Dr. Karyn Purvis offers practical advice for parents on building and maintaining a trust-based relationship with their children. She explains how parent-child attachments are designed by God to work, what happens when that connection is broken and how parents can give their children a voice for their thoughts and feelings. (Part 1 of 2)
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Dr. Karyn Purvis: If there is a difficult pregnancy, there's trauma. There [are] already changes in the brain, in the body, in the belief and the neurochemistry. If the child has hospitalization, a tough car accident, watching scary movies, I mean, so many things can evoke terror in our children, but every child, God made us with the same kind of tank that's got to be filled with human love and His love.
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Dr. Karyn Purvis offers her insights on today's "Focus on the Family" and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.
Jim Daly: You're about to hear some great ideas from a leading expert on how to really connect with your children. John and I took a trip a while ago to Texas Christian University there in Fort Worth, Texas to talk with Dr. Karyn Purvis who was the director of the Institute of Child Development for TCU.
For the past couple of decades, she researched the best ways to help at-risk children and what she called "children from hard places." I love that phrase. These principles that she and her colleagues at TCU developed, they can apply to any parenting situation. Her approaches will help you cultivate a better relationship with your child and that's the bottom line.
When we spoke to Dr. Purvis, I didn't realize this would be her last conversation with us here at Focus on the Family. She battled cancer for several years and sadly she passed away last April, not long after we taped this program. I'm sure she's in heaven rejoicing today with all of the children she was able to help and parents, too. I think the Lord is rejoicing, as well, because of the tremendous work she did with so many families to make them stronger.
John: And Dr. Purvis co-authored a best-selling book called The connected Child and you'll hear us reference that in this recording. Let's go ahead and hear her advice on today's Best of 2016 "Focus on the Family."
Jim: Dr. Purvis, you have given your life to children and particularly, at-risk kids, kids in the foster system. You have helped Focus on the Family immeasurably with our Wait No More program and I want to say thank you for that.
Karyn: Thank you, thank you.
Jim: When you look at the big issue, why are so many parents, both in the foster context, as well as just parenting their biological kids, why are we at the end of our rope, tryin' to get kids to behave in a way that we would like to see them behave?
Karyn: Yes, I think that it's really multiply determined. We've got parents that have to work longer and longer hours. We've got a more and more, actually avoidant society, that gives parents more and more responsibilities away from the children. And we've got children who are having risks that nobody recognizes.
So, and really frankly, many of the strategies that are not connecting strategies and I believe that what we do is modeled after the heart of God and it's all about connection. Even when I'm being corrected, He's still there. He's still present.
And there are a lot of parenting models that are being offered, especially in the church sadly that are, you know, send the child away until he can be good, you know. And God never sends me away. He's always there. He tucks me under a wing. I break His heart, but I'm always knowing I'm His.
Jim: Well, that's well-said. You know, when you think about that, you step back and actually think about what we're communicating to a child when we send them away. Yeah, that's interesting.
Karyn: You know, "Go away; be good" and then you come back to me. You know, there was a philosophy very popularly passed around in the last five or 10 years called "The Family Boy." So, if my 6-year-old is at the kitchen table eating dinner and he's fooling around like all 6-year-olds do—
Karyn: --right? And this philosophy says, say to him, "It doesn't look like you want to be a family boy right now. So, why don't you go to your room with your food and then if you decide you want to be part of the family, you can come back to the table." And I'm just thinking, holy precious Father in heaven, when did my child misbehaving at the table mean he's not mine? You know, there's a lot of that being pressed in and pressed in on the church.
Jim: You talk about and I found this very interesting in your book, The Connected Child, you talk about this connection occurring in the womb. What is happening there physiologically between mom and child?
Karyn: Baby's heartbeat beats to mama's heartbeat. The baby moves hands and feet to mother's voice when mother's talking. Quickly the little limbs are moving. They come into synchrony and neurochemically they match by six months in utero. But they come into sync; her hormones are bathing him. Her chemicals, neurochemicals are bathing him or her and there's this deep affinity at birth.
Jim: And that's God's plan, right?
Karyn: It is God's plan. It's a magnificent plan.
Jim: When you look at the disruption of that, what gets in the way of that normal formative healthy component and creates dysfunction?
Karyn: For the family that hasn't adopted, for example, a traumatized child, so let's think about God's design in nature, the kind of hours that mothers used to hold babes, only a couple of generations ago the vast majority of children were breastfed. There was a lot of holding. There was hundreds of thousands of hours.
And now kids go back to daycare pretty quickly, which is not to blame or fault anybody. If your child has to go to daycare though, you have to beef up morning and night.
