Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Maximizing Instead of Minimizing

icebergQ: I am teaching a book study based on "Help for Billy." You mention that one of the effective strategies to use with children who have a traumatic background is "maximizing." I am not sure I understand what this is and was wondering if you could expand on it. Thank you.


A: Traditionally, we've always been taught to stop or change children's behaviors by redirecting them or helping them to see a broader perspective. Most of us can easily give examples from our own childhood of this tactic. Responses such as, "Calm down honey, it's not that big of a deal." or "Honey, look over here, I see
something you're really going to like." are imbedded in us. These types of responses shift children away from the issue at hand to stabilize them emotionally.

For children impacted by trauma, this approach is often one of the worst approaches you can take. These are children who've had experiences of not being heard, being ignored, feeling unwanted, or worse. These are children who are in desperate need of being validated, understood, and heard. By giving them a response to their struggle that minimizes or diverts away from the struggle, they will see this response from a reflection of who they are. They personally take this dismissal of their feelings to heart.

Children who live in a state of survival (which is what trauma does to a child) do not have the ability to dissect an adult's response into a complex interpretation such as, "This adult (parent/teacher/caregiver) loves me enough to give me a response that will help me see the bigger picture." Instead, a child impacted by trauma thinks in simple, rigid, and linear terms such as, "This adult (parent/teacher/caregiver) isn't addressing my need directly. Therefore, he/she doesn't love me."

Children impacted by trauma will feel invalidated, unloved, unimportant, and unworthy when we give them responses that essentially minimize their requests; if you minimize their need, you minimize them personally. They've lived (or are living) through situations where there wasn't or isn't certainty. Their brains have become wired for survival, which means they will see everything from a negative and rigid perspective. They are out to protect themselves--everything you say or do is going to be interpreted from a deeply personal level.

They need you to maximize their struggle. In turn, this will "maximize" them as human beings--it is their way of feeling loved, worthy, and validated. They lack the ability to separate their self-worth from your response. Simply, your response to them equals their interpretation of their worth and "lovability."
Maximing Graphic
Additionally, many children don't know how to express the issues troubling them in appropriate ways. They will use roundabout ways to get you to hear their internal struggles. They work very hard to avoid being vulnerable which keeps them from being able to clearly express their real troubles. Thus, you have to open up the first layer of the conversation to get to the second, third, and fourth layers of the conversation. Maximizing helps you to get to the conversation behind the conversation.

In the following chart, two examples (a minimizing response and a maximizing response) are given to compare and contrast the differences in the same scenario with "Billy":
Maximizing Table

In the example above, it could have been any number of reasons why Billy didn't like the book. However, by going into the conversation to validate his dislike of the book, the core issue behind the book was revealed. Maximizing means accepting the child's response without the need to correct. It means going into the conversation with a sense of curiosity, saying to yourself, "What is this really about?" Maximizing is about getting the full story instead of just a smidgen of the story. Instead of getting the tip of the iceberg, you're maximizing to get what is lying underneath.

Follow Billy's linear thinking and follow his/her pattern of thinking through your response. Maximizing is an expression of love in Billy's eyes. By maximizing, you will be saying, "I love you, Billy. You're safe."

Press on in maximum love,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Interactive Regulation

father and son
The Power of Love and Relationship

 Humans are designed to be in relationship. We are designed to grow  up in families and live in communities. What is considered the most  severe punishment of an inmate in prison? Solitary confinement. This  is because we are neurologically and biologically designed to be in  relationship. Being alone for extended periods of time goes against    our physiology.

Children need connection in order to feel loved, accepted, and safe. They cannot sufficiently create this on their own. They need to experience this first from the adults in their lives before they can give it to themselves. Children, especially babies, do not have the ability to "regulate" on their own.

A baby crying in a crib is communicating that he is in need of help. The baby is seeking regulation. The baby has slipped into a state of dysregulation, needing to be fed, rocked, cuddled, or have a diaper changed. The baby is incapable of shifting from this state of dysregulation to a state of regulation on his own. If the baby is not cared for, he goes into a hyper-aroused state, whereby the stress hormones excrete excessively until ultimately, the body will protect itself from creating internal damage by shutting down. The baby then stops crying and appears to have settled down.

