Q: I have to say that in the two weeks we used the techniques in the book, my son has gone from occasional and minor non-compliance to a constant source of rude talking, anger, misbehavior and general disruption. As of yesterday we are trying to forget everything we learned in an effort to recover from this catastrophic experiment. I guess it doesn't work for everyone.
A: I certainly want to address this Email I was sent by a discouraged parent because I know that it can be frustrating and disheartening to see negativity in a home intensify when trying to make positive changes. Implementing a new technique in the home can create disruption for families. A new technique is change and in our children's perspectives, change is inherently bad because something bad is going to happen, thus threatening their relative sense of safety.
The Beyond Consequences paradigm is an absolute 180 degree shift from what many families have traditionally used. Yet, an increase in negative behavior can actually be seen as a step in the right direction for families beginning their journey down the Beyond Consequences healing road. Let me explain...
We traditionally use behaviors as a gauge to determine whether our child is "good" or "bad." We are a behaviorally and outcome based society, where the behavior determines either success or failure. Unfortunately, we deny the process and only focus on the end result. With sensitive children (i.e., children acting out with defiant and severe behaviors), losing our focus of the process creates fear within us as parents. If we only see a child as being rude, misbehaving, and angry, then all we see is failure.
In this example, I want to encourage the parent to see that the change in behavior, albeit an increase in negative behavior, is actually a sign of an improved process. This child is expressing more of himself and sharing his pain and fear with the parent. The child is discharging past trauma. Trauma gets stored in the mind and body of a child and it has to be released. The releasing of trauma is never "pretty." Allowing the discharge of trauma then allows the process of healing to begin.
Emotional expession is a learned behavior. Most children coming out of trauma have only learned to express themselves in negative and rude ways. The process of recovery and healing involves first allowing for a short period the child to express in the only way they know how and then tightening up the boundaries around how to express appropriately. It is our job through the interactions with our children to teach them how to express themselves in positive ways. In the beginning, try to think of attitudes and sassiness simply as a communication of a deeper trauma issue, knowing that as you build the relationship and the trust, then it is time to teach and expect better ways of communicating from your child.
Now be honest with yourself when answering this question: When you've been stressed out, felt like you are not being heard, and felt completely overwhelmed, did you ever react to those closest to you in a disrespectful, angry, or inappropriate way? I'm thinking your answer is "yes." We act like this when we have no other means to get someone to connect with us and to connect with our needs.
I believe that by implementing the Beyond Consequences paradigm in this home, this parent actually created more safety and more emotional space for this child to move out of a hypo-aroused state (inwardly shut-down state) into a hyper-aroused state (outwardly, angry state). By increasing the level of safety, removing the threat of punishment, and responding instead of reacting, this parent created space for this child to express himself. This is a victory. Yet it is only a victory if we stay focused on the process.
It is vital to accept that the process may be "ugly" and "uncomfortable" and yes, "disrespectful" (as seen from the traditional model) but if we truly understand that our children need to time discharge the trauma and "unlearn" poor communication skills, it should not be difficult to accept this as part of the healing process.
Meeting our children exactly where they are is the only way to move them forward to bring them exactly where we think they should be.
When a child shifts from a hypo-aroused to hyper-aroused state, celebrate. Yes, celebrate that tantrums are happening! Finally, the child is venturing out of his/her shell and is getting out the fear, pain, and stress instead of keeping it locked down. This is the healing moment. This is the opportunity to reach in and connect with the child in order to demostrate through experience what a safe relationship with a parent can be like.
Creating emotional safety and space for emotional expression is scary and it takes courage. I do believe that love works for everyone. It is simply a matter of focusing on the relationship, focusing on the process of trauma recovery, and giving our children time to re-learn appropriate ways to express their emotions. In doing so, the ONLY possible outcome to follow will be "good behavior."
|Heather T. Forbes, LCSW|
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.