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Our resources are designed for anyone working with children exhibiting negative and challenging behaviors. Whether you are an auditory or visual learner, you will find a variety of resources to keep you growing and learning not only the science behind trauma but real-life "when the rubber hits the road" solutions!

 

Click on the titles that interest you to find out more. Be sure to continue scrolling down to see all the additional resources available to you beyond our books.

 
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TISConversations - PODCAST

Trauma Informed School Conversations (TISConversations) is a podcast series to give you the free support you need during this pandemic. Each session's topic is a relevant subject with an in-depth discussion that goes beyond the surface solutions everyone else is giving. Join Heather as she interviews special guests to pull back the curtain on the challenges brought on as a result of a once in a one-hundred -year event.

 

Free Articles

Parenting Beyond Consequences
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Children need unconditional love and unconditional acceptance from their parents; we all know this and believe this. However, do we ever stop to consider how so many of the traditional parenting techniques accepted in our culture work contrary to the primal goal? Traditional parenting techniques that involve consequences, controlling directives, and punishment are fear-based and fear-driven. They have the ability to undermine the parent-child relationship and because they are tied into behaviors, children easily interpret these actions to mean, "If I'm not good, I am not lovable." Thus, children often build a subconscious foundation that says that love and approval is... Read More >

Issues Facing Adoptive Mothers
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, Adoption Today, 2014

Abstract Summary: Intensive interviews were conducted with 14 adoptive mothers, which identified 16 challenges adoptive mothers face when adopting children with special needs. The purpose was to specify and understand the issues these mothers of special needs children present when seeking professional therapy. The intent was also to increase awareness in the field of adoption. Findings: Findings indicated that these adoptive mothers were faced with a broad range of issues relating to societal, health, emotional, family, financial, and child behavioral factors. Read More >

Teenagers, Trauma, and Trusting in the Power of Relationship
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, Fostering Families Today, 2009

"Oh! Teenagers!" Have you ever found yourself saying this or over-heard another parent saying this with an exasperated tone in her voice?

Raising teenagers takes parents to a while new level. In order to rise to this occasion without exasperation and frustration, it takes understanding our teenagers at an entirely new level. This is especially true for foster parents raising teenagers, who have experienced traumatic and unpredictable childhoods prior to being in their homes. The following are four important factors... Read More >

Re-Examining Play

Therapy - with the Parents

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW & Sophie Fziegielewski, PhD, LCSW, Accredited Continuing Education Training, 2004

Play therapy has been viewed as a traditional recommendation for therapeutic help, or when a child is in a crisis or a parent is having behavioral difficulties with the child. Allowing a child to play out stress within a controlled therapeutic play environment with the help of a therapist has been an accepted model of treatment. While play therapy has often been seen as a model of choice, the authors suggest this approach is restrictive and limiting because i does not include parental participation. It is suggested that serious consideration always be given to include the parent's direct participation in a... Read More >

Reactive Attachment Disorder: A New Understanding
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Reactive attachment disorder (RAD) is a mental health diagnosis listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IVTR) under disorders usually first diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescence. RAD was initially introduced to the mental health community some 20 years ago. Since that time, much of the information regarding this disorder has painted a dismal and often dangerous picture of these children. Books and articles have compared children with RAD to serial killers, rapists, and hard-core criminals. Intensive and often physically aggressive therapies have been... Read More >

Teaching Trauma in the Classroom

 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, Focus on Adoption, 2013

Children are vulnerable. In an optimal environment, they are not expected to experience this vulnerability until later in life when their minds and nervous systems are equipped to handle elevated levels of fear, stress, and overwhelm. Yet, the key phrase here is "optimal environment." Unfortunately, we live in the "real" world, so children will often find themselves in situations that are far from the optimal and the result can be childhood trauma. Childhood trauma happens at both the emotional and psychological level and it can have a negative impact on the child's developmental process. During a trauma event (abuse, neglect, adoption, birth trauma, etc.)... Read More >

Adoption: What Would Drive a Mother to Do the Unthinkable?

Heather T. Forbes, LCSWsubmitted to the New York Times Op-Ed Sept 2011

David Polreis, Logan Higgingbotham, Luke Evans, Jacob Lindorff, Maria Bennett...meet just some of the 15 adopted Russian children killed in the U.S. at the hands of their adoptive parents since 1996.

And now, Justin Hansen...sent back to Russia without love. What would drive a mother to do the unthinkable? Torry Hansen's story is not an isolated case. In fact, it's much more common than we'd like to believe. In a research study of adoptive mothers, 93% stated they had at times, turned into a hateful and miserable...           Read More >

Effective Back-to-SchoolStrategies for Parents

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Who has more fear about heading back to school, you or your child? If we're honest with this question, we find that as parents we become overwhelmed at many different levels. "Will my child's teacher(s) understand him or simply react to him?" "How can I get the school to see my child as a traumatized child, not a defiant child?" "How am I going to maintain my work if the school keeps calling me like they did las year?" "What are the afternoons going to be like once homework starts up again..Oh, goodness!"

And the list goes on and on. Past experiences with schools have been negative for ... Read More >

Attachment and Adoption
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

Before understanding the extent of the specific issues, it is important to acknowledge that adoptive parenting of a child with special needs is different from parenting a child without special needs. Although adoptive parents may face many of the same child-rearing issues as biological parents, adoptive parents of children with special needs face numerous issues related directly to traumatic experiences of the child. Adoptive parents often find that this significantly alters the balance of the family system, resulting in overt stress and disequilibrium, sometimes to the extent that the child is returned to foster care or to the adoption agency. The demands and stress that result... Read More >

The Power of Parenting
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

A couple of days ago, I was attending a small group meeting and in order to introduce a few new members at this group, an ice breaker was given. We were asked to go around the room and in the spirit of Labor Day, tell not what we did for a living but what our parents did for a living when we were growing up. Several of the participants, after describing their credentialed careers of high cultural status of their fathers remarked, "But my mom was just a housewife."

Just a housewife! How sad I was to hear this coming from grown men and women who had their mothers home with them, support them, guide them, and teach them around the clock. Parenting is the most... Read More >

Why Tokens Aren't Working


Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, Adoption Today, 2014

"If you finish your chores today, you'll earn 5 more tokens and that will help you get your goal of 25 by the weekend, Billy!" And Billy turns to his mother and says, "It's your damn house, you do the f***ing chores!", slams his door, and remains in his room the rest of the day.

Using tokens as rewards or motivators for our adopted or foster children not only does not work, it often makes it worse. There are several reasons for this, all of which stem from one word: Trauma. Trauma. Any child who has lost his biological family, either temporarily or permanently, has experienced trauma. The event or events that led to this trauma were experiences... Read More >

Your Child is Misbehaving, Are You Listening?
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, Fostering Families Today, 2014

When reviewing records of many of the children with whom I work, I am forever perplexed at one particular notation I continually see written by therapists and counselors. Under the list of negative traits of the child, it is often written, "Child exhibits attention-seeking behaviors." I strongly believe that children seek attention because they NEED attention. Nature has designed children to be completely dependent on their parents at the moment they are born. A baby crying is the signaling to the parent the baby has a need, a need that the baby cannot satisfy on his own. The baby is indeed exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors... Read More >

Attachment Disorders


Heather T. Forbes, LCSW

An attachment disorder occurs when a child (or adult) has difficulty connecting in an interpersonal relationship with his/her attachment figure (for a child this would be the child's caretaker - parent, grandparent, etc.) Children develop attachment challenges when their early life experiences are challenged by parents and caretakers who are too stressed and dysregulated to stay attuned to the child's signals for needs. Babies and young children do not have a regulatory system equipped to calm themselves or to self-soothe. It is the parent's biological responsibility to provide this regulatory presence for a child. If the child goes without this calming parental presence, the child's... Read More >

Going Beyond the Behaviors: How to Heal from the Impact of Early Trauma
 

Heather T. Forbes, LCSW, Adoption Now, 2008

In order to understand the meaning of tall, we need to understand the meaning of short. To know if something is hot, we must be familiar with something that is cold. Likewise, good is relative to bad, wet is relative to dry, and happy is relative to sad. The same is true in understanding the impact of early childhood trauma and abuse on a child. We need to first understand the impact of positive early childhood experiences in order to understand the impact of negative early childhood experiences. With the comparison of this information, we can have insight into knowing how to parent and connect with a child who... Read More >

In-Depth Q&A

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Why do we need Trauma-Informed schools?


In the mid 1990's, the United States Congress, along with several states, passed laws with the intention of reducing violence, notably gun violence, in schools. These laws not only encourage harsh punishments but in many cases, mandate them. Following the implementation of these laws, there was a rise in out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The unfortunate fall-out for our most behaviorally challenged students is lost educational opportunities and the labeling of them as delinquents and criminals. Additionally, two decades of research shows no evidence that these laws and mandates have improved school safety or student behaviors.

These zero tolerance policies are the least trauma-informed policies ever put into practice in our schools. They ignore the mental and emotional needs of the most vulnerable of students in our schools and allow absolutely no understanding to the individual needs of students. Ironically, the students who need the most help are punished, judged, and pushed away, which only works to deepen their trauma related issues.

Trauma research is giving us answers as to why these earlier policies do not work. Neuroscience is showing how the brain is impacted when children grow up in stressful environments. Their brains are wired differently, they think from a platform of fear, and they have negative belief systems about themselves and the world in which they live. This creates challenges within the framework of our traditional disciplinary models. The result is that we are failing our students and asking them to be like all the "normal" kids yet they are neurologically unequipped to be able to do so.

For many of our students, they have experienced years of toxic stress in their home environments that shifted them into living every moment of everyday in survival mode. Their new "normal" is fear, reactivity, and failure. This is how they have survived. It is all they know. The result it that their brains are wired for fear...their brains are not "bad" and their reactivity isn't necessarily "wrong." They are products of their environments. They have survival brains and that's how they enter their classrooms everyday. What science is showing us, is that this is a brain issue, not a behavioral issue.

Using a trauma-informed approach within our schools is the answer. It is an approach that implements an understanding of trauma into the everyday practices and policies of an academic environment. Using a trauma-informed approach means changing how we interact with students and how we implement discipline in a way that is modified to be responsive to the impact of traumatic stress. A program that is "trauma-informed" operates within a framework that incorporates an understanding of the ways in which trauma impacts an individual's socio-emotional health.

Students who have been impacted by trauma carry a very heavy load and they operate at a perpetual high level of stress. For most, their trauma wasn't a one time-incident...it didn't happen overnight. It happened and continues to happen on a perpetual and long-term basis.

Children have a natural love for learning yet what we as a collective society have forgotten is that children are first emotional beings. They operate at an emotional level, not an intellectual level. That's the definition of being a child.

A survey was created by the Beyond Consequences Institute (BCI) to ask the opinions of students regarding what they need at school to make learning better. Students from first to twelfth grade completed the survey and their answers gave profound insights into the needs of these students. Only 2% of the students made suggestions regarding actual academic improvements. The remaining answers focused on suggestions to meet their social and emotional needs.

The students' responses centered on identifying ways the school could meet their physiological needs, safety concerns, relationship needs, and self-esteem needs. The collective responses from all the students created a similar framework to psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory. Maslow suggested that the needs of individuals must be met before they will have a strong desire for improving themselves and moving forward in their growth. In order of priority, Maslow theorized that individuals must have their physiological, safety, love/belonging/and esteem needs met prior to being motivated at the self-actualization level. He also believed that when these basic needs are deficient in one's life, the feelings of being anxious and tense are typically present.

Taking this framework of human motivation developed by Maslow, the same basic principles can be applied directly to the student in the classroom. The "Hierarchy of Learning" pyramid describes why we need to have a trauma-informed approach in our schools. Instead of addressing the top of the pyramid, which is what we have traditionally done, we must first address everything below the top in order to ultimately reach the top of the pyramid. Trusting the process of meeting the social and emotional needs of our students to achieve high test-scores and successful graduation rates is the ultimate in making the shift to a trauma-informed school.




My son is still struggling after all of the changes we've made. Shouldn't he be doing better by now?


Full Question
For the past six years, we have been implementing the Beyond Consequences parenting model with our son and have seen a massive amount of improvements. We have changed our lifestyle, found the perfect school and teacher for him, and supported him with tutoring. I feel like my wife and I have even done much of our own work to keep ourselves from reacting and in a place of love with him. However, even after all of this, I still see our son struggling! I am frustrated because I truly know that he has everything right in front of him to get better. Is there something more we should be doing that I've missed?


Answer
Six years later with all the parameters in place (just the right school; an amazing teacher; a patient tutor; a home environment that provides understanding, love, and support; a less stressful lifestyle; and parents who have done their own emotional work) and your son is still struggling. I know it's so easy to ask, "Shouldn't he be okay by now?" Sometimes yes, but sometimes no. The reality may actually hold a different outcome and the reason comes down to one simple truth: Your son may not be ready to receive this understanding and help. Ultimately, we have to understand our children are on their own journeys. They are on their own timetable and their own organic paths to healing. Healing takes courage and the ability to break down massive protective barriers, barriers that were created to protect the heart and soul from more overwhelming amounts of pain and fear. Our work as parents is done after we have provided what you describe, all with an overabundance of support, understanding, and love. The only step after this is to detach--detach from the outcome. There is nothing more to do at this point. Just detach. Detachment is hard because we live in a world that is outcome based. To stay focused on the process requires us to find the courage to place confidence in the power of love, to have certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that love will never fail. What has failed us in the past is that fear got in the way and created more problems and more resistance. We are asking our children to change and to trust in love; we must do the same. We are asking them to let go of their defenses and internal protective forces, thus we must also make these changes in order to complete this process for them. Let go of your son's outcome. It is not about giving up; it is about letting go and changing the tool of measurement. Ask yourself about the process in which you engage with him: "Did I give him understanding, acceptance, and validation today?" These are the things that should be measured because these are, in reality, the only parts over which we have any control. We cannot control the outcome of any child, especially a child with a trauma history. Thinking that we can is in essence ignoring and discrediting the strength and power of free will. We are on this planet in a framework of free will, all of us. This is why every one of us is resistant to power and control. We were given this gift to learn and experience what true love is. Each of us is here to migrate back to the essence of our origins--back to the fullness and completeness of unconditional love. For this reason, a controlling and fear-based model within any organization, whether it is a home environment, a corporation, a personal relationship, or a classroom, will always fail in the long term. The solution is to flip the evaluation and focus back to us--the parent, the support person, the teacher, the therapist--because nothing is guaranteed except for the gift of giving love. It is then up to the receiver to receive the love or reject it, to either change or stay the same. Your ability to give love and stay mindful is the new outcome. At the end of each day, each year, each decade, or an entire lifetime, look back and ask yourself if you did all you could to make a loving and positive difference. We have been asking the wrong questions, which can only lead to feeling utterly unsuccessful. We have been asking whether our children behaved, whether or not they won the top honors, or whether they were accepted into Harvard. If you ask the wrong questions, you'll get the wrong answers. The questions that each of us parenting and working with children should be asking are, "What was my level of love?" and "To what extent was I able to get outside of my own desires and agenda to be able to be in the shoes of this child?" When you have been able to fully and unconditionally deliver everything your child needs, your work is complete. There is nothing else to do. It is then up to your child to receive the help and make the needed changes. Sometimes our children can change, sometimes they cannot. Or perhaps they simply are not ready to change and it is not the right timing. At this point love is about letting go and stepping back to give our children their right to free will. There is nothing else to do but love them, create boundaries for them, be clear about expectations, and continue doing your best because your best is good enough. Let love take over from here and be kind and loving to yourself, always.




What is Interactive Regulation?


The Power of Love and Relationship Humans are designed to be in relationship. We are designed to grow up in families and live in communities. What is considered the most severe punishment of an inmate in prison? Solitary confinement. This is because we are neurologically and biologically designed to be in relationship. Being alone for extended periods of time goes against our physiology. Children need connection in order to feel loved, accepted, and safe. They cannot sufficiently create this on their own. They need to experience this first from the adults in their lives before they can give it to themselves. Children, especially babies, do not have the ability to "regulate" on their own.

