Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Suffering Consequences or Avoiding Consequences?

car crash Q: If a child is not taught through consequences, how will he ever learn to live in a world filled with consequences?

A: When you are teaching your children to drive a car, do you teach them how to get into an accident so they are prepared for one in the future? I hope not! Instead, we teach our children how to be defensive drivers in order to prevent and be free of accidents.

This analogy demonstrates the idea of teaching our children consequences because we live in a world filled with consequences. Think about this important concept: Instead of teaching our children how to suffer consequences, we need to teach them how to stay regulated in order to avoid consequences. The first is reactive parenting. The second is proactive parenting.

Reactive parenting is characterized by consequences and control that is focused solely on behavior in order to have compliant children who do as they are told. Proactive parenting is teaching our children how to stay regulated during stressful times in order to develop their own internal control mechanisms.

Reactive parenting leaves children living in a fear-based world, where they make decisions and choices based on the consequences of their actions, rather than making decisions based on how their choices can help or benefit those around them. Decisions are made based on "What will happen to me if I do this?" This is a limiting way to get our children to think.

Proactive parenting allows children to live within a much more open internal framework of love and acceptance, giving them the space and freedom to make decisions based on their own internal moral compass.

Parenting beyond consequences, logic, and control helps give our children the practice during childhood to develop their own internal controls. This prepares them to be able to function at a higher level of consciousness when they are adults. It gives them the ability to live beyond the fear of consequences. Living in fear limits us, makes life harder than it should be, and creates unnecessary barriers.

The dominant belief in our culture is that we need external measures in order to keep us living an ethical and moral life. The deeper truth is that we have the ability to develop all of this within ourselves through adopting core values and through our ability to connect with others in loving and respectful relationships.

Core values that are given the space to have a voice determine our behavior. Loving relationships create desire and internal motivation to live by these values. When we are connected with others in safe relationships, we have empathy and are in touch with our feelings. We are able to live far beyond our primal needs whereby we can tap into the deeper levels within us that distinguish us from all other creatures on this planet.

Consequences, as the primary motivator and enforcer from parents, teach fear and rejection. This fear and rejection then transcends to teaching the child self-rejection. "If my parents don't love me, then I must not be worthy. I must not deserve love." Self-acceptance, self-validation, and self-worth are absent or limited within the child's framework.

Yet, these are qualities that we want to instill in our children based on who they are, not on what they do or how they act. Our children need to know they are intrinsically valuable, worthy, and deserving of unconditional love. When these qualities make up the blueprint of their personality and their inner selves, they do not need external consequences to keep them within the parameters of society. They develop much stronger boundaries and a powerful sense of right and wrong from within themselves.

We figure out very early in life that the external consequences used to enforce boundaries only apply if you get caught. It is a tragedy to think about how much time and energy is spent making sure we do not get caught in order to avoid consequences. We are all guilty of speeding down the street and then hitting the brakes when we see a police car. What would it take to shift your thinking to that of, "I'm going to go the speed limit in order to be safe for myself and for those around me," instead of, "I'm going to go the speed limit because I can't afford a ticket or for my insurance rates to increase"?

It is self-love that breeds respect for ourselves and for others. Self-love and self-respect keep us in a place of integrity and keep us moving forward in our lives. Self-motivation, self-discipline, and self-awareness are all by-products of this love for self. These internal controls, not consequences created by parents or society, are the original design to keep us on the straight and narrow path.

We need to stop living our lives in a pool of fear. It keeps us treading water in the shallow end, constricted and limited and it makes our lives complicated and turbulent. Love allows us to swim in the deep end, free to live a fulfilling life and free to think beyond consequences in order to dream big and live in peace, abundance, and happiness. Love allows us to develop the ability to self-regulate in times of stress in order to stay calm enough to make the right decisions and choices.

Through our parenting, we have the ability to give our children the gift of self-regulation so they may live productive, happy, and abundant lives in a world filled with consequences.

