Friday, March 9, 2012

Book Review: The Connected Child (2007)

I was first introduced to the wisdom of Karyn Purvis at an adoption conference in Austin, Texas over a year ago. After hearing her speak in person, I was eager to gain more insight from this particular PhD. My chance came with the purchase of The Connected Child, a book she co-authored with David Cross and Wendy Sunshine (two last names that almost sound made-up under the circumstances). The book is intended for parents welcoming children into their homes from "hard places." Not surprisingly, there are plenty of good lessons here to benefit people in all aspects of life. Personally, I appreciated it as a parent and educator, but I recognize how essential it must be for the targeted readers to have this knowledge.

One of the major take-aways from the book is actually an obvious, simple point. Abused and neglected children need full attention eye contact each and every day from a caregiver. This is one of those truths that is easy to agree with intellectually, but I have to humbly reflect on my own practice. (In fact, just this very moment my daughters entered the room playfully, loudly talking, playing music, and seeking my attention. My initial reaction was to say, "Turn that down, please." I immediately turned my concentration back to this blog entry, barely acknowledging them. After all, I had to get on with this post about giving children attention with your eyes!)

The funny thing is that it works. Eye contact really communicates something that maybe no other method can. It is hard to put into words. My youngest daughter, when being obstinate, will comply and be more accepting of redirection much more often when I say, "Look at the brown in my eyes" or "I need to see your eyes" instead of just "Look at me." (A tip from the book.) It hasn't been a 100% guarantee, but a big improvement.

What I have also noticed is just how much full attention eye contact really bothers some of my students. They are very uncomfortable with it. To be honest, I can't even say that I am all that comfortable with it sometimes. The deep, psychological reasons for that will probably never be revealed in this blog, not because I want to hide them, but I have to first figure them out myself.

Eye contact was only one great reminder in this book. Other practical strategies included keeping a behavior log or observation journal for a couple weeks, preparing children for changes (especially with special needs), using the "sandwich" approach of wrapping any negative inside two positives, and using "stock phrases" or "scripts."

Scripts or stock phrases are those one-line principle statements. They can be used over and over again to drive home foundational elements of how family relationships are going to work in the household. Some examples are:
  • "Use your words." or "Give me a whole sentence."
  • "Adults are in charge."
  • "With permission and supervision."
  • "No hurts."
  • "Focus and complete your task." (after clarifying that they understand the task)
I think this book is a great resource for any parent, but I would imagine it is a must read for parents with foster, adoptive, special needs, or cross-cultural children.

I am saving the best take-away from the book for its own post.

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