Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Uncertainty Breeds Resistance

uncertainty Q: What do you do with a child who is so compelled to a repetitious behavior that he can't be redirected to the task at hand?

A: As humans, one of our basic primal needs is that of certainty. It feels good to know for certain what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and how it is going to happen. We also seek certainty through our behaviors and actions. For some, repetitive behaviors create certainty which reduces the level of internal fear. OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is about an intense need for certainty. For others, food creates certainty. Food makes us feel good, thus gives us an instant feeling of certainty. Additionally, many parents seek certainty through controlling parenting techniques.

On the other hand, uncertainty is a basic human need as well but only if there is enough certainty in our lives to create a balance between the two. For most of us, we enjoy an occasional surprise, it creates excitement. We like change, to a small degree, because it creates variety in our lives. For some, a higher level of uncertainty creates a rush of being "alive" like riding a roller coaster, watching a scary movie, or even jumping out of an airplane.

For children with traumatic histories, they have experienced an over abundance of uncertainty. There has not been a balance between the amount of uncertainty and certainty in their lives. If an imbalance of the two creates a level of fear for the average adult then it is understandable for a child, with limited coping skills, such an imbalance creates an exponential amount of fear.

The result is a child who will constantly seek certainty, at all costs. He is working to live in a heightened state of certainty in order to calm the fear of uncertainty that is programmed in his nervous system.

When we as parents then try to redirect this behavior, we are creating yet more uncertainty. The child, in his desperate attempt to return to a state of balance and regulation, will resist the parent and refuse to be redirected. The parent typically interprets this as "bad" behavior, "defiant" behavior, or "disrespectful" behavior. Worse, the parent takes this lack of responsiveness personally as if the child is behaving in this manner simply to push the parent's button or to be revengeful.

The negative neurological feedback loop is thus in full swing. Both the parent and the child are working to attain certainty, yet they are both doing it from a self-absorbed framework. The relationship becomes more strained, thus breeding more uncertainty!

If the parent can understand that the child is simply working to create certainty in his uncertain world, this negative loop can easily be interrupted. The parent can acknowledge that the compelling behavior (as given in this question) is helping the child feel better and that switching to a new task is incredibly difficult and scary. A conversation might look like this:
Parent: "Tommy, it is going to be time for us to go out and rake leaves in a few minutes."

Tommy: ignores his mom and continues to keep pushing his Hot Wheels up and down the hallway, over and over again.

Parent: Sitting down near Tommy, acknowledges his behavior, "You like running your cars up and down this hallway, don't you? I think you've been doing for over an hour. Wow! That does look like fun and I bet it makes you feel good."

Tommy: "I don't want to go rake leaves."

Parent: "I know. It isn't easy changing from one activity that makes you feel good to another activity that you don't even like."

Tommy: "I hate raking leaves."

Parent: "I know. I want to help you today. I don't want you to feel so overwhelmed with this type of stuff anymore. If I'm with you, I'm certain it will be easier for you."

Tommy: "Humph"

Parent: "How about we do this in about 5 minutes?"
The parent works to connect with Tommy's fears and acknowledges his struggle of shifting to a different activity. The parent creates certainty by being with him now while promising to be with him during the new activity. Through their relationship, the parent is working to create the certainty he is seeking through the toy cars. The parent's goal is to help Tommy shift from using the toys as security to using the relationship with him as the security. Giving him five minutes also gives Tommy emotional space to consider making this change and time to process this change, which reduces the element of surprise.

As human beings, we are constantly working to create balance in our lives. Your children's behaviors are often times reflective of this need for balance. Look beyond the typical interpretations of defiance, disrespect, and retaliation, to identify the significance of your child's behaviors. When you can do this, you put yourself in the most powerful position - the position of a committed, loving, and understanding parent!

Press on,

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

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Power of Neurlogical Mapping

Q: 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?

From the moment a child is born, he is dependent on others to care for him, nurture him, and teach him about the world. This 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 and unworthy. 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 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? The internal voice of negativity was an earlier and deeper imprint, thus it will be the dominate one.

This creates a profound gap between what others are saying 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.

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 "what to do in the moment" and more explanation on how to do this in the classroom setting, my newest book, "Help for Billy" will give you more application into the principles discussed in this eNewsletter.

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

Press on,

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Redefining the Meaning of Motivation for Students at School

With our Beyond Consequences Classroom 5-week online program continuing tomorrow night, I want to share this excerpt from my book, "Help for Billy." 
And if you are interested in joining the course you can check it out here:http://www.beyondconsequences.com/classroom/index.html

Children have a natural love for learning. As young toddlers, they learn to crawl and walk without external motivators. Certainly they like encouragement, but the natural desire to progress is already a part of their innate programming. Children do not need to be bribed or threatened into learning. What they need, especially children with traumatic histories (who we'll call "Billy" in this article), is to be supported, guided, and scaffolded up within an environment that is conducive to feeling emotionally safe, developing relationship, and feeling respected.

The typical behavioral techniques most schools use to try to motivate students can be barriers and hindrances to the Billys of the classroom because they create fear. Any technique based in fear is only going to elevate more fear for a student like Billy who already lives in fear. These techniques are illusions of control and motivation. The reality is that when fear is a part of the learning environment for a student like Billy, learning stops. What subsequently follows is exactly what these external motivators were intended to eliminate: negative behaviors.

Motivation is more about regulation than about simply making a choice to succeed and follow the rules. Motivators we see used in schools, such as stickers and rewards, address the area of the brain that is shut down for Billy. To think clearly and to sequentially rationalize that "if I behave, then I will have a prize from the treasure box" takes the work of the neocortex (the logical thinking part of the brain).

For Billy, when he is struggling and dysregulated, this part of the brain ceases to fire. The problem exists in the lower area of the brain for Billy (the Reptilian Brain). That is why Billy’s thinking is going to be different than the typical student (who we'll refer to as "Andy"). This is especially true for Billy because Billy has a deep-seated negative belief system saying that he is stupid, the world is unsafe, and he has to do whatever it takes to make things work for himself (see below).

Reptilian Brain

In the lower part of the brain for all of us, life happens in the next fifteen seconds. Consequences are not relevant. Morals, ethics, and the differences between "right and wrong" have no bearing. All of these guiding forces reside in the neocortex, an area of the brain no longer "in charge" when Billy is dysregulated.

When Billy is left to his own devices to regulate, all his internal resources and energy are already used for protection and safety, leaving no room for learning. The more Billy falls behind academically, the more he feels threatened and the less he learns. Hence, the negative and endless spiral begins with no way out when traditional approaches are put into place. Unfortunately, the only way out of this downward spiral for many students is to ultimately quit and drop out of school.

It takes a shifting our understanding of motivation from a behavioral perspective to a relationship-based regulatory perspective to interrupt a student's negative spiral downward. Many of the traditional techniques need only be modified slightly and delivered in the spirit of love and connection rather than in the framework of fear and control. It is a small shift yet one that can have a powerful impact on students.

It requires interactive regulation (through relationship) to calm Billy down, to create safety for Billy, and to decrease his anxiety. It takes switching from the strategy of getting students motivated--with the promise of a reward or the threat of the loss of a privilege--to the strategy that taps into the student's neurobiological predisposition for relationship.

For more extensive "real-life-how-to" strategies, tune into my online class this Thursday evening (at no charge) or read my latest book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. With a trauma-informed classroom, let's help return our "Billys" of the world back to their natural love for learning!

Press on,

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

Friday, April 11, 2014

Stuck? Here is a cheat sheet to get you started...

cheatsheet Q: I have been trying to implement the Beyond Consequences model of parenting but in the moment when my child is resisting, I get stuck. I truly don't know HOW to make emotional connection and I was wondering if you might have a "cheat-sheet" of some kind to help jump start me during these times my mind goes blank.