Jim: So, do more touch—
Karyn: That's right.
Jim: --more eye-to-eye contact.
Karyn: That's right; that's right. And too, your office, I pick my son up at 4:05, no calls until he's asleep at nine, or midnight right. (Laughter)
Jim: Talk about that in the context, many people I know who have adopted from Russia, from East[ern] bloc countries particularly, these children who have been in orphanages there, they come out without a lot of human contact, maybe just their diapers being changed.
Karyn: And maybe not.
Jim: And maybe not, but just simply not a lot of human contact. Talk about that distress that, that causes those children.
Karyn: Well, so much distress and you probably know the book by TELP pediatricians in '57, called Infants in Institutions. And he said that when babies cry for 30 to 60 days, if we don't come consistently, they stop crying.
Jim: They just stop.
Karyn: They lose their voice. Now the problem with that is, either I know I'm safe and if I cry, my daddy comes. Or if I cry, my mama comes. If that doesn't happen, I have no voice to ask for my needs by crying, then I'm gonna use survival skills. And there are five major ones—aggression, violence, manipulation, triangulation and control.
Jim: And they start learning 'em early--
Karyn: They start learning them very, very early and—
Jim: --because there's no response--
Karyn: --that's right, because there's no response.
Jim: --to their cries.
Karyn: That's exactly right and so, when they come to us, a lot of them have these skills. But I can't take away these survival skills unless I give them back their voice. And I'll often say to a child, "If you just tell me what you need, I'm a sure thing."
Jim: And then you have to do it.
Karyn: And then you must do it.
Jim: Must do it.
Karyn: That's right.
Jim: That's one of the things with foster care, foster adopt, Jean and I, we have done foster care. We went through training so that we can do respite and John, I know you've done the training. I was really impressed with the parenting training that happens in that environment. In fact, as the president of Focus, I remember thinking, all parents—
Jim: --should go through this training—
Jim: --because it's that good.
Jim: And today even though you specialize in that area of children without moms and dads, it is applicable to—
Karyn: It is—
Jim: --every parent.
Karyn: --to the entire population. So, my daddy died at 90 a couple of years ago and he needed the same thing I would give to an abused child or a harmed child. He needed to know that he could look into somebody's eyes and see that he was precious, really knowing that our life has meaning, that we're precious, those things that every parent that peers deeply into the eyes of their child, that child knows who they are. You know, and they know that they're precious and they're valu[able].
So, think about how many types of trauma there are. So, we're doing a lot of training. It's called Trauma Informed School, creating Trauma Informed Schools. And a lot of parents and teachers have no idea. If there is a difficult pregnancy, there's trauma. Ther [are] already changes in the brain.
Jim: For that child.
Karyn: For that child, okay. If the child has a difficult birth, there are already changes in the brain, in the body, in the belief and the neurochemistry. If the child has hospitalization, a tough car accident, watching scary movies, I mean, so many things can evoke terror in our children. But every child, God made us with the same kind of tank that's got to be filled with human love and His love.
Jim: Well, I wanted to ask you about that, because here you are. You're a professor, Dr. Karyn Purvis, here at TCU, Texas Christian University. This is the big game and yet, you can synthesize what you see in science and when we in the Christian community say that we're created in God's image, meaning created for relationship, you see it right there in the child, in the womb.
Karyn: Yeah, yeah.
Jim: That's what you're saying.
Karyn: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love that, you know, we have this trademarked, evidence-based practice, trust-based relational intervention. Well, who do you think that idea was? (Laughter) You know, trust.
Jim: A professor's.
Karyn: Yeah. (Laughter) Trust-based relational.
Jim: That's God.
Karyn: That's God. (Laughter)
Jim: But it's so good and it's so clear to see that and in so many fronts today as a scientist yourself, it's wonderful to see where science, sociology, medicine actually is proving the faith claims—
Jim: --in certain ways, isn't it?
Karyn: Yeah, yeah. I always love to say, it's cool when science catches up with God for just a minute or two. (Laughter)
Jim: That is good.
John: I appreciate so much, Dr. Purvis, the biblical platform upon which your work depends, because it's so helpful for me, as an adoptive dad to a special-needs child from another country who spent time in an orphanage. I read through The Connected Child, Jim and I see my son in so much of this.
Jim: Well, and you in fact, pointed out a page to Dr. Purvis when we first came in the room.
John: Yes, it's just full of stuff for me, but broadening it out, because it's so biblical, these principles work for every parent, if we would just step back. You wrote about compassion early on in the book that really caught me, Jim, because we have a lot of parents that are so performance oriented, they forget about being compassionate coaches to their kids.
