Announcer: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. Whether your family has been on this journey for years, or you’re just getting started, we’re here to support and encourage you along the away. And now, your hosts Lynette Ezell and Tera Melber.
Tera Melber: Welcome to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. I’m Tera Melber along with Lynette Ezell. Today, we’d like to welcome Anna Palmer to talk about trust-based, relational, intervention parenting. That sounds like a mouthful. Anna and her husband are foster and adoptive parents, and she is the Executive Director of Crossroads NOLA in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Lynette Ezell: Anna, thanks for being with us today. We know your schedule is tight, and we really appreciate your time.
Anna Palmer: Oh, absolutely. I’m happy to do it.
Lynette Ezell: Let’s just jump in, Anna. Tell us about your family story and how the Lord brought your family together. How He built your family.
Anna Palmer: Yeah. It’s definitely been an interesting journey for us. My husband and I have actually known each other since middle school, so we started dating in high school and got married after college. After being married for several years, my husband was ready to start talking about starting a family, having kids, and all of a sudden, I realized, “Whoa. I don’t know if kids are for me.” It’s something that somehow, I’d gotten this far in my life and was kind of thinking, “Wait a second, this is a big step. I’m not sure about this.”
Anna Palmer: One of the just really cool parts of our story is what God did as we kind of began to talk about that, consider that is, He just really turned my heart toward adoption and just kids in general. So, as we began and as I began to learn about all the kids across the world who needed families, my heat just opened up to that.
Anna Palmer: One day, my husband actually kind of had me cornered. We were on a road trip, I was in the car, I couldn’t get out, so he launched into this conversation again, and I know he was thinking, “Aha, I’ve got her. She’s got to talk to me about this now.” So, that’s when I sprung it on him that, “Hey, God’s really been speaking to me about adoption, and I think it’s something we should pray about and consider.” He was shocked. He was like, “I did not see this coming.” So, I said, “Let’s not even talk about it. How about you just pray about it and I’ll just keep praying about it, and if we come together on it, then we’ll move forward. And if not, we’ll just keep praying until we figure what it is we’re supposed to do.”
Anna Palmer: We didn’t really say another word about it, and a couple weeks later, he came to me and he’s like, “Adoption is what God wants us to do.”
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Anna Palmer: Our oldest son, Eli, came to us through international adoption. He was born in Ethiopia, so he came home to us when he was two and a half years old. And what an incredible time that was, just connecting with him. We were able to spend some time in Ethiopia. I was there for about six to eight weeks or so. Just an incredible experience in seeing how God places kids in families. He’s an advocate for the fatherless. It’s just been our pleasure to be a part of that.
Anna Palmer: A couple years later, I became increasingly aware of the need that kids right here in the U.S. need families as well through our foster care system. It’s a need that, unfortunately, is largely hidden, and a lot of that is due to confidentiality and such related to foster care. So, there’s definitely a need right here in the U.S. for foster families and foster-adoptive families.
Anna Palmer: So, God opened our heart up to that, once we kind of got settled in a little bit with Eli. My youngest son, Davis, came to us when he was four and a half years old. We were his foster parents for a year, and kind of walked that foster care road with him and adopted him, almost exactly a year later, and he was five and a half at that time.
Anna Palmer: Yeah, our family has grown twice through adoption. Two very, very different routes. My boys are now … They just started third grade and second grade. They’re about 18 months apart. Eli is the oldest, Davis is the youngest. They’re just incredible kids. My husband and I just feel so lucky that this is what God called us to do and to be a part of their story and for them to be a part of our story.
Lynette Ezell: You talk about bringing Davis in as your … Was he your first foster placement?
Anna Palmer: He actually was. Yeah. He was.
Lynette Ezell: Were you his first foster family?
Anna Palmer: No. Unfortunately, we were not. Davis had been in the system for quite a while when he came to our family. In fact, we were his sixth placement.
Lynette Ezell: Wow.
Tera Melber: Wow.
Anna Palmer: Even as a little guy, he had the very unfortunate and traumatic experience of having to be moved from home to home, family to family. I don’t know if you could think about being a four-year-old, three-year-old, four-year-old yourself and having to kind of constantly make adjustments and be moved from family to family and never really know when you’re going to go or where you’re going to end up. But a very, very difficult situation for any child, but especially child that age.