Yet in actuality, the baby has not shifted back into a state of regulation. The baby has simply shifted from a state of active arousal to a state of passive arousal, still dysregulated at the internal level. He has been denied an interactive experience with his caregiver. He has missed the vital experience of being calmed and soothed, or regulated, by his caregiver.

This same concept is true for any child, whether in a school or home. When a child is acting out, it is a sign that the child has slipped into a state of dysregulation. If the child has not had enough past regulatory experiences of being soothed through the power of a loving relationship, the child's ability to self-regulate is insufficient to shift to a state of regulation on his own. Whether describing an infant or a 15-year-old child who is dysregulated, the role of the adult (whether it is a parent or teacher) is always to join with the child in order to help the child regulate back to a state of calm arousal.

Science is showing that essential regulatory functions occur in the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is responsible for the processing of positive and negative affective states, such as interest, excitement, and joy, along with pain, fear, and overwhelm. The right hemisphere controls the human stress response system and cortisol secretion as well as vital functions supporting survival. When a child's experiences do not include predictability, quality care-giving, loving interactions, and safety, these functions of the right hemisphere are impaired and the ability to regulate is compromised.

When interacting with a child exhibiting difficult behaviors, look into the child's present and past experiences and you are likely to find a cycle of disruption and unpredictability. In order to help a child get back on track, it takes connecting with the child at the emotional level. This connection happens in the right brain, so it is not the words that are important. It is the facial expression, tone and volume of voice, as well as the posture, tempo, and timing of movement. It is about learning to simply be present with the child and allowing the child emotional space to process through the stress.

This is an interactive process between the adult and the child, and thus, it is imperative that the adult be in a state of regulation. If the adult is stressed out and dysregulated, the adult's ability to create a state of regulation for the child is severely compromised. Have you ever been in a store and watched a stressed-out parent instructing the child to, "Calm down. Calm down, right now!"? The words are effective words; however, the delivery of the words is far more important to consider. It is not what you say, but how you say it.

Imagine having the opportunity to sit next to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa. How do you think you would feel simply sitting next to any one of these individuals who radiates pure love? Would your system automatically shift to a state of regulation? You undoubtedly would feel a sense of calm and peacefulness, even if words were not exchanged.

While this may be an extreme example, you do have the same ability to create this type of connection with a dysregulated child. This is the power of love and relationship. This is "interactive regulation." Interactive regulation is the ability to easily regulate one's emotional state through interactions with others. As the child experiences these interactions with you and through you, he will gain experiential knowledge of what it feels like to be regulated. He will have experiences of going from a state of dysregulation and upset to a state of peace and calm.

As the child experiences this interactive regulation through your relationship with him, he then learns how to self-regulate, or as science is terming it, to "autoregulate." This is the ultimate gift we can give children--to be able to self-regulate in times of stress, without others and without external measures.

Childhood is the most opportune time to accomplish this goal. Science is showing that positive emotional experiences carve permanent pathways into a child's developing neurological system. Every interaction you have with a child is an opportunity to help the child regulate, make a positive emotional connection, and literally lay down neural networks that will enhance his brain's capacity to handle stress and overwhelm later in life. Conversely, research states that if a significant amount of a child's emotional experiences are characterized by fear, then a negative and hopeless perspective becomes part of the child's personality framework.

It is important to realize these experiences influence a child far more than we once believed. In the past, it was believed that children who grow up with an abundance of experiences of distress, fear, separation, and rage simply develop bad behaviors and bad habits. We now know that it goes much deeper than this; they develop ingrained negative neurological pathways that control much of what they do.

The good news is that our brains are ever changing and ever creating new neuropathways. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections based on life experiences. Yet it is vital to the healing process of children that these new neuropathways are formed from emotional experiences, not intellectual or cognitive experiences.