A baby crying in a crib is communicating that he is in need of help. The baby is seeking regulation. The baby has slipped into a state of dysregulation, needing to be fed, rocked, cuddled, or have a diaper changed. The baby is incapable of shifting from this state of dysregulation to a state of regulation on his own. If the baby is not cared for, he goes into a hyper-aroused state, whereby the stress hormones excrete excessively until ultimately, the body will protect itself from creating internal damage by shutting down. The baby then stops crying and appears to have settled down.

Yet in actuality, the baby has not shifted back into a state of regulation. The baby has simply shifted from a state of active arousal to a state of passive arousal, still dysregulated at the internal level. He has been denied an interactive experience with his caregiver. He has missed the vital experience of being calmed and soothed, or regulated, by his caregiver.

This same concept is true for any child, whether in a school or home. When a child is acting out, it is a sign that the child has slipped into a state of dysregulation. If the child has not had enough past regulatory experiences of being soothed through the power of a loving relationship, the child's ability to self-regulate is insufficient to shift to a state of regulation on his own. Whether describing an infant or a 15-year-old child who is dysregulated, the role of the adult (whether it is a parent or teacher) is always to join with the child in order to help the child regulate back to a state of calm arousal.

Science is showing that essential regulatory functions occur in the right hemisphere. The right hemisphere is responsible for the processing of positive and negative affective states, such as interest, excitement, and joy, along with pain, fear, and overwhelm. The right hemisphere controls the human stress response system and cortisol secretion as well as vital functions supporting survival. When a child's experiences do not include predictability, quality care-giving, loving interactions, and safety, these functions of the right hemisphere are impaired and the ability to regulate is compromised.

When interacting with a child exhibiting difficult behaviors, look into the child's present and past experiences and you are likely to find a cycle of disruption and unpredictability. In order to help a child get back on track, it takes connecting with the child at the emotional level. This connection happens in the right brain, so it is not the words that are important. It is the facial expression, tone and volume of voice, as well as the posture, tempo, and timing of movement. It is about learning to simply be present with the child and allowing the child emotional space to process through the stress.

This is an interactive process between the adult and the child, and thus, it is imperative that the adult be in a state of regulation. If the adult is stressed out and dysregulated, the adult's ability to create a state of regulation for the child is severely compromised. Have you ever been in a store and watched a stressed-out parent instructing the child to, "Calm down. Calm down, right now!"? The words are effective words; however, the delivery of the words is far more important to consider. It is not what you say, but how you say it.

Imagine having the opportunity to sit next to Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Mother Teresa. How do you think you would feel simply sitting next to any one of these individuals who radiates pure love? Would your system automatically shift to a state of regulation? You undoubtedly would feel a sense of calm and peacefulness, even if words were not exchanged.

While this may be an extreme example, you do have the same ability to create this type of connection with a dysregulated child. This is the power of love and relationship. This is "interactive regulation." Interactive regulation is the ability to easily regulate one's emotional state through interactions with others. As the child experiences these interactions with you and through you, he will gain experiential knowledge of what it feels like to be regulated. He will have experiences of going from a state of dysregulation and upset to a state of peace and calm.

As the child experiences this interactive regulation through your relationship with him, he then learns how to self-regulate, or as science is terming it, to "autoregulate." This is the ultimate gift we can give children--to be able to self-regulate in times of stress, without others and without external measures.

Childhood is the most opportune time to accomplish this goal. Science is showing that positive emotional experiences carve permanent pathways into a child's developing neurological system. Every interaction you have with a child is an opportunity to help the child regulate, make a positive emotional connection, and literally lay down neural networks that will enhance his brain's capacity to handle stress and overwhelm later in life. Conversely, research states that if a significant amount of a child's emotional experiences are characterized by fear, then a negative and hopeless perspective becomes part of the child's personality framework.

It is important to realize these experiences influence a child far more than we once believed. In the past, it was believed that children who grow up with an abundance of experiences of distress, fear, separation, and rage simply develop bad behaviors and bad habits. We now know that it goes much deeper than this; they develop ingrained negative neurological pathways that control much of what they do.

The good news is that our brains are ever changing and ever creating new neuropathways. Neuroplasticity is the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections based on life experiences. Yet it is vital to the healing process of children that these new neuropathways are formed from emotional experiences, not intellectual or cognitive experiences.

These emotional experiences are not experiences that can be created in a therapist's office once a week for 50 minutes nor can they be created by being isolated in detention or by being suspended from school. These healing moments need to happen through the context of the adult-child relationship. It is in the moments when your child or student is most "raw" and the most dysregulated that you are being presented with an opportunity to create change and healing. It takes interacting from not just a new perspective but from an entirely new paradigm centered in the heart.




What is maximizing and minimizing?


Full Question
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. Answer 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."




How do we empower our children?


With the avalanche of sexual harassment charges making headlines, I have been reflecting on how childhood experiences of trauma impact the unfolding of such experiences when children become adults. Childhood blueprints powerfully impact the way we respond, react, and interpret situations we encounter as adults. The way we think, act, and behave is a direct reflection of our past.

For children impacted by trauma, the blueprints that become part of their being are, unfortunately, very negative. Unchecked and unaddressed childhood trauma puts our children in a vulnerable position as they navigate the "real world" as adults. Blueprints of powerlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness can easily lead to either the abuse of power or complete submission to those in power.

As parents, educators, or mentors in children's lives, we have a powerful responsibility to address these negative blueprints. Here is a list of seven ways to help children change their negative blueprints into positive ones on their developmental journey into adulthood as they heal:

  1. Foster self-love.
    Self-confidence, self-worth, self-validation, and self-respect are essential to self-love. Trauma negatively impacts all of these because the messages often sent to the child through the experiences of trauma are: you aren't lovable, you aren't worthy, and you aren't good enough.

    Unwinding these internal beliefs begins with the loving adult in the child's life giving the opposite messages to the child: you are lovable, you are worthy, and you are good enough. However, these new messages cannot come just verbally. They have to come through the actions of the adult. The adult has to unconditionally love the child through actions that are free from power and control and free from judgment. No matter the behaviors of the child, the adult has to continue staying connected in a loving relationship. Directives have to be given to teach new behaviors and consequences may need to be imposed but the relationship is never compromised.

    A trauma-informed approach gives this to a child. It places the relationship in front of behavior. When children experience this type of unconditional love from the adults in their lives, it opens the door for them to return that type of love back to themselves. As they move into adulthood, they are no longer at risk of entering adult relationships asking other people to validate them. This puts them in a position where they are less vulnerable to other people's actions.

    When children have confidence in their own actions, they develop a deep sense of self-respect, giving them the ability and courage to stop anyone who might want to take advantage of them in any way. It also creates someone so secure in themselves, that they do not seek to control others or have a need to abuse their position of power because they are fully in their own personal power.

  2. Teach emotional expression.
    Many children impacted by trauma learn one emotion: anger. They are angry at the world, themselves, parents, teachers, and God. Anger is pervasive in their lives. Even for children who shut-down and do not openly express their anger, they are shutting down because the anger is too much to handle. Anger is also a protective emotion. It is easier to feel anger than it is to feel fear, sadness, or shame.

    There are five basic feeling words that you can start teaching children or young adults: mad, sad, scared, happy, and grateful. You do not need any special therapeutic books...simply use the books you already have to teach emotions. Use the characters in the stories that children are already familiar with to point out how the characters are feeling and ask emotionally driven questions.

    At the Beyond Consequences Institute, we have a new book just published that gives an example of how to do this. The Gingerbread Girl is a story of an empowered, clever, and graceful young lady who [spoiler alert] prevails in the end, as opposed to the classic story of The Gingerbread Boy who gets eaten. At the back of this book, I have written a social/emotional guide to give an example of how any book can be made into a resource for teaching emotional expression. For more information on this book, click here.

  3. Give children a voice.
    Interacting with our children in a way that allows them to have a voice and to be heard sets a standard for them. It tells them that their voice matters. When children learn early in their lives to voice their opinions, concerns, and desires, they are establishing a blueprint that will give them the ability to appropriately speak up later in life to those in authority, rather then allowing fear to hold them back.

    Many times during traumatic events, children are told not to tell or to say anything to anyone. Their abusers threatened them with even more severe punishment if they do. Thus, trauma robs children of their voice. Many times, the depth of fear given by the abuser silences them to the point that their bodies lock up and they literally cannot speak, even if they want to.

    Regaining the ability to speak is part of a child's healing process. They need to be able to have their voice back to regain their ability to stop future predators. Be sure to open up the space for children to have a voice. This does not mean they always get their way but it does mean their opinions and desires are taken seriously and taken into consideration by the adults in charge of them.

  4. Change the victim blueprint.
    Children impacted by trauma experience vulnerability at a very young age. They are hurt very deeply and have become victims to people who were supposed to be the safest people in their lives. They gave their personal power away to someone who was supposed to take responsibility of them. Yet, what they got in return was broken trust, broken relationships, and a broken heart.

    Getting children out of a victim blueprint requires someone first taking responsibility for what happened to them. If the adult who created the pain is unable or unwilling to take responsibility, then it has to be an adult close to them. If you are the closest person to this child, you may not have had any part of the traumatic experience, so it is not about you having to take the blame. It is simply about you opening your heart to their pain, "I'm so sorry this happened to you. If I had been there, I would have done anything to make sure this didn’t happen to you."

    When adults can take responsibility for children's previous traumatic experiences, it has a powerful impact. It helps them move forward on their own forgiveness journey. Eventually, it also helps them to start to take responsibility for their actions and for what happens in their lives, without blaming others.

  5. Teach a new story of empowerment.
    The classical stories of the prince coming to save the princess teach a lesson of disempowerment, as well as a level of helplessness and powerlessness to our girls. It also gives our boys a distorted view of their role in relationships and the helplessness of women. For children impacted by trauma, they have already experienced helplessness so these types of stories only drive home the negative blueprint of disempowerment.

    We need to give examples of empowerment and stories of how, when we dig deep within ourselves, we can accomplish anything to which we put our minds. Children learn by modeling so we need to give them stories with characters who model creativity, cleverness, and commitment in order to reach success and happiness through actions of their own (see The Gingerbread Girl for an example of this). Such models of self-determination and self-empowerment will serve them through the challenges they face as adults.

  6. Teach children problem solving skills.
    As mentioned in point #4, when children experience trauma, they experience what it means to be a victim. As much as no one wants to be a victim, it can become a familiar pattern, especially for children who experience perpetual trauma. Long-term trauma sets patterns for our children...it is not about what is right or wrong, good or bad, but rather what is familiar.

    To change these negative but familiar blueprints, children impacted by trauma need to regain a sense of control over their worlds. Teaching children healthy problem-solving strategies can give them the essential feeling of having options and control over what happens in their lives. It helps them to see how they can make their lives different and how they can improve situations that are not suiting to them. This gives children the skills and the process needed to take action or at least to have confidence that they can find out what is needed to take action, rather than simply giving into a situation and not knowing how to find their way out of it.

  7. Reconnect children with their gut instincts.
    Children impacted by trauma sometimes lose touch with their own intuition. They become "shape shifters" to please those abusing them. They take on the likes, dislikes, and personalities of abusing adults in an attempt to fit in and be safe. They abandon themselves and do not know who they are anymore. They lose the ability to listen to their own inner voice.

    For children who come out of orphanages, some do not even know when they are hungry, thirsty, or need to go to bathroom. They have lived in such a fearful and regimented environment that they have lost touch with their bodily signals.

    The body has intelligence and it is always giving us signals. For example, you might have been walking down a street once and "felt" someone behind you even though you could not see or hear them. These signals from the body are guiding us to safety, happiness, and love. Thus, we need to help children impacted by trauma to get back in touch with their bodies. Teaching mindfulness and bodily awareness helps them to reconnect with their inner voice of guidance and the physical signals of their bodies.
We cannot change the experiences our children have endured but we can help them to change their blueprints for future experiences. Traumatic experiences leave a deep imprint but so do unconditionally loving relationships. Our ability to move children from negative blueprints to positive blueprints can help to make certain that we as a culture never go back to allowing the undercurrent of sexual harassment to be a reality again. Love and empowerment are the key!




What are your child's blueprints?


Full Question
My child's early years were spent in a home that was chaotic and unpredictable. Later, he lived in several foster care homes before coming to live with us. Today is our four-year anniversary of being adopted but I find myself still frustrated on a daily basis. After four years, he still continues to be a disruptor in our home and anything I do to try to make life a positive experience for him, he flips it around to be negative and chaotic. Please help! Answer Congratulations on your four-year adoption anniversary! One of the first thoughts that came to mind when I read your question was that you can take a child out of the trauma, but getting the trauma out of the child takes much effort. Your child's early history impacted his blueprint of the meaning of family and of life.

When children grow up in traumatic homes, that kind of environment is the familiar and they come to believe this is "normal." They just assume that this is the way life is for everybody. A deep subconscious imprint is formed and they live out of this blueprint for the rest of their lives, unless it is consciously changed.

For children growing up in the type of environment your son experienced, their definition of what love and family means is skewed and distorted. Listed in the left-hand column are words that describe your son's early blueprint of love and family. Conversely, children who grow up in loving, predictable, and emotionally sensitive homes, develop blueprints for love and family that are much more in line with reality. In the right-hand column below are words that define what these children perceive as love and family. Your son is still living out of this early blueprint, despite being in your home for four years. That is why it feels like he is sabotaging and disrupting everything you do to create a loving environment for him. Your family is uncomfortably juxtaposed between the left-hand column and the right-hand column listed in the chart above.

Some children learn to redefine their blueprints simply through repetition and time. Other children, however, need more intentional and conscious work to finally let go of distorted blueprints. Why? It all depends on the depth of the trauma, the child's perception of the traumatic experiences, and the child's personality type. It isn't a reflection of you being a "good" or "bad" parent. It's just the nature of trauma.

Bringing a negative blueprint up to the child's conscious awareness can be a valuable exercise in helping him change these early definitions. Take a large sheet of white poster board or paper and draw the chart given above. When your son is in a calm state, go through these two sides of the chart with him. Add in more about his early life story and help him see that what he experienced years ago is influencing his life today.

Tell him that your job is to help him learn what the true definition of family is. It also helps to take responsibility for not being there early on to protect him from these traumatic experiences. Although it wasn't your "fault," our children need someone to take responsibility for what happened to them in order for them to move forward in their healing journeys. When you can say, "I'm so sorry I wasn't there to protect you and give you everything you deserved as a baby/toddler. I so wish I was able to have been there for you!" from a heart-centered, authentic place, it helps him to know you really understand him.

Keep this poster up in your house and when he starts to go back into these old patterns and that old blueprint takes over, lovingly remind him of what true family is all about. It is important to not just talk about this old blueprint but to show it visually, as shown in this chart. Most children with trauma need visual communication along with auditory communication to have it make more sense and for it to be retained within their memory systems.

Trauma recovery is a life-long developmental process. Keep connecting with the left-hand column to understand how to bring him into the right-hand column!




After years of teaching her to organize, my daughter's room is a mess! Why?


Full Question
I've been avoiding my 16-year-old daughter's room because I simply can't stand the mess she creates. I admit, I just didn't want to deal with one more argument. I was looking for something the other day and I needed to go into her room. Oh my goodness...what a disaster! After years of teaching her how to organize (she came to us at age three after an early history of trauma), I simply can't figure out how her room could be this horrible and downright disgusting. Please help! Answer The art and skill of organizing takes a well-developed brain. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain that gives us the ability to plan, organize, and problem solve. To keep a room clean and in order, it takes all three of these skills. Science tells us that this area is one of the last areas of the brain to mature and it can take up to 25 years for someone to fully develop his or her prefrontal cortex when living in an optimal environment for all of those 25 years.

Early childhood trauma can severely impact how the brain develops throughout the entire developmental journey into adulthood, even if the child is taken out of trauma and placed in a loving and positive environment. The early wiring of the brain, as in your daughter's case from birth to three years old (and perhaps even in-utero), will influence how the brain continues to develop throughout her life, especially in her teenage years.

While it is very frustrating as a parent to continually see your child's room resemble a war zone, I believe one of the best ways to curb this frustration is to understand what trauma does to a child's brain. It isn't that your child "won't" keep her room clean, it's that she "can't" keep her room clean (at least not yet..there's still time for the brain to develop).

