|Q: I have
a 15-year-old son who has established a pattern of running away. I've
been advised to call the police when this occurs. What do you suggest?
A: Running away is indicative of a child who has entered a fear state. When we, and all animals in the animal kingdom become threatened, we go into a primitive response called the "Fight or Flight" response. It is an inborn genetic response, which helps to protect us; it is a survival response.
understanding, it perplexes me to think that calling the police on a
child in this survival response pattern would ever be recommended. Why
would you call out the police to address a child who is simply acting
from his body's primitive, automatic, and inborn response? Your
child is acting from an unconscious level. It isn't a conscious
response; it is an unconscious reaction. Addressing it from an
authoritarian and fear based approach will only keep your child in this
pattern; hence, you described it as an "established pattern."
We have somehow come to believe that we can force change by provoking fear and threat. This is completely unnatural. Have you ever seen nature force a seedling to grow? This is a choice that has to come from an internal place from within a person.
To give such advice about sending the police is an example of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result (this of course, is the definition of insanity). Statistics reveal that more than one in 100 adults in the United States have been in jail or prison. This is an all time high. When are we going to realize that this isn't working?
Our own fear keeps us in a constricted place, locked in from seeing other alternatives. Fear keeps us in a crazy loop of trying harder, "upping the ante," and driving more consequences in order to get our children to behave and to be compliant.
Here is the traditional parenting crazy loop:
This problem is, love has not been a part of the solution...that is why the crazy loop has continued. If you want to end the cyclical turmoil in a family, put love into action. Unfortunately, many of us have no blueprint for what this looks like, so it challenges us at a deep level to consider that it would actually work.
The next time your son runs away (and I also suggest looking closely at the circumstances that led up to this event and determine how much fear from both you and him contributed to the situation), I want you to plan a celebration for his return. Instead of calling the police, call the caterer! Seriously, bake a cake or some cookies. Make a banner that says, "Welcome home, son. We missed you."
When a child returns, what we typically do is dump our fear onto the child. Instead of saying, "I was scared for you," we typically say, "How dare you leave this house and not tell us where you were going!" We need to realize that it took a tremendous amount of courage for the child to walk back into that door, knowing the parent was going to lecture him about everything he had done wrong.
Put love into action when he walks in the next time. "Son, I'm so glad you're home. We missed you." It takes putting your fear aside and getting down to your core feelings. You did miss him. You are glad he is home. Let him know how special he is in your life. If you've lost these loving feelings towards your child due to the intense dysregulation going on, revisit pictures of when he was younger and when times were calmer and more pleasant. Get yourself back into a loving place with him.
Later in the day, take the time to be with your child and listen to him. Talk about what it is that drives him to leave. Really listen to him. Give him space to voice himself. Stay out of being defensive. Know that when he feels heard, he will be able to hear you. When you give him the gift of being understood, you then can take the opportunity to express your fear. "I just get so scared when you leave. When I don't know where you are, I can't do anything to help you at that point. I also can’t do my ultimate job for you as a parent, and that is to keep you safe."
Be courageous enough to try something different. You have the capacity to interrupt the negative crazy loop and to change this established pattern with your child. It takes trusting that love never fails.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
|Finding solutions for our children at school has proven in the past to be an arduous and difficult task. I have sat in school meetings with over twenty professionals, ranging from teachers, principals, district personnel, caseworkers, psychiatrists, nurses, parents, education advocates, and more, all working to find solutions for one challenging student. Discussions, both pleasant and heated, have lasted for hours on end, only to come to the conclusion that another meeting needs to be scheduled in order to discuss the issues further. Through all of this, I have come to one conclusion:|
| This is way too complicated! We need to ask our children what they need. And I did just that. In my most recent eNote and on my FaceBook page, I invited children to give their opinions about school. Here are the amazing results:
1. What do children need at school to make learning better? What would make you look forward to getting up and going to school every day?Out of the mouths of babes, we have brilliant, yet very easy solutions that can be implemented into the classroom. Additionally, most of these solutions do not require any additional funding or resources. They all simply require being able put oneself into the perspective of the child and to feel what it is like to be the student once again.
Incredibly, the responses, randomly collected from students in various grade levels, all reflected five key ingredients:
And these five ingredients add up to same word: LOVE.
|Heather T. Forbes, LCSW|
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Q: My son is an angel at school but a terror at home. He was even student of the month last school year. But when he gets home, our home is absolute chaos and he is just nasty to me.
A: Many children work to be 'normal' all day long at school so when they get home, they are exhausted. The result is they collapse into negative behaviors. When they are stressed at school, they hold it together all day long and then in their 'unwinding' of the day, they become "terrors."
