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Sanctuary in the Home: Modeling shared democracy

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sanctuary-pieThis is Part 3 in a series of posts regarding implementing the Sanctuary Model in the home

By Denise Morganthall


The missing link in many families today is what is known as “shared democracy” or, in other words, shared decision making.


Decision making sounds simple, but can be life altering and affect those around you. Children must cultivate good decision-making skills to become healthy, mature adults. But one survey found that 40 percent of children felt their opinions did not matter to their parents. Shared decision making is crucial for your children to feel connected. As parents we need to start when children are young to help them develop decision-making skills. Allowing our children to make choices about simple things gives them confidence in their ability to choose well.


As a family it is important to share with our children decisions that we make. For example, if we are going on a family outing we can provide options about where we can go. Do we want to go to the movies, roller skating or bowling? We often will not all choose the same thing, so we will also learn compromise. It is important to note that there will be some instances when adults need to be in charge and have the final say. However, it is up to the adults to also find appropriate times when children can be involved in decision making, allowing them to share power and control over decisions that affect them.


Below are some pointers to help in your children’s decision-making process:

  1. Educate your children about decision making. Children are known for making decisions without thinking. We need to teach them to take their time, look at the big picture and evaluate the pros and cons of the decisions they make.
  2. Teach by example. Model your own best decision-making skills where your children can watch and learn. For example, if you are shopping and see a $300 watch you would like to buy, you can say to your child, ‘I would love to buy that watch, but I know I need some money in the savings account for unforeseen circumstances. You are teaching your child responsibility and that we can’t have everything we want.
  3. Offer choices. Simplify the decision-making process, particularly for younger children. You can ask your children what story they want to read before bedtime. Provide a couple of choices and let them decide. The more choices your children have, the more they learn the process of evaluating the consequences. Parents who make all the choices for their children deny them the opportunity to practice decision making in a confined and safe environment.
  4. Support and reward good choices. This encourages a pattern of wise decision making among children. The child who adheres to his curfew will receive extended hours. The teen who chooses a good group of friends may be more likely to be trusted with a group of strangers. Honor and praise your children when they make good decisions.
  5. Let your children fail. As terrible as that may sound, we are actually helping our children learn that not all decisions will produce desired results. We all make mistakes; we are not perfect. In order to grow and change, we learn from our mistakes. Many times we want to step in and correct children or steer them in different directions to ensure a good result. That’s normal as a parent, but the time will come when your children need to make decisions and you won’t be available to help. Give your children the support to discover through trial and error.

Empowering your children to make their own decisions at an early age can foster independence, self esteem and problem-solving skills that will be very beneficial when they are adults.


Denise has been in the mental health profession for 15 years. She is a mother of 4 and an advocate of Sanctuary. She is a Sanctuary representative for KidsPeace and a member of the Sanctuary Institute. Denise is also a life coach and is pursuing a career in freelance writing.


Foster parent tip of the month: Making your foster child feel like part of the family

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By Dr. John DeGarmo


Dr. John DeGarmoLike all children, your foster child wants to feel like he not only belongs to your family, but that he plays an important role in your household. If your foster child does not believe that he contributes in a meaningful way in your home, he may seek someplace else to do so. This “someplace else” may not be the place where you want your child to be associated. Thus, it is vital that you encourage good behavior in your home


Find your foster child doing something well, and notice him for it. Tell him that you appreciate what he has done, thanking him for it.  This can be as simple as cleaning up a room, taking the garbage out, playing quietly in a room, completing homework, hanging up a bath towel or a number of small details that normally may go unnoticed. No matter how small the action is, it is essential to your foster child’s well-being that he feels recognized and that his actions are significant.



  • Communicate effectively. Use and develop communication skills needed to foster or adopt. Be an active listener, give clear messages and use tone of voice well. Abused and neglected children may feel worthless and may think their emotions are not worthy of being heard. Foster parents must listen in order to help build positive self-esteem.
  • Reach out to birth parents. Tell birth parents what wonderful children they have. Even if you believe the children should not go back home, you can still send pictures, talk to the parents and listen to them.
  • Talk with your foster children often about sex, and be specific. For many of these children, your talks with them may be the first time they have had this discussion. If they have been sexually abused, they will need to have counseling, as well.
  • When enrolling your foster child into a new school, deliver information to school counselors and administrators about discipline/learning disabilities. The more information they have, the smoother the transistion will be. This will also allow the school to place the child in the appropriate classes and have the right resources for the child.

For more, contact Dr. DeGarmo at, through his Facebook page or at his website.

