Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Sibling Rivalry

SiblingsQ: My son is constantly fighting with his younger sister. They can't seem to ever get along. How do I put an end to this negative behavior?

A: Whenever you want to stop a behavior in a family, always ask yourself, "What is driving this behavior?" Getting to the root cause, rather than addressing just the behavior, will lead you to the solution.

Typically, however, we tend to ask the wrong question when addressing a child's negative behavior. We ask,
"How do I stop this (or put an end to this) negative behavior?" If you ask the wrong question, you're going to get the wrong answer.

In this instance, the "right" question would be, "What is driving the sibling rivalry?"

Traditionally, we have seen sibling rivalry as a conflict between the children. Countless parenting resources describe sibling rivalry as jealous and competitive fighting between brothers and sisters.

This is not the root cause. Sibling rivalry is driven from the lack of relationship or the lack of security that children have with their parents. Hence, sibling rivalry is between the parent and child, not child and child.
For example, if your Billy is mean and upset with his sister Sally, is it really between Billy and Sally? No. Billy's interpretation and perception is that his parents love Sally more. If Billy "gets rid of Sally" or picks on Sally, then the love will go to him, not his sister. Billy sees love as a commodity--there is only a limited supply. In his eyes, if Sally is getting the love, then there won't be enough for him.

Billy is creating attention for himself; he is creating relationship but in a negative way. What we have to remember is that any form of attention, whether positive or negative, satisfies a child's need for attention, connection and love. Billy is working to calm his internal need for parental connection through a negative means.

This leads us to the solution. What Billy actually needs is time with his parent(s) in order to help him feel special, wanted, good enough, and loved. Spending more individual time with Billy will give him the attention he has been seeking all along. When the relationship between each child and the parent(s) becomes more secure and more deeply connected, the need for Billy to create negative attention dissipates and in many cases, disappears altogether.

Another strategy to help Billy learn that he is unconditionally loved is to address his attacks on Sally in the moment. When Billy is being mean to Sally, instead of rejecting Billy by sending him away to his room, he needs you to bring him closer to you, giving him more security. When you can truly see that behavior is a form of communication, it will make sense to do this instead of being scared you are rewarding Billy for bad behavior. Billy NEEDS attention in order to calm his nervous system and to secure his place in the family system.

Remember, the true issue behind sibling rivalry is the lack of relationship. Your goal is to decrease Billy's fear and stress and to create connection with him. Don't mention his behavior in the moment (you'll have a chance later to teach the life lesson) but focus on how you can calm his nervous system and secure him in relationship.

Traditional techniques are actually damaging because, for a child like Billy, sending him away to his room and punishing him actually create more insecurity and more rejection. If we want our children to heal and improve their behaviors, we can't be creating more of the same.

The dictionary defines "discipline" as "Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement." To discipline Billy for this behavior means to teach him a new pattern that is morally right. Some children don't know any other way to solve conflicts other than by fighting. A conversation with Billy might sound like this:
Dad: "Billy, when you get frustrated and aggregated with Sally, instead of hitting her or taking her toy (because this is NOT okay to do in our family), I want you to come to me so I can help you feel safe. You're not in trouble. My job as your daddy is to help you find a better way so everybody is okay and nobody gets hurt in this family."
Dad is working to take away the fear and the punishment. Dad's "discipline goal" is to teach and guide Billy to develop a better way through the influence of the parent/child relationship and to help Billy communicate his need for attention more effectively.

Dad also helps Billy learn to communicate his feelings and to express his needs to his parents through verbal communication instead of acting out negatively. There are five basic feeling words children of almost any age can learn, "I'm mad, sad, glad, scared, or happy." Opening the lines of emotional communication is one of the keys to helping any child through almost any behavior.

Put love into action to secure your little Billy and you'll spend more quality and fun time instead of breaking up all the fights! 

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Power of Neurological 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?
A: 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 truthEverything 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 book, "Help for Billy" will give you more application into the principles discussed in this eNewsletter.

Love never 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, September 8, 2015

Help! My Daughter is Ruining My Time

angry girlQ: 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?

 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:

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, August 18, 2015

Effective Back-to-School Strategies

Who has more fear about heading back to school, you or your child? If we’re honest with this question, we find that as parents we become overwhelmed at many different levels. “Will my child’s teacher(s) understand him or simply react to him?” “How can I get the school to see my child as a traumatized child, not a defiant child?” “How am I going to maintain my work if the school keeps calling me like they did last year?” “What are the afternoons going to be like once homework starts up again…Oh, goodness!”

And the list goes on and on. Past experiences with schools have been negative for many parents and just the thought of going back to school can give them and their child a magnified stress-response. 

This article presents five effective strategies discussed that you can use when working to help your child have the best educational experience possible. These include the following:

1) Be an advocate for your child.

