Keeping the Team Together

With permission from a friend in a parent support group, I am printing the letter that she created for her child’s IEP team. I am removing identifying information.

A letter is especially helpful for those of us with kids who have attachment and trauma issues–most kids in the foster care and adoption systems. Many people really mean well, but some of their actions, without their knowing it, trigger setbacks and problems for our kids and families. This type of letter serves to keep everyone on the same page.

This is her letter:

“Greetings to all the IEP moms and dads out there.  After years of fighting the Disneyland Effect, this is the new attachment to my child’s IEP (Warning: long post):
–I will supply a bag of clean clothes. If he shows up with torn, smelly, poorly fitting clothes, you have the option of telling him to change.
—Don’t use physical affection (hugs, I love yous). Use high fives, but not excessively.  Even affectionate, family-type phrases like, “We’re your family while you’re at school” have been misunderstood by him as school staff wanting to be his new foster family.
—Use natural consequences (if he tears apart his shoes or wears a summer shirt in 20 degree weather,  he can stay inside during recess, rather than getting attention, donated clothes,  or criticism of home for “sending him to school this way”)).
—Avoid excessive rewards (if he gets a whole series of rewards during the school day–praises, hugs, stickers, iPad time, candy, prize box items–he gets extremely frustrated at home when he can’t get that same quantity.  The frustration often leads to more resentment of home, long meltdowns, runaway or property damage behavior).
—It’s his homework, not mine.  I will have a homework desk and school supplies available and will help (not do it for him). If he keeps refusing (or “losing” the homework), the consequence will be at school.
—-The consequence for missed homework or other negative choices should not involve increasing one-on-one attention.  Having adults giving him talks about homework or letting him stay inside (at recess) to be the teacher’s helper reinforces the behavior.
—Offer some rewards that are shared with home (like a “praise report,” via email home, or a small ice cream or pizza gift certificate that he can bring home).  That gives him an example of adults communicating versus a competition between his “home family” and “school family.”
—Understand that the charming, helpful, shy, and entertaining  behaviors seen at school are very unlike behaviors at home. This is part of RAD, that kids with early trauma often seek to control their environment through developing a public prescence that everyone loves, or by teaming up with outside adults against home (triangulating).
—Avoid making home the “bad guy.  RAD parents don’t become overjoyed when other adults say, “He behaves perfectly for me . . . Maybe if you did/read/bought/said something different . . . ” Then, professionals blame the parent for “not appreciating him enough” and seek to rescue him.  This is damaging to the tentative bond he is forming with home.
—Make consequences quick and praises specific (versus all-encompassing statements, like “You are so awesome”).
—It helps when adults resolve differences privately, versus in front of my child.
—Use email early and often. This prevents misunderstandings from turning into resentment between home and school.
—Understand the “parent-shopping” phenomenon. Even though he no longer jumps into professionals’ and strangers’ laps or hugs their legs, or asks to move in with them (thanks to all these therapies), the “shopping” behavior has become more subtle. And it leads to fantasies about moving in with favorite teachers and having a life with no rules. Yes, all kids do that at times, but he carries it many steps further, threatening to run away or to kill me or my family if he can’t live with that person. The goal is to keep him out of residential care or the juvenile system.
—Pass on this information to any substitute or aide who will be working with him.
—No individual sessions with the counselor.  He can participate in the group programs, such as the counselor coming to the classroom to talk about bullying or friendship.
—Limit one-on-one time with adults (such as having him eat lunch in the classroom with the teacher while the aide takes everyone else to the cafeteria).
—Any advice about home should be about academics only (such as educational computer games kids can do at home).”