GIFT is proud to post this important article which Heather Forbes, LCSW wrote for us. She is renowned for her work through the Beyond Consequences Institute. Through BCI, Heather Forbes advocates a healing, therapeutic response to parenting kids with trauma. She has written several superb books. Next week, we will review her latest, "Help for Billy" which examines how schools and parents can help kids who are challenging in the classroom. All of her books will prove to be an excellent addition to your family's book shelf.
When reviewing records of many of the children with whom I work, I am forever perplexed at one particular notation I continually see written by therapists and counselors. Under the list of negative traits of the child, it is often written, “Child exhibits attention-seeking behaviors.”
I strongly believe that children seek attention because they NEED attention. Nature has designed children to be completely dependent on their parents at the moment they are born. A baby crying is the signaling to the parent the baby has a need, a need that the baby cannot satisfy on his own. The baby is indeed exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors.
The natural flow of the developmental journey of a child is to gradually release this need for attention, moving from a state of dependence to a state of balanced independence. The time period for this is about 18 years. We are the only animals in the animal kingdom that have our children under our care for this length of time. Expecting our children to not need our attention or to view it as a negative behavioral issue during these 18 years goes against our biology.
When children do not know how to verbally express their needs (which is predominately the case during early childhood), they “speak” through their behaviors. In other words, behavior is a form of communication. When a parent can stop, pause, and “listen” to the behavior of a child, it can become quite obvious what the child is saying. Looking at the behavior from an objective perspective also unveils the logic behind the child’s behavior. Here is a list of ten behaviors along with an interpretation of each behavior to demonstrate this:
Slamming Doors. When a child begins slamming doors, it is an indication that he does not feel like he is being heard. By slamming a door, he is making loud noises, hence forcing the parent to “hear” him. He is essentially saying, “I need to have a voice and I need you to listen to me now!”
Cursing. Most children know that they should not curse. They use profanity to jar the parent’s nervous system into listening. It is a way to get a parent to respond to the child, even if the response is negative. The child’s fear of not being good enough for the parent to pay attention to him, is also playing out in such a scenario.
Shutting Down. A child who shuts down, refuses eye contact, walks away, or gives the parent the silent treatment is a child who is overwhelmed. We have traditionally labeled a child like this as defiant. This is a child who is saying, “Life is too big to handle. I’m shutting down my world in order to survive.”
Hitting Sibling. Sibling rivalry is more about the relationship between the child and parent than it is between two siblings. If a child is not feeling secure in his relationship with his parent(s), he will perceive the sibling as a threat to this relationship with the parent(s). Reacting against the sibling is the basic game of “King of the Hill” in order to win the attention of the parents. The child may receive negative attention from the parent (“Billy, stop picking on your brother!”) but to a child, especially a child with a trauma history, any form of attention, whether positive or negative, is love.
Challenging Authority. A child who challenges authority is a child who has lost his trust in authority figures. Look back into the child’s history and you will likely see a child who was abused, neglected, or abandoned by someone who was supposed to care for and nurture the child. A child who fights having someone else in charge, is a child saying, “I can’t trust anyone. It is too much of a risk.”
Saying, “I hate you!”. Such hurtful words directed towards a parent from a child are simply a window into the child’s heart. The child is projecting his self-hatred and self-rejection back onto the parent. What he is communicating is, “I hate myself!” It is easier to hurt someone else than it is to feel the internal hurt within one’s own heart.
Arguing About Everything. A child who argues about everything and anything is keeping the parent looped in a conversation in order to keep the parent attuned to him. He feels that if the parent were to stop talking with him, he would cease to exist. Arguing is his way of staying connected. It is a negative form of attachment.
Laziness. Describing a child as being “lazy” is like calling a child crying in a crib a “cry baby.” It is a gross misinterpretation of the child. Laziness is typically a sign of a child who experienced helplessness early in his childhood; it is a learned behavior. Neglect happens when a child tries to elicit attention from his caregiver and the result is nothing. No attention. No help. Zilch. The child learns that his energy does not produce results and as he grows older and gets challenged by life, he will simply shut down and do nothing. He is saying, “My efforts don’t produce results so therefore I won’t even try.”
Pushing Every Boundary. Many children have such intense behaviors that the adults around them in the past demonstrated a lack of ability to handle them or an unwillingness to stick with them. When parents find the child pushing every boundary, every rule, and every limit, the child is asking, “Can you really handle me?” and “You say you’re my parent, but I need to know you’re not going to give up on me so I will test you to make sure you really are committed before I put any trust into you!”
Becoming Unglued During Transitions. Trauma happens by surprise and when it happens, there is typically a major change in the child’s life. It is transitional trauma. The aftermath of such traumatic experiences is that the child becomes fearful of EVERY transition, whether large or small. A child’s belief around transitions becomes, “Something bad is going to a happen. Guaranteed.” Past traumatic experiences create the black and white thinking that “All change equals pain.” When a parent sees a child’s negative behaviors intensifying during a transitional time, the parent needs to remember that the child is saying, “I’m so scared that my entire world is going to fall apart in a flash just like it did in the past!”
When parenting a child with challenging behaviors on a day-to day basis, it is easy to lose sight of the idea that behavior is the language of a child. Negative behaviors are tiring! Keep taking care of yourself and keep your cup filled so that you have enough space inside of you to keep looking beyond the behaviors and listening to the behaviors instead of reacting to the behaviors.
The parent/child relationship is a dyad - a two-part system. Remember that your behavioral response also signals a communication to your child. Thus, it is imperative for you to stay mindful and attuned. Give enough attention to yourself as to stay in a place of love so you are always speaking the language of truth, love, and acceptance to your child in return.
To find out more about the Beyond Consequences parenting approach or to purchase a copy of one of this author’s book, please visit www.beyondconsequences.com
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, is the owner of the Beyond Consequences Institute. She is an internationally published author on the topics of raising children with difficult and severe behaviors, understanding the parent’s reactivity when challenged in the home, and self-development. Forbes lectures, consults, and coaches parents throughout the U.S. and internationally with families in crisis working to create peaceful, loving families. She is passionate about supporting families and professionals by bridging the gap between academic research and "when the rubber hits the road" parenting. Much of her experience and insight on understanding trauma, disruptive behaviors, developmental delays, and adoption-related issues comes from her direct mothering experience of her two internationally adopted children.
Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom.
Dare to Love: The Art of Merging Science and Love Into Parenting Children with Difficult Behaviors.
Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Children with Severe Behaviors, Volume 1.
Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Children with Severe Behaviors, Volume 2.
Fall is in the air. The days are getting shorter, the nights are cooler and in New England where I live, the leaves are beginning to change color. Many more things change as autumn approaches. The “lazy, hazy, crazy” days of summer are replaced with busy days returning to work, school and the regular activities of life. Some may be excited to return to these activities while others may struggle to get back in to the swing of things. Either way, change exists and can be difficult to navigate for families.Will you or your children be leaving friends or reuniting with them? Will the routine of the family be greatly disrupted? Does a change in the weather or even wardrobe have an effect?
Having awareness of these potential challenges as well as a plan to work through them benefits everyone. Know what may trigger each member of the family and how best to assist them. Spend time as a family discussing what will or may change and how you want to move through the change together.What would work best for your family to build the needed safety and security for the development and growth of coping skills? Maybe you and your family will spend a day at the park, create game night, plan a pumpkin patch or apple farm visit, or head to the football stadium? Whatever you decide, along with change, fall brings an array of wonderful possibilities!
Lynn Cooper, President, GIFT Family Services, LLC
From the GIFT Blogs:
Back to School Assistance
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW: Your Child is Misbehaving, Are You Listening?
GIFT is proud to post this important article which Heather Forbes, LCSW, wrote for us. She is renowned for her work through the Beyond Consequences Institute. At BCI, Heather Forbes advocates a healing, therapeutic response to parenting kids with trauma. She has written several superb books. Next week, we will review her latest, Help for Billy, which examines how schools and parents can help kids who are challenging in the classroom. All of her books will prove to be an excellent addition to your family’s book shelf. Read More
Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom
In last week’s blog, we shared an interview with adoption expert and author, Heather Forbes, LCSW. We are pleased to review her latest book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. This excellent book continues to advocate for children by focusing on relationship first. In each of her books for adoptive parents, Heather Forbes has written knowledgeably with an emphasis on compassion and understanding. In Help for Billy, her approach is again steeped in respect, empathy, and love for the child. He’s not scapegoated as the problem; he’s viewed as a child with problems. Billy is not a bad kid; he’s a kid that life has thrown into the white water and he is struggling mightily to stay afloat.
Yes, it is challenging to be the parent or teacher of a child like Billy. His behavior is problematic. It is both a symptom and evidence of Billy’s need for help.
Several points in the book resonated with me. First Forbes encourages educators and parents to reformulate the questions they ask themselves as they try to determine how to help Billy. Instead of querying, How can Billy change his behavior? She recommends asking, How can we assist Billy in feeling safe, supported and calm? Read More
The Coaches' Check-In Corner:
Coach Joann DiStefano
Coaches Joann DiStefano and Sally Ankerfelt presented an interactive workshop entitled, “Parent Coaching: Helping Parents Develop Empathy and Promote Healing” at the 2015 NACAC Conference. They report back that as always, the Conference was a wonderful learning and networking opportunity for a wide range of adoptive parents and adoption professionals. NACAC continues to be a prominent force in the adoption arena. Coach Joann shares some of her experience below:
Often times, coaching requires us to look at things differently. How’s this for different: “Adoptive Parents are the Biological Parents”.That statement, asserted by Dr. Dan Siegel at the NACAC Conference had a profound effect on the audience as well as on the overall tone of the Conference. Siegel, a psychiatrist and the Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute as well as the author of many parent-child books, maintains that biology is experience.As adoptive parents, we are constantly guiding our children through their experiences; experiences that GIFT coaches argue should include Adoption-attuned practices (AQ*) and a connection-first mindset because these experiences have a positive factor only if we have a good relationship with our child. It is understandable then that every workshop that we attended, including our own presentation, stressed the importance of this parent-child connection. All the presenters were in harmonic accord that without a solid relationship, we couldn’t be the guides we need to be for our children, leaving their growth into regulated and secure adults in jeopardy.
Further highlighting the importance of the parent-child relationship were workshops that discussed the older emancipated child entering the adult world “parentless”. Many of them foster children from group homes, these young adults have no parent to guide them once they become a “so-called” adult, i.e. reach the age of 18 years.
As coach, parents confide that they are eager to have their children “launch” and struggle with what the “launch” will look like. Yet, as parent to my own children, now in their twenties, I experience that they continue to need at least some guidance navigating many of their decisions. They look to my husband or myself for advice, too. Most importantly, though, they know that we are their “safe haven”, that place they can return if they ever need to do so.
A foster child, now a young adult, without a parent does not have this “safe haven” or constant guiding force. Statistics are high that many of them will become our nation’s homeless or criminals. They may be adults “by the nation’s standards”, however, many of them have psychological issues based on their lack of connections and still exhibit manipulative child-like behaviors.
Without a parent with whom they can experience life, they may never learn how to deal with its challenges and frustrating circumstances nor make lasting connections.A strong family unit, then, is a key ingredient for our survival. Without it, we can expect to see more violent episodes from those who have not had that all important consistent and nurturing connection provided generally by a parent.
Books can often help us empathize with these sad statistics on a deeper level. Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s, The Language of Flowers, I believe illustrates Dr. Siegel’s point. It is the heart-wrenching story of an emancipated homeless foster child who learns the true meaning of the parent-child relationship. Through her love of flowers and through her experiences, she discovers her vulnerability and finds out about “love” that she believed she was incapable of feeling. Using moss in her creations with flowers, she realizes that moss does not have roots, and yet, it represents “maternal/nurturing” love. So, we, too, do not need roots for our growth.