It takes courage to advocate for your child. Fears of being an “overbearing” or “overly-sensitive” parent can be part of the equation. Coming up against a panel of teachers and administrators who stand strong in what they believe can be intimidating. We also fear getting involved and exposing our child’s sensitivities for fear of having our child labeled from the start.

While these fears are valid, the act of advocating for your child is preventive, proactive and can save your child having a negative educational experience. The reality is that your child does have some special needs and he has a right to be understood. Your responsibility as a parent allows you to then approach the school system, staying confident and positive to say, “My child needs to be understood. My child has certain areas where he gets stressed-out and overwhelmed. He needs us, as a team, to do what we can to prevent a negative experience for him and as we do this, it will allow him to be a success in school. The more positive experiences my child has in the learning environment, the more equipped he will become to handle stress in the future. I’m asking for your help in doing this.”

Offer to educate and give the teacher and/or principal materials to look at and read. Many times you will find teachers are willing to read articles and newsletters. Keep educating the schools. It can be an uphill battle, there’s no doubt. If you let your fear overcome you, your child is then not only powerless in the school, but with you as well. It sends an amazingly powerful message to our children when we go to bat for them. For many of our children, adults in their life have never done this. Advocating for your child can be a valuable healing experience as they see you in action, just for them. You are the one that knows your child best and you are the one who can advocate the best for him or her.

2) Understand the difficulty of transitions. 

Parents and professionals have a tendency to underestimate the difficulty children with trauma histories have when it comes to transitioning. Transitioning means change and it can mean unpredictability—two items that create tremendous fear in children (and many adults for that matter). Foster children and adopted children, by the nature of this characteristic, have transitional trauma. At one point in their lives (if not many more), they were removed from an environment to which they never returned. Many children have memories of going to school and never coming back home. This can easily explain a child’s resistance to getting up in the morning and leaving the home for school. No amount of reassurance from the parent at the cognitive level can overpower this trauma.

If parents can recognize this fear, even the night before school, they have the opportunity to address this fear when there is less stress in the home. The parent can acknowledge the fear by saying,

“It can be really scary and difficult leaving the house in the morning. I never realized that last year and I want to be able to help you this year. If I had been taken away at school when I was six years old like you and taken to a new home, I’d be so scared, too. It may actually still feel like you’re not coming home even now that you’re in middle school. I’m here this year to help you through this and to support you, son.”

Bringing these fears up to the conscious level, honoring them, and validating them, can help a child process through these previous traumatic events. As these memories are processed and understood with the parent, they no longer have the ability to drive the child into a state of complete defiance and resistance.

Other transitions to be mindful of include the transition from summertime to school time, switching from classroom to classroom for middle and high students, and moving from the classroom to the cafeteria (or specials) for elementary students. Even transitioning from school to home can be difficult for children because they know they are going to be faced with doing homework when they are simply too stressed out to do anymore work.

Here’s an example of how to help a child transition. The teacher says to student, “It’s going to be time for the bell to ring and for us to change classes. I want you to take a few deep breaths and then we’ll change classes.” This may seem so simple, but it gives the child a chance to process the transition prior to being required to make the transition. Having this extra couple of minutes gives the child space to determine that the request to transition is safe and not a threat.

3) Respond instead of react to your child’s behaviors. 

Love is a conscious and intentional response; fear is a confused and distorted reaction. It becomes difficult when dealing with school issues to stay mindful enough when our child brings home a low grade to stay in this place of love and responsiveness.

There is an enormous amount of emphasis in our culture surrounding education. The common belief is that if our child doesn’t succeed in school, then he won’t succeed in life. We often have the perception that the level of our education is directly proportionate to our level of income. However, it is quite interesting to note that in many cases, those with less education earn more than those with master or doctoral degrees. Bill Gates, worth an estimated $56 billion, left college after only a couple of years and finally earned an honorary degree some 30 years later. Extreme case? Perhaps. Yet, we need to be flexible to understand that when Johnny doesn’t do his homework, it doesn’t mean that he is doomed in his career…he’s only five!

For the Beyond Consequences parent, the interpretation of a negative report from school simply means that the child was outside of her window of tolerance. For example, the child comes home and says, “Mom, I got three ‘infractions’ today at school.” Instead of the traditional response of, “What? You know how to behave in that classroom,” mom can take a deep breath, stop the negativity, and decide to respond from a state of understanding. Mom says, “Wow. You must have been really stressed out today. What was so hard today?” As she opens the space for understanding and reflective thought, her daughter reveals that there was a substitute today (and we all know how dysregulated an entire classroom can become on days with substitutes).

Being able to respond to a child in the classroom can shift a potentially chaotic experience into one that is calm and regulated. Responsive techniques include “Time-In,” using non-verbal communication, using gentle and friendly touch, using indirect eye contact when direct eye contact is too stimulating, not demanding an explanation of a negative behavior in the moment, providing understanding, and working to regulate as the adult in the classroom.

