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!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dealing with Disrespectful Language

"How do you handle disrespectful, cussing/cursing, and foul language?"

This is a tough one. It's been a little while since we've dealt with it.

First, I hate this answer, but... it depends on the child's 



To Blow Off Steam
I had one child who needed an excuse to vent/ blow off steam. Until we got him on the right meds and in a structured environment where he felt safe, he just needed to explode every now and then.

You could see it building like a volcano. He'd stuff down his feelings, fears, and anxieties until he was full up (about once a month), and then he'd fall apart (which for him was anger). For about 20-30 minutes after the rage/ meltdown, he was able to access his true emotions with us.

For him, the rages were inevitable and necessary and he used the disrespect to give him an excuse for blowing up at us. I used to back off and try to avoid conflict (I HATE conflict) until I realized that he NEEDED someone who would stand up to him and hold him accountable while still caring about him. 

{To this day, he still talks about his favorite teacher's aide. She would stand up to him (difficult to do with a 5'9", 210+lb, 13yo with no problem with being aggressive and getting physical with people) and tell him to, "Stop acting like a turd," The important part was that he knew she cared about him. Lots of people would tell him off and not care about him or back off and let him walk all over them to avoid conflict. This made them scary because he knew they weren't able to keep him safe [Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?]. Because this teacher provided both Structure and Caring Support, he respected her and felt safe with her.}

This post has more information about Handllng Rages.

To Feel in Control

Feeling "safe" is HUGE and has nothing to do with reality for our kids (it's a leftover defense mechanism from a time in their life when they had no control over what happened to them). To feel safe, my son needs control of his environment at all times and can go to extreme measures to get that control. This is a life or death feeling. (Ironically, if he has control then he feels unsafe because the people around him aren't able to keep that control!)

For example, if Bear is told he can go on a field trip as long as he has no attendance issues and behaves pleasantly with everyone for a week, but deep down he doesn’t know if he can do that, then he might deliberately misbehave so he has control over the outcome
He also might sabotage himself because the trip actually scares him (he doesn’t feel safe in unfamiliar, uncontrollable environments). If he's able to make the connection at all between his misbehavior and not being able to go on the trip, he will most likely say he doesn't care because he didn’t want to go on the “stupid” field trip in the first place ("sour grapes"). 

To Feel Safe 
[Why Doesn't My Child Feel Safe?]

People that don't provide the structure and support/control our kids need, do not feel "safe." Christine Moers has a fantastic video called from Chaos to Healing: Therapeutic Parenting 101. That helps explain why our kids don't feel safe, which causes them to act out. 

To help them feel safe, we provided lots of Structure, Support, Routines, and Boundaries.

This post has more information about providing Structure and Caring Support.

They Are Triggered

Triggers - There are lots of triggers for feeling unsafe that we as rational adults totally miss. For example, food is a huge trigger for my kids [Food / Hoarding / Diet]. So if the child suddenly lashes over a snack, it may have brought up a memory (Smell is a BIG memory trigger). A lot of times our kids don't know how to react to big feelings so they get overwhelmed and drop in to fight/ flight/ freeze mode. 

Some triggers to watch for: HALTING US (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Ill, New (changes are scary!), Guilty, and UnSafe) and Traumaversaries [Birthdays, Holidays, and Traumaversaries]. 

To help them recover from being triggered, we often use Calming Techniques and help them identify the emotion that's causing the behavior. Christine Moers discusses that in this video: Therapeutic Parenting - Feelings 

Child's Emotional Age [Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/Developmental Age]

My kids' chronological/ calendar age is MUCH older than their emotional age. Many of our kids with trauma issues get "stuck" at much younger ages. 

