Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Shouldn't he be okay by now?

teen
Q: For the past six years, we have been implementing the Beyond Consequences parenting model with our son and have seen a massive amount of improvements. We have changed our lifestyle, found the perfect school and teacher for him, and supported him with tutoring. I feel like my wife and I have even done much of our own work to keep ourselves from reacting and in a place of love with him. However, even after all of this, I still see our son struggling! I am frustrated because I truly know that he has everything
right in front of him to get better. Is there something more we should be doing that I've missed?

A: Six years later with all the parameters in place (just the right school; an amazing teacher; a patient tutor; a home environment that provides understanding, love, and support; a less stressful lifestyle; and parents who have done their own emotional work) and your son is still struggling. I know it's so easy to ask, "Shouldn't he be okay by now?" Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. The reality may actually hold a different outcome and the reason comes down to one simple truth: Your son may not be ready to receive this understanding and help.

Ultimately, we have to understand our children are on their own journeys. They are on their own timetable and their own organic paths to healing. Healing takes courage and the ability to break down massive protective barriers, barriers that were created to protect the heart and soul from more overwhelming amounts of pain and fear.

Our work as parents is done after we have provided what you describe, all with an overabundance of support, understanding, and love. The only step after this is to detach--detach from the outcome. There is nothing more to do at this point. Just detach.

Detachment is hard because we live in a world that is outcome based. To stay focused on the process requires us to find the courage to place confidence in the power of love, to have certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that love will never fail. What has failed us in the past is that fear got in the way and created more problems and more resistance.

We are asking our children to change and to trust in love; we must do the same. We are asking them to let go of their defenses and internal protective forces, thus we must also make these changes in order to complete this process for them.

Let go of your son's outcome. It is not about giving up; it is about letting go and changing the tool of measurement. Ask yourself about the process in which you engage with him: "Did I give him understanding, acceptance, and validation today?" These are the things that should be measured because these are, in reality, the only parts over which we have any control. We cannot control the outcome of any child, especially a child with a trauma history. Thinking that we can is in essence ignoring and discrediting the strength and power of free will.

We are on this planet in a framework of free will, all of us. This is why every one of us is resistant to power and control. We were given this gift to learn and experience what true love is. Each of us is here to migrate back to the essence of our origins--back to the fullness and completeness of unconditional love. For this reason, a controlling and fear-based model within any organization, whether it is a home environment, a corporation, a personal relationship, or a classroom, will always fail in the long term.

The solution is to flip the evaluation and focus back to us--the parent, the support person, the teacher, the therapist--because nothing is guaranteed except for the gift of giving love. It is then up to the receiver to receive the love or reject it, to either change or stay the same.

Your ability to give love and stay mindful is the new outcome. 


At the end of each day, each year, each decade, or an entire lifetime, look back and ask yourself if you did all you could to make a loving and positive difference. We have been asking the wrong questions, which can only lead to feeling utterly unsuccessful. We have been asking whether our children behaved, whether or not they won the top honors, or whether they were accepted into Harvard. If you ask the wrong questions, you'll get the wrong answers.

The questions that each of us parenting and working with children should be asking are, "What was my level of love?" and "To what extent was I able to get outside of my own desires and agenda to be able to be in the shoes of this child?"

When you have been able to fully and unconditionally deliver everything your child needs, your work is complete. There is nothing else to do. It is then up to your child to receive the help and make the needed changes.

Sometimes our children can change, sometimes they cannot. Or perhaps they simply are not ready to change and it is not the right timing. At this point love is about letting go and stepping back to give our children their right to free will. There is nothing else to do but love them, create boundaries for them, be clear about expectations, and continue doing your best because your best is good enough. Let love take over from here and be kind and loving to yourself, always.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Why We Need Trauma-Informed Schools

The Trauma Informed School
 In the mid 1990's, the United States Congress, along with several states,  passed laws with the intention of reducing violence, notably gun violence,  in schools. These laws not only encourage harsh punishments but in  many cases, mandate them. Following the implementation of these laws,  there was a rise in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The  unfortunate fall-out for our most behaviorally challenged students is lost  educational opportunities and the labeling of them as delinquents and  criminals. Additionally, two decades of research shows no evidence that  these laws and mandates have improved school safety or student  behaviors.
These zero tolerance policies are the least trauma-informed policies ever put into practice in our schools. They ignore the mental and emotional needs of the most vulnerable of students in our schools and allow absolutely no understanding to the individual needs of students. Ironically, the students who need the most help are punished, judged, and pushed away, which only works to deepen their trauma related issues.

Trauma research is giving us answers as to why these earlier policies do not work. Neuroscience is showing how the brain is impacted when children grow up in stressful environments. Their brains are wired differently, they think from a platform of fear, and they have negative belief systems about themselves and the world in which they live. This creates challenges within the framework of our traditional disciplinary models. The result is that we are failing our students and asking them to be like all the "normal" kids yet they are neurologically unequipped to be able to do so.

For many of our students, they have experienced years of toxic stress in their home environments that shifted them into living every moment of everyday in survival mode. Their new "normal" is fear, reactivity, and failure. This is how they have survived. It is all they know. The result it that their brains are wired for fear...their brains are not "bad" and their reactivity isn't necessarily "wrong." They are products of their environments. They have survival brains and that's how they enter their classrooms everyday. What science is showing us, is that this is a brain issue, not a behavioral issue.

Using a trauma-informed approach within our schools is the answer. It is an approach that implements an understanding of trauma into the everyday practices and policies of an academic environment. Using a trauma-informed approach means changing how we interact with students and how we implement discipline in a way that is modified to be responsive to the impact of traumatic stress. A program that is "trauma-informed" operates within a framework that incorporates an understanding of the ways in which trauma impacts an individual's socio-emotional health.

Students who have been impacted by trauma carry a very heavy load and they operate at a perpetual high level of stress. For most, their trauma wasn't a one time-incident...it didn't happen overnight. It happened and continues to happen on a perpetual and long-term basis.

Children have a natural love for learning yet what we as a collective society have forgotten is that children are first emotional beings. They operate at an emotional level, not an intellectual level. That's the definition of being a child.

A survey was created by the Beyond Consequences Institute (BCI) to ask the opinions of students regarding what they need at school to make learning better. Students from first to twelfth grade completed the survey and their answers gave profound insights into the needs of these students. Only 2% of the students made suggestions regarding actual academic improvements. The remaining answers focused on suggestions to meet their social and emotional needs.

The students' responses centered on identifying ways the school could meet their physiological needs, safety concerns, relationship needs, and self-esteem needs. The collective responses from all the students created a similar framework to psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Maslow suggested that the needs of individuals must be met before they will have a strong desire for improving themselves and moving forward in their growth. In order of priority, Maslow theorized that individuals must have their physiological, safety, love/belonging/and esteem needs met prior to being motivated at the self-actualization level. He also believed that when these basic needs are deficient in one's life, the feelings of being anxious and tense are typically present.

Taking this framework of human motivation developed by Maslow, the same basic principles can be applied directly to the student in the classroom. The "Hierarchy of Learning" pyramid describes why we need to have a trauma-informed approach in our schools. 
Hierarchy of Learning
Instead of addressing the top of the pyramid, which is what we have traditionally done, we must first address everything below the top in order to ultimately reach the top of the pyramid. Trusting the process of meeting the social and emotional needs of our students to achieve high test-scores and successful graduation rates is the ultimate in making the shift to a trauma-informed school.

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