Tera Melber: Anna, how did you see that reveal itself in his behavior or in how he just lived his day-to-day life? Could you tell that? I feel like you obviously could, but could you tell?
Anna Palmer: Yeah, sure. Yes.
Tera Melber: How did he express that?
Anna Palmer: It was definitely one of those things where four-year-olds just kind of live out their reality. They don’t have much of a filter or anything like that. So, we very quickly saw that, when he came into our home, that these different placements and other things he’d experienced early in life left him definitely unsettled. That’s probably the nicest most easiest way to put it.
Anna Palmer: But he just lacked the ability to really just regulate his emotions and his behavior. So, he’s definitely a kid who, his downstairs brain, if you’re familiar with any of the brain research that we see in literature today talks about our fight, flight, or freeze, and that if a child spends too much time being anxious or worried, or in that fight, flight, or freeze state, then that part of their brain becomes, essentially, trigger-happy. So, what is perceived as a threat, something they perceive as a threat is not always a threat. A loud knock at the door can trigger their downstairs brain. That fight, flight, or freeze. Everyone else in the house is fine and everybody is kind of looking around going, “What’s up with this kid? Why is he all of a sudden freaking out, or dysregulated, or whatever it is?”
Tera Melber: Right.
Anna Palmer: But when you understand and start thinking about how trauma affects a child’s brain, you really can being go reframe their behaviors. For Davis, he’d been moved around a lot, so he just really had just this lack of control. He never knew what was going to happen to him, so asking him to do certain things, even just like the bedtime routine. I remember when he first came home, one of the things we did is, every night, we sat down and we made a list and we drew out little pictures, and we said, “Okay, it’s time to get ready for bed. First we’re going to take a bath, then we’re going to brush our teeth, and then we’re going to read a Bible story, and then we’re going to say prayers. Then it’s going to be time for bed.” We would literally draw that out and we would check it off after each step.
Anna Palmer: That was just a way of letting him know, “Hey, this is the time of the night when you typically have trouble. This is a trouble spot for you, we don’t know why that is, but you have high anxiety around this time, so we’re going to tell you exactly what’s about to happen, and when we tuck you in, we’re going to be close by.” I can’t even remember for how long, but for quite some time, either my husband or I laid down, we had two twin beds in his room, but we would lay down on the bed, in the other bed in the same room, until he fell asleep, just so he knew we were close, he was safe, we weren’t going anywhere.
Anna Palmer: It was a lot of little things like that that we did to help him really just give him a level of felt safety. We knew he was safe, we knew that he was going to have food, that he was going to be protected, that he was going to be loved, but we had to do whatever it took to make sure he felt that. That looked a little different than maybe we would have done if we were raising a child that we had from birth that never had any traumatic experience invoked. But we knew that we had to take his early childhood before us into account as we made parenting decisions.
Lynette Ezell: That’s so interesting. When we brought our daughter home, one of our adopted children, people would come and go from our house. My husband was a pastor, so they wanted to bring gifts or food, or whatever. That did not help us at the time, because people were coming and going, knocking on the door, being around all these white people with blonde hair, not our family, but just friends, was just setting us back for days. We finally realized that we had to address her physical issues pretty quickly. Did you find that with Davis, that he had some physical issues that you needed to address with him?
Anna Palmer: Yeah. We did. The first couple months we spent kind of figuring out what those things were. One of the things we realized is that he wasn’t sleeping really well, which, for anyone who has ever had a period of time where you didn’t sleep really well, you know that sleep is actually very, very important for everyone in the house.
Tera Melber: Yes it is.
Anna Palmer: Yeah. So, we scheduled an appointment with the ENT, and as soon as she took a look, her reaction was like, “Whoa, yeah, he’s definitely not sleeping because his tonsils and adenoids are huge.” So, we had to schedule that surgery to take care of that issue.
Anna Palmer: Another thing that we noticed early on is that … One of the things we noticed about him right away is, man, he was trying so hard. He wanted to do the right thing and he wanted to make good choices. Not impulsive, but around 4:00 every afternoon, we just noticed his capacity to handle various situations and to not be impulsive really just diminished. We were just kind of scratching our head, because we knew, it’s not super late, and he just had an after-school snack, so he should be kind of not having this hard of a time right now. What’s the deal? So, my husband actually, probably for the first several months Davis was with us, he kept Doctor Purvis and Doctor Cross’s book The Connected Child literally in his back pocket. He was constantly reading that and just trying to get insight into what was going on.
