Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Therapeutic Parenting 501

This is the advanced course.

Don't worry, I won't hold your score against you if you've never parented a child from hard places.  :-)


Please read the following story and answer the questions that follow.

The Story:

Traumatized Child (TC) is picked up from school in a good mood.  Everything went well for the day.  TC asks, "What are we doing now?"  Mother answers, "We need to go pick up your brother from his class.  (Note:  This is the first day of teenage brother's class.  The mom of a homeschool acquaintance picked him up to take him to class.  Mother would be bringing both boys home.)  After a good healthy snack, Mother and TC drive to location of class, enjoying a fine conversation.  On the way, Mother mentions that she needs to remember to pay the teacher when she gets there.  Arriving before class lets out, the Mother rolls down the windows of van and allows daughter to sit in passenger seat while they cheerfully chat together.

After a short time, the door to the home opens, the Teacher stands in the doorway, one Homeschool Mom and several boys exit the house and walk toward their cars.  Mother says to TC, "I'm going to go pay the Teacher.  I'll be right back.  Mother walks to front door, pays Teacher while maitaining line-of-sight with TC, and stops to chat with Homeschool Mom.  Homeschool Mom has a wide range of well-behaved children who are all flourishing in their activities.  Meanwhile, brother and his friend climb in the van.  Conversation moves on to upcoming class schedule.  Unexpectedly, TC puts on her Miss Sassypants attitude, hangs out the window, hand on hip, and loudly demands, "Mother, Get your butt over here this minute!"


1. What just happened? What is the reason for TC's behavior? All clues are in text.

Multiple Choice:

2. How long did it take the Mother to figure out what actually happened here?
A. 3 Seconds
B. 3 Minutes
C. 3 Hours
D. 3 Weeks

3. What is the Mother's primary emotion?
A. Joy
B. Embarrassment
C. Compassion
D. Pride in her little angel

4. What is Mother's reaction?
A. Bewilderment
B. Flushed Face
C. Angry Eyes, Low Growl
D. "I will give you one.more.chance to try.it.again."
E. All of the above

5. What is the Homeschool Mom's reaction?
A. Properly Horrified
B. Judgemental
C. Thoughts of "What a spoiled brat!" and "That kid needs a good spank!"
D. Awkward Moment
E. Unknown. It does not matter.

The Story Continues:
The moms return to their conversation.  TC again speaks up, this time pouring on the charm, "Mother, please get your bottom over here now."  Mother turns to TC and firmly tells her, "One minute."  TC jumps out of van, walks over to talking women and attempts to interrupt their conversation.  Mother quickly excuses herself and steps to van, breathing deeply as she approaches.  Once in the van, TC politely asks Mother for a Tootsie Roll.  Mother firmly declines, siting the disrespect that just occurred.  {insert lecture here}  Later that evening, Mother asks TC to write an "I'm sorry" letter to the Homeschool Mom and Teacher.  TC readily complies.  She seems genuinely sorry for her outburst, and apologizes to Mother.     

6.  T/F  TC's second attempt to get her Mother's attention actually showed improvement.

7.  T/F  Lectures are useful.  The lecture sealed the deal for repentance.

8.  T/F  This Mother did everything right and ought to be commended for her brilliant parenting skills.

9.  T/F  Disrespect is perfectly acceptable behavior.  It should be ignored so as not to damage this child's self esteem.

10. T/F  Everything has been resolved and all relationships are set right. 


Are you ready for the answers?

1.  What really happened?  TC is freaked out because a somewhat strange boy/man got in the van with her brother.  Her Mother did not seem to notice this alarming situation.  TC is oversensitive to feelings of danger due to her early trauma.  TC knows that her Mother is safe and will come when called (unless she is summoned by an obnoxious tyrant).  TC also likes attention.  TC thinks sassy is charming and funny.  When the alarm did not bring the needed Mother, her brain re-worked the message to a gentler, but still urgent phrase.  TC makes a last-ditch-effort to go get her Mother.  Once Mother was safely in the van, all danger was gone and normal operations resumed.  Later, TC was genuinely sorry for her outburst.

2.  D.  Yes, it took three weeks of contemplating the situation to figure out what really happened.  This story is true and I didn't even include all of the variables.  Therapeutic parenting is HARD.  There are no easy answers.  You have to get into your child's world in order to figure out their strange behavior and reactions.

3.  B.  Embarrassment is the primary emotion.  Anger is secondary.  Embarrassment remained my primary emotion every time I remembered the situation during the 3 weeks it took me to get to the bottom of things.  Once I saw the situation through my daughter's eyes, the primary emotion became compassion. 

4.  E.  All of the above.  Yes, I did.  Not my greatest parenting moment.

5.  E.  It doesn't matter what the other mom thinks.  The greatest concern for a therapeutic mother is to be the right kind of parent, regardless of tsk- tsks, raised eyebrows, gasps, unwanted advice, or pursed lips.  Focus on what the child needs. Being the best mom to this child right now is the priority.

6.  T.  Recognizing the effort would have been worth bonus points in our relationship, even if the world does not appreciate the subtle nuances in tone and wording.

7.  F.  Lectures are not useful.  What TC heard:  "That was very disrespectful...blah...blah...blah..blah..blah...."

8.  F.  This Mother failed on several counts, most notably not going directly to the child to handle the exchange immediately.

Mother succeeded in:
  • Healthy snack
  • Cheerful attitude at the start
  • Reminded TC she would be right back
  • Maintained line-of-sight
  • Recognized her own bewilderment and anger 
  • Did not react immediately in full blown rage
  • Waiting until later to work toward making things right
9.  F.  The child must be corrected.  Disrespect is unacceptable.  A child will feel less self-esteem if she is allowed to continue to disrespect adults and authorities in her life.  However, harsh, punitive, and consequence-driven methods will not work, and they will certainly not get to the heart of the problem.

10.  F.  All relationships were not restored until Mother recognized what really happened and apologized for not coming over immediately.  Then TC shared how scared she was.  They hugged.  Then all was right in their world.  One more brick in the bridge to attachment is laid in place, even though both Mother and Traumatized Child messed up at the start.

I write this not-so-flattering account in the form of a test for two sets of eyes. 

For the other trauma mamas out there, please learn to look for and pick up on subtle clues. Learn from my mistakes.  We can do so much right, and still miss the point.  It is HARD to figure out what is really going on with our kids' hearts.  It is HARD to maintain composure when faced with these kinds of behaviors.  It is  HARD to act in love and concern when there is steam coming out of our ears.  But keep plugging away!  Replay the ugly scenes in your mind again.  Did you miss a clue?  Pray for guidance.  Even when we both failed, in the end connection was made.  Don't give up.  Don't lose heart.  Your child needs you.

For friends, family, and innocent bystanders, please understand that my child is not a bad kid.  She is a hurt, scared kid with a big, bad attitude act as a coping skill.  She doesn't need a good spank.  What you see on the surface is only a picture of what's going on in the heart.  Please see that therapeutic parenting goes so much deeper than making bad behavior stop.  No amount of techniques and behavioral modifications are going to get to the heart of the matter.  My kid puzzles me.  Sometimes, I'm trying to assess the situation, sometimes I'm trying to figure out the best course of action, sometimes I'm purposefully not reacting in order to get my own emotions in check.  Please cut me and other parents some slack.  This is the hardest job we've ever done.  It wears us out physically and emotionally.  Encouragement does a lot more for us than advice. 

I want to be sure to note that the Homeschool Mom in the story above did not appear to pass judgement on us.  She was very gracious, though I'm sure the whole scene made her quite uncomfortable.  This was only taken from what I would have thought if I had been her.  :-) 

Blessings to you,


GB's Mom said...

Great post! It is so hard to be a therapeutic parent and do it right! Thumbs up!

Kim said...

Wow J...I can see so much of our granddaughter Ashley's acting out in your portrayal story. You are so wise girl! I pray for wisdom on a continual basis...I so want to be a better parent and also be a big impact on Ashley should we ever get to spend quality time with her. PRAYER!!!

Anonymous said...

As I sit reading and examining my relationship with my 'strong willed' child, I ask myself - could there be an underlieing trauma, about which I am unaware? I've examined several other possibilities and have come up empty handed. Still, the daily interactions with 'SW' child leave me drained, taxed, flustered,confused, and sometimes tearful. Thank you for reminding me about the patient and compassionate part of my role in his life. It was recently stated in what I thought was a safe environment, that 'SW'was the MOST undisciplined child in 'said safe environment'. It broke my heart. I think I was lead to your blog for help in healing. Hugs :) Missy

ManyBlessings said...

Thanks for the tip! I still have a hard time seeing through the disrespect, but now have a new question..."what am I missing"?