Press on,

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

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ask the Wrong Question, Get the Wrong Answer

Question Mark Asking the Right Question

After reading parenting book after parenting book, I have come to one very important conclusion. We have been asking the wrong question. We have been asking, "How do I get my child to change his behavior?" The focus has been on moving a child from negative behavior to positive behavior.

You know the routine: sticker charts, taking away privileges, responding only to nice talk, rewarding good behavior with a prize or that treasured new toy, and the like. Are these working? Do they create lasting change or do you find yourself constantly digging into your bag of "tricks" to find something new and innovative because the old techniques are not

working anymore? Or worse, do you find that all those tricks and techniques you try actually make the situation between you and your child worse?

Ask the wrong question and you will get the wrong answer. This is why those sticker charts are not working. In order to get the solution, we need to start asking the right question. Children are emotional beings. They are deeply emotional and spiritual creatures that we have somehow come to view as "little rational and logical thinking adults." But this is not who they are.

The right question needs to stem from the understanding that children operate from an emotional platform, not a behavioral framework. Thus, the question we need to start asking ourselves is, "What is driving my child’s behavior?"

When we begin to ask this question, we switch our focus to that which is at the core of our children's negative behavior. At this core is a state of fear, pain, and/or overwhelm that comes from a child being outside of his window of stress tolerance. Children do not act out from a conscious place. It goes much deeper than this.

As adults, we have shifted into a place of intellect, rationalization, and logical thinking because it is a safer place from which to operate. Logic is much more predictable than emotions, thus more comfortable. As human beings, we have a need for certainty. This certainty is found through intellectual thinking and rational thought. For many of us, our childhood experiences moved us into this realm of thinking because feelings of anger, fear, and sadness became unsafe and people got either emotionally and/or physically hurt.

This is exactly why children are in our lives. They are our examples to return us back to our natural state of emotional living. This is where life exists at a deeper and more meaningful level. We find our purpose and our passion for who we are and the reason we are on this planet when we operate out of a state of emotional expression and capture the essence of what distinguishes us from all other mammals on this planet.

Our children are in our lives to challenge us to Dare to Love again. In order to connect with who they are, we must shift ourselves back to living from love, not fear; living from emotional expression, not logical thought; and learning the difference between unconditional love and conditional love.

Effective and rewarding parenting takes going beyond the behaviors, beyond dishing out consequences, beyond thinking logically, and beyond trying to control our children. It takes putting love into action in a whole new way and connecting with your child at a deep, intrinsic level--a whole new dimension of parenting.

Switching your thinking from a behavioral framework to a love-based framework that is focused on emotional connection will not be easy. Daring to love your children beyond consequences, logic, and control, will take courage, faith, commitment, and follow through.

When you learn how to put unconditional love into action, you have the power to change any family situation. Parenting through power and authority over our children comes from fear and ultimately undermines a child's ability to trust and relate to both themselves and others. Conversely, parenting through unconditional love and relationship equips our children to develop their own internal sense of control and empowers them to enter the world with a strong sense of self, well-developed love for self, and an ability to relate to others through tolerance, patience, and understanding. It simply starts by asking the right question, "What is driving my child's behavior?"

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Note: This article came from Heather’s best seller, "Dare to Love." For more examples of how to answer this driving question, click here to purchase this empowering book.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Manipulation Madness

dad and baby
My foster child can be amazingly manipulative, all the time! If I lovingly respond to her, am I not just reinforcing this behavior?

A: This is a GREAT question and I know it is an issue in which many parents struggle. As with all negative behaviors, I believe manipulation is a communication for connection with the parent. Paradoxically, when our children demonstrate this behavior, it does quite the opposite to us. It creates an uneasy feeling within us, constricts us, and in many cases, repulses us away from our child.

Let's step back and look at early childhood interactions between the parent and the infant. It is there that we will find the roots of manipulative behavior and will be able to create a new understanding.

The very first relationship an infant is designed to experience is the relationship with the mother. This relationship begins in the womb and is designed to continue at a high level of intensity for at least the next three years of life, along with the father/child relationship. It is in these first three years that amazing development and connection happens due to the parents' attention, attunement, and devotion.

