Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Stress Shaped Brain Update

I first posted about a "stress shaped brain" HERE and thought I'd give a little update on what is working for us and how Zoya is progressing in this area (since I wish I could have found another blog with some pointers on what to do to help her hopefully this will help someone else going through a similar situation).

From that post you will remember me saying that some children who are adopted from orphanages may produce lower levels or cortisol.  I also quoted this from  "Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together" by Patty Cogen. 
Beyond providing support and care, parents of an internationally adopted child must teach the child’s brain to override its automatic stress responses. The child must learn how to use the most advanced, conscious part of his brain, where rational choice and the conscious ability to self-soothe reside. In short, parents must help create and activate the “brain supervisor”—the part of the brain that uses conscious choice and reason—which can soothe the overreactive, negative, fight-or-flight “workers.”

So I read that and was like "okay this makes total sense and this is exactly what is happening with Zoya....but how in the world do I do that???" I found two things that have really helped teach Zoya to "override her automatic stress response."

The first thing we realized was that Zoya needed help learning how to self soothe. Having not had any other children other than Zoya, I was pretty clueless as to how to teach this since it seems that is something that just comes naturally to most babies/kids. I've realized that although I can help Zoya make up for lost time in the areas of gross and fine motor skills, cognitive skills, and speech skills, the only way to make up for lost time in the emotional development is to just give it time....keep loving on her and showing her she is safe every day.  Each day is like a deposit in her "safety bank."  Anyways, back to self smart friend Shelly suggested giving her a comfort item to help her self soothe. We chose her heart shaped pillow that she just has to have to go to sleep...naturally it WAS kind of already a comfort item. So like I said before, Zoya gets upset just like other kids for whatever reason, but the problem then becomes her not being able to calm down...she would continue crying and being upset and clingy for hours sometimes. This behavior was fairly new and I really think it was partly due to her just experiencing so many emotions she hadn't experienced before. It kind of all hit her at once.

So with the pillow, like all things I do, I broke it down into steps. I started by handing Zoya the pillow when she was upset while holding her at the same time. I taught her that it was her "happy pillow." I modeled myself being sad and then grabbing the pillow and smiling big and saying HAPPY! The next step was to pick Zoya up when she was upset (still) and then give her the pillow and sit down right next to me on the couch holding the pillow. The third step was still picking her up when she was upset, then telling her we needed to find her pillow, then putting her back down to grab her own pillow and walk back to the couch holding my hand and sitting next to me while holding her happy pillow. Next, when I would sense her getting upset, I would say go find your pillow. And she'd run and find it and squeeze it. Sometimes she needed a hug too, other times she didn't. She is now at the point (the majority of the time), that when she feels herself starting to get upset she signs "pillow" and goes to look for it on her own!

The second thing that has worked really well is giving her feelings a name. So simple, yet we weren't doing it. When she gets upset we try to empathize with her and say, "Oh you're feeling so sad aren't you?" or "did that make you feel sad?"  And then she signs sad. We tell her it's okay to feel sad but that she is safe with us and soon she will feel happy again. This has helped greatly!

We have made SO MUCH PROGRESS in the past month with self soothing. Zoya still gets upset, sometimes for reasons we don't know, but if she even does cry it is short lived and she is able to continue on with her day without having it ruin the whole day and often times without needing nearly as much help from us! Of course there are still times when she'd prefer to have her Mama or Daddy snuggle her just because she needs a little extra loving and we happily give her those snuggles. Oh how I love her snuggles and sweet kisses!

So lucky to have eachother to snuggle with!

Zoya kept asking me to take pictures and then wanting to see them...what a ham! But isn't that smile radiant?

Beautiful girl...I love how the tips of her ears bend forward and stick out a little :)

Zoya was listening to her numbers DVD and was sooo excited when ZERO came on the screen...she yelled "REEEEE-ROOOOOOWWW" (zero).

My sweet girl makes my days brighter!


  1. What a glamour girl, look at all that bling.

    Great information on the self soothing steps.

  2. She is sooooooo adorable! Love the photos! Love the tips you've given. They are just helpful for thinking about the mind of a child in general! :) Thanks!

  3. Ahhh, that smile is priceless! She is smiling because she knows she has the most loving and dedicated MOM in the world! Happy Mother's Day dear Sarah, Liz
    Of course, Dad is no slouch either:-)

  4. Great ideas! I think it's incredibly important for information like this to be posted and made accessible to other adoptive parents!

    Yay, YOU!

    So glad to hear Zoya is progressing and that your hard work and great techniques are paying off. What a beautiful girl she is!

  5. Love it! All three of you are amazing. Happy Mothers Day to Sarah.

  6. What precious pictures to have to remember your first Mother's Day.
    Such a sweet little girl. Her facial expressions are too cute.
    May God bless you and your family.

  7. happy mother's day sarah!!!you're an amazing person and mom!! zoya is beautifull and sooo big!! and mya looks great! by the way, how is she doing?

    hugs from mexico city!


  8. happy mother's day sarah!!!you're an amazing person and mom!! zoya is beautifull and sooo big!! and mya looks great! by the way, how is she doing?

    hugs from mexico city!