When she came to us, my 11yo daughter was emotionally stuck at age 4 (which was a time of a lot of trauma for her). She was pretty much emotionally/developmentally on target for THAT age, and unfortunately, that meant I had to parent her at that level (really hard to do with a 4yo in a 15yo body, a 6yo in a 17yo body, or a 12 yo in a 20yo body!). 

hen I realized that despite her physical age and the fact that she could handle things appropriately under normal circumstances, she was not able to handle the same stuff when she was overwhelmed and dysregulated. When our kids were overwhelmed/ dysregulated we heard a LOT of cussing/cursing, threats, and disrespectful language. 

When we adjusted the child's responsibilities and privileges (and our expectations) to that of a much younger child and I helped the child get, and stay, emotionally regulated, the cussing and disrespectful language decreased significantly.

I did find that when I changed my expectations to what was appropriate for her emotional age, she felt safer and wasn't overwhelmed and dysregulated as often. It also helped her mature. I can't tell you how many times I repeated my mantra, "She's only 6! She's only 6! She's only 6!" And had to explain to my husband why my 16yo daughter's only chores were feeding the dogs and wiping down the countertops (with lots of reminders) when her 12yo NT brother had much more extensive chores. [Chores, Responsibilities, and Other Things My Kids Can't Handle]

Slowly but surely she matured to the point of being able to handle some of her own emotional regulation and the outbursts decreased until they were pretty much gone.

Child's Level of Attachment

The more attached the child is, the more likely the child is to want to please the parent. A child who wants to please a parent is more likely to be compliant with the parent's wishes.

 An unattached child may be very polite and respectful as well. This is often during a "honeymoon period" or is a defense mechanism (acting charming and even helpless so that people will want to take care of them and meet their needs). 

This polite/charming/respectful behavior can also be because they don't trust you enough to believe you'll stick around if they're not perfectly well-behaved. [If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect, You'll LeaveSo they test you. Often. One way to tell that a child is starting to trust you is that they feel more comfortable letting you see that they are not perfect. Unfortunately, this usually means they act out more. *ugh!* There were definitely days where I wished my kids didn't trust me that much!

 Often the child is only polite and respectful when someone is watching. Think Eddie Haskell on the Leave It To Beaver show (if you're old enough to know what that is!).

This post has more information about "Charming RAD" Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder. 

This post has more information about why our kids act this way:

Why Won't My Child Just Behave?

SO WHAT DO YOU DO ABOUT IT? (In no particular order)

I knew by letting the kids know that foul language is not OK with me I was just begging them to use it when they're mad, but it's better than hearing it all the time, right?

I think it may have helped that I've gone overboard in what we consider bad language and included "naughty words." 

In addition to cussing/ cursing, bad language to me includes substitute words (darn, crap, frick, shoot...), mean words (stupid, hate, dummy, ugly...), and words you wouldn't say in front of the president or old ladies (butt, fart, boobs...).

By going overboard with outlawing "bad language," I think the kids got a thrill from the shock value of saying "naughty words" and felt less need to step up to really foul language.

First, What Doesn't Work:Natural and logical consequences are the most efficient way to teach a child. Lectures, spankings, losing stickers, 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 to work the system. 
Things that don't work:
  • Sticker charts 
  • Time outs 
  • Writing lines
  •  Grounding
  • Spanking or other physical punishments (or threats) - In the middle of a rage, their brain is turned off so they don't understand it. After a rage, punishing a child for a behavior problem won't be effective at all, because by definition a behavior problem is out of their control.
  • "Scared Straight" type methods - don't work for the same reason punishments don't work - this is out of the child's control. Many children don't understand long-term cause and effecso, in their mind, this will never happen. Plus, they often cannot "learn from their mistakes." Prisoner of war mentality - there is nothing you can do that is worse than what has already happened to them.

Some of the things we did:

  1. Never OK -  I draw a line in the sand about certain things. For me, it's physical violence and foul language.
  2. Prohibit cussing - I grew up pretty strictly in this respect. We weren't allowed to say the "naughty words" either. These are "substitute" words like "darn," "crap," "gah"... and "rude" words like "butt," "shut up," "stupid," and "hate." 

    {When I left home, I went through a phase in college where I cussed like a sailor and found I couldn't stop even when I wanted to. It took quite a while to break the habit. I have to admit that Hubby thinks outlawing some of the "substitute" words is a bit extreme, but he still backs me up and doesn't use them.}
  3. Prohibit "Substitute" Words -My kids thought it was stupid that I wouldn't allow "substitute" words like "frickin'" and they also cussed when there were no adults around -- until the day when Kitty was at lunch in her small Christian private school and the director's son unexpectedly poked her. She meant to say, "What the Frick?!" like she usually did when she knew adults were around, but she didn't. She yelled out "What the F*ck?!" in front of the entire school.
  4. Parents don't cuss - Probably the biggest thing we do that slows down cussing in our house is that Hubby and I don't cuss (Ok, rarely, and even then it is often more for effect/emphasis. If Mom uses a cuss word, you better pay attention!).
  5. Overreact -  I pretend to "overreact" when I hear or see foul language in media or from the people around me. It doesn't actually upset me, but my kids work hard to keep me from hearing it in their media to keep me from taking the media away.
  6. Make exceptions - I made a big deal of exceptions to the rules. I tell the kids that I didn't want them to watch {XYZ show} because I'm concerned they will pick up bad language and/ or negative behaviors that are in the show (or any other type of media). By pointing out what I don't want them to get from it, it forces them to:
         a) consciously notice the inappropriate stuff in the show (vs subconsciously absorb it)
         b) make a conscious effort to not copy the bad behavior/ language so they won't lose the privilege of watching it.
         c) be aware that I'm trusting them to be able to handle it.
  7. "Language" If they've slipped in casual conversation and used a word I don't find acceptable, I'll usually just say, "Language!" and my child knows I'm listening and not happy. They usually turn down the media (for fear of losing it) and/or stop using the language.

  • Ignore it. Everybody makes mistakes. Sometimes it's just not as important as attachment or having fun. I might give a subtle reminder if needed. "I'm sure I didn't just hear what I think I heard." The kids usually know I'm pretending I didn't hear it.
  • Let it go. Unlike when my child is just making bad choices, when my child is actually dysregulated and/or in the middle of a meltdown, I just flat out ignore the language. I know they can't really control themselves at that time. If I think they will feel like they got away with something, then later (after it's all over) I might give them a small consequence for the language.

    Sometimes, even if my child is a total dysregulated mess and I know he/she doesn't have control over his/her behaviors, I can't just ignore the behavior - it sends the wrong message to the child (and watching siblings!). In those cases, here are some things I do:
  • Delay Consequences - I don't do anything corrective during a meltdown/ fight/ flight/ freeze episode- the thinking/reasoning part of their brain is not home. Afterward, when they're "back" and regulated, THEN we talk about consequences if needed (a LOT of the time I just let it go and ignore it).
  • Give Consequences (like removing media or going in the FAIR Club) are usually saved for deliberate acts of defiance that aren't related to being in fight/ flight/ freeze/ meltdown mode.
  • Calming Techniques If my child is Dysregulated and/ or slipping into Fight/ Flight/ / Freeze mode, then I try to look at the disrespectful language as a signal that they need help getting calm and regulated. If I catch in time that the child getting dysregulated and/or ramping up to a meltdown then I take them aside and try to use Calming Techniques to head off a full meltdown.
  • Avoid Direct Criticism. Nothing triggers my kids more than feeling criticized (especially my daughter whose love language is Words of Affirmation). So calling them on disrespectful behavior usually triggers a rage/ meltdown. Instead, we usually try to go about it differently. Things like: a playful response, redirect/ distraction, ignore it...
  • Cocooning/ Structure and Caring Support - Make their world smaller and more structured.
  • Therapeutic Parenting Based on Emotional/Developmental Age - If my child's emotional age is 6 then expectations, responsibilities, and discipline are based on that emotional age.
  • Let Them Rage - Sounds crazy, but sometimes if I see this is heading toward a rage/ meltdown, I just go ahead and let it lead to a rage/ meltdown and Document, Document, Document, do some major Self-Care, and keep putting one foot in front of the other. [Handllng Rages]

  • Remove bad influences 
    I removed as many bad influences as possible - this included media (music/TV), social media, friends that they get in trouble with... we tried to stay on top of which friends cussed a lot, or let them play rated M video games, and/or let them access the internet on the friend's phone or computer...