According to Dr. Allan Shore, the "King" of affect regulation, these parent/child interactions occur primarily in the right brain. The right brain holds the capacity for emotional and non-verbal information processing while the left-brain holds the capacity for language and logical processing. For the infant and young child, with no or limited language skills, communication happens primarily in the right brain. These experiences occur at the emotional level, not at the cognitive or "thinking" level.

Thus, the communication between the parent and child happens at a non-verbal level. When the child gives signals to the parent, the child experiences the parent as predictable and manipulatable. Infants and young children have this amazing ability to "manipulate" their caretakers. For example, the baby smiles at the parent, the parent smiles back. The baby has created this mirroring response from the parent. The parent will even talk a crazy language like, "Goo-goo-gaa-gaa" to the baby. No one else on this planet can get this parent to do such things.

The baby can also cry and become hyper-aroused, "manipulating" the caregiver to come over and pick her up. Babies even have this manipulation technique down so well that they can get their parents up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night to feed them. Money and bribes wouldn't even get many of us out of bed in the middle of the night!

Even more impressive, babies can get grown men, CEO's of mega-corporations, dressed in red power ties, to bend over and make silly noises and change their tone of voice to that of a little kid. The high-powered, influential board of directors of such a CEO doesn't even have that kind of power.

You've experienced this yourself. How many times have you walked by a baby, felt this force pulling you over to her, and then dropped everything you were doing to connect with the baby?

All kidding aside, this ability to "manipulate" is an important part of any child's development. It is in this attachment system between the parent and the child that is helping the child regulate her states of stress and fear. The parent who attends to the child's negative states is helping the child shift back into a positive state. This is known as "affect synchrony." Affect synchrony is the regulatory means for developing and maintaining positive emotional states within the relationship of emotional communication. Positive states are amplified and maximized for the child while negative states are minimized and neutralized for the child.

If your child missed early experiences of affect synchrony with you or with another caretaker, she will seek to have these experiences, even at an older age. Manipulation is simply an inherent way for her to achieve this goal. If you shift from seeing this as a negative and irritating behavior to a request for connection and healing, you will be able to meet her needs in a positive and loving way.

When you interact with her, see her through the lens of a child who is desperate to know connection and who needs to know what unconditional love is. She needs to know that she is important enough to be able to move you, just like when the baby smiles and the parent smiles back. This gives her a sense of worth and "all-rightness."

Be sure to read, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, for more practical ways of parenting out of love while maintaining boundaries and teaching her more effective ways to ask for help and connection (available at www.beyondconsequences.com).

And don't forget to spend time with her, simply playing with her. Playing with her and being with her can repair the missing pieces from her early history, at a physiological and emotional level. You will also be creating the essential ingredient of life: Joy!  By amplifying the positive experiences in her life and by giving her a sense of safety and security in her relationship with you, even if temporary, the need to be manipulative will disappear.

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Help! My Daughter is Ruining My Time!

angry girl Q: When trying to embrace my daughter (age 13) during stressful times, I began to realize that she has created crises over and over to receive that kind of love and attention. It ended up whenever I had a plan and it didn't include her (work, coffee with a friend, etc.), she'd have a crisis (feel sick, kick the wall and insist on a trip to the E.R., lock herself in her room). Then, when I started to include her in everything, she'd sabotage it (push the table over in the restaurant, break equipment at work, ruin clothes in stores at the mall, etc.). I felt like I was being completely controlled and "trained" to focus only on her all of the time. How do you manage that in moderation?

A: There are several dynamics going on in the relationship between you and your daughter. First, let's look beyond the behavior to determine why children "create crises." The voice of this type of behavior is saying, "I need to feel loved and I need to have attention so I know I won't be lost in this world!"

Behavior is the language of our children. As adults, we communicate verbally and miss the voice of our children because these behaviors interrupt the flow of our day and are often so nerve grinding, we can't listen to them!

