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 2 of 2)
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Dr. Karyn Purvis: Sometimes these feelings feel so big that they feel like they're gonna swallow us up, but you know, we can talk about it together. We can grieve about it together. Take a walk together.
Jim Daly: Just be there.
Karyn: Yes, because it's called "being felt." I know you're gettin' me. You don't have to say a word. I know you get me."
End of Teaser
John Fuller: Dr. Karyn Purvis on today's "Focus on the Family," a Best of 2016 program and your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim: Boy, John, isn't that the comment that we know God thinks of us, that He gets us. He knows how He created us. He gets me. He understands my frailties, my shortcomings and those things, those gifts that He would want to use in each one of us. Dr. Karyn Purvis has shared with us some very practical ways you can connect with your child last time. She led the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University, TCU in Fort Worth, Texas and had a lifetime of practical wisdom with solid research to back up her advice.
She co-authored The Connected Child, which is full of great ideas to keep your child's heart close to yours, which I'm tellin' ya, is the goal in parenting. Keep that child's heart close to you and ultimately, close to God.
Karyn succumbed to cancer last April at the age of 66, far too young an age to pass away, but she was such an important partner in our orphan care outreach here at Focus on the Family. We are going to miss her. She has a strong team at TCU, who is continuing her great advances in this area of child care.
If you didn't hear the last part of our conversation with Karyn, I want to encourage you to get a CD or the download to hear more of her wonderful insights. Even if you're in the normal--whatever that might be--category of parenting, her advice is gonna help each one of us.
John: And you'll find details about the CD or the download and Dr. Purvis's book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And now, the late Dr. Karyn Purvis on today's Best of 2016 "Focus on the Family."
Jim: 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. 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 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: Uh-hm, yeah 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 son 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, yeah, absolutely.
John: But that feels like it's giving control to the child in the situation.
Karyn: Absolutely, 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, 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. 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.
Karyn: Yeah, but not just say that.
Jim: That would light most of us up.
Karyn: Yeah, that would--
John: That's pretty disrespectful.
Karyn: --light us up, yeah. 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.
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: And 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? 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: Let me ask you this as a, again, a practical example. We received a note from a mom who said, "My 12-year-old daughter is extremely disrespectful and mouths off at everything anyone says. She went on to write, "She seems to think she knows it all." That's pretty much like a teenager.
John: Pretty much.
Jim: This mom's tried removing privileges, consequences, chores to discourage the behavior, but nothing seems to work, she says. She's seeking help because she's worn out emotionally and that speaks to so many parents. What is causing this child to show that kind of disrespect and what can parents do to respond to that?
Karyn: Yes, I would say that child is feeling dissed and just giving diss in return.
Jim: So, she's feeling, she's giving the behavior she feels like she's getting.
Karyn: Yes, yes, that's exactly right, because our children model after our behaviors, okay. We have four levels of behavior. The fourth is where the family cat's in the microwave. (Laughter) The first is where nobody's in danger, so there [are] four levels and four ways to respond.
Jim: Kind of degrees of severity, okay.
Karyn: Yes, degrees of risk, right or severity. And one of the things that we're wanting to do at every level is give a child a voice. Do you need to say something to me? Do we need to talk about something? But when a child is showing that kind of disrespect, I'm gonna ask the parent to beef up their nurture and that's the last thing you want to do when that kid's mouthy.
Jim: Right, do the opposite.
Jim: Boy, that sounds like something God would do.
Karyn: Doesn't it (Laughter), really? I mean, you know, it's a great idea, right? We had actually a camp for 12 children who were in residential, who've never been able to go to camp because they're out of the home, because they're not manageable.
Karyn: And we had our staff and we were gonna teach this facility staff how to work with our high, high-risk children. And each one of 'em had a buddy and each one of them had somebody listening to their needs, guiding them, saying, "Oh, try it again, 'cause I'm listening." We didn't have a single misbehavior and nobody—
Jim: Okay, that sounds unbelievable.
Karyn: --well, and it does. The people of the facility were blown away, but the whole thing is, you know, I'm crying out and nobody has met my need in a way that I understand my need was met. Nobody has met my need in a way that I understand I'm precious and valuable and I need that, right. We do this fabulous little exercise where we have people look into the eyes of someone carefully and then at a second exercise, do stuff like play on their computer or their phone they're listening to this person talk.
Jim: Do digital social media stuff.
Karyn: Yes, do social media stuff. And then we rate, we ask people how they're feeling. And the people who had about 90 percent of the attention feel loved and cared for and special and listened to and heard.
Jim: Two human beings looking at each other, yeah.