  • No Cussing Club - Ponito, my youngest and one of our neurotypical biokids, got in trouble with a neighbor family for cussing. They banned him from playing with their son (and their other children). The boys have been friends since they were 6 months old. Ponito confessed and then told me that another neighborhood boy his age cussed a lot and that's where he'd learned the words. We discovered the No Cussing Club and made Ponito join as part of his FAIR Club assignment. I won't say it had a huge influence on stopping the cussing but it didn't hurt!  [No Cussing Club Works]
  • Remove access to Media/ Social Media - At first, we removed all media that didn't meet our rules. We often changed internet passwords so they couldn't access the internet while at home. Computer time was limited to areas and times when they could be supervised by adults. We did not give the schools permission to give our children access to the internet

    Media in any form was not allowed in bedrooms (we made an exception for Bob who was allowed a laptop in her room for homework - once we were pretty sure she would use it appropriately. 
    [Media and RADHow Media Affects Our ChildrenBob's Media Report]
  • Censorship! I follow the Garbage In/ Garbage Out - GIGO principle (- this post has more information about what we do when it comes to foul language and WHY.)  Music especially is a quick way to the subconscious and repetition drives it home. The kids argue that a lot of the music they want to listen to doesn't have bad language or isn't that inappropriate ("Well, not very inappropriate, Mom."). I tell the kids, especially those with issues, that I want things going into their brains to not just be "not bad," but to actually be GOOD.
    {We stopped watching Cartoon Network (not so much for the language, but the negative attitudes) and didn't watch anything but G-rated movies (as they got older, we switched this to using a ClearPlay DVD player). }
    I bought the kids MP3 players that had unique cords that only allowed them to add music through software loaded on our computer (so they couldn't plug it into a friend's computer and download stuff). We loaded the MP3 players with whatever type of music the kids wanted - as long as it was appropriate (took me forever to find Christian heavy metal!).}

    Later on, I "didn't notice" some of the questionable materials as long as they were careful not to flaunt it or listen to it around younger siblings.
  • Teachable Moments/ Sex Ed. Another thing I do is tell them what the words mean. This usually becomes an impromptu sex talk, which horrifies my children! Thus, it is very effective. LOL
    Ex. "That sucks" or "That blows" gets them a conversation about blow jobs. I talk about what "That sucks!" is really referring to. The same goes for F*ck, B*tch, even 'jacked" (it's not all about sex! lol).
  •  Pretend It's a Compliment. It sounds crazy, but sometimes I just react as though they said something sweet.
    Child: "I f-ing hate you!"
    Me: "I love you too, sweetie!"
  •  "This is Where You Say ________"** - We correct by offering the right words, "This is where you say, 'That makes me really unhappy, Mom. I don't like it when you tell me it is time to go to bed.'"
  •  Redo - Offer a chance for a redo. "I must have heard that wrong. I don't think that's what you meant to say, because if you said that I'd have to {"explain to you again what that word means"; "stop allowing you to watch the show ____ because it seems to trigger you"; "not allow you to hang out with ______ because he/she seems to be a bad influence on you" or "not allow you to go to  __________ because that's where I'm assuming you got that language from"; "you'd have to go in the FAIR Club...}. Why don't you take a minute to think about it and then let me know what I actually heard."

Re-Do / "THIS IS WHERE YOU SAY..." - (excerpt from this post, Discipline and Guidance Techniques)

Our kids (kids with trauma and attachment issues) generally do not learn from role modeling and they may come from environments that are VERY different from our home, so expecting them to understand and use socially appropriate language like "please" and "thank you," even if they've heard you do it a thousand times, isn't really fair. Words that may be totally acceptable in other households and used by adults around them all the time are suddenly not OK around you and that's confusing, to say the least!