Your daughter is expressing that she is insecure in her attachment relationship with you. When you leave home without her, the acting out or sicknesses begin. Although I do not have her exact history, this tells me that she has experienced severe abandonment in the past. She is terrified of you leaving her…it feels like you won't ever come back.

Her perception and fear of you leaving her is more than just an idea -- it is her reality. Our thoughts become our reality. Try to relate to her fear in a situation in your life. If you were convinced, for some reason, that your husband would be injured in a car accident on his way to work, you would do EVERYTHING in your power to keep him from leaving the house. You might yell in desperation to get him to understand the seriousness of this issue. You might even feign an illness in your efforts to have him stay home with you.

This is your daughter's story. Her fear of losing you is driving these behaviors.

Then, when you took her with you, I have a feeling that she was with you simply out of desperation on your part. However, even though she was with you, I suspect you weren't really with her 100%. You didn't want her there because this was supposed to be your time to take care of yourself and you felt like you didn't have any other choice but to take her with you.

This is all understandable, and unfortunately, happens too many times to parents simply out of their own survival. However, we need to look openly and honestly at the dynamic that is created in such a scenario.

So you take her with you, all the while, the monsters of resentment, anger, regressive attitude of "whatever," and intolerance raise their ugly heads. These stressors become barriers to your connection with her. You are physically with her, but not emotionally engaged and not paying attention to her from an intrinsic, core level within you.

Your daughter is very intuitive; she can sense the barriers of your resentment and your state of survival. If you are in a place of survival, you cannot be in a place of unconditional love for someone else. Your focus is on you, leaving no emotional space for your child and rendering you unable to respond to your child in an authentic and personal way.

Due to her intense fear of losing you, she needs you to connect with her at every level possible. This means connecting with her through your metacommunication (your tone of voice, timing of your responses, inflection in your voice, your physical touch, your body posture and body language, your facial expressions, your eye contact, etc.). It takes using all of your senses to fully be in relationship with your child in order to create security with a child who is so overtly insecure.

When you're unable to do this, the result is that your daughter is left feeling even more unsafe, unprotected, and insecure. At this point, you are now in a public place and she is sensing your disconnect and, additionally, she becomes overwhelmed and threatened by being in a new environment. She shifts into a place of complete overwhelm and her behaviors are out of control. The mother/daughter connection is lost, so efforts to regulate her and calm her prove futile.

You become stressed and the public humiliation is making the hair on the back of your neck rise. Your thought process goes something like this, "She's ruining my time, again! I should have just left her home!" Disaster strikes once again.

There is a better way. Understanding this dynamic, let's look at what can be done to create security for her. We know that children become secure when they feel accepted, approved, validated, and acknowledged. It will take having some experiences with her, just the two of you, to create this security.

It can be as simple as a "Girl's Night Out" and driving down to have ice cream or something special in a quiet and calm environment, just the two of you. It isn't about the ice cream, though. It is about your relationship with her. It requires you to be authentic and fully present with her.

She is old enough to be able to express her fears of you leaving her. Point out what would happen in the past when you left. Let her know that you now understand that these behaviors were signals of her being so scared of you leaving. Apologize for not "hearing" her. Commit to making it different with her. Help her to express her fears when you are both calm and regulated. It will help diffuse the ignition of acting out behaviors the next time you leave without her.

Validate her fears. Acknowledge how scary it must feel every time you leave home without her. Accept her reaction to your absence. Reassure her that you want to make this better for her.

The next time you have to leave, spend at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time with her prior to leaving. Set up a plan for her to call you when she feels scared. Make your time away from her short at first. Prolonged absences can be too overwhelming to her regulatory system. You can begin to build on these times away, but start slowly.

Remember that children heal through relationships. Therapeutic worksheets, behavior charts, and logical consequences don't promote in-depth healing. It takes you being 100% present in relationship when you are with her in order for her to begin to feel safe when you're not with her.

Be sure to check out our resources on our website to keep yourself refueled as a parent in this difficult situation! I've created our resources and our webpage to support you: www.beyondconsequences.com

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW