2 Game-Changing Steps In Parenting Children From Difficult Places.

Author of 4 books, podcaster, parent trainer, wife and mother.

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It's not easy to parent a child with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). Ask any one of us who are in this trench...keeping our cool when we're pushed to the edge daily, is an uphill climb. How can we successfully parent our children when every day is a fierce battle?

I’m standing at the kitchen sink scrubbing potatoes and enjoying the happy sounds of my sons’ giggles drifting through the open window. That’s when I hear the low growl of unhappiness. Undetectable to most, it is my first warning sign that something is wrong. I turn to see our 7-year-old standing on the driveway, just beneath the window. His arms and legs are ridged at his sides. His fists are clenched tight and his gaze is sternly fixed on something non-existent. I can almost reach his soft blonde hair from my perch but I know I must not reach out yet. I grab a dishtowel as I exit the backdoor.

Drying my hands, I kneel down in front of my son and drop the towel beside me. I look him in the eye and ask softly, “What’s going on?” I don’t expect an answer the first time but I pause anyway. “Are you hurt? (pause) Frustrated? (pause) Angry?” I know I must go slow and steady. Too quick and he will pull further into his frustration. Too loud and I will shut down his ability to hear me all together. When he’s like this, I must remember that his brain is trying to catch up. Self-regulation doesn’t come naturally for this little one. I don’t put my hands on him yet. I just wait. Finally he gives a low gruff response. “Frustrated,” he murmurs. “Frustrated about what?” I ask too soon. “This is STUPID. I hate my brothers!” He shouts. “Ok, ok,” I sooth, “what happened?” About 30 seconds pass (I count in my head to make sure I don’t interrupt him) and I notice he’s made eye contact. I’m careful to make only a slight smile. We are connected and this is when the conversation can begin.

When my son was a toddler, a small frustration could shut him down for hours. A bumped knee, an untied shoe or a misplaced toy would send him into a complete melt down. When our son was a baby, we had to be the thermostat for his emotions. We had to show him step-by-step how to calm down and how to re-regulate emotions. After years of practice, our son is now able to identify specific emotions. The turn-around time for a melt down is now around 4 minutes. When we recall the hours of unreachable emotion, 4 minutes feels like a miracle.

When we sense that our son is dysregulated we still come alongside of him when we can. We still set the thermostat of our own emotions. We model calm through mindful facial expressions, even tone of voice, regulated breathing and slow movements. By keeping our cool, we have begun to teach our son how to regain calm in his own life.

The power of firm:

For all children, structure and consistency are deeply important. For most children, flexibility is acceptable from time to time. For our son, flexibility is not an option. Our 12 year old goes to bed at 7:45 each night. Bedtime figures in, the obligatory stalling (3 trips to the bathroom, can’t find his toothbrush, wants to sleep with the light on etc.) By 8:00 on the dot, the light goes off and the box fan/background noise turns on. We cannot veer from this plan.

Each night as the bedtime routine begins, my son’s challenge parallels the simple structure his father and I have created. “It’s 7:15, it will be time to brush your teeth in 5 minutes.” I give the calm alert. “Why don’t my brothers have to brush their teeth?” he demands. Recognizing that this is not a real question, I refuse to answer. At 7:20 I remind, “Time to brush your teeth.” He counters, “I just need to finish this game.” I grit my teeth to resist giving the lecture and reply simply, “teeth,” as I point to the clock. I usher the younger brothers through their bedtime routine. My older son has had the same routine for 12 years and knows that we will not tuck him in if he is not in the bed at 8:00. He still likes to have me rub his back while we pray but he may or may not remember this currency as he pushes the limit of my patience each night. As I read a bedtime story to my younger sons, I hear my 12 year old brushing his teeth, he even asks for the floss.

I smile and take a deep breath, the night has the potential to go very well or very poorly. This night he’s going to push the limits. “I have homework, why can’t I go to the skating rink tomorrow? Will you buy me an iPhone? Ugh, why not!?” We can’t waiver for a minute. Calm and firm are the name of this game. “Do you want me to tuck you in, or pray with you out here tonight?” I ask. “I want to have a sleepover at my friends house, and I want a package of skittles,” he responds. “Hey kiddo, do you want me to tuck you in tonight or pray with you in the hallway?” Tonight he’s going to accept the routine and I’m thankful. “Tuck me in, I guess,” He whispers. I tuck him in and say the same thing I’ve said every night for the past decade, “Hey buddy, I just have to tell you one thing…” “I know, I know,” he groans, “You love me!” “Nope that’s not it,” I say. “Its…I love you.” He rolls his eyes and for a moment we’ve made it past impulsive need for contradiction and he is just a typical pre-teen.

As a parent, it is so difficult to not let our emotions get the best of us, especially when we have children whose brains cannot sort these emotions on their own. In the end, we have the most success when we face each situation with a commitment to stay calm and stand firm.

Are you parenting a child with FASD? What are you learning to do differently with them? Share in the comment section below.

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.