Instead of putting a child in a corner or outside of the classroom (which happens all too often), have the child sit with the teacher. “Johnny, I see you are having a hard time sitting. Why don’t you come sit with me and see if you can focus and get back on track?” It takes understanding that we regulate through relationship. The reaction I often hear from educators is, “I can’t do that with every student.” The reality is that not every student needs that; yet there are times when one or two students in the classroom are going to need that. In fact, the time that you invest in helping a couple of students regulate through the student/teacher relationship will produce gains that will be evident for the rest of the day.

Non-verbal communication and gentle/friendly touch can be as simple as a teacher looking over and seeing that Johnny is getting a little frustrated. The teacher, while still teaching, can simply walk by Johnny and put her hand on his shoulder. She does not even have to say a word. Just her presence, her physical connection that is gentle and soft, can help to interrupt the negativity and stress that is starting to build in him.

4) Help your child find resources – empower your child.

If efforts to work with your child’s school prove minimal, it is still our responsibility to continue moving forward in our family’s healing process. This may mean working with our child to help him become more equipped while at school, showing him how to develop his own internal resources and for us to be a calm and regulated resource before and after school for him.

One of the best resources is you in the morning. Make a commitment to send your child off to school as regulated as possible each morning. When we keep in touch with our level of stress in getting out the door, we realize that much of how the morning unfolds is in our court. If you work outside of the home, it would be wise to avoid scheduling meetings in the morning, just in case your child is having a difficult morning. It would also be helpful to let your boss know that there may be times that you are going to be late with the reassurance that you’ll make up the hours as needed. Ironically, just in doing this, your stress level will be less which will almost ensure that you really are not late for work.

Help your child develop internal resources so he can begin to empower himself. Children want to do well; we need to give them the tools in order to develop their internal regulatory skills in order to do so. And when you observe a child who appears as though she doesn’t want to do well and she says, “I don’t care,” this is only an indication that she is in a state of survival. When you’re in survival, you literally do not have the space to care. This is a child who is beyond her window of stress tolerance, so equipping children, especially children who operate in survival most of their days, can be a liberating experience for them.

Teach your children how to breathe when they begin to feel stressed and overwhelmed. This can work for a child entering Kindergarten or a child entering high school. Help them to get in touch with their bodies and feel the sensation of stress as it originates, perhaps in the stomach or in their chest. As they become aware of the feeling physically, they then have the capacity to identify it instead of acting out on it. This takes practice at home, but it equips them to maintain some sense of regulation in an environment that challenges their regulatory system.

Teachers and parents can also help children develop external resources when they begin to feel dysregulated, or “uneven” as one child described it to me. Help them to identify people within the school with whom they can connect. Identify mentors in the school. It can be a school counselor, a teacher’s aide, the receptionist, the janitor—someone with whom they can call upon when feeling stressed. Reflect on what you do when you’re feeling stressed at work or at home. Don’t you usually call someone to connect? This is using relationships to regulate.

Request that your child be given permission to call the parent when she needs to from school. This can be a simple two-minute call that can have lasting effects for a child’s sense of safety and security. Fear says they’ll want to call too much so it will disrupt the class or that they’ll manipulate this “privilege” and abuse it. When we truly understand that this is a tool children can use to align and empower themselves, we’ll see that it isn’t a privilege but a necessary tool in a child’s ability to maintain regulation in the school environment. If the teacher shifts from a place of stress and fear to a place of understanding, she can then truly see that it is a useful tool that can help her to help this child.

Set up a system to help the child break a negative feedback loop that may develop in the classroom. Instead of threatening the child, “Johnny, I’ve asked you three times already to settle down. If you don’t sit down this last time, you’ll find yourself sitting inside completing this assignment by yourself during recess,” we have to consider more positive options. Realizing that Johnny is having a hard time settling down by the fourth request, perhaps he needs to take a break from the environment in order to break the negative feedback loop. At this point, it is clear that he doesn’t have the regulatory ability to interrupt this negativity on his own. “Johnny, I can see that it is difficult to settle down. I think this would be a good time to take a break and go down the hall for a sip of water.” This is teaching Johnny how to break this cycle instead of punishing him by taking recess away (which is probably exactly what he needs—the opportunity to run around and release some energy).

5) Reduce stress at school. 