Due to early experiences of trauma, children can become sensitive to environmental stressors. Their regulatory systems have been compromised and they have difficulty remaining calm and behaved when faced with the challenges of a school setting.
become fragmented and split between home and school. Many parents report
that they literally have two different children in these two different
environments. This fragmentation is not healthy to the child's overall
development of the self so it is important that this be addressed
effectively for the child.
When we look at the dynamic of the school setting, consider the energy it takes for your child to maintain appropriate behaviors at school is far greater than the average student. He may look well put together externally, but internally, he is running at high speed to ensure he becomes the perfect student. Thus, when he gets home, it is as if he has run a marathon; he is exhausted, unable to hold it together anymore.
In order to create more balance for your child, consider ways to reduce some of the major stressors he experiences at school:
As you are able to parent within a love-based framework, you are establishing an environment that decreases the threat of this relationship. If you need more examples of how to parent in a loving way while still maintaining rules and boundaries in your home, see my Q&A book, "Dare to Love." Real examples of how to apply the Beyond Consequences principles are given throughout the entire book.
I also encourage you, as the parent, to check in with yourself. Determine how you are feeling and what messages are swirling around in your mind. It's easy to get into a framework that says to your child, "If you can behave for your teacher at school, then my gosh, I'm your parent...you can certainly behave for me!"
It's very easy to take it personally and to interpret your child's negative behavior as an attack on you. As a parent, you are working so hard as to help your child, to heal them, and to love him/her. Yet, the reality is that they don't know what to do with the stress from school and they are still living in fear of connection with you. The struggle is not with you; it is with themselves. Continue to go beyond the obvious and reach to the core of the issue---fear and stress.
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
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Wednesday, September 3, 2014
|Q: How do
you give a narrative to a child that suffered neglect as an infant
during the first three months of his life, especially when I do not know
A: What a great question! Children need to
know their stories. This helps them understand themselves and gives them
an understanding of who they are.
The actual details of the story are not important, and in fact, should not be the focus. This is especially true for trauma that happened preverbally (before the child was speaking). Infants and young children are 100% emotional beings, so the story needs to be told from this level to connect with the child's early experiences.
When giving your child his story, focus on how the child felt (helpless, scared, terrified, sad, hungry, etc.). A child who was neglected missed the warm and nurturing touch of a parent, so hold your child next to you or in your lap while giving him his story.
The important factors are your tone of voice, facial expressions, posture, and tempo of movement and speech. These are all right brain expressions that will speak to the subconscious experiences of your child.
Dr. Allan Schore, the "king" of affect regulation, explains that the right brain is the unconscious processor of the emotional self. The attachment bond is an emotional bond, so it takes expressing yourself and your child's story at the emotional level. What you say isn't as important as how you say it.
A dialogue might sound something like this:
"When you were a little baby, sweetheart, you were really scared. Your mommy wasn't able to help you like you needed her to. There were many times that you were left in your crib alone. Babies get super scared when this happens because they are helpless. I'm certain this is how you were feeling. It probably felt like you weren't lovable, also. I do wish I could have been there. I'm so sorry this happened to you, honey."I was speaking to a mother just the other day about giving her daughter who was severely neglected for the first year of her life her story. The mother's fear prompted these questions, "Do you think that this will just make it worse for her? Won't this only bring up bad memories and get her upset?"
This is a fear that parents have…and, of course. You're just trying to get better and move on in your healing process and I'm suggesting a trip back in time to expose the pain and overwhelm. The paradox is that in order to move forward, it takes going backwards, seeing the fullness of the trauma and experiencing it at all levels.
When your child's story goes unexpressed, he will be subconsciously living out it everyday. This pain and overwhelm will continue to influence him and drive him in his actions. You're not giving him anything new by giving him his story. You're simply bringing the subconscious to the conscious so it doesn't have the power to create dysregulation anymore. When these stories, connected to the feelings and emotions, can be expressed, healing happens.
So the question then becomes, "Whose fear is this really about?" Resistance is about the parent's fear of going back to experience the depth of darkness that the child experienced. Just the thought of what some of our children went through is completely overwhelming to us.
I remember one day my daughter, who was also severely neglected, was beginning to open up to her early life experiences. I was getting so overwhelmed by her pain that I had to call a friend over to be with me so I could stay present with her. I needed support. Interesting that it was too much for me as an adult, so why is it that we expect our children to live alone in this kind of pain by themselves and be okay?
Find the courage to experience your child's early life with him, feel the impact of his feelings of being unworthy, and validate how bad it was for him. Then, you will have opened up the space for healing and a connected and happy future.
Remember that attachment is about decreasing negative emotions. But even more than that, attachment is about increasing positive emotions. Clean out the closet to make room for joy, happiness, peace, and love!
|Heather T. Forbes, LCSW|
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2, and Dare to Love