Sanctuary in the Home: Developing Emotional Intelligence

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sanctuary-pieThis is Part 2 in a series of posts regarding implementing the Sanctuary Model in the home.


By Denise Morganthall


Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognize your emotions, understand what they are telling you and realize how they affect people around you. Emotional Intelligence involves your perception of others. When you understand how they feel, this allows you to manage relationships more effectively. Scientists and psychologists believe that we learn to be socially appropriate from our parents and other people when we are very young. The parent is the child’s first and most important teacher, so parents need to role model the kind of behavior they want their children to emulate and a way of teaching and developing Emotional Intelligence.


Emotional learning helps us respond rather than react. If your teenager does something that puts you “over the edge,” look at the big picture before you overreact. Try to validate your child’s feelings by saying, “I was in the same situation as you when I was your age. I know how you feel and why you did what you did. However, in the future let’s talk about it.” You are now bonding with your child and promoting the opportunity to communicate.


Resolving conflict in healthy and constructive ways can strengthen trust between people. In any heated situation, whether with your child or spouse, it is important to always think before you act. Instead of saying something you will regret, say what you mean without being mean when you say it. Conflicts and disagreements are inevitable in all relationships, however we need the courage to address conflict rather than acting out around it. Show empathy, and consider everyone’s feelings.


Here are some things you can practice to expand Emotional Intelligence in your home:

  1. Help your children understand and handle overwhelming feelings such as anger, frustration, fear and sadness. Let them know it is OK to be angry as long as they don’t hurt themselves or others.
  2. Validate your children’s feelings. Instead of saying, “There is no reason for you to be upset!” you could try, “I understand how you feel, that happened to me too when I was your age.”
  3. Help your children name their feelings. When children are yelling, they sometimes have difficulty expressing words due to their limited vocabulary. As a parent, you can help your child name his feelings by saying, “You must feel anxious about your test today.”
  4. Show respect to your children and other family members. Use the Golden Rule -- treat others the way you want to be treated.
  5. Apologize and admit mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. When you make a mistake, let them know and apologize for it. This will teach them it’s OK to make mistakes, but that they should also make amends.

These techniques will help to provide a thriving family environment. Problems are bound to arise, but it is how you cope with them that is most important.


Part 1 – Sanctuary in the Home: Embracing the commitment of nonviolence 


Denise has been in the mental health profession for 15 years. She is a mother of 4 and an advocate of Sanctuary. She is a Sanctuary representative for KidsPeace and member of the Sanctuary Institute. Denise is also a life coach and is pursuing a career in freelance writing.

Autism markers present in infancy, National Institute of Mental Health study says

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autism-ribbonFailure to make eye contact is a classic sign that a child may fall on the autism spectrum. But it has commonly been thought that children cannot actually be diagnosed with autism until they are at least 2 years old.


Now, a study released this month that was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, is challenging that timeline. The study, published in the journal “Nature” shows that children later diagnosed with autism demonstrate a steady decline in attention to other people’s eyes from 2 to 6 months old. This finding could lead to earlier detection and, therefore, more effective treatment of autism.


In this study, doctors followed a group of children from birth to age 3. Half of the group fell into a high-risk category, because they had older siblings already diagnosed with autism. Eye-tracking equipment was used to determine where the children looked when watching video clips of their moms or other caregivers. It was found that the children later diagnosed with autism had a steady decline in eye contact, focusing half as long as those children not on the spectrum.


Researchers believe that identifying signs of autism at a younger age will give medical professionals more tools to keep the children’s social development more in line with that of their peers.


If you are a parent, would you be in favor of a tool that could potentially diagnose your child at an earlier age? 

Sanctuary in the Home: Embracing the commitment of nonviolence

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sanctuary-piechart-kidspeaceThis is Part 1 in a series of posts regarding implementing the Sanctuary Model in the home.


By Denise Morganthall


The Sanctuary Model originated in Philadelphia in the early 1980s and was created by a team of clinicians working in a small inpatient adult hospital unit. Sandra Bloom led the team, tasked with devising a trauma-informed program. After 20 years of adaptation, the Sanctuary Model today reaches across the human services system, being utilized in homeless shelters, residential treatment centers, hospitals and juvenile justice facilities. KidsPeace is just one facility that has embraced Sanctuary as a model of care and organizational change that provides a safe, therapeutic environment for everyone. But can the Sanctuary Model also work for families?