Karyn: Yeah, two, yeah and the one who's getting, what we asked 45 percent attention, says they're angry. They feel rejected. It's a phenomenal activity.
John: It's when my wife says, "Would you please put the phone down and just talk with me."
Karyn: Yes, yes, well and we have teenage children who've been to our camp who will say to their daddy, "I'm sorry; I need to see those beautiful eyes." (Laughter)
Jim: Oh, my goodness. I like that.
Karyn: You know.
Jim: Karen, when you look in our culture today and you know, for me, I was able to travel internationally and I saw probably 70 countries when I did the international work at Focus full time. When you look at kids here in the United States, it seems like something's amiss. There [are] greater psychoses—
Karyn: Yes, there are by far.
Jim: --than what you see in other countries with 8-, 9-, 10-, 12-year-olds. With a country that has so much materially, what is happening psychologically, spiritually that our kids are really struggling?
Karyn: They really are. The funny thing is, I heard a Fisher-Price representative on an interview saying, "Well, you know, moms are having to work now and it's been really good for business, 'cause they're always buying guilt gifts."
John: Guilt gifts.
Karyn: Yes, guilt gifts. So, you go home from work. You've been there all day. You would've loved to have been at home, but you feel guilty. You stop by the store. You pick up somethin' for dinner and you pick up a toy for your child, right. We have parents who are so exhausted at the end of the day that they come home and say, "Here is a toy; go play."
Jim: And they feel like they're meeting their obligation.
Karyn: That's right. They feel maybe it's the best they can do, right. And then frankly, we're forgetting how to nurture. We're in the age of microwave relationships and the age of, you know, many people will say, I call my granddaughter. She doesn't pick up, but then she texts me back in two minutes.
Jim: Right. (Chuckling)
Karyn: Right. I mean, we're further and further distanced.
So, we can't give things. We can't give military style parenting. "Call unto Me and I'll answer and show you great and mighty things thou knowest not," you know. That's what a child needs from us. They need what our Father gives to us. Call me; tell me what you need. So, the promises of God are yes and amen, right? That they need us emotionally present. If I have to carve out 10 minutes in the morning, if I come down and get a cup of coffee made, put on my clothes, put on my makeup before I go to work, sit at the table with the children. Sit and sip your coffee. They don't have to talk to you.
Jim: I love that.
Karyn: But you're there if they're ready to.
Jim: You're listening to "Focus on the Family" and we're halfway through our conversation with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis. She worked there at the Institute of Child Development at TCU, in fact, led the effort in Fort Worth.
I'm Jim Daly, along with John Fuller and if this topic of parenting touches your heart because you are experiencing that pain or maybe you're a grandparent and you see what's going on in your adult children as they are struggling with the grandkids in raising them, we have a number of helpful resources and articles to point you in the right direction when it comes to parenting children who, for whatever reason, are more challenging. Stop by our website for more information.
And if you can, make a donation when you're there. We need your help to support those families who cannot afford it themselves. In fact, for any generous donation you make to Focus on the Family today, I want to send you a copy of Dr. Purvis's book, The Connected Child.
John: That's a great resource and you can donate and find more details about her book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radioor when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: John, we receive a lot of questions here at Focus about attachment disorder and sensory processing issues and I think Karyn was one of the most prolific experts in the nation on these topics. Let's go ahead and continue the discussion, as you were about to ask that next question.
End of Program Note
John: Dr. Purvis, as we were getting ready to adopt, we had five biological kids and Jim, I was kinda arrogant and proud. I thought, what can they teach me in these required—
Jim: You're a pro.
John: --parenting classes where they're teaching us how to change diapers and do these things. But the gold in that training was the time spent discussing attachment and that's really at the heart of so much of what you're dealing with here. What are some signs that my child might not be attached? Not just, you know, bad behavior, but what about an infant or a 2-year-old that really can't express anything?
Karyn: Okay, one of the things you're going to try to discern is and you may need a professional to help you with some of these, but you're trying to discern if my child pushes me away when I come for a hug because he's afraid or because he has sensory issues.
John: What's the difference?
Karyn: So, well, sensory issues, so one of the huge brain changes for children if they have difficult pregnancy or some kind of trauma afterwards, is the capacity to process the senses. So, I should be able to get sensory feedback. I should be able to give it to the rest of my brain and act on that. So, I hear a sound, I know, you know, to do something, right?
But for children who've come from, well, 1 in 20 American school children have sensory processing disorder. So, when you try to touch my skin, it's very uncomfortable. So, I'm gonna push you away. That is very different. It looks like you don't want me. As a parent, how hurtful, right?