Jim: When you look at those attributes of God and how they play into His, if I can use the term, "parenting" of us, what do those attributes look like?
Karyn: Yes, a balance of structure and nurture, okay. Consummate forgiveness, lavish love.
Jim: Yeah, those are good.
Karyn: It's not that He doesn't say no, sir or no, ma'am, but it's unconditional.
Karyn: I love you no matter, you're mine. You are mine. What little kid doesn't need to know that? What big kid doesn't need to know that?
Jim: Mom and dad need to know that.
Karyn: That's right, but you know, when we look at the Old Testament and we look across in the New Testament, you think about even when God was gonna punish David for numbering the people, He let him choose between three choices of discipline, right? I mean, like and He had no joy in the discipline. God had no joy. He stopped the death angel, right. So, even when my child is at their worst, for them to know they're precious and I'm still the coach. I'm not their warden.
Jim: Wow, you're not their "warden." That is a good word. You know, Karyn, I'm thinking. I often use the term in staff meetings and certainly Jean and I talk about this, but God is a God of teenagers, isn't He?
Karyn: Oh, He is.
Jim: We're all that way. (Laughing)
Karyn: It is so good that He is, right.
Jim: He is.
Karyn: It really is.
Jim: None of us really behave perfectly even though many of us may think we do. (Laughing)
Karyn: No, no and many of us may try really hard, you know, but we're not gonna ever make that bar.
John: This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we recorded this conversation with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, just a few months before she passed away. And she had co-authored the book, The Connected Child, which is especially for those who have adopted children with special behavior or emotional needs. The principles here though, as I hope you've caught, are applicable to all parenting situations and I'll encourage you to get a copy of The Connected Child and the download or CD of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
In fact, when you make a generous donation of any amount to this ministry today, we'll send a copy of that book, The Connected Child as our way of saying thanks for joining our support team and making sure that this excellent resource is in your hands.
Let's go ahead and hear more trusted insights from the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, as we continue this "Focus on the Family" broadcast.
End of Program Note
Jim: Dr. Purvis, let me make a practical observation and speak to this. I can remember when I lost my mom at 9 and I had people telling me, be a big boy; don't cry. And then the feeling in my heart, which I wanted to follow, was weep for your mom.
Jim: And it put me in a terrible spot, 'cause I didn't want to let them down and I didn't want to let my mom down. And I just remember fighting those tears as I laid a rose in her casket and then turned to face the people at that funeral and I remember walking down the aisle thinking, don't cry; don't cry and it put me in a dilemma. But what does that do potentially?
Karyn: That can cause a lifetime message of my feelings aren't okay. I can't tell someone what I need. It can also change neurotransmitter levels and things like that, chronic stresses. Here's the thing though. We've come to this misnomer in our society that God likes us when we're happy, you know. If I'm smiling, it's good.
Jim: So, He's okay with happy.
Karyn: Yeah, He's okay with happy. He's okay with everything but sad, angry, afraid, right? Well, doesn't the Scripture say, "Be angry and yet, don't sin," right? It doesn't say don't be angry. It says, "Don't grieve as those who have no hope." It doesn't say, "Don't grieve."
And I think one of my favorite stories in all of the Scripture and I have hundreds and thousands of favorites is Lazarus and Jesus waiting till that body was rotted and Jesus coming and Mary and Martha weeping at Lazarus' tomb. And Jesus knew He was there for nothin' but to glorify God by raising that boy from the dead, but He wept. He wept. And we have to understand the heart of God. I resonate in your pain. I resonate in your joy.
It's not that you're angry or that you're sad, it's what do you do if you cut yourself because you're sad. I want to talk to you about that, okay? I want to give you some better skills. If you scream at people or you hit people because you're angry, I want to talk to you about that. I want to mentor you. I want to help you as my child [can] have some skills.
But when we take away a child's voice and we don't allow them to tell the truth and have integrity with themselves, we defy their integrity with themself [sic] and God.
Jim: Well, and let's apply that when you have a child who is stubborn, who speaks out at you as a parent, tells you no. Speak practically to us—
Karyn: Okay, okay.
Jim: --about how to manage that and to better understand. The first thing is, they're pushing a button in you as a parent and it's making you angry that they're not taking the trash out when you said or whatever it might be. How can you in a healthy way, respond to that?
Karyn: Yes, so here's what I would say, two things. One thing is "Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath, but bring them up in the nurture and the admonition," so structure and nurture, okay. I'm gonna give a voice. The way that I did it with my boys is, I said, "You can say anything in the world you need to say to me, but it needs to come with respect and I will speak to you with respect."
Another thing that we would do with a child that says, like "I don't have to carry out the trash. You're not my real mother," for example, some of the kids that we work with, I would say something like, "Buddy, if you're asking for a compromise, you need to do it with respectful words," right. But I'm gonna always give them a voice and I'm gonna try to never shut them out.
Jim: Well, in fact, I read the, kind of that anecdotal story, I think, where you suggest, if they say, "I don't want to take out the trash," you say, "Well, talk to me about a compromise." And then you ask them—
Karyn: Uh-hm, yeah.
Jim: --to respond to you with, "Well, the compromise that I'm thinking of would be, I finish my level of my videogame and then I'll take it out in 10 or 15 minutes."
Karyn: And you know what? I would go for that—
Karyn: --because that kiddo knows I'm workin' with you. I'm on your team. I'm your coach. I'm on your team. I'd say, my little grandson was 4 a few years ago and he was at my house and we were coloring and everything was fine. All of a sudden he says, "Gimme that crayon." (Laughter) Well, you know—
Jim: Grandma didn't like that too much.
Karyn: --no, Grandma doesn't and I opened my mouth, but he's been with me enough to know what's gonna happen. He puts his little hand on his hips and he says, "So, do you want me to try it again with respect?" (Laughter) I said—
Jim: That's what you want.
Karyn: --"Yes, cowboy." (Laughter)
John: So you're saying, in the heat of the moment where I, as a dad, or my wife, as a mom, feels like that is so disrespectful, a parent needs to step back and say, "No, no, you're disrespecting me, but I'm gonna give you a chance to do that again."
Karyn: Yes, uh-hm, absolutely.
John: But that feels like it's giving control to the child in the situation.
Karyn: Yeah, okay. So, shared power is what parenting is about, right? When your child was born, you wanted to sleep, he wanted to eat (Laughter), right? When your child was born, he needed to be fed in the middle of the night and you really had stayed up late with the football game. There was no question you were gonna share power over what happened right then. You're not capitulating power. When you share power, you prove it's yours. You can't share something you don't own.
Jim: Huh, give us an example of that, the sharing of power where it's healthy and maybe where it's not healthy.
Karyn: Yeah, well, I think, okay, so for me, sharing power is about the way that we interact with the children that they don't feel they're hostage. There's a lot of heavy-handed parenting that holds children hostage. There's a lot of permissive parenting that the children hold the parents hostage, like neither is healthy.
Karyn: So, when I share power, I'm gonna say, and I may go, I'll give you an example I was given by a girl who's working in RTC, Residential Treatment Center. And this teenage girl doesn't know how to be attached. She wants to be, but she doesn't know how to be and she plays the staff against each other. So, she has two favorite staff and she tries to play 'em.
Jim: And that's a skill set she learned because she was emotional abandoned.
Karyn: That's exactly right. She learned how to survive on her own. So, she's sayin' to this one woman who's trying to get her on the bus to go to the school, she says, "I'm not getting on the school bus, moron."
Jim: Moron, uh, that would light most of us up.
Karyn: Yeah, not just say that would--
John: That's pretty disrespectful.
Karyn: --light us up, yeah. And then she said and her counselor tried to give her an option for a compromise, you know? "Would you like to ask with respect?" And she says, "No, I'm not dealin' with you, moron. I want her to come over and help me." And so, you know, what we would do is say, either I would firm my tone or I would soften my tone, but I would still have power and I would still try to share it, okay.
So, I might say to her, "That's not okay. Try it again," right. Or I might say, "Buddy, I'm trying to help you here. You need to work with me," depending on how alerted she was, how close I thought she might be to a meltdown.
Jim: Now talk about how that is different from a typical parental response, which was power against power--
Jim: --and why that's effective for the child?
Karyn: --You know, force doesn't work. I mean (Laughter), you know, if force and punishment worked, we would've cleaned out our prisons long, long ago—
Jim: Boy, that's so true.
Karyn: --right? Abraham Lincoln said, "Force is all-conquering, but its victories are short-lived." And I find that with families. This child has to know that I'm the boss. I'm a safe boss and that means I listen to him. I try to meet his needs in every way I can. I'm as nurturing as I can be and I'm as playful as I can be, but sometimes that's not okay, so try it again.
Jim: You know, Karen, you talk about, as parents of foster kids or again, our biological kids, we often make correcting our child's behavior the goal, 'cause that's the outcome we want to see, but correction, albeit is necessary, you want to maintain a connection emotionally—
Karyn: That's correct.