Sanctuary essentially means a place where you can go and feel safe. In the medieval times, people on the run from the law could seek sanctuary in churches. We want our children to feel safe, so it just makes sense to foster that feeling first at home. Sanctuary revolves around seven commitments: nonviolence, emotional intelligence, social learning, social responsibility, shared governance, open communication and growth and change. In this segment, we will explore the commitment to nonviolence. Nonviolence means everyone must feel safe physically, emotionally, socially, and morally. 

  • Physical safety means knowing you will not be physically hurt by yourself or the people around you. It translates into not fighting with family members, setting clear boundaries about physical contact and keeping the home relatively clean and clutter-free.
  • Psychological, or emotional, safety comes from knowing it is OK to express emotions, whether happy, sad, angry or scared. It means feeling safe within your own mind and not hurting others’ feelings. It is demonstrated in the way you talk to yourself as well as your family.
  • Social safety is about being around people you can trust. It is talking rather than fighting, working through rough times together safely and knowing you will not be judged for your feelings, but will feel supported and included by others.

  • Moral safety means making good choices, respecting others and having family values everyone strives to live up to each day. It means feeling safe enough to do the right thing, even if it involves telling the truth to protect another family member who might be thinking of harming himself.


Making small changes to embrace nonviolence in your family is the first step toward making your home a true sanctuary.


Denise has been in the mental health profession for 15 years. She is a mother of 4 and an advocate of Sanctuary. She is a Sanctuary representative for KidsPeace and member of the Sanctuary Institute. Denise is also a life coach and is pursuing a career in freelance writing.

Facebook launches Bullying Prevention Hub

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fb-bullying-preventionBullying is certainly nothing new. For years, children and teenagers have been ridiculed for everything from how they look to what they wear to where they live to what hobbies they pursue.


In this increasingly digital age, bullying has become even more prominent, as it spills over from the playground to the online world. Cyberbullying is neither a rite of passage nor a mere aggravation that can be ignored. It has been the driving force behind multiple teen suicides and has prompted school districts to get involved and create policies even though the bullying happens off school grounds. Greater awareness of the pervasiveness of this problem has led the creation of numerous resources, including www.TeenCentral.Net’s award-winning anti-bullying section, which discusses ways to prevent and overcome the negative effects of bullying.


Now, the world’s largest social media site is stepping up to the plate as well. Facebook on Wednesday launched a Bullying Prevention Hub as part of its Family Safety Center. The new section, designed with the help of Yale University’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, is intended to give guidance to teens, parents and educators on how to take action against online bullies. In addition to blocking content or users, teenagers have an option to share offensive posts with trusted adults, in an effort to curtail bullying. The goal, according to the site, "is to develop innovative educational approaches that empower people of all ages with the emotional intelligence skills they need to succeed."


No matter how you feel about social media, it is not going anywhere, so this is definitely a step in the right direction.

Chiropractic care can help youth with ADHD

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By Caren Chaffee


Developing individualized strategic interventions to manage the everyday symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is often overwhelming for all members of a child’s treatment team. As a parent of an ADHD youth and a professional in the behavioral health field, I have read and am compelled by the numerous studies hailing the benefits of medication to treat ADHD symptoms. I have witnessed, first hand, the positive impact of medication which helps youth better manage their ADHD symptoms, allowing them more opportunity to utilize the “tools” offered to them to overcome the challenges with which they are presented as ADHD youth. 


The CDC affirms that the causes and risk factors for ADHD are unknown. Therefore, there is currently no “cure” for ADHD and therefore, no single remedy that, when applied, gives a child with ADHD the ability to suddenly and wholly focus, sit still, control his or her impulses and become organized. In fact, just identifying an appropriate medication is often accomplished through trial and error. On a personal level, it took several different prescriptions to find an effective medication for my son.  This experience solidified, in a very personal way, what experts in the field have already noted: ADHD manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, and as such, requires very individualized treatment.


Often, this treatment is expanded to include more than medication. Concurrent treatment modalities, such as psychotherapy, behavior management and social skills development can all play roles in addressing the symptoms of ADHD in youth with this diagnosis. In addition to the medication trials, my son began seeing a therapist who specializes in working with children and youth (which was coordinated with his pediatrician), and he was tested for gluten sensitivity (at the suggestion of his school social worker).  Modifications to his behavior management plan are ongoing and continual.


However, as a parent on a quest to provide my son with as many opportunities for growth as possible, my research continued.  Approximately eight months after his initial diagnosis, I began to read about the potential benefits of chiropractic care for youth with ADHD. The theory behind the pursuit of chiropractic care for ADHD youth is centered around the conviction that a healthy, well-functioning spine supports brain function. One or more vertebra moving out of position may cause “communication problems” between the brain and the nerves. Adjusting the spine through chiropractic care may correct the nerve interference, clearing the message pathways for better communication between the brain and spine and the rest of the body.