Anna Palmer: One day, he realized, he was like, “You know? This book mentions that a lot of kids from hard places sometimes will have an iron deficiency, and maybe that’s what’s going on with Davis. Just a lack of energy at the end of the day. So, we took him to the pediatrician, had it tested, and sure enough, Davis had an iron deficiency. As soon as we got him on a supplement to help with that, we noticed an immediate change in his capacity.
Lynette Ezell: Oh, that’s wonderful.
Anna Palmer: Yeah. It was just like night and day. Honestly, we were kicking ourselves that we didn’t figure it out sooner, because it made just such a huge difference. Here we had our little guy that was struggling every day, and we’re just wracking our brains to figure out what it is, and it ended up being a fairly simple solution.
Tera Melber: So, when you’re parenting children that have had traumatic beginnings, it’s almost like you just can go through and say, “What are some of the simplest things we can look at to give them the best ability to be able to cope?”
Lynette Ezell: Yeah. That’s right.
Tera Melber: Starting with those physical needs is so important.
Tera Melber: But as you kind of went through parenting and you figured out the sleep issue and that his tonsils were big and that he needed iron, the he still, I’m sure probably, had moments where he was having meltdowns, and you’re thinking, “Oh my word, I don’t know what to do now.” Can you explain maybe some of the things that you did that were beneficial in parenting Davis in this way?
Anna Palmer: Yeah. One of the things that we really, honestly … John and I both grew up in South Georgia, so very traditional parenting methods, but also both came from very safe and loving homes at the same time.
Tera Melber: Right.
Anna Palmer: So, for us, we really had to realize that the parenting methods that were used with us had a lot to do … Their effectiveness had a lot to do with where we came from.
Tera Melber: Sure.
Anna Palmer: We came from safe places. So, with Davis, we knew that’s not where he came from, so our parenting methods needed to look different. That’s kind of the first step, is acknowledging that being willing to say, “Okay, we’re going to have to make some adjustments here.” One of the adjustments that we did early on is, we did redo. To be honest with you, the first time I was told about a redo, I’m like, “That’s never going to work.” The concept is, basically, when a child makes a mistake, let’s say they’re disrespectful or maybe they throw a toy across the room, or something like that, instead of launching into a, “Here’s why you shouldn’t do that, and I can’t believe you did that. Go to timeout until you can do it better,” what a redo says is, you just say, “Whoa. Hey, that’s not how we treat our toys. I want you to go pick that toy up and go place it in the basket like you know you’re supposed to.” Give the child an opportunity, without being [inaudible 00:14:41] to just very simply and quickly correct the behavior. Or, if they’re mouthy, just say, “Whoa, try that again. Try asking with respect,” or whatever it is, whatever the behavior is that you want them to redo.
Anna Palmer: And I thought, “Okay, yeah, this is going to work.” I cannot tell you how shocked I was the first couple of times … The first time, you’re like, “Okay, so it worked once. Well, it’s not going to keep working.” But just giving a kid an opportunity to go, “Oh yeah, that wasn’t the right … Let me just …” Instead of making a big deal of it.
Anna Palmer: We did a lot of redos in our home, and we actually apply this to our marriage. Sometimes I’ll say something to John and I’ll be like, “Can I have a redo on that one? Let me say that a different way.” So, we’re big on redos at the Palmer house.
Anna Palmer: The other thing that we had to kind of make an adjustment on is getting choices. For John and I, when our parents instructed us to do something, it was like, “Do it.” That was your only choice. So, one of the things that we know is that, when kids are from hard places, giving them that element of control where they feel like they have a part in the decision-making process and things aren’t just happening to them, but they are collaborators in what’s kind of going on around them, is really empowering and allows them to really develop a lot of self-control and regulation. So, we really started giving Davis a lot of choices.
Anna Palmer: In our house, it would look like, “Okay Davis, it’s time to get ready for bed. Would you like to brush your teeth first? Or would you like to put on your pajamas first?” “It’s time to go to school, would you like to put your shoes on first? Or eat your breakfast first?” So, with choices, it’s always two choices that the parent or the adult, the caregiver is okay with. We wouldn’t say, “Okay Davis, do you want to brush your teeth or eat a lollipop?” Because we wouldn’t be okay with him eating a lollipop at that point, so that’s not a good choice. But we also wouldn’t say something like, “Do you want to brush your teeth now, or do you want to brush your teeth NOW?”
Tera Melber: That’s not a choice. Right.
Anna Palmer: That’s not really a choice, either. So, we got really, especially early on, Davis need a lot a lot of choices. We got really, really creative with how we gave choices.
Anna Palmer: The interesting thing is that, man, these techniques just really allow children to develop capacity. In our house today, we don’t have to be … Giving choices is still kind of a part of what we do to a certain extent, but we don’t have to give nearly as many choices as we used to.
Anna Palmer: So, it’s just been incredible to see him kind of move along the the road of building capacity, being able to not have a meltdown when things get hard. Just the other day, he was walking down to a neighbor’s to play on a water slide, and he couldn’t find his flip-flops. So, his brother found his and was headed out the door, and he’s looking for his flip-flops and I could tell he was getting frustrated, but he found them. But then he got up and was about to walk out, and he realized he’d set his towel down, so he came back in looking for his towel. I could tell he was getting frustrated and I said, “Davis, take a deep breath, because when you get frustrated, it’s really, really hard for you to think clearly.” He looked at me, and he said, “Mom, it’s not really, really hard for me to think right now. It’s just a little bit hard for me to think.”
Tera Melber: Oh.
Lynette Ezell: Oh.
Anna Palmer: He, even now, realized, he’s like, “I’m not totally pushed over the edge by this.”
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Anna Palmer: But he knows what that feels like. He knows what that feels like to become frustrated or anxious, and that his brain feels out of control, or like it’s not working right.
Lynette Ezell: Right.
Anna Palmer: He has some skills, taking deep breaths and other things, that he can do to calm himself down so that his brain can work right, so to speak.
Tera Melber: I think that’s so important, because when you’re teaching and training that hardcore at the very beginning, and you’re talking to them about regulating their emotions and all of that, it gives them the ability to know what’s going on in their mind. They can’t verbalize that, but you’re helping them put words to how they’re feeling. I just think that’s pretty incredible.
Tera Melber: Really just one final question for you is, how did you even know to start parenting like this?
Anna Palmer: You know, when we went through with our international adoption, the agency we used required us to read The Connected Child, the book I mentioned earlier by Doctor Karyn Purvis and Doctor David Cross. From that, we just saw very quickly that this was something we were going to need to do.
Tera Melber: Absolutely.
Anna Palmer: Yeah, that book was an introduction for us, and then when Davis came along, we knew based on … And we’re also kind of, at least for me, I’m a reader and a learner, so this stuff is really interesting to me, so I’ve done a little more studying up on it. I pretty much bought into the concept that early childhood trauma affects the brain, and therefore affects behavior, so it needs to be addressed. Love is great, but one of the things that we need to … We were going to love him unconditionally, but we also needed to be competent in our parenting skills, and for us, we needed to develop some new ones. We were pretty committed to that from the beginning.
Lynette Ezell: Well Anna, this is good stuff. Tera, we can’t just stop here.
Tera Melber: No, we can’t.
Lynette Ezell: So Anna, can you come back and spend some more time with us? And let’s kind of do a part two, because we really want to get into the trust-based, relational intervention parenting, because you’ve kind of done a bridge there to get into this topic, and I think it would be so encouraging to so many of our parents. Can you hang on and we can continue talking?
Anna Palmer: Absolutely. I would be happy to.
Tera Melber: All right. Well, you know James 1:5 says that if any of us lacks wisdom, that we should ask God Who gives generously to all, without finding fault, and it will be given to you. And Lord knows that we need wisdom when we are parenting children.
Lynette Ezell: Absolutely.
Tera Melber: And Paul also tells us to not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we’ll reap a harvest if we don’t give up. So, as we’re parenting these children, we have to remember to ask for wisdom, and that even though we feel weary, that we don’t have to give up. The Lord will give us what we need to do what He’s called us to do.
Tera Melber: Thanks so much, Anna.
Anna Palmer: Absolutely.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to the Adopting and Fostering Home podcast. We’re so glad you’ve taken time to listen today. Keep in mind we are a ministry of the North American Mission Board and funded through the Andy Armstrong Offering and your giving to the cooperative program. We look forward to talking more about adoption, fostering, and orphan care, and how you can be involved.