In addition to the four tips listed above, there are several other very simple strategies that can help children who become easily overwhelmed at school. These strategies take just a small amount of extra time for teachers; it just takes understanding and staying mindful. The investment in implementing these strategies can be profound for the overall experience not only for the child, but for the entire class. Here they are listed below:

  • Assign a teacher who is calm, regulated, and who is willing to stay attuned to child’s needs.
  • Have the child sit next to the teacher or in the front of the classroom.
  • Remove distracting objects from the child’s desk.
  • Stay focused on the process when giving the child a directive, not the outcome. This requires staying relationship focused.
  • Keep the child close to an adult when transitioning from one activity to another.
  • Provide a “Safe Place” within the classroom such as a reading corner where the child can go when he feels overwhelmed.
  • Avoid singling the child out in front of peers; be mindful not to create an experience of rejection (a deep issue for children with trauma histories).
  • Allow the child to wear a locket or carry a picture (or another familiar reminder of his family) that he can use to ground himself when feeling scared or alone.
  • If recess time becomes too stimulating and overwhelming, it may be more beneficial for the child to have quiet time in the library or with the teacher in order to calm his nervous system.
  • Allow the child to have the option of calling the parents if he needs help regulating. Instead of saying, “I’m going to call your mom if you don’t behave right now, Johnny,” the mindful teacher can say, “I think a call to your mom will help you feel better and will help you know you’re okay, Johnny.”
  • Maintain an awareness that children do not willfully disobey teachers or refuse to complete assignments from a conscious place. It is an over abundance of stress and overwhelm that drives a child’s negative responses in the classroom.
  • Reduce the amount of stimulation in the classroom by decreasing wall posters, hanging mobiles, and other items used for decoration. 
  • Decorate the room by using colors that are warm and soothing.
  • Change the lighting in the classroom by turning off some of the fluorescent lights and using lamps with incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent lights produce a “cold” light, while incandescent bulbs produce a “warm” light.
  • If lunchtime is difficult, have the child eat next to an adult or in the classroom. The school cafeteria can be over stimulating and can also be a social challenge for many children (and adults for that matter!).
  • When possible, avoid having the child in large groups such as before school programs where all the children sit in the auditorium or in the courtyard. Large groups can dysregulate even a well- regulated child.
  • Have the teacher (or parent) breakdown assignments into smaller parts. Instead of an entire project due in one month, perhaps intermediate deadlines can be established to break the project into smaller parts. You wouldn’t eat an entire pizza in one bite! So, break it down into manageable slices.
While these tips address many aspects of the academic environment, it is also important to acknowledge that perhaps a traditional school setting is not the best for some children, despite all the proactive measures that can be implemented. It takes expanding our options to explore school alternatives such as charter schools, specialized schools, and home schooling. Fear can keep us restricted, focused on the negative, and saturated in the problem. Love keeps us open to new ideas and focused on solutions; so be open to exploring all your options.

Keep pressing on. Your children are worth it. And keep trusting that as you stay focused on your relationship with your children, being flexible and supportive with their school work, they will be more equipped to learn, more motivated to accomplish, and most importantly, happier in their well-being!

Press on,

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Asking the Right Question

Question Mark 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
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Dinnertime Tantrums

Boy Crying at BreakfastQ: My four-year-old sits down to dinner and says, "I don't like that." He either won't eat at all or won't eat his vegetables. He then gets annoyed, trying to leave the table, whining and refusing to eat. This happens five out of seven nights. How do I respond without consequences?

A: Meal times are clearly a stressful time for not only your child, but for you as well. I'm certain that for you at this point, even the thought of dinnertime creates a stress reaction in you.

Create new experiences around food for you and your child (and your entire family). Have your child sit in your lap to eat. Feed him as you would feed a young toddler. Emotionally your child is probably much younger than four years old. Expecting him to be able to sit down at the table during mealtime is probably well beyond his developmental capabilities.

You might even consider feeding him from a bottle during mealtimes. He may need you to allow him to regress all the way back to infancy in order to create a fresh start. Children with trauma around food missed some critical experiences that we need to recreate for them. It will give him a stronger foundation from which to grow and reach his full potential.

Recognize that his behavior is being driven from fear and that it isn't about him rejecting your efforts as a mother to feed him and nurture him. When he says, "I don't like that!" what he is really saying is, "I'm too stressed out to eat this food right now!"

We also need to recognize that we shouldn't eat when we are stressed anyway. Our bodies can't digest the food properly and it can become toxic in our bodies. More importantly, forcing children to eat during this time or giving consequences around food only creates negative food related issues as adults.

The refusal to eat vegetables has a direct link to being stressed out. As a human species, we gravitate towards sweets, salts, and fats when we are stressed. What is your regulatory food? Chocolate or broccoli? When we are stressed, we have a difficult time eating vegetables. Think about the last time you were physically sick (where your body was stressed due to illness). Even the thought of eating a salad was enough to make you nauseous.

Try feeding your child outside of mealtimes. Small snacks of carrots and celery during the day can provide nutricious intake for your child. Children are more apt to "graze" than they are to sit and eat an entire meal. While dinnertime is an important time for the entire family to come together, realize that expecting your four-year-old to be engaged at this point in his development is only creating a negative experience for everyone.