In the late 80's, you may remember the commercial for the anti-drug campaign that showed an egg on a hot frying pan with the slogan, "This is your brain on drugs." I'll take the creative liberty here to modify this for our children impacted by trauma to say, "This is your brain on trauma." When you see your daughter's room, simply repeat this phrase in your head, over and over again. It will help keep you from being reactive, frustrated, and feeling as if she is just being lazy, defiant, or unappreciative. It truly is why she is having such a difficult time.

Trauma also puts children in a place where they get overwhelmed very easily. Perhaps you helped her clean and organize her room a few months ago but once a few things were left on the floor, then a few more, and then a few more, in a very short amount of time, a point of no return was reached. The quick build-up of mess would easily have gotten her so overwhelmed and stressed-out that she simply had to shut-down the idea of cleaning it up again.

Additionally, some children with histories of trauma often have a hard time throwing items away. What may look like trash to you, is not trash to them. Objects, and I mean any objects, are tangible and they can represent value. And most importantly, they represent security. If you felt safer surrounding yourself with items of value, you too would most likely completely fill your room with items, no matter the mess.

Even with these explanations, I still believe it is our duty as parents to help our children overcome the deficiencies they have in keeping a room organized. First, you must let go of the negativity and accept the disorder and chaos in her room as a byproduct of trauma. Then, work with your daughter to help her organize. This may require dropping your expectations of her being able to do it on her own because she is 16-years-old. When your offer to help is free from anger, frustration, and disapproval, she is more likely to be able to accept your help.

Chunking the task of cleaning her room into smaller segments at a time can help to minimize the overwhelm. Start with just the dresser one day. The next day, tackle underneath the bed (or maybe that will take two days!). Then move to the closet, and so on. This may be something you need to do with her for several months or maybe even a year or two years. You'll be setting into motion new patterns and new habits, which will eventually lay down new neuropathways in the brain.

No matter how long it takes, just keep saying to yourself, "This is your brain on trauma." and I know you'll get there! Trust in the process and trust that love will never fail.




What do you do with a child who is so compelled to a repetitious behavior?


Full Question
What do you do with a child who is so compelled to a repetitious behavior that he can't be redirected to the task at hand? Answer
As humans, one of our basic primal needs is that of certainty. It feels good to know for certain what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and how it is going to happen. We also seek certainty through our behaviors and actions. For some, repetitive behaviors create certainty which reduces the level of internal fear. OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) is about an intense need for certainty. For others, food creates certainty. Food makes us feel good, thus gives us an instant feeling of certainty. Additionally, many parents seek certainty through controlling parenting techniques. On the other hand, uncertainty is a basic human need as well but only if there is enough certainty in our lives to create a balance between the two. For most of us, we enjoy an occasional surprise, it creates excitement. We like change, to a small degree, because it creates variety in our lives. For some, a higher level of uncertainty creates a rush of being "alive" like riding a roller coaster, watching a scary movie, or even jumping out of an airplane. For children with traumatic histories, they have experienced an over abundance of uncertainty. There has not been a balance between the amount of uncertainty and certainty in their lives. If an imbalance of the two creates a level of fear for the average adult then it is understandable for a child, with limited coping skills, such an imbalance creates an exponential amount of fear. The result is a child who will constantly seek certainty, at all costs. He is working to live in a heightened state of certainty in order to calm the fear of uncertainty that is programmed in his nervous system. When we as parents then try to redirect this behavior, we are creating yet more uncertainty. The child, in his desperate attempt to return to a state of balance and regulation, will resist the parent and refuse to be redirected. The parent typically interprets this as "bad" behavior, "defiant" behavior, or "disrespectful" behavior. Worse, the parent takes this lack of responsiveness personally as if the child is behaving in this manner simply to push the parent's button or to be revengeful. The negative neurological feedback loop is thus in full swing. Both the parent and the child are working to attain certainty, yet they are both doing it from a self-absorbed framework. The relationship becomes more strained, thus breeding more uncertainty! If the parent can understand that the child is simply working to create certainty in his uncertain world, this negative loop can easily be interrupted. The parent can acknowledge that the compelling behavior (as given in this question) is helping the child feel better and that switching to a new task is incredibly difficult and scary. A conversation might look like this: Parent: "Tommy, it is going to be time for us to go out and rake leaves in a few minutes."

Tommy: ignores his mom and continues to keep pushing his Hot Wheels up and down the hallway, over and over again.
Parent: Sitting down near Tommy, acknowledges his behavior, "You like running your cars up and down this hallway, don't you? I think you've been doing for over an hour. Wow! That does look like fun and I bet it makes you feel good."

Tommy: "I don't want to go rake leaves."

Parent: "I know. It isn't easy changing from one activity that makes you feel good to another activity that you don't even like."

Tommy: "I hate raking leaves."

Parent: "I know. I want to help you today. I don't want you to feel so overwhelmed with this type of stuff anymore. If I'm with you, I'm certain it will be easier for you."

Tommy: "Humph"

Parent: "How about we do this in about 5 minutes?"
The parent works to connect with Tommy's fears and acknowledges his struggle of shifting to a different activity. The parent creates certainty by being with him now while promising to be with him during the new activity. Through their relationship, the parent is working to create the certainty he is seeking through the toy cars. The parent's goal is to help Tommy shift from using the toys as security to using the relationship with him as the security. Giving him five minutes also gives Tommy emotional space to consider making this change and time to process this change, which reduces the element of surprise. As human beings, we are constantly working to create balance in our lives. Your children's behaviors are often times reflective of this need for balance. Look beyond the typical interpretations of defiance, disrespect, and retaliation, to identify the significance of your child's behaviors. When you can do this, you put yourself in the most powerful position - the position of a committed, loving, and understanding parent!




Why do our efforts using Beyond Consequences seem unsuccessful?


Full Question
I have to say that in the two weeks we used the techniques in the book, my son has gone from occasional and minor non-compliance to a constant source of rude talking, anger, misbehavior and general disruption. As of yesterday we are trying to forget everything we learned in an effort to recover from this catastrophic experiment. I guess it doesn't work for everyone.


Answer
I certainly want to address this Email I was sent by a discouraged parent because I know that it can be frustrating and disheartening to see negativity in a home intensify when trying to make positive changes. Implementing a new technique in the home can create disruption for families. A new technique is change and in our children's perspectives, change is inherently bad because something bad is going to happen, thus threatening their relative sense of safety. The Beyond Consequences paradigm is an absolute 180 degree shift from what many families have traditionally used. Yet, an increase in negative behavior can actually be seen as a step in the right direction for families beginning their journey down the Beyond Consequences healing road. Let me explain... We traditionally use behaviors as a gauge to determine whether our child is "good" or "bad." We are a behaviorally and outcome based society, where the behavior determines either success or failure. Unfortunately, we deny the process and only focus on the end result. With sensitive children (i.e., children acting out with defiant and severe behaviors), losing our focus of the process creates fear within us as parents. If we only see a child as being rude, misbehaving, and angry, then all we see is failure. In this example, I want to encourage the parent to see that the change in behavior, albeit an increase in negative behavior, is actually a sign of an improved process. This child is expressing more of himself and sharing his pain and fear with the parent. The child is discharging past trauma. Trauma gets stored in the mind and body of a child and it has to be released. The releasing of trauma is never "pretty." Allowing the discharge of trauma then allows the process of healing to begin. Emotional expession is a learned behavior. Most children coming out of trauma have only learned to express themselves in negative and rude ways. The process of recovery and healing involves first allowing for a short period the child to express in the only way they know how and then tightening up the boundaries around how to express appropriately. It is our job through the interactions with our children to teach them how to express themselves in positive ways. In the beginning, try to think of attitudes and sassiness simply as a communication of a deeper trauma issue, knowing that as you build the relationship and the trust, then it is time to teach and expect better ways of communicating from your child. Now be honest with yourself when answering this question: When you've been stressed out, felt like you are not being heard, and felt completely overwhelmed, did you ever react to those closest to you in a disrespectful, angry, or inappropriate way? I'm thinking your answer is "yes." We act like this when we have no other means to get someone to connect with us and to connect with our needs. I believe that by implementing the Beyond Consequences paradigm in this home, this parent actually created more safety and more emotional space for this child to move out of a hypo-aroused state (inwardly shut-down state) into a hyper-aroused state (outwardly, angry state). By increasing the level of safety, removing the threat of punishment, and responding instead of reacting, this parent created space for this child to express himself. This is a victory. Yet it is only a victory if we stay focused on the process. It is vital to accept that the process may be "ugly" and "uncomfortable" and yes, "disrespectful" (as seen from the traditional model) but if we truly understand that our children need to time discharge the trauma and "unlearn" poor communication skills, it should not be difficult to accept this as part of the healing process. Meeting our children exactly where they are is the only way to move them forward to bring them exactly where we think they should be. When a child shifts from a hypo-aroused to hyper-aroused state, celebrate. Yes, celebrate that tantrums are happening! Finally, the child is venturing out of his/her shell and is getting out the fear, pain, and stress instead of keeping it locked down. This is the healing moment. This is the opportunity to reach in and connect with the child in order to demostrate through experience what a safe relationship with a parent can be like. Creating emotional safety and space for emotional expression is scary and it takes courage. I do believe that love works for everyone. It is simply a matter of focusing on the relationship, focusing on the process of trauma recovery, and giving our children time to re-learn appropriate ways to express their emotions. In doing so, the ONLY possible outcome to follow will be "good behavior."




How do I keep myself focused on parenting in the Beyond Consequences way?


Full Question I'm having a difficult time keeping myself focused on parenting in the Beyond Consequences way. I read several of your books and agree with them, but there are days that I feel like it is all for nothing. We have one good day where I think, "Great, this is it." Then the next three days we all are dysregulated and I feel discouraged. I keep thinking that I'd rather go back to my full-time job, working 60 hours a week with deadlines due yesterday! Do you have any words of wisdom? Answer A few of days ago, I was attending a small group meeting and in order to introduce a few new members at this group, an icebreaker was given. We were asked to go around the room and instead of telling what we did for a living, we were asked what our parents did for a living when we were growing up. Several of the participants, after describing credentialed careers of high cultural status of their fathers, remarked, "But my mom was just a housewife."

Just a housewife! How sad I was to hear this coming from grown men and women who had a parent home with them to support them, guide them, and teach them around the clock. Parenting is the most important job on this planet. You know this, I know this, but there has not been enough recognition in our society. Perhaps this is due to the intangible nature of this job. This job does not have a paycheck, there are no holiday bonuses, and there is no big desk to sit behind with plaques and certificates to recognize the accomplishments or to present the significance of this job to others.

Good news - this has changed! We are now living in a time where we can show real, tangible evidence of how important this job of parenting is for children. We now have solid, objective evidence that shows the need and importance of safe, attuned, and supportive parenting.

To give you an example, the image below shows the brain scans of two different three-year-olds. On the left side is a healthy three-year-old who has been in a nurturing and loving home his entire life. This child is showing an average size head (50th percentile). On the right side is a three-year-old who suffered severe sensory-deprivation neglect. This child's head is significantly smaller than average (3rd percentile). These images are taken from Dr. Bruce Perry's research ("Childhood Experience and the Expression of Genetic Potential: What Childhood Neglect Tells Us About Nature and Nurture." Brain and Mind 3: 79-100, 2002). While this example is extreme in nature, other examples of research have shown the significance of nurturing care. Research is showing that simple changes in a child's environment can literally change a child's physiology. We are seeing that by placing children with trauma histories in calmer environments with more love-based parenting techniques where a deep level of emotional safety is created, stress hormones within these children's body systems are decreasing. This means that parents have the ability to literally change the chemical make-up of their children (not to mention themselves, as well)! Certainly this is a job is just as powerful as the attorney next door or the mayor of your city.

From the research today, our responsibility, or "job description," as parents, is to help our children heal. While not an easy task, it is possible. It takes us changing our perspective not only to understand our children and ourselves, but a change in our understanding as to the significance of parenting. No more "just a housewife."

So, instead of waking up in the morning thinking, "I've got to get up, fix my children breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!" I encourage you to say to yourself, "Today is the day that I will press on to help change my child's brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level."

Wow! Now that is something worth jumping out of bed for!




Won't being the "parental sponge" cause trauma in the parent?


From Heather's Daily Parenting Reflections:
“In order for children to open up to their past trauma memories, the parent has to be willing to be a 'parental sponge'--acknowledging, absorbing, and experiencing every feeling, every tear, and every fear associated with the trauma. Now that is connection!" Full Question
I just read my first reflection, regarding being a parental sponge and while I agree with the spirit of it, my concern is this: “Experiencing your child's or client's trauma at such an intensity, couldn't that create trauma for the person being the 'sponge'?" I feel I am very empathic but how can I do that without hurting myself? Answer This is an insightful question. Traditionally, most of us are empathic and give compassion in a way that ultimately drains us. This is because of a core belief that tells us that by giving empathy, we will be able to make this person better or that we have the ability to "fix" the problem for this person.

We own that it is up to us to get this person to shift into a calm, peaceful, and regulated state. Their issue then becomes our issue and we stay focused on the outcome of them being better.

It becomes a simple mathematical equation. If I give empathy (E), if I listen (L), and if I spend my time with this person (T), he will be better (B). E + L + T = B

Yet, when we give these three and the result is not what we expected, we feel a sense of failure. We turn it back on ourselves and hear the old negative tapes playing in our head, "I didn't try hard enough." "I'm not good enough." "I should have done something different." BAM! The negative feedback loop then feeds on itself right within our own mind. Fatigue, overwhelm, and even resentment begin to brew within our internal selves.

In order to be a sponge, the only action we need to take is to simply be present with our child (or friend, spouse, coworker). It is not up to us to make this person better. The reality is that we cannot change or fix another person. We can surround them with support; we can love them unconditionally, free of judgment or control; we can set appropriate boundaries, and we can align with their pain. Yet in doing this, it is still ultimately up to them to make their life work.

Additionally, if we enter into an interaction with a child, expecting him to be better, we are actually adding more stress to the equation, which will create more fear and hinder the healing process. We must stay focused on giving our love without expecting anything in return. That is the essential definition of love.

Entering into an interaction with an expectation of an outcome is not true love. This is conditional love. Conditional love drains us. Unconditional love energizes and liberates us.

So that is the theory and I know you are reading this and wanting some meat to chew on--you want application to your 16-year-old teenager whose girlfriend just dumped him and he is feeling like the entire world is coming to an end. You see how his past abandonment issues are being triggered and how this situation is being magnified due to his early adoption history.

Reprogram your thinking to see that what he needs is your support, your attention, and your unconditional acceptance. It is not up to you to make this okay for him. Trust that it is in the struggles of life that we learn and grow to our maximum potential.

By being empathetic, by listening, by spending time, and being present with him you are doing EVERYTHING for him. Stay focused on the outcome of you being the absolutely best parent you can be, no matter the outcome of his emotional state at the moment. Your "success" cannot be tied to his feeling better instantaneously.

Keep being the sponge for your child’s pain. Become energized by the power of putting unconditional love into action. There is no greater state to be in on this planet!




Teaching Trauma in the Classroom


Children are vulnerable. In an optimal environment, they are not expected to experience this vulnerability until later in life when their minds and nervous systems are equipped to handle elevated levels of fear, stress, and overwhelm. Yet, the key phrase here is "optimal environment." Unfortunately, we live in the "real" world, so children will often find themselves in situations that are far from the optimal and the result can be childhood trauma.
Childhood trauma happens at both the emotional and psychological level and it can have a negative impact on the child's developmental process. During a traumatic event (abuse, neglect, adoption, accidents, birth trauma, etc.), the lifelong impact is even greater if the child believes he is powerless, helpless, and hopeless. When a child experiences one or all of these feelings, he begins to believe the world is dangerous. Repeated experiences of these feelings will create a lasting imprint from which he operates and behaves. A framework based in fear and survival becomes the child's viewpoint of the world around him.

These early life experiences then influence the child's ability to "behave," or more correctly expressed, the child's ability to stay "regulated." Trauma impacts a child's ability to stay calm, balanced, and oriented. Instead, children with traumatic histories often find themselves in a "dysregulated" state, which manifests into a child who does not behave, cannot focus, and/or lacks motivation. It is not a matter of choice or a matter of "good" child verses "bad" child; it is simply an imprint from the child's past history. It's the child's new normal.

