This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Sunday, June 22, 2014



Disclaimer:  Most of this information is not my own, a lot is from my favorite attachment guru Katharine Leslie.

We don't always know why children (especially children of trauma) act the way they do.  It’s possible that they just want to watch adults get all agitated, maybe they want adults to fight to distract them from the child (and thus avoid conflict), or they're trying to recreate the chaos that their brains are used to - often they are "pickled" in adrenaline (or alcohol) en utero....

Trauma (especially RAD) can cause permanent brain damage and the brain has to be taught how to work around it (think of someone learning English for the first time - if they start learning before age 3, they will probably have no accent.  Before age 10, maybe a slight accent, but they will have a lot of the nuances and colloquialisms.  As an adult?  You will always be able to hear that English was not their first language.)

Discipline problems (noncompliance, misbehavior) occur when the caregivers have not structured the child's environment for success or when parents are inconsistent (expectations or consequences), non-responsive, or inaccessible. When adults adjust their behaviors and attitudes, often children with discipline problems can be brought under control in as few as 3 to 7 days.

Behavior problems on the other hand lie within the child. These are persistent behaviors that do not disappear even with the best parenting (although good parenting can help to control the behaviors). These can include impulsivity, inattentiveness, and other behaviors like ADHD, FAD and immature behaviors associated with missing capacities in object relations.


Let me say that again.


Having behavior problems is like being born with poor eyesight. No amount of punishing or controlling is going to fix this problem. Glasses will help. However the parent will be responsible for taking the child for regular eye check-ups, teaching him how to care for his glasses, and restricting activities where glasses might break. The goal is that by the time the child is 18, he will be ready and able to take full responsibility for the care of his own eyes and glasses.

As children emotionally heal, you will most likely start to see some improvement in behavior problems. Therapeutic parenting, therapy, medications can help a child heal. In the meantime, we need to focus on empathy.

The child is not choosing to have behavior problems.

Discipline Problem or Behavior Problem?

So how do you know if your child has a discipline problem or a behavior problem? The best way is to change the home environment. If the behavior stops or improves it is most likely a discipline problem. If it remains unchanged but more in control, and the parent is acting consistently, it is likely a behavior problem.

Some common reasons for children to have behavior issues:

Lack of Impulse Control
One day when my daughter was about 15 months old, she was sitting on the floor in the kitchen, slamming a cabinet door.  Daddy came in and told her to stop.  She looked at him, seemed to understand, gave him a big, toothy grin, and slammed that cabinet door again.  My husband was furious and wanted to give her a consequence.  I reminded him of his 30yo friend who had recently slammed his fist into a wall and broken his hand (and the wall). This adult friend knew better and impulsively did it anyway.  Can we really expect more impulse control from a child whose brain is not wired correctly yet?

No Understanding of Consequences“If you can't do the time, don't do the crime.”  A lot of people think that if a child knows the consequences of lying, stealing or any other "crime," then they will be less likely to commit that crime or will confess to their crime to keep from getting more severe consequences.

There are several flaws in this theory:

  • Lack of impulse control - means they might do it anyway without thinking.
  • Distorted reality - they may not be able to see what they're doing as wrong and probably do not (cannot!) believe they will ever get caught.
  • Trauma history - in a lot of ways our kids are often like prisoners of war - no consequence is worse than what they've already lived through.
  • Trust issues - they protect themselves by deliberately prevent themselves from caring about anyone or anything enough to allow themselves to feel upset if they lose it, even if it's more of a "sour grapes" kind of thing.
  • Triggers – frequently unknown triggers are guiding the child’s behavior.  A smell, a sound, someone who looks like their abuser… can trigger a fight/flight/freeze response, causing the child to act instinctively.
  • Life or death defense mechanism- these kids lie as if their life depends on it... because it has in the past and it still feels like it does.  This is a core belief, and a lecture, time out, losing privileges or treats, grounding, even jail time doesn't matter more than death!

Typical differences between punishment and consequences:

Punishment ---------- <------------------>Consequences

emotional ---------- <---------------------------------------------------->non-emotional/matter of fact

physically painful ---------- <------------------------------------------->not physically painful

humiliating ---------- <---------------------------------------------------->not humiliating

arbitrary ---------- <------------------------------------------------------->planned

sometimes illogical ---------- <----------------------------------------->logical/natural

removal of object privilege ---------- <------------------------------->adding of task/ responsibility

Both can restrict a child, but the logic is different.

For example, after exhibiting poor behavior in a supermarket a parent may choose:
  • Punishment – the parent may restrict the child by sending him to his room. 
  • Consequence - if the child is unmanageable in public places, the parent may choose not to take the child to these places until he/she can demonstrate some restraint. 
The consequence is being used as a preventative measure.

Parents need to be "listening" to what the child's behavior is telling them (usually an underlying unmet need) rather than expecting children to perform at things they may not be ready for and then punishing them for bad behaviors.

Punishments Don't Work
Lectures, spankings, losing stickers/ level charts, grounding and timeouts are usually so unrelated to the "crime" that often all they "teach" the child is to try not to get caught and damages your relationship with the child (the child feels they are being punished for no reason!).

Natural and Logical Consequences 
According to the Love and Logic books, natural and logical consequences are the most efficient way to teach a child with discipline problems. Unfortunately, Love and Logic doesn't work well with attachment-challenged children, because it is based on a child wanting to please the parent, which many children with behavior issues are not ready for yet.

Natural and logical consequences work best because children learn best from them.  I prefer not to use the same consequences every time, because my children often decide that "doing the crime" is worth "doing the time" (especially those that don't believe they'll ever get caught).

  • Natural consequence is what happens if parents don't interfere (ex. a child runs away from you in the mall - and gets lost and scared). This is the MOST effective means of discipline. (Think about it - as a teen, how many times did your parents lecture you to drive the speed limit; you read it in the driver's handbook; you saw the signs posted on the side of the road. I'm guessing you ignored all that and ended up getting a speeding ticket, right?! I'm also guessing that made you more likely to drive slower. If you actually had an accident from driving too fast you're even more likely to try to drive within the speed limit. People tune out lectures and nagging - consequences get their attention.)
  • Logical consequence is what happens when you don't want to allow the natural consequence to occur (especially if the child or others could get seriously injured or killed), but you still want the child to make the connection.  Ex.  The next time you go to the mall the child must hold your hand or you might allow a child who habitually runs away to think they have gotten lost (while you keep an eye on the child from a hidden vantage point).

1 comment:

ehealth city said...

It is very important to understand that children can start acting out when they are stresses in their lives. Behavioral problem in children may cause a risk of major disease. Thanks for sharing.