Although a wide body of evidence does not yet exist exulting the benefits of chiropractic care for ADHD youth, some research reveals is a relationship between abnormalities in the spine, the nervous system and the brain. Some chiropractors also note the relationship between an increase in the clinical diagnoses of ADHD, learning disabilities and behavior disorders and a more sedentary lifestyle of youth. This theory of chiropractic medicine is based on the belief that when youth are less physically active, their spines are not given the opportunity to develop in the same manner as they are in more physically active bodies.


Several case studies have been published over the past several decades which demonstrate improvements of objective and subjective findings in children with ADHD. Furthermore, an increasing number of chiropractic neurologists are conducting additional research to demonstrate the positive impact of chiropractic care on ADHD symptoms. 


Chiropractors will, quickly and rightly, explain that they do not “treat” ADHD, but rather, treat dysfunction of the spine and body.  Esteemed members of the chiropractic field point out that the impact of chiropractic care on children with ADHD diagnoses have been noted with increasing frequency, but will also agree that more research in exploring this relationship is needed.


It is not being suggested that chiropractic care replace medication therapy. Instead, chiropractic care, like psychotherapy, behavior management, healthy nutrition and good sleep patterns can serve to enhance the treatment of some youth with ADHD diagnoses, further adding to their toolkit to help them learn to function successfully in society.


Once a youth’s function is improved, his or her true personality, will and strengths emerge. He or she may begin to demonstrate growths in all areas of his or her development.  As a professional, this is a rewarding result of a well-developed treatment plan. As a parent, there is no greater joy.

Building trust crucial for positive foster parent-child relationship

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Dr. John DeGarmoBy Dr. John DeGarmo


When a child is suddenly taken from his home and family, and placed in a home against his will, there are bound to be issues of trust. Many children in foster care have never had adults in their lives who have not betrayed their trust. Why should they trust you? Indeed, when a child in foster care first moves into your home, he is bound to be suspicious, as he is now living in a stranger’s home. One way to combat this is to create a trusting and nurturing environment. Let your foster child know as early as possible that he is welcome in your house. Keep in mind that your home is very likely the last place he wants to be. Despite all the pain, difficulties and perhaps even abuse your foster child may have faced in his own home before coming to live with you, you are still not his family. He probably will want to be with his own family, and will resist opening up to you. Try to be as warm, compassionate and understanding as you possibly can. Your efforts will be recognized by your foster child, even if he does not show it.


Along with this, you will want to let your foster child know that your house is a safe one. Not only do you want to let your foster child know this when he joins your family, it is just as important to remind him of this often. Treat him like a member of your family. You want to show your foster child that you value him as a person. What he says, what he thinks, what he believes -- your foster child needs to realize that all of these are important. For some children, this might be a new experience, as they have never been shown value before. 


Trust can also be built by showing your foster child that you care for him. Building a trusting relationship means showing your foster child that you are concerned for his well being, physically, emotionally and mentally. Showing compassion for your foster child is an important part of building a healthy relationship, as he needs to know and feel that you care for him. After all, close relationships between children and adults are central to avoiding further risky behavior.


You may find that your foster child will try to test your trust, your love and your dedication to him. He may lash out verbally, throw temper tantrums or lie to you. On the other hand, he might also withdraw, refuse to talk or not engage in the family in a positive way.  After the “honeymoon” period has elapsed, he may try determine how far you trust him, and how much a part of your family he is.  When this happens, remain consistent in your values, rules and consequences. Indeed, this also helps to build trust, as he will see that you will not waver in your rules and consequences or your love for him.

Trust does take time, and for some foster children, it may take a very long time. Remember, you are planting seeds that you may never see come to fruition.


Dr. John DeGarmo has been a foster parent for 11 years, and he and his wife have had more than 40 children come through their home. He is a speaker and trainer on many topics about the foster care system, and travels around the nation delivering passionate, dynamic, energetic and informative presentations. Dr. DeGarmo is the author of "Fostering Love: One Foster Parent’s Story," and the new training book "The Foster Parenting Manual: A Practical Guide to Creating a Loving, Safe and Stable Home." He also writes for a number of publications and newsletters, both in the United States and overseas. Dr. DeGarmo can be contacted at, through his Facebook page, Dr. John DeGarmo, or at his website. 

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