When working with children like this in the classroom, the most effective way to work with them is to work at the level of regulation, relationship, and emotional safety instead of at the level of behavior. These children's issues are not behavioral; they are regulatory. Working at the level of regulation, relationship, and emotional safety addresses more deeply critical forces within these children that go far beyond the exchanges of language, choices, stars, and sticker charts.

Traditional disciplinary techniques focus on altering the left hemisphere through language, logic, and cognitive thinking. These approaches are ineffective because the regulatory system is altered more effectively through a different part of the brain known as the limbic system. The limbic system operates at the emotional level, not at the logical level. Therefore, we must work to regulate these children at the level of the limbic system, which happens most easily through the context of human connection.

When the teacher says to a non-traumatized child, "Andy, can you please settle down and quietly have a seat?" Andy has the internal regulatory ability to respond appropriately to his teacher because trauma has not interrupted his developmental maturation of developing self-regulation tools and feeling like he is safe in the world. However, when Billy (the traumatized child) is asked the same question, his response is much different. He takes the long way around the classroom to his seat, he continues to not only talk but projects his voice across the room as if he is still out in the playground, and once seated continues to squirm and wiggle.

Traditionally, we have interpreted Billy as a disruptive child, pasted the label ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) onto him, and reprimanded him for his "naughty" behavior. What we have failed to see is that Billy cannot settle down on his own. His internal system has not experienced the appropriate patterning to know how to be well-behaved like his classmate Andy, and Billy does not know he is safe in this world, even if he is now in a safe environment.

The brain-body system is a pattern-matching machine. A child with little internal self-control will pattern himself according to his past external experiences. If his past experiences have been chaotic, disruptive, and overwhelming (trauma), he will continue acting this way until new patterns are established. Thus, a child coming into a calm and safe classroom is still likely to be acting as if he is in his previous chaotic and unsafe environment. A child can be taken out of trauma but not so easily can the trauma be taken out of the child. Past patterns of chaos are now the current framework for navigating his world; he knows no different.

The most effective way to change these patterns comes through safe, nurturing, attuned, and strong human connection. For the student in the classroom, it comes through the teacher-student relationship. The reality is, for our traumatized children to learn and achieve academically, science is showing that they must be engaged at the relational level prior to any academic learning.




Why does my child "hate" everything?


Full Question My 8-year-old son "hates" everything: the particular car driving down the street, the shirt I'm wearing, the kid next door, the color of the living room, the cashier at the grocery store, etc., etc. I am having trouble understanding this and how to deal with it. Any insights? Answer
I'm certain that this is a maddening place to be with your son and that it feels as if nothing will make him happy. There's nothing more frustrating than to try to send positive energy to someone, only to be met with resistance and negativity. In order to reverse your child's perception of the world as negative, it will first take a new understanding of why he "hates" everything. When children's needs are met early in their development, their blueprint for the world becomes positive and optimistic. When a baby is crying and sending out stress signals, he is in need of nurturing and comforting care. When this is given to him, his system is shifted back to a state of regulation and the world is a good place-he develops a sense of optimism. If he is not cared for and if he is left on his own to navigate through his internal stress, the world becomes a scary place. Negative repetitious conditioning breeds an outlook of pessimism. No matter how much he cries, no matter what he does, he can't seem to convince his caretakers to help him. Helplessness and overwhelm prevail. For such a child, nothing is working, so his universal blueprint of "nothing is right" is being created. A child who "hates" everything is a child in a perpetual state of fear and dysregulation. His neurophysiological system has been programmed to see the world as half empty instead of half full. He truly doesn't know that everything is going to be all right. He really doesn't know that good always overcomes evil. Essentially, he is programmed to live an operatic tragedy instead of a light-hearted drama. Think about this...isn't it great to simply go to Netflix and pick out what kind of movie you want? Maybe it is a romantic comedy; maybe it is an action movie; maybe even during this Halloween season it is a horror flick. But in our own realities, we don't have the luxury of returning one life and checking out another so quickly. What we do have are three key elements to make significant changes to our life stories: 1) understanding, 2) relationship, and 3) plasticity. The first of these, understanding, was addressed in the beginning of this article. The second, relationships, is something that is always available to initiate. Healing happens in the context of relationships, and most fervently through the context of the parent-child relationship. And third, plasticity, is what an 8-year-old has plenty of. The brain continues to make major changes until we are 25 years old. Your child needs to know that the world is safe and good. In order to do this, it will take creating a deeper relationship with him. It will take helping him to express himself at a deeper level. The next time he makes a negative statement, such as, "I hate the shirt you are wearing," sit with him and listen to him. Ask him more about what he hates. Validate his negativity instead of trying to convince him of something more positive. "You really do hate this shirt. Wow. Help me understand how much you hate it. Tell me more." As he expresses himself, help him shift into the feelings behind these words. (It's really not about the shirt.) "How does that make you feel?" Essentially, his "I hate the world" statements are indicators of his own internal reality: "The world hates me and I don't even deserve to be in this world." When a child (or adult) feels this depth of darkness from within himself, it makes sense as to why all his comments are negative towards his external environment. Think about a time when you were just in a bad mood. Nothing seemed to be right; nothing seemed to be the way you wanted it to be. Your perception of the world matched your negative framework. So, it is the same with your child, simply at a deeper level within the core of his being. When you can help him to move into this core area within himself by listening, validating, maximizing, tolerating, accepting, and staying present with him, you'll be there in relationship to guide him towards feeling safe and loved. Thus, you'll be able to guide him to see that the world is good and hope does exist. It will take positive repetitious conditioning to do this for him (see Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Chapter 3). The reason this works is because our neurological systems are "plastic." We have the ability to change and be molded, especially children. Your son is growing and developing everyday. He still has years ahead of him to create new neuropathways. Every interaction with you is an opportunity to literally change his brain and lay down new neuropatterns of positive thought and positive outlook. Work to stay in a place of understanding, keep yourself regulated, and know that through loving influence, you have the ability to create exactly the environment he needs for healing, hope, and optimism.




What is a quick way to explain what "Parenting Beyond Consequences" means?


Full Question I need a quick way to explain to my parents (who will be visiting during the holidays) what is meant by "Parenting Beyond Consequences." They don't seem to understand the way I'm parenting and are quite critical of me. They aren't interested in the neuroscience or the brain research. They're simply coming from the old school of the basics, so any help you have would be appreciated! Answer Beyond Consequences can be a difficult concept to understand and to "wrap your brain around" when you've been living in a more traditional mindset for years, even generations. Love is about meeting people where they are and respecting their perspectives. Understanding that your parents are looking through the lens of the "old school" is the first place to start. From such a point of reference, this model is sometimes interpreted as if you're coddling or babying your child. The following explanation is written in more general terms in order to help a grandparent, relative, or anyone, begin to make a shift. Remember to be patient with them; you're shifting an entire paradigm and framework of interpretation.

Children need unconditional love and unconditional acceptance from their parents; we all know this and believe this. However, do we ever stop to consider how so many of the traditional parenting techniques accepted in our culture work contrary to this primal goal? Traditional parenting techniques that involve consequences, controlling directives, and punishment are fear-based and fear-driven. They have the ability to undermine the parent-child relationship and because they are tied into behavior, children easily interpret these actions to mean, "If I'm not good, I am not lovable." Thus, children often build a subconscious foundation that says that love and approval is based off of performance.

Parenting from a love-based paradigm means going beyond our children's behavior and beyond consequences to first see that negative behavior is a form of communication and that negative behavior is a response to stress. If we see the kicking and screaming child as one who is having difficulty regulating due to an overflow of feelings and stress, we can learn to stay present with the child in order to help him modulate these overwhelming feelings and overabundance of stress and thus, help him to build his regulatory system. This is a child who has been "emotionally hijacked." Emotions are not logical or rational; this negative acting-out is the body's natural fear reaction gone awry.

Allowing a child emotional space to safely dissipate this energy will then allow him to calm down. As we provide reassurance, unconditional love, and emotional presence for our children, the need to act-out will disappear. Many times our children act-out simply because they do not feel that they are being listened to nor do they feel as if they have been heard. Staying present and reassuring a child that you really are listening to him, can sometimes be enough to help him begin to regulate. The life lesson that the bad behavior is inappropriate does indeed need to be taught and reinforced. However, this life lesson can only happen once the child is fully regulated (when the child is calm) and his cognitive thinking is intact. This is also the time to present alternatives to the negative acting-out behavior. This is how we teach our children instead of punishing them. The definition of discipline is to teach.

The more we can stay focused on the relationship with our children and strengthening this relationship instead of controlling it through consequences, logic, and control, the more we will be helping our children learn to work through their stress appropriately. Below are four pointers to going beyond consequences: 1. Just Be Happy!-But I'm not! Did anyone ever tell you, "Just think happy thoughts and it will be okay."? Did it really work? Probably not. Emotions do not simply disappear. If feelings are not acknowledged and released, they are stored and become part of our physical make-up. Research has convincingly shown that being able to express feelings like anger and grief can improve survival rates in cancer patients. With our children, feelings that become stored and "stuffed" become activators for negative behaviors.

2. ALL Feelings are Good Feelings - As parents, it is important for us to understand the necessity of emotional expression, both in teaching it to our children and in modeling it to them. Blocked feelings can inhibit growth, learning, and the building of a trusting relationship between the parent and child. The first step to take is to recognize that ALL emotions are healthy. In our culture, feelings such as joy, peace, and courage are seen as good feelings, yet feelings such as sad, mad, and scared are seen as negative feelings. We must rethink our interpretation of this: Negative feelings don't create acting-out behaviors; it is the lack of expression of the negative feelings that creates the acting out.

3. Get to the Core of the Behavior - When children are acting out and being defiant, we need to begin to understand that their behaviors are simply a communication of an dysregulated state that is driving these behaviors. If we simply address the behavior, we miss the opportunity to help children express and understand themselves from a deeper regulatory and emotional level. We need to help our children build their emotional intelligence. Start by modeling basic feeling words to your child. Keep it simple and teach the five basic feeling words: sad, mad, happy, scared, and grateful. Even the youngest of children can learn to say, "I'm mad!" When the toddler is throwing his toys or the teenager is having his version of a tantrum, encourage him at that moment to get to the core of the behavior through emotional expression. Remember:…it really isn't about the behavior. They really do know better than to do these things.

4. Responding vs. Reacting - So the next time your child becomes defiant, talks back, or is simply "ugly" to you, work to be in a place not to react to the behavior, but respond to your child. Respond to your child in an open way-open to meeting him in his heart and helping him understand the overload of feelings that are driving the behaviors. He doesn't need a consequence or another parental directive at that moment; he just needs you to be present with him (this does not mean you agree with the behavior, it means you are not correlating his behavior with your acceptance of him as a person). As your child learns to respond back to you positively through the parent-child relationship, he won't have the need to communicate through negative behaviors anymore. You'll both have more energy for each other, building a relationship that will last a lifetime and more energy to learn how to do it differently the next time.
For more parenting tips, check out some of my videos on Youtube: 1.) Sibling Rivalry
2.) The Missing Piece
3.) The Parent's Stress
4.) Chores
5.) Overwhelm
I hope the upcoming holidays are peaceful and loving. And remember, it's not a behavioral problem; it's a regulatory problem!




How can I help my child that thinks they are bad and nobody loves them?


Full Question My son had a terrible early childhood history and constantly tells me he is a bad boy and that nobody loves him. Yet, no matter how much we tell him what a good boy he is or how much we love him, nothing seems to help. How can he continually reject these positive messages? Answer From the moment a child is born, the child is dependent on others to care for him, nurture him, and teach him about the world. The child has no other option but to trust that the information being given to him is the truth. He has no filters...he accepts everything as fact. For a child who goes through early childhood trauma, he lives in a world of false messages that are absorbed as truth. Everything that is said to him becomes his reality. Everything that is done to him becomes a reflection of who he is.

For example, if a child is emotionally abused and told he is worthless, that he won't amount to anything, or that the parent wishes he was never born, this child's internal belief system develops from these messages. This child believes he is worthless. His belief is that he is not lovable and that he should not be on the planet earth. Neurologically, we know that neurons that fire together wire together. So this belief system becomes ingrained and accepted at a deep subconscious and neurological level. These beliefs lay down the neural circuitry that then governs how this child behaves and responds to life events.

We then place this child in a different, more loving family. He is told that he is wonderful, that he is good, and that he is loved. The external messages are now in conflict with the internal messages. Which one do you think is stronger and louder? Of course, it is the internal voice of negativity that will dominate.

There is a profound gap between what others say and what the child's internal framework is saying, preventing this child from easily accepting any new messages beyond that which he already knows. The human brain is programmed to reject any belief that is not congruent (not the same) as one's own view.

Think about this from your own perspective. When someone comes up with a different belief than you have, what is your first reaction? You reject it. You dismiss this person as being on the fringe and you move on, maintaining your own reality in your mind. You might even argue with this person, defending your position in order to "save face" and to protect your own belief system.

Now back to the child in this example, the parent then tries to lovingly parent this child and to give this child positive messages of self-esteem and self-worth. Yet, what the parent doesn't realize is that the parent is up against the power of belief—up against the child's neurological mapping. No matter how many times this parent tells his new son, "I love you." or "You are a wonderful child." or similar positive messages, the old belief system of not being worthy and not being good enough continues to prevail. It is as if these messages are impervious to this child. These positive messages simply slide off the child as if there is a Teflon coating.

The reason is that these new messages are being given to the child at a cognitive level and are simply cognitive experiences. Yet, emotions play a powerful role in neural processing, much greater than language and cognition. In order to break through the old negative beliefs of this child, the parent has to dig deep within himself to interact with this child at a deeply profound emotional level. Love has the power to do this.

While the emotion of fear keeps this child locked in this negative belief system, it is also true that the emotion of love will release this child from this negative belief system. It takes parenting this child in a loving, safe, and emotionally available manner. And it won't be just one experience, but several experiences, over and over again, with this child being met at an emotional level, in order for new neural pathways to be created.

A new belief system is possible. It takes time, patience, understanding, tolerance, perseverance, and most importantly, emotional impact. For more information on a child's negative belief system and more concrete and practical ways to help him "re-write" them, see Chapter 5 of my latest book, " Help for Billy".

Love never fails…it simply takes learning how to love our children from their perspective and going beyond routine cognitive experiences.




Your child is misbehaving, are you listening?


When reviewing records of many of the children with whom I work, I am forever perplexed at one particular notation I continually see written by therapists and counselors. Under the list of negative traits of the child, it is often written, "Child exhibits attention-seeking behaviors." I strongly believe that children seek attention because they NEED attention. Nature has designed children to be completely dependent on their parents at the moment they are born. A baby crying is the signaling to the parent the baby has a need, a need that the baby cannot satisfy on his own. The baby is indeed exhibiting attention-seeking behaviors.

The natural flow of the developmental journey of a child is to gradually release this need for attention, moving from a state of dependence to a state of balanced independence. The time period for this is about 18 years. We are the only animals in the animal kingdom that have our children under our care for this length of time. Expecting our children to not need our attention or to view it as a negative behavioral issue during these 18 years goes against our biology.

When children do not know how to verbally express their needs (which is predominately the case during early childhood), they "speak" through their behaviors. In other words, behavior is a form of communication. When a parent can stop, pause, and "listen" to the behavior of a child, it can become quite obvious what the child is saying. Looking at the behavior from an objective perspective also unveils the logic behind the child's behavior. Here is a list of ten behaviors along with an interpretation of each behavior to demonstrate this:

  1. Slamming Doors.
    When a child begins slamming doors, it is an indication that he does not feel like he is being heard. By slamming a door, he is making loud noises, hence forcing the parent to "hear" him. He is essentially saying, "I need to have a voice and I need you to listen to me now!"

  2. Cursing.
    Most children know that they should not curse. They use profanity to jar the parent's nervous system into listening. It is a way to get a parent to respond to the child, even if the response is negative. The child's fear of not being good enough for the parent to pay attention to him, is also playing out in such a scenario.

