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, 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 PERSONALITY AND MOTIVATION for the behavior.
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. 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 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. They were scary. Because she provided both structure and support, he respected her and felt safe with her.

Feeling "safe" is HUGE and has nothing to do with reality for our kids. To feel safe, my son needed control of his environment at all times, and can go to extreme measures to get that control. This is not always logical. For example, if Bear is told he can go on a field trip if he has no attendance issues and behaves pleasantly with everyone for a week, but deep down he doesn’t know for sure he can do that, then he might deliberately misbehave so he has control over the outcome. He might also sabotage himself because the trip actually scares him (he doesn’t feel safe in unfamiliar, uncontrollable environments). If a connection is made at all, he will most likely say he didn’t want to go on the “stupid” field trip in the first place (sour grapes). Structure, Support, Routines and Boundaries.

Safety - People that don't provide the structure and support our kids need, are not "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.

Triggers - There are lots of triggers for feeling unsafe that we as rational adults totally miss - food is a huge trigger for my kids. So if he 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. Triggers to watch for is HALTING US (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Ill, New - changes are scary!, Guilty, and UnSafe, ). Calming Techniques. 

Help them identify the emotion that's causing the behavior. Christine Moer discusses that in this video: Therapeutic Parenting - Feelings 

ON THE CHILD'S EMOTIONAL AGE.
My kids chronological/ calendar age is MUCH older than their emotional age. Many of our kids get "stuck" at much younger ages. My 11yo daughter was emotionally stuck at age 4, which was a time of a lot of trauma for her. She was pretty much developmentally on target for THAT age, and unfortunately that meant I had to parent her at that level (really hard to do with a 6yo in a 16yo body or a 12 yo in a 20yo body!). I did find that when I changed my expectations to what was correct 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 counter tops (with lots of reminders), when her 12yo NT brother had much more extensive chores.

ON THE 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 a "honeymoon period" or a defense mechanism. (If You Find Out I'm Not Perfect, You'll Leave).  The child is only polite and respectful when someone is watching. Think Eddie Haskell on the Leave it To Beaver show.


SO WHAT DO YOU DO?
  • Even if my child is a total mess, I can't just ignore the behavior - it sends the wrong message to the child (and siblings!).
  • If my child is dysregulated and/or slipping in to fight/ flight/ freeze - then I try to look at the disrespect as a signal that they need help getting calm and regulated. I might pull the child aside and do some calming techniques.
  • I don't do anything corrective during fight/ flight/ freeze - the thinking part of their brain is not home. Afterwards, when they're back and regulated, THEN we talk about consequences if needed (a LOT of the time I let it go).
  • 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.
  • Sometimes though, if it's going to lead to a rage/ meltdown, sometimes I just let it lead to a rage/ meltdown and document, document, document, do some self-care, and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

ReDo / "THIS IS WHERE YOU SAY..." - excerpt from Discipline and Guidance Techniques
Our kids 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.

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 - it became an hour long shouting match.

If Hubby'd 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're 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 ask them to repeat it. This helps them learn a more respectful (and effective) way to ask for things. It reminds them that sometimes we do things just because we're part of a family.

  • "This is where you say, 'Mom, This is not my favorite snack food, but thanks for making it for me.'" 
  • "This is where you say, 'Could I please have something else?' Now you say it." 
  • "This is where you say, 'Oops! Someone made a mess. Let me clean that up.' I'm not saying you made the mess, but you can still help clean it up." 
  • "I'm looking at your sister's face right now, and I think you might have hurt her feelings. This is where you say, 'I'm sorry your feelings are hurt. What can I do to help you feel better?At first you're probably going to have to help them think of ideas. Also, be aware this is most likely going to trigger some defense mechanisms, because making mistakes feels life or death to our kids.
  • "This is where you say, 'Wow! Sweetheart, you look so hot in that outfit! Rrowrr! Did I ever tell you how lucky I am to be your husband?!'" L<-- a="" for="" have="" href="http://marythemom-mayhem.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-5-love-languages.html" husband="" husbands="" i="" my="" nbsp="" speak="" subtly="" target="_blank" taught="" this="" to="" too="" works="" yes="">ove language
.}
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 just give them a "Mom look," and they know what I expect. (Of course they don'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


Getting a ReDo by pretending you don't understand
Whinese - If they're whining, we often pretend we don't understand them, because we don't speak Whinese.
Grammar Nazi - Once we worked through some of the bigger stuff. I moved on to grammar. Makes my daughter crazy when she says, "Me and SoandSo are going to the movies." 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 time.

Downside! 
One bad thing I've found about teaching my children proper grammar and presentation, is that they now "present well." Meaning 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.


GIGO - Garbage In. Garbage Out. This post has more information about what we do and WHY.


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, bad language to me includes substitute words (darn, crap, frick, shoot...), mean words (stupid, hate, dummy, ugly...), 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.

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 awhile to break the habit. I have to admit that Hubby thinks outlawing some of the "substitute" words is a bit extreme, but he still follows the house rules. 
  3. 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. If Mom uses a cuss word, you better pay attention!). I also "overreact" when I hear it in media. It doesn't actually upset me, but my kids work hard to keep me from hearing it in their media. 
  4. Removing Media - GIGO - I removed as many bad influences as possible - following the Garbage In/ Garbage Out principle  - At first, we actually removed all media that didn't meet our rules. I bought the kids MP3 players that had unique cords to add media (so they couldn't plug it in to a friend's computer and download their stuff). We loaded the MP3 players with whatever the kids wanted - as long as it was appropriate (took me forever to find Christian heavy metal!), We stopped watching Cartoon Network (not so much for the language, but the negative attitudes), and anything but G-rated movies (as they got older, we switched this to using a ClearPlay DVD player), 
  5. 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 or negative behaviors that are in the show. By pointing out what I didn't want them to get from it, I made them:
    a) consciously notice what was in the show and
    b) make a conscious effort to not copy the bad behavior/ language so they won't lose the privilege of watching it.
    c) aware that I'm trusting them to be able to handle it.
  6. "Language" If they've slipped in casual conversation and used a word I didn'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) or stop using the language.
  7. Consequences (usually removing media or going in the FAIR Club) are saved for deliberate acts of defiance that aren't related to being in fight/ flight/ freeze.
  8.  Teachable Moments/ Sex Ed. Another thing I do is tell them what the words mean. It usually becomes an impromptu sex talk, which horrifies my children! Very effective.
    Ex. "That sucks" or "That blows" gets them a conversation about blow jobs. I talk about what "That sucks!" is really referring to, F*ck, B*tch, even 'jacked (it's not all about sex! lol)."
  9.  "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.'"
  10.  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 ____ or not allow you to hang out with ______ or 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.
  11. 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.
  12.  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.