Penny Zimmerman, LCSW, LCSW-C, LISW-S, holds a Master of Social Work from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor of Psychology from Ohio University. Penny has over 20 years of experience providing clinical and supportive services to children, adolescents, adults, couples, and birth, foster, kinship, and adoptive families. In addition to being an Adoption Competent Therapist, Penny’s clinical specialties include attachment, loss and grief, trauma/PTSD, the neurobiology of human development and trauma, and the therapeutic application of sensory techniques. Penny has completed extensive training in client-centered play therapy, Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy, narrative therapy, relaxation and regulation techniques, Theraplay, TF-CBT, and therapeutic and attachment-focused parenting. Penny brings a client-centered, holistic, creative, and supportive approach to her work.

Penny shares some guidance to adoptive parents:

Q. “Penny, What is one fundamental piece of advice you can provide for adoptive parents?”

A. “The advice I find myself giving most often is that your child needs you, as a parent, to be flexible, compassionate, and in charge. Those three things might not seem to go together, but they do, in an attachment focused parenting style. Providing a child with fair, consistent limits helps the child to feel safe and secure. Although children frequently push against limits, they don’t really want you to give in. They want and need you to hold that limit so they can feel safe; this is especially important for adopted children, whose entire lives changed in a single moment.

Adopted children tend toward higher anxiety about what might come next, and are often more dedicated to attempts at being in charge as a way to counter this anxiety. This is true even for children who were brought home in their early years and have no conscious memory of the event – the limbic brain remembers everything that happens to us. These experiences are stored as feeling or body memories, and also influence interactions and perception of safety.

So, how to be flexible, compassionate, and in charge?

Learn to see your child’s challenging behavior as a sign they are feeling vulnerable, rather than a challenge to your authority or an attempt to manipulate. They may be trying to manipulate, but their goal is to feel safe, not purely to be oppositional. Respond to the vulnerability before you discipline the behavior. Discipline can always come later, and is actually more effective when the child feels safe. Sometimes all that is needed is a reflection of how hard the situation is for the child, and a friendly re-statement of what is expected. Avoid turning a request into a question by adding “okay?” at the end or “Are you ready to…?” at the beginning. It is confusing to a child to imply they have a choice when they do not. You can add “please” before or after a request if you like, but a simple directive statement made in a pleasant tone of voice clearly tells the child what is expected.”