  3. Shutting Down.
    A child who shuts down, refuses eye contact, walks away, or gives the parent the silent treatment is a child who is overwhelmed. We have traditionally labeled a child like this as defiant. This is a child who is saying, "Life is too big to handle. I'm shutting down my world in order to survive."

  4. Hitting Sibling.
    Sibling rivalry is more about the relationship between the child and parent than it is between two siblings. If a child is not feeling secure in his relationship with his parent(s), he will perceive the sibling as a threat to this relationship with the parent(s). Reacting against the sibling is the basic game of "King of the Hill" in order to win the attention of the parents. The child may receive negative attention from the parent ("Billy, stop picking on your brother!") but to a child, especially a child with a trauma history, any form of attention, whether positive or negative, is love.

  5. Challenging Authority.
    A child who challenges authority is a child who has lost his trust in authority figures. Look back into the child's history and you will likely see a child who was abused, neglected, or abandoned by someone who was supposed to care for and nurture the child. A child who fights having someone else in charge, is a child saying, "I can’t trust anyone. It is too much of a risk."

  6. Saying, "I hate you!".
    Such hurtful words directed towards a parent from a child are simply a window into the child's heart. The child is projecting his self-hatred and self-rejection back onto the parent. What he is communicating is, "I hate myself!" It is easier to hurt someone else than it is to feel the internal hurt within one’s own heart.

  7. Arguing About Everything.
    A child who argues about everything and anything is keeping the parent looped in a conversation in order to keep the parent attuned to him. He feels that if the parent were to stop talking with him, he would cease to exist. Arguing is his way of staying connected. It is a negative form of attachment.

  8. Laziness.
    Describing a child as being "lazy" is like calling a child crying in a crib a "cry baby." It is a gross misinterpretation of the child. Laziness is typically a sign of a child who experienced helplessness early in his childhood; it is a learned behavior. Neglect happens when a child tries to elicit attention from his caregiver and the result is nothing. No attention. No help. Zilch. The child learns that his energy does not produce results and as he grows older and gets challenged by life, he will simply shut down and do nothing. He is saying, "My efforts don't produce results so therefore I won't even try."

  9. Pushing Every Boundary.
    Many children have such intense behaviors that the adults around them in the past demonstrated a lack of ability to handle them or an unwillingness to stick with them. When parents find the child pushing every boundary, every rule, and every limit, the child is asking, "Can you really handle me?" and "You say you're my parent, but I need to know you're not going to give up on me so I will test you to make sure you really are committed before I put any trust into you!"

  10. Becoming Unglued During Transitions.
    Trauma happens by surprise and when it happens, there is typically a major change in the child's life. It is transitional trauma. The aftermath of such traumatic experiences is that the child becomes fearful of EVERY transition, whether large or small. A child's belief around transitions becomes, "Something bad is going to a happen. Guaranteed." Past traumatic experiences create the black and white thinking that "All change equals pain." When a parent sees a child's negative behaviors intensifying during a transitional time, the parent needs to remember that the child is saying, "I'm so scared that my entire world is going to fall apart in a flash just like it did in the past!"

When parenting a child with challenging behaviors on a day-to day basis, it is easy to lose sight of the idea that behavior is the language of a child. Negative behaviors are tiring! Keep taking care of yourself and keep your cup filled so that you have enough space inside of you to keep looking beyond the behaviors and listening to the behaviors instead of reacting to the behaviors.

The parent/child relationship is a dyad - a two-part system. Remember that your behavioral response also signals a communication to your child. Thus, it is imperative for you to stay mindful and attuned. Give enough attention to yourself as to stay in a place of love so you are always speaking the language of truth, love, and acceptance to your child in return.




Why are tokens and rewards not working?


"If you finish your chores today, you'll earn 5 more tokens and that will help you get to your goal of 25 by the weekend, Billy!" And Billy turns to his mother and says, "It's your damn house, you do the f***ing chores!", slams his door, and remains in his room the rest of the day. Using tokens as rewards or motivators for our adopted or foster children not only does not work, it often makes it worse. There are several reasons for this, all of which stem from one word: Trauma. Trauma. Any child who has lost his biological family, either temporarily or permanently, has experienced trauma. The event or events that led to this trauma were experiences that rendered the child to feel powerless, hopeless, and/or helpless. The result of such vulnerable feelings shifts a child from a state of love to a state of fear.

The child then lives from a belief system that says, "The world is unsafe. I must protect myself. No one can be trusted. I am in charge in order to protect myself. No one, and I mean no one, will tell me what to do!" When a parent is raising a child filled with fear already, adding more fear to a child through the threat of not earning tokens, can be completely ineffective and even disastrous.

Brain science is showing that when children are in a state of fear, they are not operating out of their rational brains, the neocortex. Instead, they are operating from the limbic system, the emotional brain. Their decisions reflect their emotional state (fear in this example with Billy). Their interpretation of what you say to them will not be processed from a logical, sequential, or reasonable perspective. It will be processed from a perspective of fear and negativity. Thus, what Billy hears from the parent is this, "If you don't finish your chores, you won't get 5 more tokens and that means you are a failure and nobody loves you." Billy thinks in the negative, always. That's what trauma does to children.

Additionally, Billy's ability to think sequentially has been compromised by trauma. Trauma happens by surprise, so children like Billy live in a hyper-vigilant place, where they have to live moment by moment. Life happens in the next 15 seconds! There is no future. They are too consumed protecting themselves in the now. They dedicate all their resources to ensuring their survival in this moment. Thus, when a parent says, "...and that will help you get to your goal of 25 by the weekend, Billy!", Billy cannot comprehend this type of sequential logic. In his world, the weekend does not even exist...there is no future. Logical and sequential language becomes confusing and irritating to him. The result is that Billy becomes more unsettled and his negative behaviors intensify.

Children with histories of severe trauma literally do not have the wiring for sequential thinking in their brains because when the traumatic event(s) happened, they experienced chaos and overwhelm. Their worlds became scattered and disorganized. Nothing made sense. All stability was gone. Because this all happens during the developmental years of a child's life, the developing brain becomes wired in a haphazard and fragmented way.

Additionally, the memory of the traumatic event gets stored in fragments. Billy's understanding of the world is not sequentially based and the result is that he has difficulties understanding "how the world works." This leaves Billy in a disorganized and dysregulated state until the trauma can be processed and released and until he can learn to understand the world in reality.

Using tokens, point charts, stickers, or any other type of behavioral intervention does not address these deeper issues. These behaviorally based techniques are surface solutions. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a patient who is bleeding internally.

Solution. What children like Billy need first is understanding. As parents, we have to start by understanding why Billy does what he does...why he reacts the way he reacts. We have to begin to trust that what our children do is perfectly logical--logical to them. When Billy says, "It's your damn house, you do the f***ing chores!", we need to get past the attitude, the cursing, and the defiance in order to get to the heart of the matter. We all agree this is inappropriate and needs to be changed, however if you try to correct Billy in the moment, you will find yourself getting sucked back into an all too familiar vortex of negativity and resistance.

Read the meaning behind the words. What Billy really is saying is, "I lost my home. Nothing will ever substitute this lose, not even this home. I don't really belong here and I don't want to even try to belong here because then I would be at risk of losing again. I can't take any responsibility because that would mean I am placing myself in a position of being vulnerable again. And I can't afford to do that. It is too painful. It's much safer to argue and resist."

Billy needs to experience what it feels like to be in a safe and loving relationship, above all other lessons he needs to learn. People in his past did not take responsibility for him, so he is naturally going to be resistant to taking responsibility in return. Focus on getting Billy back into a place of safety and back into a place of security before expecting him to pleasantly adhere to the requirements of your household.

Use chores as an opportunity to build relationship and focus on the process of getting the chores complete. Offer to do the chores with him in order to create time with him. If he is still resistant, offer to do it for him, while he hangs out with you. Use this time just to connect, even if it means he is not helping. That will come later. Trust that if you focus on the relationship, Billy will eventually shift back to a place of helping when he gets more secure and more settled.

Additionally, Billy needs to go back developmentally and learn how to think logically and sequentially. He most likely is not "just going to pick it up." It needs to learn to think in reality and rewire his brain to understand the logical flow of how the world operates. Billy needs instruction on learning that "if A happens, then B will follow, and that will result in C happening." This instruction cannot happen in the moment like in the beginning example; he is too tied to it emotionally.

Billy has to be an observer in the instruction, not in the lead role where his fear will create resistance. There are various children's learning tools to teach sequential thinking and problem solving skills by reading stories or using picture cards. Using tools like these removes Billy from his own story and his own fears. They create needed distance (safety). Continual repetition of these teachings can help Billy to eventually learn how to integrate this thinking back into his own life.

Yes, the "real" world does work on more of a token/reward system, but Billy is not ready for this real world... yet. Shifting your focus and your interpretation of Billy's negative behaviors will, ironically, better prepare him for the real-world in the years to come rather than what was shown with the opening example. Billy needs emotional safety, patience, and understanding to help him heal and to help him redefine his perspective of how the world works.
In short, Billy needs your full abiding love instead of tokens of your love.




Can you pass this Beyond Consequences pop-quiz?


It is All a Matter of Interpretation
To further your understanding of how to put love into action and to give you more practice putting "Beyond Consequences" into action, I've created a Pop Quiz for you. Breathe...this isn't like the pop quizzes you had when you were in school. It won't be graded and you won't get into trouble if you miss the correct answer!

Have fun with this and use it as a tool to liberate yourself from thinking in the old traditional fear-based way: 1. In preschool, a four-year-old boy does fairly well in class until it comes to Circle Time. When it is time to sit in a circle, he becomes demanding and insists on sitting next to his teacher. He refuses to make eye contact with anyone and sits turned away from his classmates.

A . The child is being defiant. He must learn to be respectful and join in the circle. If he chooses not to sit in the circle like all the other children, he will lose 10 minutes at recess and sit in Time-Out.

B. The child has ADHD and needs to be put on Ritalin immediately.

C. Circle time overwhelms this child. The direct eye contact with the other students is too much and the child is trying to buffer this by sitting half in and half out the circle. He is trying to find safety by sitting next to the teacher.

D. He needs to be given a choice to either be a "big boy" or be a baby. He should be told that if he can't act appropriately during Circle Time, he will be sent down to the nursery to be with all the babies. That way, it is his choice.

2. A 19-year-old young man still lives at home but has become so despondent he refuses to get a job and hides away all day in his basement bedroom, refusing even to come upstairs to join his mother for dinner.

A. This young man is being lazy and sees mom as a "freeride." Mom needs to tell him to get a job or she needs to kick him out ("Shape up or ship out"). Tough love is needed in order to get him to growup.

B. While he is 19-years-old chronologically, he is much younger emotionally. He is terrified of growing up and not ready to handle life as well as most 19-year-olds can. He is in a complete state of overwhelm; he is hiding in his "cocoon." Mom can start by going down to his room with dinner and eating with him, strengthening their relationship and working to calm his nervous system. She can offer her support and talk about ways to take babysteps into the "realworld."

C. He is clinically depressed and needs to be admitted to an in-patient unit immediately before he hurts himself.

D. There is nothing mom can do. He is 19-years-old and an adult. Mom needs to ignore him and move on with her life.

3. A seven-year-old girl, who enjoys reading as a calming activity, becomes upset in the classroom when her teacher sets a boundary and says, "no," to one of her requests. She runs out of the classroom, without permission, and runs into the library. She immediately starts pulling books off the shelf and piling them into a stack. She then runs to the corner of the library, sits down, and starts reading the books.

A. This child clearly has problems with authority. She needs to learn to respect adults--NOW! Otherwise, she'll be so out of control by the time she is 15-years-old, she'll be in juvie. Immediate punishment needs to be administered in order to help her understand the importance of submission.

B. This child's parents have spoiled her. She thinks she can do anything she wants to do, when she wants to do it. Since her parents are too easy on her, the school must step in and teach her rules and boundaries. The next time the class goes to the library, she will not be allowed to check-out books and will have to sit and watch the other children. She'll learn there is a time for books and that time will be determined by the teacher, not her.

C. This is a severe safety issue. She was running around the school unsupervised and the teacher didn't know where she was. This child needs to know that unsafe behaviors will NOT be tolerated. She needs to be taken directly to the seclusion room in order to keep both her and the other children in the school safe.

D. This child has a history of being rejected. When her teacher told her "no," she immediately had a traumatic reaction and slipped into a state of fear, believing she wasn't lovable or didn't deserve to be on this planet. She couldn't go to the teacher for comfort as the teacher was the source of the fear, so she turned to books in order to get regulated. Her ability to properly ask to go to the library was overridden by her need to survive.

4. A 12-year-old foster child digs through the family garbage even though he is in a loving foster home that provides for all his food needs. There is food in the pantry and his parents always make sure he is offered seconds at meal-time.

A. This boy needs Reality Therapy. He and his parents need to go visit Costco. His parents need to point out all the food that is available to them, even if they run out at home. The bigness of Costco will help this boy realize the amount of food his parents have access to so he knows he won't have to dig into the garbage anymore.

B. In order to stop the nasty behavior of digging into the garbage, his parents need to give him a consequence. If he doesn't stop digging in the garbage, he won't be served dinner. He needs to learn that he can either eat the food from the garbage or the food served on a plate at dinner-time like the rest of the family.

C. This type of behavior comes directly from a past experience of not having enough food. This boy is hard-wired to protect himself. In the past, the adults in his life were unable to feed and provide for him. He is continuing to live in a state of survival, despite being in his new home. When his parents find him rummaging through the garbage, instead of addressing the behavior, they should address the root cause of the behavior by saying, "Son, you're going to be okay. You're not going to die. I'm here to make sure you have everything you need."

D. This child is doing this just to push his parents' buttons. He knows this behavior undermines everything they are trying to do for him and it is a way for him to push away their love and reject them. They need to do some intensive attachment therapy before he grows up to be Ted Bundy.

5. A three-year-old girl refuses to take a bath at night. Each night she goes into a complete meltdown and becomes belligerent. The intensity increases even more when her mother tries to wash her hair.

A. Her refusal to take a bath is not defiance but fear. This type of extreme reaction is a communication of an experience in the past that scared her. It is a traumatic reaction. Mom can offer to sit next to her daughter while she is in the tub to keep her safe and if this doesn't work, mom can offer to get into the tub with her daughter (mom can wear a bathing suit if that makes her feel more comfortable). In the tub together with Mom, the child can have an experience of feeling safe and secure. Mom and child can also make this into a fun time with bubbles and toys and create a bonding time out of a chaotic moment.

B. At this age, it is important to teach this child to start making better choices. To break the power struggle, mom needs to offer her three choices: 1) earn stickers for each time she bathes without a struggle, 2) sit in Time-Out and miss her TV time if she has a melt-down, or 3) if these first two don't work, mom will wash her down in the shower because hygiene simply can't be ignored.

C. This child is being a brat. She needs a good swat on her rear-end to make sure she knows who is boss in this family--mom, not her.

D. Let the child go without a bath until she is ready. Forcing the issue will only make things worse. The child just needs some space to decide.

Hopefully, the correct answer to each of these questions was obvious for you. If not, here they are: 1) C 2) B 3) D 4) C 5) A

Each of the above examples and their correct answers are true stories. The love-based interpretations and solutions given were all successful and helped each child to move from a state of fear, stress, and overwhelm, into a state of love, safety, and security.

If you enjoyed this "Pop Quiz," send me your examples and I'll continue this series for you!




Does your perception of a child's behavior affect their healing process?


I have recently had several phone consults with therapists and case workers seeking advice on how to help children exhibiting difficult behaviors. Listening to their descriptions of these children has painfully reinforced to me how one's perception of a child is paramount. It directly influences whether the child has a chance for healing or whether he will be targeted as the "problem" before he even enters the starting gates.

Traditionally, when a child misbehaves, he is viewed as the "Identified Patient" in therapy. The approach is to describe the child's behaviors and then determine how to "fix" or "change" the behaviors. While this traditional approach is designed to be accomplished from a strictly objective perspective, the reality is that the perspective taken is the adult's. Herein lies the problem. The behaviors are viewed through the lenses of the adult, not the child. The behaviors are viewed as acts against the adults, against the rules, and against what is age appropriate. When these behaviors do include the emotional context of the child, the interpretation of how the child is feeling is again viewed from the perspective of the adult, not the child.