A: If you do not have a blueprint of a parent making emotional connection with you as a child, being able to do this as a parent is like trying to speak a different language. Unfortunately, most
of us grew up in families where our parents intellectualized, minimized, or flat out ignored our emotions so we simply do not have a solid blueprint.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when you are working to make an emotional connection with your child:
  • Remember that you cannot make the connection happen...you can only create an environment for it to happen (relieve yourself of the pressure).

  • You are simply there to support and to encourage your child.

  • When your child begins to express his/her feelings, validate, encourage, and stay present with your child in the moment. Watch the body for signals (80% of communication is non-verbal).

  • Help to keep the process focused on the emotional piece. "How did that make you feel." Look at the child's face, "You look really mad" or "You look really scared." Avoid solutions at that moment.

  • Get out of the logistical details and help your child into his/her feelings. "Tell me how it felt when that happened."

  • If your child begins to slip back into a cognitive/rational place, watch the body for when they constrict when talking. When you notice this, encourage your child to go back to the emotional piece that goes with the story being told. Stay open to his/her process.

  • You have to be able to handle the depth of emotional pain your child is experiencing. If he senses you are getting overwhelmed, he will cut the story short in order to make you okay.
With these ideas in mind, I'm also going to list some actual phrases that might be helpful. It is very important not to say these words like a script, however. Your child will know immediately when the words are being given from the head as opposed to the heart. Use your passion as a parent to convince your child that you want to know his struggle.

If your child rejects your efforts, saying something like, "You're just trying to therapize me!" You can be honest with your reply, "It probably feels that way! You're right. But I know the more I offer my love and connection, the better off we are going to be."
    1. "I know it is hard, but the more you keep it inside of you, the harder it gets."
    2. "I need to know how bad it was for you."
    3. "You're not in trouble."
    4. "Give yourself permission to have a voice."
    5. "How did that make you feel?"
    6. "Stay with it, Billy. You're not alone in it."
    7. "Open up to the pain. You're safe now, so let it out."
    8. "I had no idea this was so hard for you!"
    9. "Breathe. Take a deep breath." (Take a deep breath to model it for your child).
    10. "I've gotta have it...I need to have your feelings."
    11. "You don't have to carry it all."
    12. "That's too much pain to have all by yourself. Can you let me share it with you?"
    13. "I want to understand you better and if I know how you feel, I'll be able to do what you need me to do."
    14. "I love you no matter how you feel."
    15. "Give yourself permission to have a voice. I'm listening."
    16. "I can handle whatever you went through."
    17. "Look at me, Billy." (If the child begins to hide in shame, have him/her stay connected with you, but never force eye contact.)
    18. Use your own story to connect: "I remember when I was a little girl and a friend of mine was really mean to me...."
    19. Be quiet...if these words start irritating the child, slow down, sit down, be quiet, and just be present.
    20. Take responsibility for your child's pain. You may not have been able to change the situation in the way she/he needed you to. Yet, feel it with him/her. Join your child and open yourself to your own tears. Work to understand your child's perspective. "I'm so sorry it hurts you that I wasn't there...."
    21. Avoid words like, "It's okay. It's over." Instead, invite them to give you more, "I know it hurt, show me how much it hurt." Be conscious of your conditioned response of making it better. Allow your child to drop the feelings completely. Ironically, we try to avoid the feelings to make it better, yet acknowledging the feeling and allowing the child this emotional space is precisely what will make it better.
    22. Feel the pain with your child and open your heart. Your child will only open up as much as you are opened up to the pain.
    23. Maximize instead of minimize. Go into the pain and the story to explore the issue without down playing or negating what your child is sharing. Getting your child back to a sense of reality will come later, after the emotions have been expressed.
    24. Trust in the process...the outcome is determined by staying present in each moment of the process!
Practice this with your friend, spouse, partner, and even your boss! The more you live out of the emotional side of being human, the more natural this will come to you.

Send me the phrases you come up with and I'll compile an even larger list to publish in next month's eNewsletter so we can all work on this together!

Press on,

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