Discussion Packet

Hayden & Her Family (2020) – Discussion Guide

Discussion Guide:

  1. Elizabeth and Jud Curry say throughout the film that children need to have someone meet them where they are. What do you think that means?
    Caregiver Note: In my experience as a foster care worker, I have found that it does no good to compare children from the same community and certainly not siblings in how they respond to parenting and boundaries. Children develop resiliency differently and this is often influenced by a myriad of factors such as how parents respond to intense experiences and events, a parent’s understanding of childhood development, a child’s emotional competence, and even personality. One child may be like a beautiful Orchid that requires very specific instructions to thrive and grow. Another child may be more like a pretty Thistle (a personal favorite of mine) and grow anywhere with any combination of elements. Each plant has its own unique beauty but just requires different care. This can be compared to how Ting Ting and Hayden both learn to adjust and thrive with their unique aspects in spite of having the same diagnosis of Linear Nevus Sebaceous Syndrome and being orphaned in China.
  2. How do the Currys parent Ting Ting to help her grow? How do the Currys parent Hayden to help her grow? Is one better than the other?
    Caregiver Note: When I was growing up my brother was the sibling in our household that needed some extra care. My brother was diagnosed in elementary school with learning disabilities and struggles related to inattention and impulsivity. I was a very, very impulsive and hyper child (having the same diagnosis in that area) but very much loved school and caught on quickly to subjects I enjoyed. This meant that for many years my mother had to figure out how to navigate homework with us and our younger sister, who was neurotypical. Most of the time my brother needed someone next to him to keep him on task and motivated as he plodded through assignments and learned new classroom interventions. For me, it often meant teaching me how to slow down and explain my rapid-rambling thoughts to someone without skipping connections as well as not taking so many short cuts. In the same way, Ting Ting and Hayden at different times may require different kinds of attention and guidance to grow but this does not mean one is loved more or less than the other. Instead, this is an example of how caregivers may need to adjust their parenting styles to meet children where they are developmentally and provide flexible expectations.
  3. In the first two years Hayden lived with the Currys she showed very little emotion and almost seemed perpetually happy. Why did Hayden act like this?
    Caregiver Note: In response to trauma, including loss and abandonment, children often find ways to cope with very large and difficult emotions. Hayden, like many children who have experienced immense grief and loss and such young ages, may be afraid to feel the depth of loss she has experienced. She may also be afraid of being given away or abandoned again if she “messes up” and trying to overcompensate for love and affection. Children should know that Hayden’s lack of emotional response is not a sign of lacking emotion but of having an overabundance below the surface. No matter what Hayden does or expresses though, she is a child worthy of love and care.
  4. Ting Ting often does not look at her family members in the eyes and is more likely to reach for a small touch instead of a hug. The other children look at adults in the eyes, hug often, and initiate lots of interaction with Jed and Elizabeth. Why do you think Ting Ting may shy away from her family’s attempts for connection?
    Caregiver Note: Though we do not know everything about Ting Ting’s social and familial history, it can be assumed that Ting Ting has suffered an immense amount of loss
  5. ACTIVITY: … And I Will Love You Still
    Caregiver Note: This activity is more a verbal activity but can be adjusted for age with subject matter. This also can be done in a car or at home. In this activity, have your child come up with different scenarios. Start off silly, things like:
    “What if I put rats in your hat?”
    “What if I flicked boogers in your bed?”
    “What if I brought a cow into the living room?”
    “What if I sing the most annoying song ever all the time?” The parent will say, “… and I will love you still.”
    Help your kiddo use their imagination if they struggle, using lots of goofy rhyming and imagery if preferred. This can seem like a very small activity, but this reinforces to your child over and over (as they need it over and over) that you will love them no matter what. Caregivers sometimes get flustered with unsavory behaviors and it’s easy for us to forget that we are supposed to reject the behavior and not the child. Let this travel where your child leads with level of seriousness and repeat often for a bit of fun with therapeutic care.
  6. Why isn’t Ting Ting grateful to her new mom and dad for adopting her? What do you think she’s feeling when she first moves into the United States?
    Caregiver Note: One thing that really stood out in this documentary is a simple statement from Elizabeth Curry: “They didn’t choose this.” And how true that is. What child chooses to be taken away from or abandoned by their mother? What child wants to lose everything they know and love in one moment and suddenly be expected to march in step with the rules of a new home? What child wants to feel the intense sense of loss and pain when transitioning to something big and unknown? For this reason, we as caregivers need to remember that children in our lives are not going to come running into our homes singing “I think I’m gonna like it here!” with confidence and immediate desire for connection. All children who struggle with loss will in some way struggle in other areas of transition. In my work as a foster care and adoption worker, I often teach caregivers about common triggers of trauma. There is always a collective gasp when I mention “Adoption” as being a huge trigger for most children, even if they want to be adopted. But this is why there are so many grants for funding for pre- and post-adoption counseling and programs… because for a child who transitioned from parented to parentless, how can they completely trust this is permanent? For this reason, children will react differently to parenting, love and affection and need different care in learning to build healthy caregiver/child bonds.