Let us take an example of a description of a 10-year-old boy to give more definition to the idea that perception is everything: Traditional View This is a 10-year-old boy who is out of control.

He lives with his mother and stepfather. He demonstrates defiant and aggressive behaviors towards his stepfather. The child works hard to divide and conquer his mother and stepfather. This child is demanding all of the time. He sabotages everything that his mother tries to do to make things better for her son. He is dangerously manipulative at home and at school.

His history includes abuse by his biological father. His mother left him with his father who physically and sexually abused him. However, this was years ago and his father's parental rights have been terminated. This child has been in a safe environment with his mother for the past five years, yet he continues to be destructive and his mother is exhausted.

The family is looking at placing this child in a residential treatment center. Would this be the best course of action? New View
The description above is not an objective description of this child. It is judgmental. It is saying in short, "This child is acting badly and he needs to change." Some would even go so far as to say, "This is a bad child and he needs to be shape up or ship out."

Instead, from the child's perspective, a more comprehensive and accurate description would be as follows: This is a 10-year-old boy in need of healing. He is communicating his level of fear and pain through his behaviors. Due to a past trauma history that has not been processed, heard, or understood, he is insecure, scared, and does not feel safe in his world.

His behaviors towards his mother and stepfather are showing that he is scared of his mother abandoning him to another father. He is working to separate the mother from the stepfather in order to ensure his connection to his mother. He is scared she loves his stepfather more than she loves him.

From this child's perspective, his mother left him to the abusive hands of his biological father. His mother did not keep him safe and he is trying to voice this to his mother through his behaviors.

Additionally, he feels very unsafe with his stepfather (because of his history of being abused by his biological father). While his stepfather may be a loving and kind person, the child's perception from his past tells him differently. His aggressive behaviors towards the stepfather are reflective of this fear of being hurt by him. The child's philosophy is, "I will hurt you before you hurt me. I will NEVER be vulnerable or helpless ever again."

The mother has been raising a child with challenging behaviors for several years now, doing the best she can but without much success. She is tired, frustrated, and worn down. She is more than likely not even wanting this child in her home because she is feeling unsafe and scared his behavior will split up her new marriage.
With the correct perception, the answers about what to do and what not to do become clear. Sending this child away to a residential treatment center would only create more of what he is already fearing--abandonment. It would confirm his fear that his mother would choose his stepfather over him (as he would be the one sent away, not the stepfather). In short, this course of action would recreate the child's original trauma.

This is an issue within the dynamics of the family, not with the child alone. First course of treatment would be to work with the mother to help her get back to a place of recapturing her desire to be a mother to this child, flushing out her guilt for what happened in the past, and allowing her space to acknowledge her feeling like an unsuccessful parent. She needs support, love, and validation, as well as education to understand what is driving her child's behaviors.

This child needs help in processing the past trauma with his father. He needs to be able to express the helplessness, powerlessness, and hopelessness that occurred during that time. He also needs to have a voice about his current fears and have these received by his mother in order to create more security in their relationship. He needs empathy instead of blame.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Dr. Wayne Dyer: "When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."

For this little boy, when we change the way we look at his behaviors, it changes everything. His acting out begins to make perfect sense. Perception is truly EVERYTHING.

If we are going to effectively help our children, we must first see and feel things from their perspective. Once we understand what is driving the child's behavior, the "what to do" will unfold with clarity.




How do I respond to my child and not reinforce their manipulating behavior?


Full Question My foster child can be amazingly manipulative, all the time! If I lovingly respond to her, am I not just reinforcing this behavior? Answer This is a GREAT question and I know it is an issue in which many parents struggle. As with all negative behaviors, I believe manipulation is a communication for connection with the parent. Paradoxically, when our children demonstrate this behavior, it does quite the opposite to us. It creates an uneasy feeling within us, constricts us, and in many cases, repulses us away from our child. Let's step back and look at early childhood interactions between the parent and the infant. It is there that we will find the roots of manipulative behavior and will be able to create a new understanding.

The very first relationship an infant is designed to experience is the relationship with the mother. This relationship begins in the womb and is designed to continue at a high level of intensity for at least the next three years of life, along with the father/child relationship. It is in these first three years that amazing development and connection happens due to the parents' attention, attunement, and devotion.

According to Dr. Allan Shore, the "King" of affect regulation, these parent/child interactions occur primarily in the right brain. The right brain holds the capacity for emotional and non-verbal information processing while the left-brain holds the capacity for language and logical processing. For the infant and young child, with no or limited language skills, communication happens primarily in the right brain. These experiences occur at the emotional level, not at the cognitive or "thinking" level.

Thus, the communication between the parent and child happens at a non-verbal level. When the child gives signals to the parent, the child experiences the parent as predictable and manipulatable. Infants and young children have this amazing ability to "manipulate" their caretakers. For example, the baby smiles at the parent, the parent smiles back. The baby has created this mirroring response from the parent. The parent will even talk a crazy language like, "Goo-goo-gaa-gaa" to the baby. No one else on this planet can get this parent to do such things.

The baby can also cry and become hyper-aroused, "manipulating" the caregiver to come over and pick her up. Babies even have this manipulation technique down so well that they can get their parents up from a dead sleep in the middle of the night to feed them. Money and bribes wouldn't even get many of us out of bed in the middle of the night!

Even more impressive, babies can get grown men, CEO's of mega-corporations, dressed in red power ties, to bend over and make silly noises and change their tone of voice to that of a little kid. The high-powered, influential board of directors of such a CEO doesn't even have that kind of power.

You've experienced this yourself. How many times have you walked by a baby, felt this force pulling you over to her, and then dropped everything you were doing to connect with the baby?

All kidding aside, this ability to "manipulate" is an important part of any child's development. It is in this attachment system between the parent and the child that is helping the child regulate her states of stress and fear. The parent who attends to the child's negative states is helping the child shift back into a positive state. This is known as "affect synchrony." Affect synchrony is the regulatory means for developing and maintaining positive emotional states within the relationship of emotional communication. Positive states are amplified and maximized for the child while negative states are minimized and neutralized for the child.

If your child missed early experiences of affect synchrony with you or with another caretaker, she will seek to have these experiences, even at an older age. Manipulation is simply an inherent way for her to achieve this goal. If you shift from seeing this as a negative and irritating behavior to a request for connection and healing, you will be able to meet her needs in a positive and loving way.

When you interact with her, see her through the lens of a child who is desperate to know connection and who needs to know what unconditional love is. She needs to know that she is important enough to be able to move you, just like when the baby smiles and the parent smiles back. This gives her a sense of worth and "all-rightness."

Be sure to read, Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, for more practical ways of parenting out of love while maintaining boundaries and teaching her more effective ways to ask for help and connection.

And don't forget to spend time with her, simply playing with her. Playing with her and being with her can repair the missing pieces from her early history, at a physiological and emotional level. You will also be creating the essential ingredient of life: Joy! By amplifying the positive experiences in her life and by giving her a sense of safety and security in her relationship with you, even if temporary, the need to be manipulative will disappear.




My child throws a dinnertime tantrum every night, how do I stop this behavior?


Full Question My four-year-old sits down to dinner and says, "I don't like that." He either won't eat at all or won't eat his vegetables. He then gets annoyed, trying to leave the table, whining and refusing to eat. This happens five out of seven nights. How do I respond without consequences? Answer Meal times are clearly a stressful time for not only your child, but for you as well. I'm certain that for you at this point, even the thought of dinnertime creates a stress reaction in you.

Create new experiences around food for you and your child (and your entire family). Have your child sit in your lap to eat. Feed him as you would feed a young toddler. Emotionally your child is probably much younger than four years old. Expecting him to be able to sit down at the table during mealtime is probably well beyond his developmental capabilities.

You might even consider feeding him from a bottle during mealtimes. He may need you to allow him to regress all the way back to infancy in order to create a fresh start. Children with trauma around food missed some critical experiences that we need to recreate for them. It will give him a stronger foundation from which to grow and reach his full potential.

Recognize that his behavior is being driven from fear and that it isn't about him rejecting your efforts as a mother to feed him and nurture him. When he says, "I don't like that!" what he is really saying is, "I'm too stressed out to eat this food right now!"

We also need to recognize that we shouldn't eat when we are stressed anyway. Our bodies can't digest the food properly and it can become toxic in our bodies. More importantly, forcing children to eat during this time or giving consequences around food only creates negative food related issues as adults.

The refusal to eat vegetables has a direct link to being stressed out. As a human species, we gravitate towards sweets, salts, and fats when we are stressed. What is your regulatory food? Chocolate or broccoli? When we are stressed, we have a difficult time eating vegetables. Think about the last time you were physically sick (where your body was stressed due to illness). Even the thought of eating a salad was enough to make you nauseous.

Try feeding your child outside of mealtimes. Small snacks of carrots and celery during the day can provide nutricious intake for your child. Children are more apt to "graze" than they are to sit and eat an entire meal. While dinnertime is an important time for the entire family to come together, realize that expecting your four-year-old to be engaged at this point in his development is only creating a negative experience for everyone.

As you gain a deeper understanding of the stress driving your child's behavior, you will find more solutions that work for your family. Stay focused on your child's needs and "listen" to his behavior and there you will find the answers.

Keep focused on calming your child's environment around mealtime. This will in turn help your son settle his nervous system which will naturally bring back his appetite and desire to eat.




How can I create security and stability for a foster child?


Full Question In many of your articles, you mention that the parent should calm a child down by creating security for the child. I understand that much of a child's stress and fear comes from the threat of being moved to another home. Yet as a foster mom, I can never honestly say, "You are safe. You aren't going anywhere." Answer You're absolutely right. You would never want to say this to a foster child because the reality is that they probably would be moving on to another home in the future. Congratulations for being sensitive to giving your child only the truth!

What you have working for you is the present moment. The only moment we have guaranteed to us is the moment we are in. Capture this moment with your child. Say to her, "You are safe, honey. You are right here with me now." You can give security and nurturing at that moment. Help your child learn how to stay present with you in this precious space in time.

I recently had a foster mother relate a story to me that will help you understand the power of even short term loving relationships. This foster mother had a teenage foster child in her home for a period of only one month. Eight years later, after the child had aged out of the system and was on her own as an adult, she and the foster mother reconnected. The former foster child told this foster mother that the turning point in her life was when she was at her home. The love, safety, security, and acceptance that she was given by this foster mother changed her life and gave this former foster child the ability to move forward. She relayed how this placement, only one month in length, was the best placement she had EVER had.

You are an important part of your foster child's journey. Never underestimate the importance of your time with her, whether it is short or long term, and your ability to create safety and security in each moment, despite an uncertain future.




Are you asking the right question about your child's behavior?


After reading parenting book after parenting book, I have come to one very important conclusion. We have been asking the wrong question. We have been asking, "How do I get my child to change his behavior?" The focus has been on moving a child from negative behavior to positive behavior.

You know the routine: sticker charts, taking away privileges, responding only to nice talk, rewarding good behavior with a prize or that treasured new toy, and the like. Are these working? Do they create lasting change or do you find yourself constantly digging into your bag of "tricks" to find something new and innovative because the old techniques are not working anymore? Or worse, do you find that all those tricks and techniques you try actually make the situation between you and your child worse? Ask the wrong question and you will get the wrong answer. This is why those sticker charts are not working. In order to get the solution, we need to start asking the right question. Children are emotional beings. They are deeply emotional and spiritual creatures that we have somehow come to view as "little rational and logical thinking adults." But this is not who they are.

The right question needs to stem from the understanding that children operate from an emotional platform, not a behavioral framework. Thus, the question we need to start asking ourselves is, "What is driving my child’s behavior?"

When we begin to ask this question, we switch our focus to that which is at the core of our children's negative behavior. At this core is a state of fear, pain, and/or overwhelm that comes from a child being outside of his window of stress tolerance. Children do not act out from a conscious place. It goes much deeper than this.

As adults, we have shifted into a place of intellect, rationalization, and logical thinking because it is a safer place from which to operate. Logic is much more predictable than emotions, thus more comfortable. As human beings, we have a need for certainty. This certainty is found through intellectual thinking and rational thought. For many of us, our childhood experiences moved us into this realm of thinking because feelings of anger, fear, and sadness became unsafe and people got either emotionally and/or physically hurt.

This is exactly why children are in our lives. They are our examples to return us back to our natural state of emotional living. This is where life exists at a deeper and more meaningful level. We find our purpose and our passion for who we are and the reason we are on this planet when we operate out of a state of emotional expression and capture the essence of what distinguishes us from all other mammals on this planet.

Our children are in our lives to challenge us to Dare to Love again. In order to connect with who they are, we must shift ourselves back to living from love, not fear; living from emotional expression, not logical thought; and learning the difference between unconditional love and conditional love.

Effective and rewarding parenting takes going beyond the behaviors, beyond dishing out consequences, beyond thinking logically, and beyond trying to control our children. It takes putting love into action in a whole new way and connecting with your child at a deep, intrinsic level--a whole new dimension of parenting.

Switching your thinking from a behavioral framework to a love-based framework that is focused on emotional connection will not be easy. Daring to love your children beyond consequences, logic, and control, will take courage, faith, commitment, and follow through.

When you learn how to put unconditional love into action, you have the power to change any family situation. Parenting through power and authority over our children comes from fear and ultimately undermines a child's ability to trust and relate to both themselves and others. Conversely, parenting through unconditional love and relationship equips our children to develop their own internal sense of control and empowers them to enter the world with a strong sense of self, well-developed love for self, and an ability to relate to others through tolerance, patience, and understanding. It simply starts by asking the right question, "What is driving my child's behavior?"




My child is controlling my life. Help!


Full Question When trying to embrace my daughter (age 13) during stressful times, I began to realize that she has created crises over and over to receive that kind of love and attention. It ended up whenever I had a plan and it didn't include her (work, coffee with a friend, etc.), she'd have a crisis (feel sick, kick the wall and insist on a trip to the E.R., lock herself in her room). Then, when I started to include her in everything, she'd sabotage it (push the table over in the restaurant, break equipment at work, ruin clothes in stores at the mall, etc.). I felt like I was being completely controlled and "trained" to focus only on her all of the time. How do you manage that in moderation? Answer There are several dynamics going on in the relationship between you and your daughter. First, let's look beyond the behavior to determine why children "create crises." The voice of this type of behavior is saying, "I need to feel loved and I need to have attention so I know I won't be lost in this world!"

Behavior is the language of our children. As adults, we communicate verbally and miss the voice of our children because these behaviors interrupt the flow of our day and are often so nerve grinding, we can't listen to them!

Your daughter is expressing that she is insecure in her attachment relationship with you. When you leave home without her, the acting out or sicknesses begin. Although I do not have her exact history, this tells me that she has experienced severe abandonment in the past. She is terrified of you leaving her…it feels like you won't ever come back.

Her perception and fear of you leaving her is more than just an idea -- it is her reality. Our thoughts become our reality. Try to relate to her fear in a situation in your life. If you were convinced, for some reason, that your husband would be injured in a car accident on his way to work, you would do EVERYTHING in your power to keep him from leaving the house. You might yell in desperation to get him to understand the seriousness of this issue. You might even feign an illness in your efforts to have him stay home with you.

This is your daughter's story. Her fear of losing you is driving these behaviors.

Then, when you took her with you, I have a feeling that she was with you simply out of desperation on your part. However, even though she was with you, I suspect you weren't really with her 100%. You didn't want her there because this was supposed to be your time to take care of yourself and you felt like you didn't have any other choice but to take her with you.

This is all understandable, and unfortunately, happens too many times to parents simply out of their own survival. However, we need to look openly and honestly at the dynamic that is created in such a scenario.

So you take her with you, all the while, the monsters of resentment, anger, regressive attitude of "whatever," and intolerance raise their ugly heads. These stressors become barriers to your connection with her. You are physically with her, but not emotionally engaged and not paying attention to her from an intrinsic, core level within you.

Your daughter is very intuitive; she can sense the barriers of your resentment and your state of survival. If you are in a place of survival, you cannot be in a place of unconditional love for someone else.Your focus is on you, leaving no emotional space for your child and rendering you unable to respond to your child in an authentic and personal way.