John: Yeah, I just want to give you a hug.
Karyn: That's right. That's exactly right and there are ways to do that even if the child's got this sensory thing. If the child … I could say to a child, "Would you give me a hug? Could I trade you a hug?" Right and "Can I give you a … a sweet little mama bear hug or could I give you a papa bear hug?" And most kids with sensory issues would adore a papa bear hug, but would wipe your kiss off, 'cause it's feathery soft, would push you away, if they didn't know how.
So, kids that have come from hard places, about 80 percent are disorganized in their attachment style. That means, you don't know how to make connections. So, I do what we call "Magic Feathers." And we take a major feather. And do you know (Laughter), Dumbo could really fly when he had that feather, right (Laughter)
Jim: Of course.
Karyn: And so, I get something neutral. I don't say, "Here's this cool toy, go play." I say, "Here's this cool toy; do you want to play?" right. And I sit across from my child and if he's sitting Indian style and he's playing Tonka trucks, I'm gonna do exactly the same. I'm gonna enter his world in the same way Jesus entered ours.
Jim: Well, yes and just emphasize, you're not sending the child away. That's the key to that—
Karyn: That's right.
Jim: --therapy really.
Karyn: That's exactly right. You know, I was thinking, in the last couple of days, "'Cause the bones that Thou has broken to rejoice," right. So, the lamb that keeps wandering and they, you know, the old shepherds would break the leg and put it on his shoulders and carry it. And then when they would stop for water, you know, he would lift it down and hand feed it water. I'm going to bring the troubled one; I'm not gonna break his leg, but I'm gonna bring a troubled child who has attachment issues, I'm gonna bring him closer to me. The big challenge is that all the messages they give you are counterintuitive to what they really want.
Karyn: So, they desperately want relationship, but they don't know how to do it, 'cause they're disorganized.
John: Dr. Purvis, what I so appreciate about what I'm hearing from you is that this is a reflection. Our parenting is a reflection of our understanding of God and who He is and you obviously have a deep, deep love for a gracious, caring, forgiving, patient God and you're saying, hey, parents. If you don't understand what's behind your child's behavior, if you don't like it, stop. Try to peer into their heart.
But I don't have the tools to do that, so help me figure out how I get there, whether my child's adopted or grew up in a fine, Christian loving home all this time and suddenly, boom. There are these behavioral issues that we have to deal with.
Karyn: Yeah, yeah, this is a great question. So, think about a time. I'm not saying you and your spouse ever argue, but think about a time that your next-door neighbors argue, right. It would typically be over, you didn't meet my need. You're not listening to me, right and that's the same way for our children. I need to be heard. I need my needs met.
John: Yeah, but I don't know that that need is and they can't articulate it.
Karyn: Okay, so let me tell you this. When I'm talking to a child, 80 percent of my energy is looking into their eyes to see if they're moist, if the pupils are dilated or constricted, 'cause their eyes are gonna tell me if they're feeling pain, okay. I'm gonna see this jaw line. A lot of our kids, when they get into fight, flight or freeze, they feel like they're fightin' for their life, these jaws set.
John: They kinda set their jaws.
Karyn: The breathing gets shallow and these hands cause these flexor muscles to tighten up. That's for fight, flight or freeze. If I have a younger child or a non-pubertas girl, I would even like touch their chin and say, "Let me see my eyes, baby?"
Jim: Just the tip of their chin.
Karyn: Uh-hm, just the tip of their chin and say, "Let me see your eyes," okay and then drop my hand to their chest. Many parents are stunned to find that their heart is beating at an exceedingly rapid rate, okay. So, my colleague, Dr. Cross and I wrote an invited editorial years ago and the topic of the editorial was "Violence: The Language of Unmet Need." I would ask parents to look at every misbehavior of their child as a child-like attempt to meet a need they may or may not be able to articulate.
Jim: Wow, they just can't give voice to it, but they'll give action.
Karyn: They can't give voice to it and maybe they've been shut down as in your story and it breaks my heart to hear kids shut down, 'cause my job is to resonate and then to guide you and to mentor you. Sometimes these feelings feel so big that they feel like they're gonna swallow us up, but you know, we can talk about it together. We can grieve about it together. Take a walk together down to the corner ice cream store and we just talk or we can just walk together.
Jim: Just be there.
Karyn: Yeah, it's called "being felt." I know you're gettin' me. You don't have to say a word. I know you get me.
John: Taking it back to your work with adoptive families, so many of us kind of go on a rescue mission, right? We have these altruistic motives to go save a child. And that's good, but then it gets hard and there are so many in the adoptive community. But broaden it out. There are so many parents who are saying, "I can't keep doin' this. I just can't. It's not working. The child is becoming increasingly belligerent, violent even and I'm really frankly worried. And so, have I messed up? And if so, what can I do?"
Karyn: Well, you know, there's a wonderful thing about attachment research. We know that if you're connected and then you have a rupture and then you repair the rupture, it's better than if you never rupture. So, it's better to err and repair than not to err at all, okay. Because what happens when you repair, there's a release of dopamine in the brain that gives joy, but it also makes new brain synapses. So, you actually get personal growth when you can figure out how to repair.
So, but if I've come to adoption, for example, with a motive, maybe when I was 14 I had an abortion. I can't forgive myself, so I think I have to pay God back. See, I need to give myself the forgiveness I would've given anybody else and then give myself time with my voice and then adopt, right.
That little person in front of me doesn't have capacity to meet my need. And if I come to him expecting him or her to, I've already set them up to fail. So, that's one of the major issues. We say to parents, "Yes, if God's called you and your spouse to do this, that's glorious. Make sure it's His timing," 'cause some of us, when we carry a biological child, we have nine months and women's hormones go nuts. That's a scientific term.
Jim: Yeah, I like that. (Laughter)
Karyn: We go nuts and we think about crazy things and we remember stuff we have done and we actually do some healing and our brain does a lot of growing during that time.
John: You know, as you share and I'm just catching a picture, Karyn. You're working with parents, but you're not doing it for the parents, are you?
Jim: (Chuckling) No, not at all.
Karyn: Well, I love the parents, but those little munchkins tear at my heart.
John: Where did that originate? When did you start finding yourself compelled to work with parents because the children are hurting?
Karyn: Well, I'm a parent to hurting and I know the parents' pain. I know God's voice when I was 14 and He said He was making me a steward of something for the children of the earth.
John: So, you're saying it was a spiritual call kind of thing.
Karyn: It was a spiritual call, but He used, you know, there's not part of God's thread that goes unused, right, of the fabric of who He is in our lives. I was sexually abused as a child by some relatives of my father and so, I know the pain and the fear that the children have and I want to protect them.
But see, here's the problem. If I sweep in to protect a child out of my pain, I'm gonna always be missing what the child needs. But if I do it out of my journey to healing, I'm able to look into that child's eyes and see what that child needs and I'm able to meet their need.
John: Dr. Karyn Purvis on today's Best of 2016 "Focus on the Family."
Jim: John, Karyn really had to work through the pain from her own past before she could learn how to equip thousands of parents with the kind of help that we've heard today, great tools to help children from hurting places make sense of those emotions that they feel.
As we noted, Dr. Purvis passed away last April and I am so grateful we had the opportunity to talk with her. She was a source of hope to so many parents, especially in the adoption of adoption and foster-care community. She would often speak at our Wait No More foster adoption events throughout the country. Her principles apply to all of us in our parenting situation, regardless of the child's behavioral background or challenges that the family may be facing.
This is why Focus on the Family exists, that is to help parents like you, our listener, learn practical skills to help your family thrive and your relationships within the family and with the Lord become stronger. In fact, over the last 12 months, we've helped more than 200,000 families work through some kind of crisis in their parenting with their children, just like the situations Dr. Purvis talked about. Maybe you were one of those 200,000 that we were able to help in the name of Christ. And it has been our privilege to do so.
But we need to fuel the engine here that gets that work done and we're almost to the last day of the year and your gift today--the gift of family, as we like to call it--could make such a difference, an immediate and eternal difference in the lives of hurting families. And as our way of saying thank you for your donation today, I want to send a copy of The Connected Child by Dr. Karen Purvis. I'd say it is one of the best resources for parents. Now let me also say, we are grateful for you and we are thankful that by supporting the ministry, you are choosing to do ministry through Focus on the Family.
John: Learn more about the book by Dr. Karyn Purvis, The Connected Child and our Best of 2016 CD set. It's available as a download, as well. And donate generously when you call 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or online we're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And thanks for being with us today. I'm John Fuller, wishing you a Happy New Year and inviting you back on Monday, when Bill Butterworth shares the moment he learned about the importance of love.
Mr. Bill Butterworth: It's as if God were answering my question by say[ing], "You want somethin' important to teach your kids? I'll give you three things--faith, hope and love. You want the gold medal winner out of the three (Sound of pop), choose love!"
End of Excerpt
John: Bill Butterworth shares how you can be a more loving person on the next "Focus on the Family."
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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.