Example of when to use a Re-Do/ "This is Where You Say...":

My son made the mistake of growling a response at his grandma in front of Hubby (my son usually hides this type of behavior toward me and my mom from his dad). My husband called him on it, and my son instantly dropped into fight/ flight/ freeze mode- it became an hour-long shouting match.

If Hubby had listened to Katharine Leslie's (my fav attachment guru) seminar on Reciprocity, he might have said:

"Hey bud, would you like to try that again? Your response did not match the situation so I know something else is going on with you. This is where you say, 'Grandma, I didn't understand what you were talking about and I'm really tired right now.'"
Then, if Bear chooses not to "try again" and continues to argue defensively, then maybe Hubby could have said something like,
"I can see you're not able to talk about this right now. That's OK. We can talk about it later." 
And walk away.

We use, "This is where you say..." a LOT! At first, we gave them the words and asked them to repeat them. This helps them learn a more respectful (and effective) way to ask for things. It also reminds them that sometimes we do things just because we're part of a family.

At first, you're probably going to have to help them think of ideas on what to say. Also, be aware this is most likely going to trigger some defense mechanisms because making mistakes feels life or death to our kids.

After a while, you don't have to tell them what to say. Sometimes I prod with, "This is where you say...", and pause. I don't fill in the blank. Eventually, I was able to just give them a "Mom look," and they knew what I expected. (Of course, they didn't always comply!)

(With my husband, I now just walk up to him and strike a pose, and he gives me a compliment. At first, it hurt my feelings that he didn't just automatically meet my need for Words of Affirmation, and it felt like it didn't mean as much because I had to prompt him. I finally realized that wasn't fair. Just like our kids, he needs to be taught what I need. [The Five Love L<-- a="" for="" have="" href="" husband="" husbands="" i="" my="" nbsp="" speak="" subtly="" target="_blank" taught="" this="" to="" too="" works="" yes="">anguages, Marriage - Keeping It Together!]}

Getting a ReDo by Pretending You Don't Understand Them

  • Whinese - If they're whining, we often pretend we don't understand them because we don't speak Whinese.
  • Grammar Police - Once we worked through some of the bigger stuff. I moved on to grammar. It makes my daughter crazy when she says, "Me and SoandSo are going to the movies," and I pretend I don't understand her. Now all I have to say is "Who?!" and she corrects it to "SoandSo and I are going to the movies." She even gets it right on her own some times!


One bad thing I've found about teaching my children proper grammar and presentation is that they now "present well." Meaning that people don't believe they have some of the brain injuries and mental health issues, because they're charming and speak clearly and properly... when they want to of course. [Why Does My Child Act Differently Away From Home?]

The Minister's story 

I have no idea where I heard this story and I've probably mangled it completely, but sometimes when my kids are cussing, I trot this story out during a teachable moment:

There was a minister working at an orphanage in a third world country. Some of the children were cussing and the minister pulled them aside to talk to them privately. He told them that by speaking these words, they were putting them in their head and they colored their thoughts and could come out at times when they didn't want them to. 
{For my kids, I usually gave a few examples of when they wouldn't want to cuss: during a job interview, talking to an adult like a pastor or little old lady, and after Kitty's slip up, in the cafeteria in front of half the students and teachers at their private school.}
A few days later, the minister was in a car accident and the foul language came out of his mouth - in front of his young children and his wife. Just hearing the words had put them in his head.
{This is also one reason I give them for not wanting them to use the language around me.}
 Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 

Take Care of Yourself!
Probably one of the most important things to remember is that this is HARD work! Both the kids and for us. Both for yourself and your family, please take care of yourself.


Finding the Joy
Prioritizing Yourself, Your Family, and Your Child - In That Order
Handling Continuous Traumatic Stress(CTS) - When Your PTSD is Not Post/Past Yet