Due to her intense fear of losing you, she needs you to connect with her at every level possible. This means connecting with her through your metacommunication (your tone of voice, timing of your responses, inflection in your voice, your physical touch, your body posture and body language, your facial expressions, your eye contact, etc.). It takes using all of your senses to fully be in relationship with your child in order to create security with a child who is so overtly insecure.

When you're unable to do this, the result is that your daughter is left feeling even more unsafe, unprotected, and insecure. At this point, you are now in a public place and she is sensing your disconnect and, additionally, she becomes overwhelmed and threatened by being in a new environment. She shifts into a place of complete overwhelm and her behaviors are out of control. The mother/daughter connection is lost, so efforts to regulate her and calm her prove futile.

You become stressed and the public humiliation is making the hair on the back of your neck rise. Your thought process goes something like this, "She's ruining my time, again! I should have just left her home!" Disaster strikes once again.

There is a better way. Understanding this dynamic, let's look at what can be done to create security for her. We know that children become secure when they feel accepted, approved, validated, and acknowledged. It will take having some experiences with her, just the two of you, to create this security.

It can be as simple as a "Girl's Night Out" and driving down to have ice cream or something special in a quiet and calm environment, just the two of you. It isn't about the ice cream, though. It is about your relationship with her. It requires you to be authentic and fully present with her.

She is old enough to be able to express her fears of you leaving her. Point out what would happen in the past when you left. Let her know that you now understand that these behaviors were signals of her being so scared of you leaving. Apologize for not "hearing" her. Commit to making it different with her. Help her to express her fears when you are both calm and regulated. It will help diffuse the ignition of acting out behaviors the next time you leave without her.

Validate her fears. Acknowledge how scary it must feel every time you leave home without her. Accept her reaction to your absence. Reassure her that you want to make this better for her.

The next time you have to leave, spend at least 15 minutes of one-on-one time with her prior to leaving. Set up a plan for her to call you when she feels scared. Make your time away from her short at first. Prolonged absences can be too overwhelming to her regulatory system. You can begin to build on these times away, but start slowly.

Remember that children heal through relationships. Therapeutic worksheets, behavior charts, and logical consequences don't promote in-depth healing. It takes you being 100% present in relationship when you are with her in order for her to begin to feel safe when you're not with her.

Be sure to check out our resources on our website to keep yourself refueled as a parent in this difficult situation! I've created our resources and our webpage to support you. (above)




My children are constantly fighting! How do I end this negative behavior?


Full Question My son is constantly fighting with his younger sister. They can’t seem to ever get along. How do I put an end to this negative behavior? Answer Whenever you want to stop a behavior in a family, always ask yourself, "What is driving this behavior?" Getting to the root cause, rather than addressing just the behavior, will lead you to the solution.

Typically, however, we tend to ask the wrong question when addressing a child's negative behavior. We ask, "How do I stop this (or put an end to this) negative behavior?" If you ask the wrong question, you're going to get the wrong answer. In this instance, the "right" question would be, "What is driving the sibling rivalry?"

Traditionally, we have seen sibling rivalry as a conflict between the children. Countless parenting resources describe sibling rivalry as jealous and competitive fighting between brothers and sisters.

This is not the root cause. Sibling rivalry is driven from the lack of relationship or the lack of security that children have with their parents. Hence, sibling rivalry is between the parent and child, not child and child.

For example, if your Billy is mean and upset with his sister Sally, is it really between Billy and Sally? No. Billy's interpretation and perception is that his parents love Sally more. If Billy "gets rid of Sally" or picks on Sally, then the love will go to him, not his sister. Billy sees love as a commodity--there is only a limited supply. In his eyes, if Sally is getting the love, then there won't be enough for him.

Billy is creating attention for himself; he is creating relationship but in a negative way. What we have to remember is that any form of attention, whether positive or negative, satisfies a child's need for attention, connection and love. Billy is working to calm his internal need for parental connection through a negative means.

This leads us to the solution. What Billy actually needs is time with his parent(s) in order to help him feel special, wanted, good enough, and loved. Spending more individual time with Billy will give him the attention he has been seeking all along. When the relationship between each child and the parent(s) becomes more secure and more deeply connected, the need for Billy to create negative attention dissipates and in many cases, disappears altogether.

Another strategy to help Billy learn that he is unconditionally loved is to address his attacks on Sally in the moment. When Billy is being mean to Sally, instead of rejecting Billy by sending him away to his room, he needs you to bring him closer to you, giving him more security. When you can truly see that behavior is a form of communication, it will make sense to do this instead of being scared you are rewarding Billy for bad behavior. Billy NEEDS attention in order to calm his nervous system and to secure his place in the family system.

Remember, the true issue behind sibling rivalry is the lack of relationship. Your goal is to decrease Billy's fear and stress and to create connection with him. Don't mention his behavior in the moment (you'll have a chance later to teach the life lesson) but focus on how you can calm his nervous system and secure him in relationship.

Traditional techniques are actually damaging because, for a child like Billy, sending him away to his room and punishing him actually create more insecurity and more rejection. If we want our children to heal and improve their behaviors, we can't be creating more of the same.

The dictionary defines "discipline" as "Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement." To discipline Billy for this behavior means to teach him a new pattern that is morally right. Some children don't know any other way to solve conflicts other than by fighting. A conversation with Billy might sound like this: Dad: "Billy, when you get frustrated and aggregated with Sally, instead of hitting her or taking her toy (because this is NOT okay to do in our family), I want you to come to me so I can help you feel safe. You're not in trouble. My job as your daddy is to help you find a better way so everybody is okay and nobody gets hurt in this family."
Dad is working to take away the fear and the punishment. Dad's "discipline goal" is to teach and guide Billy to develop a better way through the influence of the parent/child relationship and to help Billy communicate his need for attention more effectively.

Dad also helps Billy learn to communicate his feelings and to express his needs to his parents through verbal communication instead of acting out negatively. There are five basic feeling words children of almost any age can learn, "I'm mad, sad, glad, scared, or happy." Opening the lines of emotional communication is one of the keys to helping any child through almost any behavior.

Put love into action to secure your little Billy and you'll spend more quality and fun time instead of breaking up all the fights!




How do I motivate my child at school?


As school starts back up for students around the United States, I want to share this excerpt from my book, "Help for Billy," on motivation with you this month. I hope this second half of the school year for your student is a positive and fulfilling experience!

Children have a natural love for learning. As young toddlers, they learn to crawl and walk without external motivators. Certainly they like encouragement, but the natural desire to progress is already a part of their innate programming. Children do not need to be bribed or threatened into learning. What they need, especially children with traumatic histories (who we'll call "Billy" in this article), is to be supported, guided, and scaffolded up within an environment that is conducive to feeling emotionally safe, developing relationship, and feeling respected.

The typical behavioral techniques most schools use to try to motivate students can be barriers and hindrances to the Billys of the classroom because they create fear. Any technique based in fear is only going to elevate more fear for a student like Billy who already lives in fear. These techniques are illusions of control and motivation. The reality is that when fear is a part of the learning environment for a student like Billy, learning stops. What subsequently follows is exactly what these external motivators were intended to eliminate: negative behaviors.

Motivation is more about regulation than about simply making a choice to succeed and follow the rules. Motivators we see used in schools, such as stickers and rewards, address the area of the brain that is shut down for Billy. To think clearly and to sequentially rationalize that "if I behave, then I will have a prize from the treasure box" takes the work of the neocortex (the logical thinking part of the brain).

For Billy, when he is struggling and dysregulated, this part of the brain ceases to fire. The problem exists in the lower area of the brain for Billy (the Reptilian Brain). That is why Billy’s thinking is going to be different than the typical student (who we'll refer to as "Andy"). This is especially true for Billy because Billy has a deep-seated negative belief system saying that he is stupid, the world is unsafe, and he has to do whatever it takes to make things work for himself (see below). In the lower part of the brain for all of us, life happens in the next fifteen seconds. Consequences are not relevant. Morals, ethics, and the differences between "right and wrong" have no bearing. All of these guiding forces reside in the neocortex, an area of the brain no longer "in charge" when Billy is dysregulated.

When Billy is left to his own devices to regulate, all his internal resources and energy are already used for protection and safety, leaving no room for learning. The more Billy falls behind academically, the more he feels threatened and the less he learns. Hence, the negative and endless spiral begins with no way out when traditional approaches are put into place. Unfortunately, the only way out of this downward spiral for many students is to ultimately quit and drop out of school.

It takes a shifting our understanding of motivation from a behavioral perspective to a relationship-based regulatory perspective to interrupt a student's negative spiral downward. Many of the traditional techniques need only be modified slightly and delivered in the spirit of love and connection rather than in the framework of fear and control. It is a small shift yet one that can have a powerful impact on students.

It requires interactive regulation (through relationship) to calm Billy down, to create safety for Billy, and to decrease his anxiety. It takes switching from the strategy of getting students motivated--with the promise of a reward or the threat of the loss of a privilege--to the strategy that taps into the student's neurobiological predisposition for relationship.

For more extensive "real-life-how-to" strategies, tune into my online class this Thursday evening (at no charge) or read my latest book, Help for Billy: A Beyond Consequences Approach to Helping Challenging Children in the Classroom. With a trauma-informed classroom, let's help return our "Billys" of the world back to their natural love for learning!




Do you have a cheat-sheet for when I get "stuck" trying to help my child?


Full Question I have been trying to implement the Beyond Consequences model of parenting but in the moment when my child is resisting, I get stuck. I truly don't know HOW to make emotional connection and I was wondering if you might have a "cheat-sheet" of some kind to help jump start me during these times my mind goes blank. Answer If you do not have a blueprint of a parent making emotional connection with you as a child, being able to do this as a parent is like trying to speak a different language. Unfortunately, most of us grew up in families where our parents intellectualized, minimized, or flat out ignored our emotions so we simply do not have a solid blueprint.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind when you are working to make an emotional connection with your child:

  • Remember that you cannot make the connection happen...you can only create an environment for it to happen (relieve yourself of the pressure).
  • You are simply there to support and to encourage your child.
  • When your child begins to express his/her feelings, validate, encourage, and stay present with your child in the moment. Watch the body for signals (80% of communication is non-verbal).
  • Help to keep the process focused on the emotional piece. "How did that make you feel." Look at the child's face, "You look really mad" or "You look really scared." Avoid solutions at that moment.
  • Get out of the logistical details and help your child into his/her feelings. "Tell me how it felt when that happened."
  • If your child begins to slip back into a cognitive/rational place, watch the body for when they constrict when talking. When you notice this, encourage your child to go back to the emotional piece that goes with the story being told. Stay open to his/her process.
  • You have to be able to handle the depth of emotional pain your child is experiencing. If he senses you are getting overwhelmed, he will cut the story short in order to make you okay.

With these ideas in mind, I'm also going to list some actual phrases that might be helpful. It is very important not to say these words like a script, however. Your child will know immediately when the words are being given from the head as opposed to the heart. Use your passion as a parent to convince your child that you want to know his struggle.

If your child rejects your efforts, saying something like, "You're just trying to therapize me!" You can be honest with your reply, "It probably feels that way! You're right. But I know the more I offer my love and connection, the better off we are going to be."
  1. "I know it is hard, but the more you keep it inside of you, the harder it gets."
  2. "I need to know how bad it was for you."
  3. "You're not in trouble."
  4. "Give yourself permission to have a voice."
  5. "How did that make you feel?"
  6. "Stay with it, Billy. You're not alone in it."
  7. "Open up to the pain. You're safe now, so let it out."
  8. "I had no idea this was so hard for you!"
  9. "Breathe. Take a deep breath." (Take a deep breath to model it for your child.)
  10. "I've gotta have it...I need to have your feelings."
  11. "You don't have to carry it all."
  12. "That's too much pain to have all by yourself. Can you let me share it with you?"
  13. "I want to understand you better and if I know how you feel, I'll be able to do what you need me to do."
  14. "I love you no matter how you feel."
  15. "Give yourself permission to have a voice. I'm listening."
  16. "I can handle whatever you went through."
  17. "Look at me, Billy." (If the child begins to hide in shame, have him/her stay connected with you, but never force eye contact.)
  18. Use your own story to connect: "I remember when I was a little girl and a friend of mine was really mean to me...."
  19. Be quiet...if these words start irritating the child, slow down, sit down, be quiet, and just be present.
  20. Take responsibility for your child's pain. You may not have been able to change the situation in the way she/he needed you to. Yet, feel it with him/her. Join your child and open yourself to your own tears. Work to understand your child's perspective. "I'm so sorry it hurts you that I wasn't there...."
  21. Avoid words like, "It's okay. It's over." Instead, invite them to give you more, "I know it hurt, show me how much it hurt." Be conscious of your conditioned response of making it better. Allow your child to drop the feelings completely. Ironically, we try to avoid the feelings to make it better, yet acknowledging the feeling and allowing the child this emotional space is precisely what will make it better.
  22. Feel the pain with your child and open your heart. Your child will only open up as much as you are opened up to the pain.
  23. Maximize instead of minimize. Go into the pain and the story to explore the issue without down playing or negating what your child is sharing. Getting your child back to a sense of reality will come later, after the emotions have been expressed.
  24. Trust in the process...the outcome is determined by staying present in each moment of the process!

Practice this with your friend, spouse, partner, and even your boss! The more you live out of the emotional side of being human, the more natural this will come to you.




My teenager is very selfish and won't help out. What do I do?


Full Question How does being extremely selfish fit into the trauma issue? Last Sunday evening, it became very obvious that my teenage daughter was not going to lift a finger to help with our Sunday family dinner when our other children and extended family were all helping out. She said she was tired. Answer It fits in perfectly. When children are in survival mode or simply overwhelmed, they feel as if they have to protect themselves and create safety for themselves. It is all about self-protection. They seek peace and peace comes from shutting down from the world. It is actually a brilliant strategy: shut down the world and you reduce the stress in your life, you deactivate the stimulus of the environment, and your nervous system has a chance to calm down. Unfortunately for those around a child in this type of self-protection mode, this brilliant strategy makes the child look rude, selfish, and lazy.

In order to stay in a place of love, understanding, and tolerance as a parent for this type of behavior in your child (especially around extended family members), you have to ask yourself, "What is driving my child’s behavior?" Too often, we approach our children asking the wrong question of "How do I get my child to change her behavior?". If you ask the wrong question, you'll get the wrong answer. In this specific situation, if you only focus on the behavior alone, it will look as if your daughter is being lazy and selfish.

By pushing her to change her behavior, you will come off to her as nagging and lecturing. This will only serve to increase her stress, thus pushing her further into her shut-down state. Ironically, you will actually create the exact result which you were trying to avoid.

Instead, work on the core issue: OVERWHELM. Moving a child out of a state of overwhelm happens within the context of the relationship. Focus on the relationship.

Also recognize that family get-togethers, while fun, are stressful. Friends, family, and more social interaction can overwhelm a child who struggles with relationships. While I'm an advocate for families, too much family outside of the nucleus family structure can be too much for many children. Their nervous systems are not equipped to handle the increase in noise, interactions, and stress of being expected to "behave."

To solve this issue, do proactive work and develop a plan with your daughter. This is a child who needs you to join her and to assist her in order to keep her from automatically going into overwhelm. Shutting down is an automatic response; she doesn't have control over it. It doesn't happen at a conscious level. Helping her to create an awareness around this reaction, as well as a plan of how to deal with it in the future, is your responsibility as a parent of a child of trauma.

When life gets busy, loud, and unpredictable, tell her you've noticed she doesn't seem to be as happy. Invite her to reflect about how she felt during last Sunday night's dinner and let her express herself honestly and openly. Beware, though, she may blame you for having too many people over (for example, "Why did you invite them, anyway, you know I don’t like them!" or "Sunday night dinner is stupid anyway; I'd rather be in my room or be with my friends."). You don’t have to defend your decisions or try to convince her why Sunday night dinner is important.

Explore the real issue: it's too much for her and it is threatening. Say something like, "Sunday dinner isn't your favorite so maybe we can figure out a plan to help make it better. If it gets to be too much, at any time, how about you go for a walk and if you want me to go with you, I’d love to - just the two of us."

You can also set the expectation that you need her to help out, but offer to help her. "I know it can feel like it's too much energy to help with the dinner or with clean-up, but what if you and I worked together? You don't have to be alone and overwhelmed anymore. I want to be here to support you and help keep your body from shutting down. Can you let me help you?"