As you gain a deeper understanding of the stress driving your child's behavior, you will find more solutions that work for your family. Stay focused on your child's needs and "listen" to his behavior and there you will find the answers.

Keep focused on calming your child's environment around mealtime. This will in turn help your son settle his nervous system which will naturally bring back his appetite and desire to eat.


Q: In many of your articles, you mention that the parent should calm a child down by creating security for the child. I understand that much of a child's stress and fear comes from the threat of being moved to another home. Yet as a foster mom, I can never honestly say, "You are safe. You aren't going anywhere." 

A: You're absolutely right. You would never want to say this to a foster child because the reality is that they probably would be moving on to another home in the future. Congratulations for being sensitive to giving your child only the truth!

What you have working for you is the present moment. The only moment we have guaranteed to us is the moment we are in. Capture this moment with your child. Say to her, "You are safe, honey. You are right here with me now." You can give security and nurturing at that moment. Help your child learn how to stay present with you in this precious space in time.

I recently had a foster mother relate a story to me that will help you understand the power of even short term loving relationships. This foster mother had a teenage foster child in her home for a period of only one month. Eight years later, after the child had aged out of the system and was on her own as an adult, she and the foster mother reconnected. The former foster child told this foster mother that the turning point in her life was when she was at her home. The love, safety, security, and acceptance that she was given by this foster mother changed her life and gave this former foster child the ability to move forward.She relayed how this placement, only one month in length, was the best placement she had EVER had.

You are an important part of your foster child's journey. Never underestimate the importance of your time with her, whether it is short or long term, and your ability to create safety and security in each moment, despite an uncertain future.

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, June 16, 2015

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

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

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Every Day is Mother's Day Online Conference

Do you ever feel different? Is it hard to fit in with the other moms in your neighborhood or community?

In exactly one week from today beginning Saturday, June 13, 2015, I will be starting my next Every Day Is Mother's Day Online Conference. This will be a conference where you will finally fit-in and others on the conference will be able to relate to your struggles.

Raising a child with difficult behaviors can be more than can put you in a place of feeling completely alone. This isn't what you need and you shouldn't have to parent a challenging child without the right support around you. This ONLINE conference will change all that for you. Seriously, you'll be amazed at how connected you will become in five days with women from literally around the world who care, relate, and totally "get" you!

This will be the last conference this year, so if this is what you are needing to find connection and to move to a place of calm, hope, and love, please consider taking part in this event.

I've got a quick EYE-OPENING story for you. 
A while back, I joined some women in my neighborhood for coffee. It was such an eye opener! I've made a video to share first-hand my insights. Click HERE to watch.

Change is possible.
One of the best ways to make a change in your family is to make the change within yourself. Yet, very few of us were taught how to do this and more importantly, were never given the permission to do it. This conference will lead you through that process and help you reclaim yourself and your happiness!

All the registration information is available at:
This conference is entirely ONLINE, so no need to fret about travel arrangements.You simply need your computer and high speed Internet. It runs for five days from Saturday to Wednesday:
Saturday, June 133 hours  1:00 pm - 4:00 pm MDT
Sunday, June 143 hours  1:00 pm - 4:00 pm MDT
Monday, June 151 ½ hours  7:00 pm - 8:30 pm MDT
Tuesday, June 161 ½ hours  7:00 pm - 8:30 pm MDT
Wednesday, June 171 ½ hours  7:00 pm - 8:30 pm MDT
There is a community who understands you and it is right at your fingertips. This online conference will give you FIVE straight days of connecting with others who truly "get" you and your story. It is an amazingly healing event that I hope you'll consider joining. Why? Because you and your family are worth it!

Press on,

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

P.S. This ONLINE conference runs for 5 days over the INTERNET with live streaming video (June 13-17, 2015). It's super easy and can be attended in the convenience of your own home. You won't have the expense of traveling and it can still be a time just for you!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Why Tokens Aren't Working

Tokens"If you finish your chores today, you'll earn 5 more tokens and that will help you get to your goal of 25 by the weekend, Billy!" And Billy turns to his mother and says, "It's your damn house, you do the f***ing chores!", slams his door, and remains in his room the rest of the day.

Using tokens as rewards or motivators for our adopted or foster children not only does not work, it often makes it worse. There are several reasons for this, all of which stem from one word: Trauma.
Trauma. Any child who has lost his biological family, either temporarily or permanently, has experienced trauma. The event or events that led to this trauma were experiences that rendered the child to feel powerless, hopeless, and/or helpless. The result of such vulnerable feelings shifts a child from a state of love to a state of fear.

The child then lives from a belief system that says, "The world is unsafe. I must protect myself. No one can be trusted. I am in charge in order to protect myself. No one, and I mean no one, will tell me what to do!"When a parent is raising a child filled with fear already, adding more fear to a child through the threat of not earning tokens, can be completely ineffective and even disastrous.