  7. How do the Currys help meet Ting Ting where she’s at in building a relationship with her?
    Caregiver Note: Ting Ting throughout the movie shows that she very much does wish to connect but either does not understand how to while feeling safe or is content enough with the feeling of felt safety she has developed so far. Caregivers need to remember that “actual” safety and “felt” safety are two different concepts for children who have endured trauma. The family notes that they often need to initiate contact (verbal and non-verbal) frequently and often, and this is certainly a start! It’s important that, while we don’t want to overwhelm a child, caregivers take initiative in building relationships with their children as well is with helping children build relationships with positive peer and adult influences. Caregivers should be mindful that making friends may not come second nature to children and be prepared to spend a lot of time modeling and coaching positive social interaction and rewarding success with encouragement and positive reinforcement.
  8. How can I help meet you where you are at? How can I be an encourager and cheerleader like the Currys to help you grow?
    Caregiver Note: This is a chance to help your child practice advocating for themselves after perhaps connecting their own feelings and behaviors. Take time with this and allow your child to lead here with some help. Sometimes children are more insightful than we realize and can tell us exactly what we need. Once when I interviewed a young man to prepare him for adoptive home recruitment, he blew me away. I asked “What would you like to have in a family?”, a standard question that is usually answered with desires for siblings, pets, or activities. This young man, without pause, immediately explained how he wanted structure and consistency. Even for a teenager I was taken aback by such insight and asked what that meant to him (since sometimes I’ve had kids use words they don’t completely understand like that). He explained to me that he wanted someone who would stick with him and love him the same, whether his behavior was or not. He told me he wanted someone who would give him rules he could understand and help him stick with those rules without yelling at him all the time. This young man wanted very much to have someone work through the problem at hand rather feeling like he was THE problem within a family. Some kids, of course, may not be as forthcoming as this young man but practice makes perfect for sure!
  9. Why do the kids like Hayden, Yu Ting, and Ting Ting look at photo albums from China so much?
    Caregiver Note: Imagine being in elementary school and being surrounded by people who talk like you, look like you, and like similar things to you. Now imagine being introduced to strangers who call themselves mom and dad and then moving to a place where no one speaks your language at all, looks like you, or even eats things you like. I know as an adult that stresses me out! But here we have children like Hayden and her adoptive siblings who experience just that. When a child is adopted there is often an expectation of starting over, but caregivers need to take note that a child will still remember past experiences even if they can’t actively recall a specific memory of events. And even with enduring trauma, a child may still have connections they value and love. Ting Ting had an entire church that loved her so much that they raised money to help offset her adoption fees in hopes of finding a better life for her. There is so much love that flowed from the people in that photobook and into action for Ting Ting, and it is perfectly understandable that she may long for or wish to discuss those who shared love and care for her in the past. Caregivers should be mindful of ways a child’s past can be accessed and celebrated as a very valuable part of their identity, whether it’s manifested in creating new family traditions or giving them the space to talk about the past and reminisce.
  10. What are some ways Hayden and her family could explore her cultural identity? What are some things we can do together to explore your own culture?
    Caregiver Note: This is one of my favorite things to explore with children as there are so many things to share and talk about here! Creating a Life Book about a child’s past can provide a child with a place for memories that may or may not have lots of pictures or mementoes. Look into cultural fairs nearby. Work together to recreate favorite dishes. Listen to their favorite music. Tell stories and folk tales. Try out a new holiday tradition. This is an area that can change and grow with a child and to help reaffirm all sides of their identity and welcome them into your family as they are.
  11. ACTIVITY: Life Book
    Caregiver Note: This is a very important activity to do with each child in your home, whether they are in your home for a short time as a foster placement or have identified you as their forever family. Think to your own childhood. Did your parents have a baby book for you? Photo albums? A box with lots of art projects and good grades? Programs and pamphlets from clubs? Foster and adoptive kids often lack these conduits to memories so this is your chance to provide normalcy and validation to all aspects of your child’s identity. This can be as crafty as you would like! Pull together a scrapbook or a three ring binder and fill a page or two for each year of a child’s life. If you don’t have actual pictures of different life stages feel free to draw pictures or to perhaps pull together some collage pieces. Doing this while talking about the movie will also provide your child with something to do with their hands while they talk about hard themes they may have noticed in the film. And, even if the Life Book isn’t perfect, by the end of the project both of you will have learned more about your child and more things to love about your child.

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Transfiguring Adoption is a nonprofit organization seeking to nurture growth in foster and adoptive families by giving a HOOT about their families. Transfiguring Adoption does not intend for its reviewers nor its reviews nor this discussion packet to be professional, medical or legal advice. These reviews and discussion guides are intended to help parents to better be able to connect and understand their children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

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