These emotional experiences are not experiences that can be created in a therapist's office once a week for 50 minutes nor can they be created by being isolated in detention or by being suspended from school. These healing moments need to happen through the context of the adult-child relationship. It is in the moments when your child or student is most "raw" and the most dysregulated that you are being presented with an opportunity to create change and healing. It takes interacting from not just a new perspective but from an entirely new paradigm centered in the heart.

Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Shouldn't he be okay by now?

teen
Q: For the past six years, we have been implementing the Beyond Consequences parenting model with our son and have seen a massive amount of improvements. We have changed our lifestyle, found the perfect school and teacher for him, and supported him with tutoring. I feel like my wife and I have even done much of our own work to keep ourselves from reacting and in a place of love with him. However, even after all of this, I still see our son struggling! I am frustrated because I truly know that he has everything
right in front of him to get better. Is there something more we should be doing that I've missed?

A: Six years later with all the parameters in place (just the right school; an amazing teacher; a patient tutor; a home environment that provides understanding, love, and support; a less stressful lifestyle; and parents who have done their own emotional work) and your son is still struggling. I know it's so easy to ask, "Shouldn't he be okay by now?" Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. The reality may actually hold a different outcome and the reason comes down to one simple truth: Your son may not be ready to receive this understanding and help.

Ultimately, we have to understand our children are on their own journeys. They are on their own timetable and their own organic paths to healing. Healing takes courage and the ability to break down massive protective barriers, barriers that were created to protect the heart and soul from more overwhelming amounts of pain and fear.

Our work as parents is done after we have provided what you describe, all with an overabundance of support, understanding, and love. The only step after this is to detach--detach from the outcome. There is nothing more to do at this point. Just detach.

Detachment is hard because we live in a world that is outcome based. To stay focused on the process requires us to find the courage to place confidence in the power of love, to have certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that love will never fail. What has failed us in the past is that fear got in the way and created more problems and more resistance.

We are asking our children to change and to trust in love; we must do the same. We are asking them to let go of their defenses and internal protective forces, thus we must also make these changes in order to complete this process for them.

Let go of your son's outcome. It is not about giving up; it is about letting go and changing the tool of measurement. Ask yourself about the process in which you engage with him: "Did I give him understanding, acceptance, and validation today?" These are the things that should be measured because these are, in reality, the only parts over which we have any control. We cannot control the outcome of any child, especially a child with a trauma history. Thinking that we can is in essence ignoring and discrediting the strength and power of free will.

We are on this planet in a framework of free will, all of us. This is why every one of us is resistant to power and control. We were given this gift to learn and experience what true love is. Each of us is here to migrate back to the essence of our origins--back to the fullness and completeness of unconditional love. For this reason, a controlling and fear-based model within any organization, whether it is a home environment, a corporation, a personal relationship, or a classroom, will always fail in the long term.

The solution is to flip the evaluation and focus back to us--the parent, the support person, the teacher, the therapist--because nothing is guaranteed except for the gift of giving love. It is then up to the receiver to receive the love or reject it, to either change or stay the same.

Your ability to give love and stay mindful is the new outcome. 


At the end of each day, each year, each decade, or an entire lifetime, look back and ask yourself if you did all you could to make a loving and positive difference. We have been asking the wrong questions, which can only lead to feeling utterly unsuccessful. We have been asking whether our children behaved, whether or not they won the top honors, or whether they were accepted into Harvard. If you ask the wrong questions, you'll get the wrong answers.

The questions that each of us parenting and working with children should be asking are, "What was my level of love?" and "To what extent was I able to get outside of my own desires and agenda to be able to be in the shoes of this child?"

When you have been able to fully and unconditionally deliver everything your child needs, your work is complete. There is nothing else to do. It is then up to your child to receive the help and make the needed changes.

Sometimes our children can change, sometimes they cannot. Or perhaps they simply are not ready to change and it is not the right timing. At this point love is about letting go and stepping back to give our children their right to free will. There is nothing else to do but love them, create boundaries for them, be clear about expectations, and continue doing your best because your best is good enough. Let love take over from here and be kind and loving to yourself, always.

Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why We Need Trauma-Informed Schools

The Trauma Informed School
 In the mid 1990's, the United States Congress, along with several states,  passed laws with the intention of reducing violence, notably gun violence,  in schools. These laws not only encourage harsh punishments but in  many cases, mandate them. Following the implementation of these laws,  there was a rise in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The  unfortunate fall-out for our most behaviorally challenged students is lost  educational opportunities and the labeling of them as delinquents and  criminals. Additionally, two decades of research shows no evidence that  these laws and mandates have improved school safety or student  behaviors.
These zero tolerance policies are the least trauma-informed policies ever put into practice in our schools. They ignore the mental and emotional needs of the most vulnerable of students in our schools and allow absolutely no understanding to the individual needs of students. Ironically, the students who need the most help are punished, judged, and pushed away, which only works to deepen their trauma related issues.

Trauma research is giving us answers as to why these earlier policies do not work. Neuroscience is showing how the brain is impacted when children grow up in stressful environments. Their brains are wired differently, they think from a platform of fear, and they have negative belief systems about themselves and the world in which they live. This creates challenges within the framework of our traditional disciplinary models. The result is that we are failing our students and asking them to be like all the "normal" kids yet they are neurologically unequipped to be able to do so.

For many of our students, they have experienced years of toxic stress in their home environments that shifted them into living every moment of everyday in survival mode. Their new "normal" is fear, reactivity, and failure. This is how they have survived. It is all they know. The result it that their brains are wired for fear...their brains are not "bad" and their reactivity isn't necessarily "wrong." They are products of their environments. They have survival brains and that's how they enter their classrooms everyday. What science is showing us, is that this is a brain issue, not a behavioral issue.

Using a trauma-informed approach within our schools is the answer. It is an approach that implements an understanding of trauma into the everyday practices and policies of an academic environment. Using a trauma-informed approach means changing how we interact with students and how we implement discipline in a way that is modified to be responsive to the impact of traumatic stress. A program that is "trauma-informed" operates within a framework that incorporates an understanding of the ways in which trauma impacts an individual's socio-emotional health.

Students who have been impacted by trauma carry a very heavy load and they operate at a perpetual high level of stress. For most, their trauma wasn't a one time-incident...it didn't happen overnight. It happened and continues to happen on a perpetual and long-term basis.

Children have a natural love for learning yet what we as a collective society have forgotten is that children are first emotional beings. They operate at an emotional level, not an intellectual level. That's the definition of being a child.

A survey was created by the Beyond Consequences Institute (BCI) to ask the opinions of students regarding what they need at school to make learning better. Students from first to twelfth grade completed the survey and their answers gave profound insights into the needs of these students. Only 2% of the students made suggestions regarding actual academic improvements. The remaining answers focused on suggestions to meet their social and emotional needs.

The students' responses centered on identifying ways the school could meet their physiological needs, safety concerns, relationship needs, and self-esteem needs. The collective responses from all the students created a similar framework to psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Maslow suggested that the needs of individuals must be met before they will have a strong desire for improving themselves and moving forward in their growth. In order of priority, Maslow theorized that individuals must have their physiological, safety, love/belonging/and esteem needs met prior to being motivated at the self-actualization level. He also believed that when these basic needs are deficient in one's life, the feelings of being anxious and tense are typically present.

Taking this framework of human motivation developed by Maslow, the same basic principles can be applied directly to the student in the classroom. The "Hierarchy of Learning" pyramid describes why we need to have a trauma-informed approach in our schools. 
Hierarchy of Learning
Instead of addressing the top of the pyramid, which is what we have traditionally done, we must first address everything below the top in order to ultimately reach the top of the pyramid. Trusting the process of meeting the social and emotional needs of our students to achieve high test-scores and successful graduation rates is the ultimate in making the shift to a trauma-informed school.

Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Power of Negative Beliefs

Neural PathwaysQ: My son had a terrible early childhood history and constantly tells me he is a bad boy and that nobody loves him. Yet, no matter how much we tell him what a good boy he is or how much we love him, nothing seems to help. How can he continually reject these positive messages?

