|Q: I am teaching a book study based on "Help for Billy." You mention that one of the effective strategies to use with children who have a traumatic background is "maximizing." I am not sure I understand what this is and was wondering if you could expand on it. Thank you.|
A: Traditionally, we've always been taught to stop or change children's behaviors by redirecting them or helping them to see a broader perspective. Most of us can easily give examples from our own childhood of this tactic. Responses such as, "Calm down honey, it's not that big of a deal." or "Honey, look over here, I see
|something you're really going to like." are imbedded in us. These types of responses shift children away from the issue at hand to stabilize them emotionally.|
For children impacted by trauma, this approach is often one of the worst approaches you can take. These are children who've had experiences of not being heard, being ignored, feeling unwanted, or worse. These are children who are in desperate need of being validated, understood, and heard. By giving them a response to their struggle that minimizes or diverts away from the struggle, they will see this response from a reflection of who they are. They personally take this dismissal of their feelings to heart.
Children who live in a state of survival (which is what trauma does to a child) do not have the ability to dissect an adult's response into a complex interpretation such as, "This adult (parent/teacher/caregiver) loves me enough to give me a response that will help me see the bigger picture." Instead, a child impacted by trauma thinks in simple, rigid, and linear terms such as, "This adult (parent/teacher/caregiver) isn't addressing my need directly. Therefore, he/she doesn't love me."
Children impacted by trauma will feel invalidated, unloved, unimportant, and unworthy when we give them responses that essentially minimize their requests; if you minimize their need, you minimize them personally. They've lived (or are living) through situations where there wasn't or isn't certainty. Their brains have become wired for survival, which means they will see everything from a negative and rigid perspective. They are out to protect themselves--everything you say or do is going to be interpreted from a deeply personal level.
They need you to maximize their struggle. In turn, this will "maximize" them as human beings--it is their way of feeling loved, worthy, and validated. They lack the ability to separate their self-worth from your response. Simply, your response to them equals their interpretation of their worth and "lovability."
|Additionally, many children don't know how to express the issues troubling them in appropriate ways. They will use roundabout ways to get you to hear their internal struggles. They work very hard to avoid being vulnerable which keeps them from being able to clearly express their real troubles. Thus, you have to open up the first layer of the conversation to get to the second, third, and fourth layers of the conversation. Maximizing helps you to get to the conversation behind the conversation.|
In the following chart, two examples (a minimizing response and a maximizing response) are given to compare and contrast the differences in the same scenario with "Billy":
In the example above, it could have been any number of reasons why Billy didn't like the book. However, by going into the conversation to validate his dislike of the book, the core issue behind the book was revealed. Maximizing means accepting the child's response without the need to correct. It means going into the conversation with a sense of curiosity, saying to yourself, "What is this really about?" Maximizing is about getting the full story instead of just a smidgen of the story. Instead of getting the tip of the iceberg, you're maximizing to get what is lying underneath.
Follow Billy's linear thinking and follow his/her pattern of thinking through your response. Maximizing is an expression of love in Billy's eyes. By maximizing, you will be saying, "I love you, Billy. You're safe."
Press on in maximum love,
|Heather T. Forbes, LCSW|
Parent and Author of Beyond Consequences, Logic & Control: Volume 1 & Volume 2,
Dare to Love, and Help for Billy.