Jim: --so you don't lose that child. It can be such a tough balance, especially when there's so much stress in the relationship. How does a parent back up and remember what the big goal is, versus the day-to-day battles?
Karyn: So, I've got a couple thoughts about that. One is this. If your child is mouthy at this level and you feel it, aagh, you know at this level, take a breath. Step back. Did your dad talk to you like that? Because at that moment you get all tangled up. You're supposed to look into this child's eyes and be able to be on point to meet his needs, right?
I will tell you a really quick [story]. Years ago, a pastor's wife, a young pastor's wife,a woman in our church was dying of cancer and was leaving two little girls. And I thought it's my responsibility to go in and let her know God's gonna take care of her children and we're gonna all be here for her husband and you know.
And I went in with my script all played out in my mind. And God showed me, when I go into that room, I'm the resonator. If she wants to talk about how beautiful her little girls were gonna look on Easter day and their little outfits she ordered online from Penney's, I'm gonna resonate how beautiful those little girls are gonna be. And so, maybe she needs to talk about, she'll never see her girls in their wedding dresses and I'm the resonator of that. (Emotional)
Our children have to know we feel what they feel, that we understand what's going on for them. They have to know that, I know you're in deep waters right now. I know you're in deep, deep, deep woods right now, but I'm here and I'm gonna see you through it.
I will tell you, I tell my students in their college class, did you know, you may not know this. Did you know, one of the most sacred tasks you'll do is a parent is change a poo-poo diaper? (Laughter) Did you know that, that was a sacred task?
Jim: I didn't know it was sacred.
Karyn: Yeah, it's sacred.
Jim: I know it's necessary.
John: There are a lot of opportunities (Laughter) to be holy, it seems.
Karyn: Yeah, yeah, yeah, no (Laughter), but here's the thing. You open that diaper up and you've got two choices. You know, first choice is aagh! Aagh! Aagh! Right? And your second choice is, "Wow, big work, good job, buddy," right. (Laughter)
Now every one of us is human in this world, from time beginning to time end, has had our own poops all over us. And when somebody could look into our eyes and we can see we were still precious, we knew who we were.
John: Well, just to have somebody look into your eyes and affirm who you are as an individual. That's what Dr. Karyn Purvis is talking about there and Jim, it's obvious why this was one of our Best of 2016 programs here at Focus on the Family.
Jim: It is, John and there's much more that we're gonna hear from the late Dr. Karyn Purvis on our next program. Just listening to her for a few moments, it gives you a feel for her heart for children, especially the ones that she called the children coming from hard places.
For close to 40 years now, Focus on the Family has attempted in the best of our ability to be there as Dr. Karyn Purvis has, for parents and for children who are struggling. We're there to provide tools and resources to help them do a better job. Maybe we've helped you and if so, if you have a heart for children who are trying to work through these very difficult issues, can I ask you to make an investment in the ministry of Focus? Reach deep and help Focus on the Family touch the lives of these families, these hurting families, so that God can be glorified, He can be lifted up and these children and their parents can be set on a course that their lives will honor God and bring glory to Him.
With your end-of-year donation, you're giving the gift of family. I love that statement. And I can't think of a nobler offering than that, to give the gift of family. And when you donate to Focus today, I want to send a copy of Dr. Purvis's book, The Connected Child. I think it's one of the best parenting books that you can get your hands on. It helped me as a parent. I know it's gonna help you and that will be our way of saying thank you for stepping in the gap for these families who are struggling.
And no amount is too small. Sometimes we may think that, 10, 15, $20, but a few generous supporters of the ministry have provided a special matching challenging, meaning your gift will have double the impact. So, if you give $20, it'll be $40. Every dollar you give today will be doubled. So, you can see any amount will make an eternal difference. So, please give today.
John: And you can donate and then of course, ask for the book by Dr. Karyn Purvis, The Connected Child and our Best of 2016 CD set when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or donate online at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back for more with Dr. Karyn Purvis, tomorrow as we once again provide trusted advice to help you and your family thrive.
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Karyn PurvisView Bio
Karyn Purvis, Ph.D., (deceased) was the director of the TCU Institute of Child Development. She devoted the past decade to developing research-based interventions for at-risk children. Dr. Purvis co-authored (along with Dr. David Cross) the best-selling adoption book, The Connected Child. She received numerous awards and honors, including the T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. Infant Mental Health Advocacy Award, the title of Distinguished Fellow in Adoption and Child Development bestowed by The National Council for Adoption, and the James Hammerstein Award, given annually to honor someone who has displayed outstanding dedication to children in need. Dr. Purvis lost a battle with cancer and passed away in April, 2016.