings. 
  • Get the name and phone number of the case worker for the child in case there are any emergencies. 
If you are Using Respite Care:

  • Be considerate: Pack your child's belongings and be sure to pack enough for each day of care plus a change of clothing if need be.  Include toys, snacks or any special care items and medications. 
  • Deliver the packed items the day before the visit if possible to make drop off easier and allow the receiving home to prepare the child's room if necessary.
 Do you have tips for preparing for respite care? Please share them here!

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