Brain science is showing that when children are in a state of fear, they are not operating out of their rational brains, the neocortex. Instead, they are operating from the limbic system, the emotional brain. Their decisions reflect their emotional state (fear in this example with Billy). Their interpretation of what you say to them will not be processed from a logical, sequential, or reasonable perspective. It will be processed from a perspective of fear and negativity. Thus, what Billy hears from the parent is this, "If you don't finish your chores, you won't get 5 more tokens and that means you are a failure and nobody loves you." Billy thinks in the negative, always. That's what trauma does to children.

Additionally, Billy's ability to think sequentially has been compromised by trauma. Trauma happens by surprise, so children like Billy live in a hyper-vigilant place, where they have to live moment by moment. Life happens in the next 15 seconds! There is no future. They are too consumed protecting themselves in the now. They dedicate all their resources to ensuring their survival in this moment. Thus, when a parent says, "...and that will help you get to your goal of 25 by the weekend, Billy!", Billy cannot comprehend this type of sequential logic. In his world, the weekend does not even exist...there is no future. Logical and sequential language becomes confusing and irritating to him. The result is that Billy becomes more unsettled and his negative behaviors intensify.

Children with histories of severe trauma literally do not have the wiring for sequential thinking in their brains because when the traumatic event(s) happened, they experienced chaos and overwhelm. Their worlds became scattered and disorganized. Nothing made sense. All stability was gone. Because this all happens during the developmental years of a child's life, the developing brain becomes wired in a haphazard and fragmented way.

Additionally, the memory of the traumatic event gets stored in fragments. Billy's understanding of the world is not sequentially based and the result is that he has difficulties understanding "how the world works." This leaves Billy in a disorganized and dysregulated state until the trauma can be processed and released and until he can learn to understand the world in reality.

Using tokens, point charts, stickers, or any other type of behavioral intervention does not address these deeper issues. These behaviorally based techniques are surface solutions. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a patient who is bleeding internally.

Solution. What children like Billy need first is understanding. As parents, we have to start by understanding why Billy does what he does...why he reacts the way he reacts. We have to begin to trust that what our children do is perfectly logical--logical to them. When Billy says, "It's your damn house, you do the f***ing chores!", we need to get past the attitude, the cursing, and the defiance in order to get to the heart of the matter. We all agree this is inappropriate and needs to be changed, however if you try to correct Billy in the moment, you will find yourself getting sucked back into an all too familiar vortex of negativity and resistance.

Read the meaning behind the words. What Billy really is saying is, "I lost my home. Nothing will ever substitute this lose, not even this home. I don't really belong here and I don't want to even try to belong here because then I would be at risk of losing again. I can't take any responsibility because that would mean I am placing myself in a position of being vulnerable again. And I can't afford to do that. It is too painful. It's much safer to argue and resist."

Billy needs to experience what it feels like to be in a safe and loving relationship, above all other lessons he needs to learn. People in his past did not take responsibility for him, so he is naturally going to be resistant to taking responsibility in return. Focus on getting Billy back into a place of safety and back into a place of security before expecting him to pleasantly adhere to the requirements of your household.

Use chores as an opportunity to build relationship and focus on the process of getting the chores complete. Offer to do the chores with him in order to create time with him. If he is still resistant, offer to do it for him, while he hangs out with you. Use this time just to connect, even if it means he is not helping. That will come later. Trust that if you focus on the relationship, Billy will eventually shift back to a place of helping when he gets more secure and more settled.

Additionally, Billy needs to go back developmentally and learn how to think logically and sequentially. He most likely is not "just going to pick it up." It needs to learn to think in reality and rewire his brain to understand the logical flow of how the world operates. Billy needs instruction on learning that "if A happens, then B will follow, and that will result in C happening." This instruction cannot happen in the moment like in the beginning example; he is too tied to it emotionally.

Billy has to be an observer in the instruction, not in the lead role where his fear will create resistance. There are various children's learning tools to teach sequential thinking and problem solving skills by reading stories or using picture cards. Using tools like these removes Billy from his own story and his own fears. They create needed distance (safety). Continual repetition of these teachings can help Billy to eventually learn how to integrate this thinking back into his own life.

Yes, the "real" world does work on more of a token/reward system, but Billy is not ready for this real world...yet. Shifting your focus and your interpretation of Billy's negative behaviors will, ironically, better prepare him for the real-world in the years to come rather than what was shown with the opening example. Billy needs emotional safety, patience, and understanding to help him heal and to help him redefine his perspective of how the world works.

In short, Billy needs your full abiding love instead of tokens of your love.
Heather T. Forbes, LCSW
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love
, and Help for Billy.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Perception is Everything

Horse race I have recently had several phone consults with therapists  and case workers seeking advice on how to help children  exhibiting difficult behaviors. Listening to their  descriptions of these children has painfully reinforced to  me how one's perception of a child is paramount. It  directly influences whether the child has a chance for  healing or whether he will be targeted as the "problem"  before he even enters the starting gates.

 Traditionally, when a child misbehaves, he is viewed as  the "Identified Patient" in therapy. The approach is to  
describe the child's behaviors and then determine how to  "fix" or "change" the behaviors.

While this traditional approach is designed to be accomplished from a strictly objective perspective, the reality is that the perspective taken is the adult's. Herein lies the problem. The behaviors are viewed through the lenses of the adult, not the child. The behaviors are viewed as acts against the adults, against the rules, and against what is age appropriate. When these behaviors do include the emotional context of the child, the interpretation of how the child is feeling is again viewed from the perspective of the adult, not the child.

Let us take an example of a description of a 10-year-old boy to give more definition to the idea that perception is everything:

Traditional View
This is a 10-year-old boy who is out of control.

He lives with his mother and stepfather. He demonstrates defiant and aggressive behaviors towards his stepfather. The child works hard to divide and conquer his mother and stepfather. This child is demanding all of the time. He sabotages everything that his mother tries to do to make things better for her son. He is dangerously manipulative at home and at school.

His history includes abuse by his biological father. His mother left him with his father who physically and sexually abused him. However, this was years ago and his father's parental rights have been terminated. This child has been in a safe environment with his mother for the past five years, yet he continues to be destructive and his mother is exhausted.

The family is looking at placing this child in a residential treatment center. Would this be the best course of action?
New View 

The description above is not an objective description of this child. It is judgmental. It is saying in short, "This child is acting badly and he needs to change." Some would even go so far as to say, "This is a bad child and he needs to be shape up or ship out."

Instead, from the child's perspective, a more comprehensive and accurate description would be as follows:
This is a 10-year-old boy in need of healing. He is communicating his level of fear and pain through his behaviors. Due to a past trauma history that has not been processed, heard, or understood, he is insecure, scared, and does not feel safe in his world.

His behaviors towards his mother and stepfather are showing that he is scared of his mother abandoning him to another father. He is working to separate the mother from the stepfather in order to ensure his connection to his mother. He is scared she loves his stepfather more than she loves him.

From this child's perspective, his mother left him to the abusive hands of his biological father. His mother did not keep him safe and he is trying to voice this to his mother through his behaviors.

Additionally, he feels very unsafe with his stepfather (because of his history of being abused by his biological father). While his stepfather may be a loving and kind person, the child's perception from his past tells him differently. His aggressive behaviors towards the stepfather are reflective of this fear of being hurt by him. The child's philosophy is, "I will hurt you before you hurt me. I will NEVER be vulnerable or helpless ever again."

The mother has been raising a child with challenging behaviors for several years now, doing the best she can but without much success. She is tired, frustrated, and worn down. She is more than likely not even wanting this child in her home because she is feeling unsafe and scared his behavior will split up her new marriage.
With the correct perception, the answers about what to do and what not to do become clear. Sending this child away to a residential treatment center would only create more of what he is already fearing--abandonment. It would confirm his fear that his mother would choose his stepfather over him (as he would be the one sent away, not the stepfather). In short, this course of action would recreate the child's original trauma.

This is an issue within the dynamics of the family, not with the child alone. First course of treatment would be to work with the mother to help her get back to a place of recapturing her desire to be a mother to this child, flushing out her guilt for what happened in the past, and allowing her space to acknowledge her feeling like an unsuccessful parent. She needs support, love, and validation, as well as education to understand what is driving her child's behaviors.

This child needs help in processing the past trauma with his father. He needs to be able to express the helplessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness that occurred during that time. He also needs to have a voice about his current fears and have these received by his mother in order to create more security in their relationship. He needs empathy instead of blame.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

For this little boy, when we change the way we look at his behaviors, it changes everything. His acting out begins to make perfect sense. Perception is truly EVERYTHING.

If we are going to effectively help our children, we must first see and feel things from their perspective. Once we understand what is driving the child's behavior, the "what to do" will unfold with clarity.

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, March 31, 2015

Your Child is Misbehaving, Are You Listening?

Boy with Megaphone
Your Child is Misbehaving, Are You Listening?

By: Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

When reviewing records of many of the children with whom I work, I am forever perplexed at one particular notation I continually see written by therapists and counselors. Under the list of negative traits of the child, it is often written, "Child exhibits attention-seeking behaviors."
I strongly believe that children seek attention because they NEED attention. Nature has designed children to be completely dependent on their parents at the moment they are born. A baby crying is the signaling to the parent the baby has a need, a need that the baby cannot satisfy on his own. The baby is indeed exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors.

The natural flow of the developmental journey of a child is to gradually release this need for attention, moving from a state of dependence to a state of balanced independence. The time period for this is about 18 years. We are the only animals in the animal kingdom that have our children under our care for this length of time. Expecting our children to not need our attention or to view it as a negative behavioral issue during these 18 years goes against our biology.

When children do not know how to verbally express their needs (which is predominately the case during early childhood), they "speak" through their behaviors. In other words, behavior is a form of communication. When a parent can stop, pause, and "listen" to the behavior of a child, it can become quite obvious what the child is saying. Looking at the behavior from an objective perspective also unveils the logic behind the child's behavior. Here is a list of ten behaviors along with an interpretation of each behavior to demonstrate this:
  1. Slamming Doors. When a child begins slamming doors, it is an indication that he does not feel like he is being heard. By slamming a door, he is making loud noises, hence forcing the parent to "hear" him. He is essentially saying, "I need to have a voice and I need you to listen to me now!"

  2. Cursing. Most children know that they should not curse. They use profanity to jar the parent's nervous system into listening. It is a way to get a parent to respond to the child, even if the response is negative. The child's fear of not being good enough for the parent to pay attention to him, is also playing out in such a scenario.

  3. Shutting Down. A child who shuts down, refuses eye contact, walks away, or gives the parent the silent treatment is a child who is overwhelmed. We have traditionally labeled a child like this as defiant. This is a child who is saying, "Life is too big to handle. I'm shutting down my world in order to survive."

  4. Hitting Sibling. Sibling rivalry is more about the relationship between the child and parent than it is between two siblings. If a child is not feeling secure in his relationship with his parent(s), he will perceive the sibling as a threat to this relationship with the parent(s). Reacting against the sibling is the basic game of "King of the Hill" in order to win the attention of the parents. The child may receive negative attention from the parent ("Billy, stop picking on your brother!") but to a child, especially a child with a trauma history, any form of attention, whether positive or negative, is love.

  5. Challenging Authority. A child who challenges authority is a child who has lost his trust in authority figures. Look back into the child's history and you will likely see a child who was abused, neglected, or abandoned by someone who was supposed to care for and nurture the child. A child who fights having someone else in charge, is a child saying, "I can’t trust anyone. It is too much of a risk."

  6. Saying, "I hate you!". Such hurtful words directed towards a parent from a child are simply a window into the child's heart. The child is projecting his self-hatred and self-rejection back onto the parent. What he is communicating is, "I hate myself!" It is easier to hurt someone else than it is to feel the internal hurt within one’s own heart.

  7. Arguing About Everything. A child who argues about everything and anything is keeping the parent looped in a conversation in order to keep the parent attuned to him. He feels that if the parent were to stop talking with him, he would cease to exist. Arguing is his way of staying connected. It is a negative form of attachment.

  8. Laziness. Describing a child as being "lazy" is like calling a child crying in a crib a "cry baby." It is a gross misinterpretation of the child. Laziness is typically a sign of a child who experienced helplessness early in his childhood; it is a learned behavior. Neglect happens when a child tries to elicit attention from his caregiver and the result is nothing. No attention. No help. Zilch. The child learns that his energy does not produce results and as he grows older and gets challenged by life, he will simply shut down and do nothing. He is saying, "My efforts don't produce results so therefore I won't even try."

  9. Pushing Every Boundary. Many children have such intense behaviors that the adults around them in the past demonstrated a lack of ability to handle them or an unwillingness to stick with them. When parents find the child pushing every boundary, every rule, and every limit, the child is asking, "Can you really handle me?" and "You say you're my parent, but I need to know you're not going to give up on me so I will test you to make sure you really are committed before I put any trust into you!"

  10. Becoming Unglued During Transitions. Trauma happens by surprise and when it happens, there is typically a major change in the child's life. It is transitional trauma. The aftermath of such traumatic experiences is that the child becomes fearful of EVERY transition, whether large or small. A child's belief around transitions becomes, "Something bad is going to a happen. Guaranteed." Past traumatic experiences create the black and white thinking that "All change equals pain." When a parent sees a child's negative behaviors intensifying during a transitional time, the parent needs to remember that the child is saying, "I'm so scared that my entire world is going to fall apart in a flash just like it did in the past!"
When parenting a child with challenging behaviors on a day-to day basis, it is easy to lose sight of the idea that behavior is the language of a child. Negative behaviors are tiring! Keep taking care of yourself and keep your cup filled so that you have enough space inside of you to keep looking beyond the behaviors and listening to the behaviors instead of reacting to the behaviors.

The parent/child relationship is a dyad - a two-part system. Remember that your behavioral response also signals a communication to your child. Thus, it is imperative for you to stay mindful and attuned. Give enough attention to yourself as to stay in a place of love so you are always speaking the language of truth, love, and acceptance to your child in return.

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