A: From the moment a child is born, the child is dependent on others to care for him, nurture him, and teach him about the world. The child has no other option but to trust that the
information being given to him is the truth. He has no filters...he accepts everything as fact.

For a child who goes through early childhood trauma, he lives in a world of false messages that are absorbed as truth. Everything that is said to him becomes his reality. Everything that is done to him becomes a reflection of who he is.

For example, if a child is emotionally abused and told he is worthless, that he won't amount to anything, or that the parent wishes he was never born, this child's internal belief system develops from these messages. This child believes he is worthless. His belief is that he is not lovable and that he should not be on the planet earth. Neurologically, we know that neurons that fire together wire together. So this belief system becomes ingrained and accepted at a deep subconscious and neurological level. These beliefs lay down the neural circuitry that then governs how this child behaves and responds to life events.

We then place this child in a different, more loving family. He is told that he is wonderful, that he is good, and that he is loved. The external messages are now in conflict with the internal messages. Which one do you think is stronger and louder? Of course, it is the internal voice of negativity that will dominate.

There is a profound gap between what others say and what the child's internal framework is saying, preventing this child from easily accepting any new messages beyond that which he already knows. The human brain is programmed to reject any belief that is not congruent (not the same) as one's own view.
Think about this from your own perspective. When someone comes up with a different belief than you have, what is your first reaction? You reject it. You dismiss this person as being on the fringe and you move on, maintaining your own reality in your mind. You might even argue with this person, defending your position in order to "save face" and to protect your own belief system.

Now back to the child in this example, the parent then tries to lovingly parent this child and to give this child positive messages of self-esteem and self-worth. Yet, what the parent doesn't realize is that the parent is up against the power of belief--up against the child's neurological mapping. No matter how many times this parent tells his new son, "I love you." or "You are a wonderful child." or similar positive messages, the old belief system of not being worthy and not being good enough continues to prevail. It is as if these messages are impervious to this child. These positive messages simply slide off the child as if there is a Teflon coating.

The reason is that these new messages are being given to the child at a cognitive level and are simply cognitive experiences. Yet, emotions play a powerful role in neural processing, much greater than language and cognition. In order to break through the old negative beliefs of this child, the parent has to dig deep within himself to interact with this child at a deeply profound emotional level. Love has the power to do this.

While the emotion of fear keeps this child locked in this negative belief system, it is also true that the emotion of love will release this child from this negative belief system. It takes parenting this child in a loving, safe, and emotionally available manner. And it won't be just one experience, but several experiences, over and over again, with this child being met at an emotional level, in order for new neural pathways to be created.

A new belief system is possible. It takes time, patience, understanding, tolerance, perseverance, and most importantly, emotional impact. For more information on a child's negative belief system and more concrete and practical ways to help him "re-write" them, see Chapter 5 of my book, "Help for Billy".

Love never fails...it simply takes learning how to love our children from their perspective and going beyond routine cognitive experiences.

Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Preparing the In-laws and Out-laws for a Holiday Visit

GrandparentsQ: I need a quick way to explain to my parents (who will be visiting during the holidays) what is meant by "Parenting Beyond Consequences." They don't seem to understand the way I'm parenting and are quite critical of me. They aren't interested in the neuroscience or the brain research. They're simply coming from the old school of the basics, so any help you have would be appreciated!
A: Beyond Consequences can be a difficult concept to understand and to "wrap your brain around" when you've been living in a more traditional mindset for years, even generations. Love is about meeting people where they are and respecting their perspectives. Understanding that your parents are looking through the lens of the "old school" is the first place to start. From such a point of reference, this model is sometimes interpreted as if you're coddling or babying your child. The following explanation is written in more general terms in order to help a grandparent, relative, or anyone, begin to make a shift. Remember to be patient with them; you're shifting an entire paradigm and framework of interpretation.

Children need unconditional love and unconditional acceptance from their parents; we all know this and believe this. However, do we ever stop to consider how so many of the traditional parenting techniques accepted in our culture work contrary to this primal goal? Traditional parenting techniques that involve consequences, controlling directives, and punishment are fear-based and fear-driven. They have the ability to undermine the parent-child relationship and because they are tied into behavior, children easily interpret these actions to mean, "If I'm not good, I am not lovable." Thus, children often build a subconscious foundation that says that love and approval is based off of performance.

Parenting from a love-based paradigm means going beyond our children's behavior and beyond consequences to first see that negative behavior is a form of communication and that negative behavior is a response to stress. If we see the kicking and screaming child as one who is having difficulty regulating due to an overflow of feelings and stress, we can learn to stay present with the child in order to help him modulate these overwhelming feelings and overabundance of stress and thus, help him to build his regulatory system. This is a child who has been "emotionally hijacked." Emotions are not logical or rational; this negative acting-out is the body's natural fear reaction gone awry.

Allowing a child emotional space to safely dissipate this energy will then allow him to calm down. As we provide reassurance, unconditional love, and emotional presence for our children, the need to act-out will disappear. Many times our children act-out simply because they do not feel that they are being listened to nor do they feel as if they have been heard. Staying present and reassuring a child that you really are listening to him, can sometimes be enough to help him begin to regulate.The life lesson that the bad behavior is inappropriate does indeed need to be taught and reinforced. However, this life lesson can only happen once the child is fully regulated (when the child is calm) and his cognitive thinking is intact. This is also the time to present alternatives to the negative acting-out behavior. This is how we teach our children instead of punishing them. The definition of discipline is to teach.

The more we can stay focused on the relationship with our children and strengthening this relationship instead of controlling it through consequences, logic, and control, the more we will be helping our children learn to work through their stress appropriately. Below are four pointers to going beyond consequences:

1. Just Be Happy!-But I'm not! Did anyone ever tell you, "Just think happy thoughts and it will be okay."? Did it really work? Probably not. Emotions do not simply disappear. If feelings are not acknowledged and released, they are stored and become part of our physical make-up. Research has convincingly shown that being able to express feelings like anger and grief can improve survival rates in cancer patients. With our children, feelings that become stored and "stuffed" become activators for negative behaviors.

2. ALL Feelings are Good Feelings - As parents, it is important for us to understand the necessity of emotional expression, both in teaching it to our children and in modeling it to them. Blocked feelings can inhibit growth, learning, and the building of a trusting relationship between the parent and child. The first step to take is to recognize that ALL emotions are healthy. In our culture, feelings such as joy, peace, and courage are seen as good feelings, yet feelings such as sad, mad, and scared are seen as negative feelings. We must rethink our interpretion so this: Negative feelings don't create acting-out behaviors; it is the lack of expression of the negative feelings that creates the acting out.

3. Get to the Core of the Behavior - When children are acting out and being defiant, we need to begin to understand that their behaviors are simply a communication of an dysregulated state that is driving these behaviors. If we simply address the behavior, we miss the opportunity to help children express and understand themselves from a deeper regulatory and emotional level. We need to help our children build their emotional intelligence. Start by modeling basic feeling words to your child. Keep it simple and teach the five basic feeling words: sad, mad, happy, scared, and grateful. Even the youngest of children can learn to say, "I'm mad!" When the toddler is throwing his toys or the teenager is having his version of a tantrum, encourage him at that moment to get to the core of the behavior through emotional expression. Remember:…it really isn't about the behavior. They really do know better than to do these things.

4. Responding vs. Reacting - So the next time your child becomes defiant, talks back, or is simply "ugly" to you, work to be in a place not to react to the behavior, but respond to your child. Respond to your child in an open way-open to meeting him in his heart and helping him understand the overload of feelings that are driving the behaviors. He doesn't need a consequence or another parental directive at that moment; he just needs you to be present with him (this does not mean you agree with the behavior, it means you are not correlating his behavior with your acceptance of him as a person). As your child learns to respond back to you positively through the parent-child relationship, he won't have the need to communicate through negative behaviors anymore. You'll both have more energy for each other, building a relationship that will last a lifetime and more energy to learn how to do it differently the next time.

For more parenting tips, check out some of my videos on Youtube:
      1.)  Sibling Rivalry
      2.)  The Missing Piece
      3.)  The Parent's Stress
      4.)  Chores
      5.)  Overwhelm

I hope the upcoming holidays are peaceful and loving. And remember, it's not a behavioral problem; it's a regulatory problem! Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When Your Child Hates Everything

graffiti
Q: My 8-year-old son "hates" everything: the particular car driving down the street, the shirt I'm wearing, the kid next door, the color of the living room, the cashier at the grocery store, etc., etc. I am having trouble understanding this and how to deal with it. Any insights?


A: I'm certain that this is a maddening place to be with your son and that it feels as if nothing will make him happy. There's nothing more frustrating than to try to send positive energy to someone, only to be met with resistance and negativity. 
In order to reverse your child's perception of the world as negative, it will first take a new understanding of why he "hates" everything. When children's needs are met early in their development, their blueprint for the world becomes positive and optimistic. When a baby is crying and sending out stress signals, he is in need of nurturing and comforting care. When this is given to him, his system is shifted back to a state of regulation and the world is a good place-he develops a sense of optimism.

If he is not cared for and if he is left on his own to navigate through his internal stress, the world becomes a scary place. Negative repetitious conditioning breeds an outlook of pessimism. No matter how much he cries, no matter what he does, he can't seem to convince his caretakers to help him. Helplessness and overwhelm prevail. For such a child, nothing is working, so his universal blueprint of "nothing is right" is being created.

A child who "hates" everything is a child in a perpetual state of fear and dysregulation. His neurophysiological system has been programmed to see the world as half empty instead of half full. He truly doesn't know that everything is going to be all right. He really doesn't know that good always overcomes evil. Essentially, he is programmed to live an operatic tragedy instead of a light-hearted drama.

Think about this...isn't it great to simply go to Netflix and pick out what kind of movie you want? Maybe it is a romantic comedy; maybe it is an action movie; maybe even during this Halloween season it is a horror flick.

But in our own realities, we don't have the luxury of returning one life and checking out another so quickly. What we do have are three key elements to make significant changes to our life stories: 1) understanding, 2) relationship, and 3) plasticity.

The first of these, understanding, was addressed in the beginning of this article. The second, relationships, is something that is always available to initiate. Healing happens in the context of relationships, and most fervently through the context of the parent-child relationship. And third, plasticity, is what an 8-year-old has plenty of. The brain continues to make major changes until we are 25 years old.

Your child needs to know that the world is safe and good. In order to do this, it will take creating a deeper relationship with him. It will take helping him to express himself at a deeper level. The next time he makes a negative statement, such as, "I hate the shirt you are wearing," sit with him and listen to him. Ask him more about what he hates.

Validate his negativity instead of trying to convince him of something more positive. "You really do hate this shirt. Wow. Help me understand how much you hate it. Tell me more." As he expresses himself, help him shift into the feelings behind these words. (It's really not about the shirt.) "How does that make you feel?"

Essentially, his "I hate the world" statements are indicators of his own internal reality: "The world hates me and I don't even deserve to be in this world." When a child (or adult) feels this depth of darkness from within himself, it makes sense as to why all his comments are negative towards his external environment.

Think about a time when you were just in a bad mood. Nothing seemed to be right; nothing seemed to be the way you wanted it to be. Your perception of the world matched your negative framework. So, it is the same with your child, simply at a deeper level within the core of his being.

When you can help him to move into this core area within himself by listening, validating, maximizing, tolerating, accepting, and staying present with him, you'll be there in relationship to guide him towards feeling safe and loved. Thus, you'll be able to guide him to see that the world is good and hope does exist. It will take positive repetitious conditioning to do this for him (see Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Chapter 3).

The reason this works is because our neurological systems are "plastic." We have the ability to change and be molded, especially children. Your son is growing and developing everyday. He still has years ahead of him to create new neuropathways. Every interaction with you is an opportunity to literally change his brain and lay down new neuropatterns of positive thought and positive outlook.

Work to stay in a place of understanding, keep yourself regulated, and know that through loving influence, you have the ability to create exactly the environment he needs for healing, hope, and optimism.

Press on,
HeatherHeather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.