Our DNA is simply a blueprint that was handed to us. Our experiences, especially when they are given to us through solid parent-child connections, are the primary source for influencing the architecture of our life. Looking at things differently, then, adoptive parents really are the biological parents.
GIFT coaches Sally Ankerfelt and Susan David will be presenting, “Faith Communities as a Source of Healing and Connection”, at the 27th Annual Association for Training on Trauma and Attachment in Minneapolis, MN, September 24-27, 2015.
There is still time to register. Join parents and professionals from across North America and beyond to learn from one another and receive the most cutting edge training from leading speakers in the field of trauma and attachment.
Date: Saturday, October 03, 2015 Time: 8:00 am Central Time Duration: 3 hours Location: Lake Arlington in Arlington Heights, IL
Started in 2010 by three adoptive moms with very different backgrounds and adoption experiences, The Walk for Adoption Chicago celebrates the miracle of adoption and the adoptive family as well showing support for birth families and their loving decisions to place their child with another family. This yearly event is a way to network, to talk openly about adoption, and to give back to the adoption community. GIFT applauds The Walk for Adoption’s mission to promote both a positive view of adoption and positive adoption language and to give children that have been adopted the opportunity to associate with children that may have similar life situations. See you at the Walk!Adult tickets are $10 and Children are free.Read More
If you or someone you know is seeking assistance, please call us at GIFT Family Services
Grounded in the belief that a safe, loving family is the gift of a lifetime, we formed Growing Intentional Families Together (GIFT) to make adoption a smoother and gentler experience for adoptees and the families who love them. GIFT is a full service coaching firm providing support services to adoption/foster families before, during and after adoption. Not only are all of us adoptive parents, we are all certified coaches as well. Coaching focuses on action steps to move families forward through difficulty. Combining our own adoptive family experiences with our professional training enables us to listen without judgment, empathize, and then strategize effective solutions.
In last week's blog, we shared an interview with adoption expert and author, Heather Forbes, LCSW. We are pleased to review her latest book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. This excellent book continues to advocate for children by focusing on relationship first. In each of her books for adoptive parents, Heather Forbes has written knowledgeably with an emphasis on compassion and understanding. In Help for Billy, her approach is again steeped in respect, empathy, and love for the child. He’s not scapegoated as the problem; he’s viewed as a child with problems. Billy is not a bad kid; he’s a kid that life has thrown into the white water and he is struggling mightily to stay afloat.
Yes, it is challenging to be the parent or teacher of a child like Billy. His behavior is problematic. It is both a symptom and evidence of Billy’s need for help.
Several points in the book resonated with me. First Forbes encourages educators and parents to reformulate the questions they ask themselves as they try to determine how to help Billy. Instead of querying, How can Billy change his behavior? She recommends asking, How can we assist Billy in feeling safe, supported and calm?
Until this second question is asked and the answer is found, changing Billy’s behavior with consequences, threats, and constraints is impossible. Even worse, it is damaging to the family relationships as well as the teacher-child relationship.
Relationship influences everything. It is the channel through which a child is influenced, healed, and motivated. In the absence of relationships that feel safe and calm, Billy will be unable to function because he will be entirely focused on surviving and/or escaping his fears. Learning and “behaving” take a backseat to survival in the moment of fear.
Another salient point of the book—alter the desired outcome—is phrased this way: “Your ability to give love and stay mindful is the new outcome.” This statement may seem contrary to the premise of the book—Help for Billy. How can focusing on emotions help Billy academically and socially? By removing his perception that he is in danger and creating a feeling of safety and acceptance, Billy’s brain has energy and space to spend on intellectual activity. As long as Billy is in survival mode, everything else is perceived as frivolous.
Soothing his fears is a huge step towards accepting Billy as he is right now, along with his trauma history and unpleasant coping behaviors. He needs love and acceptance in the present moment. Withholding support, love, and acceptance until he meets certain standards may sentence him to a permanent state of being judged and found short of the mark.
Billy’s path may never smooth out as parents and teachers would hope. The greatest gift they can offer is to scaffold him with the necessary support systems—emotional as well as academic—that allow Billy to begin the lifetime journey of healing his trauma.
Help for Billy offers practical tips for parents and teachers. In many cases, they flip the traditional paradigm 180 degrees. While the approach may seem “out of the box,” it is definitely doable. It may be exactly what the Billys in our families and schools need.
As parents and educators, we must not lose sight that our goal is not to raise scholars but to raise productive human beings. We must nurture Billy’s spirit as our highest priority, then we can hope to address his academic achievement.
As an adoptive parent and an adoption coach, I know the value of Heather's loving, relationship-focused approach. Many times, I have reminded myself to pause and determine if my child's behaviors result from “I won't" or "I can't." Our relationships have benefited from this solution approach. By choosing to be less adversarial and more curious about what drives behavior, better strategies have evolved. More importantly, better relationships have grown. --Gayle H. Swift, author, "ABC, Adoption & Me: A Multicultural Picture Book"
Subscribers to this blog know that I recently became a grandmother. My husband and I are fortunate to spend time with PJ while his parents work. This has provided many opportunities to connect with him, to be intentional about how we spend time together, and to make memories and create relationship. This has been especially poignant for my husband who is terminally ill and currently under Hospice care. This sad reality has enhanced our appreciation for the fragility of life and has spotlighted the difference between what is and is not important.
An idea struck me the other day as I watched one of my hubby's nurse's aides cheerfully play with the baby. I thought about the disparity between PJ's start in life and that of adopted children whose lives began in chaos, trauma, neglect, fragmented families and orphanages.
Our grandson has accumulated evidence that adults consistently care, represent safety, security and encouragement. By contrast "tough start" children amass evidence that is the polar opposite; they've learned adults are frightening, dangerous, unreliable, and inconsistent. (Of course some orphanages do have caregivers who strive to deliver good, loving care but due to the numbers of children for whom they are responsible, their efforts fall short. Under these circumstances, kids learn to expect little, trust only themselves, and freeze out any budding attachments because caregivers "leave.")
Is it any wonder that these kids struggle to fit into families, have difficulty trusting adults, and struggle in school because they're enmeshed in hyper-vigilant monitoring and are convinced that the only person on whom they can rely is themselves?
By contrast, from the day PJ arrived on this earth, his life has overflowed with people who are thrilled he's here. In addition to his mom and dad, he's been blessed with a steady flow of people who convey affection, respond promptly to his needs, engage in attuned interplay, encourage his learning and celebrate each milestone he masters. This has provided PJ with a consistent experience of being seen and heard. Not only have his basic needs been met, but they've also been fulfilled with affection and joy. He's been encouraged, soothed and cuddled. He's been fed, clothed and cleaned, etc., and these interactions have been performed with kindness not resentment, anger or detached disinterest. His world is safe, secure and stable. He has learned that his "voice" counts and that it is worth making the effort to involve himself with people. He wants to connect because it brings him pleasure, satisfaction and security.
The reality of life is that some children do not get this kind of warm, fuzzy start. They must play catch up on their ability and desire to connect and attach with family, peers and the world at large. They must rewire their neurological architecture. As adoptive parents, many of us have committed to parenting these children with tough starts. This road can prove arduous and very, very long. How can we best sustain ourselves and our children as we journey together for a lifetime?
Effective communication is one critical element. Our kids need lots of empathy and understanding; they also need a lot of "do overs." Skill sets and social patterns that have been easily acquired in infancy or early childhood by most kids (those whose lives have been free of trauma,) may take years for our kids to master. First they must "unlearn" their old patterns and templates and then write over these failed strategies with new ones. Before they can risk changing--and more importantly, trusting us to keep them safe--they must feel confident enough that the benefit will outweigh the risk. Talk about a monumental task!
This process can feel as slow as the power of water to erode mountains. But it is well worth the effort, the agony and the hope.
Please take the time to watch these two startling videos which demonstrate both the importance and positive effect of attuned communication and the negative effect of mis-attuned interactions. Two minutes that will break your heart and galvanize your commitment to being intentional about your communication with your children.