"Beyond Consequences" doesn’t mean a child can do anything she wants to. Children need boundaries; boundaries create emotional safety. Children need us to set the bar of what is expected, as well. However, due to the sensitivity of our children, it has to be done with love, kindness, and compassion. Think about it as merging the strengths of Mr. Rogers (gentleness, compassion, understanding) with those of General Patton (strong, courageous, determined). Perhaps you're reading these suggestions and thinking, "That would be fine if she were five, but she's fifteen! Mr. Rogers is for little kids; when is it her turn to grow up and take responsibility?"

Your daughter has already proven that she can't get out of overwhelm and she isn't able to take responsibility yet, at least on her own. Expecting her to simply dig deeper internally and uncover a vast source of willpower just isn't realistic. You can continue to battle it out, which is exactly what will happen if you approach it from the perspective of her being lazy and rude.

It is never the facts of the situation that create frustration; it is the interpretation of the facts. For example: Fact. Your daughter isn't helping out.
Interpretation. Choose one:
(1) She is lazy, rude, and choosing to be disrespectful.

(2) She is overwhelmed; shutting down from an automatic response controlled subconsciously by her nervous system, and needs help finding her way out in order to create a new pattern that will equip her for the future.
The first interpretation perceives only the negative and puts 100% of the responsibility on the child. It is her job to change. You hold your ground as the parent in charge (General Patten without Mr. Rogers) and she is the one required to take action and change. This interpretation will keep your parent/child relationship in a "me against her" power struggle.

The second interpretation sheds light on the truth about what is driving her behavior. The change in behavior shifts to a focus on improving your relationship with her. It focuses on how you can help your child, who is overwhelmed, get out of overwhelm, not go deeper into it.

It takes courage to do something different. Trust that love and relationship, coupled with setting expectations and boundaries, will be the solution to getting the tasks at hand completed.




Why does my child forget things everything they get stressed out?


Full Question My daughter, Gina, is 15 years old (adopted at 2 ½ with the first years of her life being very traumatic). She gets so frustrated with herself when she can't remember the instructions her soccer coach gives her (and her coach gets very frustrated with her as well). When Gina gets stressed out, she simply cannot process the information or store the information in her brain properly. I think if my daughter were to understand herself better, she could cope better during moments of stress. Would you be willing to write a letter to her directly that would explain what is going on because I know she could listen to it from you, instead of me (her mom!). Thank you. Answer Dear Gina:

Early childhood experiences (when you're a baby and/or toddler) of trauma can affect you much later on in life (like when you're 15 years old or older) in many different areas. One of the most prominent areas is in your ability to handle stressful situations. When you face stress from teachers, coaches, your parent(s), and other adults who have expectations of you, it can be as if your brain turns into a cobweb. The ability to process and store new information is reduced and hindered.

Here are few facts to remember to help you understand yourself:

  1. When you are stressed out, your brain cannot store new information.
  2. Your brain's ability to process information (old or new) is compromised (limited) when you're stressed.
  3. Stress causes confused and distorted thinking. You just can't think clearly.
  4. It becomes very difficult to recall information you learned recently. It is as if you're standing in front of a file cabinet and there are documents in the file cabinet, but you can't access them because the file cabinet is locked.
  5. When stressed, your brain goes back to old patterns. It is like a plane that is being operated by a pilot (you) when suddenly the "autopilot" switch gets turned on and you have no control. You go into autopilot and every decision is based on old information and old patterns.
  6. Rigid thinking becomes the dominant thinking. You are not able to be flexible. Answers have to be "yes" or "no," there is no "maybe." Things are either "wonderful" or "horrible," there is no "it's just okay." Things have to be done "now" not "later." In other words, there is a great sense of urgency...NOW!
  7. Your brain cannot process language when stressed. Adult instructions are confusing and they sound more like the Charlie Brown teacher. The problem is that most adults don't realize this so they only get frustrated with you and they think you are ignoring them, when you're not.
  8. When stressed out, your body can get overwhelmed and take over in very reactive ways: freezing up, shutting down, hitting others, screaming, yelling, throwing objects, throwing up, getting sick, and more.
To keep this from stopping you from being the best you want to be, there are some things that can be done, but they do take work. Here are some suggestions:
  1. When feeling stressed, work to get yourself regulated. Make a list of what works for you. Some of these might be deep breaths, mantras (like saying to yourself, "I'm okay and I've always been okay."), pictures of your family (anything visual), or a special item like a rock or a charm (something that you can touch). Be creative and make a list to help you remember when you get stressed next time.
  2. When you are starting to get stressed and the person with you is getting frustrated, simply say, "I need a few minutes to process this. Thank you."
  3. Before going to an event that could be stressful (like a soccer game or taking a test), take a few moments to stop and relax beforehand. Walk into the event as calm and regulated as possible to start.
  4. If there is anyway for the person who is helping you or teaching you to draw out the instructions, instead of just verbally telling you, this would be extremely helpful. Your brain can most likely take in visual information better than verbal information.
  5. Ahead of time, let people know you have a, "High Sensitivity to Stress." This simply means you get easily stressed out and you may need a few more breaks to get re-regulated.
  6. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Practice. Practice. Practice. It might take your brain longer than some of your friends to retain the information. This does NOT mean you're stupid. This only means your brain needs more time to put things "in the file cabinet" (your brain).
  7. When you do get stressed, be sure to allow yourself to process through all the big feelings once you're in a safe place (like at home with a parent). You have to safely let go of all the stress so it doesn't get locked up in your body. Sometimes just a good cry is what you need and it can be a wonderful release!
  8. Simply being aware of how your brain works along with being mindful can be a big step in changing all of this.
  9. This is the most important tip: You have to love yourself and stop judging yourself as a "bad" person or a "dumb" person or a "worthless" person (or any other negative beliefs you may have going on in your head). This issue of how your brain processes and retains information is not about who you are as a person. You're living a journey of trauma recovery and it is a gift in many ways...it is keeping you intuitive, aware, connected, emotionally intelligent, and much more! Acceptance of who you are is the key.




Why does my 16-year-old act like a 2-year-old?


Full Question My seven year old son has a history marked by trauma and while I understand this has set him up to act differently, I still find myself so frustrated with him! On one hand, he is so intelligent and gifted (his teacher describes him as "more gifted than the gifted kids"), yet on the other hand, he can't seem to comprehend what I say to him (or he just plain isn't listening to me!). He seems so mature intellectually yet acts like a two-year-old when things don't go his way. How do I parent a child who is 16-years-old one minute and a two-year-old the next? It's maddening! Answer Children who are raised in predictable environments with consistent caretaking experience the world as both safe and good. They learn to trust themselves and to trust their emotions. They trust others and the world at large. They develop confidence in their ability to think and feel, no matter the situation at hand. However, children who are traumatized by abuse, neglect, and/or abandonment, do not develop such a coherent set of coping skills. They may spend all their resources and energy making certain they are safe since the caretakers around them are not. The lack of consistency and unpredictability in their lives interrupts their normal path of development. To demonstrate this, let's compare two children. First we have "Andy." Andy grew up in a nurturing and structured home. In fact, Andy’s womb experience was ideal. His mother took her prenatal vitamins, she exercised, she modulated her stress level, and she wanted to be pregnant and become a mother. Thus, by the time Andy is seven years old, he has reached his normal developmental milestones and is a high functioning, happy, and lovable child. Billy, on the other hand, has a history of abandonment, rejection, and unpredictability in his history. His mother didn't even want to be pregnant to begin with, so Billy entered the world feeling rejected and unwanted. At the age of seven years old, Billy is disorganized in his ability to navigate the world. He is capable in some areas yet shows massive deficits in other areas. Billy's development has been severely impacted by his life experiences. Here's a graph showing the difference between Andy's developmental path and Billy's developmental failures: Here are six areas of development to consider for your child:

  1. Cognitive Development:
    Children who are limited in their cognitive ability will struggle the most to overcome trauma and will show patterns of quick regression. Other children become advanced in their cognitive thinking and are like the child in this question, labeled "more gifted than the gifted kids." These children will typically be difficult in their behaviors and act out with more intensity.

  2. Language Development:
    Due to the lack of safe and nurturing one-on-one care, a child's language development is hampered. This is especially true for children adopted internationally whose first language was not English. Language deficits impede understanding (thus it can feel like they aren't listening to you). Acting out becomes a form of expressive communication, as there are no words to simply say, "I'm mad!" or "I'm scared."

  3. Academic Development:
    Trauma impacts a child's attention span, ability to concentrate, and to organize. This makes it difficult even for a bright child like Billy to succeed in school. He can't keep track of his homework, his backpack is completely disorganized, and he has a difficult time sitting still in class and paying attention. The stress of academics can easily set a child back into feeling helpless (as when they were in the midst of their trauma), so instead of taking on the challenge of school, they simply give up and shut down. (For more information on helping your child in the school environment, click here.)

  4. Social Development:
    Social interactions have proven to be unsafe and dangerous to many children, so their ability to interact appropriately with peers can be severely compromised. They have lived in "survival" which leaves no room for considering the feelings of others. They need to be taught how to handle the stress of peer relations and may need an adult near them during social play (See Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Volume 2 for more direct ways to help children find safety in social interactions).

  5. Physical Development:
    Deprivation of not only food but of nurturing and sensitive caretaking often compromises a child's physical development. This is especially true for a child who was diagnosed as "Failure to Thrive."

  6. Emotional Development:
    While a child like Billy has a birth certificate that says he is seven, he will likely be extremely emotionally immature. He needs to experience safe and nurturing emotional interactions in order to rebuild his foundation. He needs emotionally sensitive caretaking to get back on track and regain the experiences his friend, Andy, has been given all along.

Billy is all over the graph in his developmental path. Where is your child? Take the time to consider each of these areas for your child. If your child is more like a three year old emotionally, he needs to be met at this age in order to move forward in his development.

Asking a child to respond with the emotional flexibility of a seven year old when he is only three years old in his development will prove to be maddening as a parent and more importantly, is unfair to the child. Children need to be accepted for who they are and for what their life experiences have created within them. Unconditional love requires us to get out of our own fears of "babying" our child in order to meet our child exactly at his developmental age. Be honest with yourself and objectively determine the actual capabilities of your child. When you are able to meet your child at his/her level of development, you are opening up the door to healing. Your child will feel more accepted, understood, and validated. This allows love to flow and for the parent/child relationship to be rebuilt. It is in the context of your loving relationship with your child that the graph of Billy can soon look closer to that of Andy. Children are resilient and are neurologically flexible. Healing, and thus behavioral change, takes a willingness to see a child for exactly who he is and to stop expecting him to be like the example of Andy, especially if the child has a traumatic history. For more information and an in-depth look at developmental trauma, click HERE to access my webinar.




I fear I have lost my compassion trying to help my children. What do I do?


Full Question I have two children who have been a constant struggle for the past 8 years. Each suffered emotional and physical abuse, as well as neglect for the first 3 or 4 years of their lives. Our whole family continues to spiral and loop in a pool of frustration, chaos, and tension. I’ve never been so unhappy in my entire life and I find myself unable to be as compassionate at this point. Answer My experience has shown that much of the loss of happiness with parents raising challenging children is due to the loss of compassion. Research has linked the state of happiness to one’s ability to be compassionate. In a study using EEG and FMRI’s, researchers studied a highly trained monk. They first measured the brain of the monk in a resting state to generate baseline brain activity. Then the monk was asked to perform an intensive meditation on compassion. The results showed that during this state of compassion, there was a dramatic shift in his prefrontal function, lighting up the “happiness” region of the brain. Just the thought of being compassionate can evoke feelings of happiness. When we are concerned and connected to others, we have a sense of well being within ourselves. Unfortunately, most parenting approaches are grounded in a belief that if the child is obedient and well behaved, then the parent can be happy and the family is functioning. This approach places all of the responsibility onto the child and I deeply believe this is unhealthy and creates a dysfunctional family system. It is never the child’s responsibility to make the parent happy nor can the child's behavior be used to determine the health of the family system. Many problems in a family are caused at the most fundamental level by distortions of perception and negative interpretations of situations. It takes changing to a new perspective and for the parents to take responsibility for their state of emotions, despite the behavior of their children. One antidote to this begins with understanding the very nature of early childhood trauma (developmental trauma) and the lifelong effects it has on our children. Trauma never goes away completely. Be sure to educate yourself from the child’s perspective as to why they do what they are doing and what it means to live in a perpetual state of fear and overwhelm. A new perspective of your children can return you back to a place of compassion. Compassion will then return you back to a place of joy, amusement, and happiness. Compassion is essential to our well-being…it is the pinnacle of human emotions. Compassion is the openness to the suffering of another, combined with the wish that they be freed from their suffering. It moves us to be understanding, kind, affectionate, tolerant, warm-hearted, and caring. Compassion is love. Research shows that individuals are more likely to experience compassion for those who they perceive as similar to them in some way. If you can relate to your children’s struggles, rather than view them as outright disobedient or disrespectful, you will be more apt to help them move past their struggles and be more effective in creating an environment of healing. Most importantly, if your family is in a negative spiral, you have the ability to pull out of this vortex. It doesn’t have to hold you captive. There is now substantial evidence that shows we can train our minds to overcome negative emotions. We can be in charge of our happiness, despite our life circumstances. The amygdala is involved with anxiety and fear, which creates the feeling of unhappiness. However, studies have shown that you can counteract the reaction of the amygdala…you’re not powerless anymore! You have the ability to make your life work for you. It takes regaining hope and a practice of compassion. The next time you begin to feel overwhelmed or realize you’re unhappy, say to yourself, “I’m not powerless anymore.” Change your pattern. Don’t allow your child’s negative state to fire your amygdala. Don’t allow him to shift you into stress and fear. Don't give up your personal power anymore. Love is available in all circumstances and at any moment of any day. There is a way to help your children get beyond the negative behaviors and remain happy at the same time!




Can siblings traumatize each other?


Full Question For the past three years, our 16-year-old daughter, Jackie, has had to deal with the complete chaos of her younger adopted sister who was severely traumatized before we adopted her. Jackie was an only child before my husband and I adopted and my world revolved around Jackie. We lived a relatively peaceful, fun, and happy life. All of that drastically changed once her sister entered our family. I realize now that Jackie has been traumatized by the disruption, fear, and struggles our family has endured. What can I do to help my daughter, without dismissing the trauma she has gone through? Answer You're exactly right when your say Jackie's trauma of living with a severely traumatized younger sister cannot be dismissed. In fact, her experience needs to be maximized and brought to the surface in order for her to find healing. Jackie needs the emotional space to be heard and to be understood.

However, listening to your daughter's challenges can easily evoke feelings of guilt, shame, and perhaps, resentment in you. When this happens, all too often, parents inadvertently stop listening and work to minimize or stop their child's pain, closing off this child's needed opportunity to have a voice.

The first place to start is to realize that you cannot fix Jackie's experiences from the past three years. What is, is. Yet, what you can do is work to understand her experiences (getting into her shoes) and giving her the time, patience, and emotional space to discharge ALL of her feelings.

It takes being willing to commiserate with her and allowing her to express her story, not just at the cognitive level, but at the emotional level. Absorbing her pain means not responding in a defensive or a minimizing manner and not giving her solutions for the moment (that can come later).

A conversation might sound something like this: Mom: "Sweetheart, there is something that I haven't recognized about your life. I haven't seen how difficult it has been for you since your sister came home. For the last three years, especially when she came home, I probably ignored you sometimes, I didn't pay the same amount of attention to you, and I wasn't there for you."

Jackie: "You just care for her more than you do for me!"

Mom: "Is that what it feels like?"

Jackie: "Yes! She gets ALL the attention. You sleep with her, you cater to her every need, and you spend all your time with her."

Mom: "I do. And where does that leave you?"

Jackie: "With NOTHING! Everything I ever had is gone. I'm MAD. I'm so tired of her. I'm tired of her meltdowns. I want it to go back to the way it was before she was here. I don't want it to be this way."

Mom: "I hear you, honey. Tell me more. Tell me how hard this has been for you because I've expected you to be the grown up in this. Tell me how that's not fair to you."

Jackie: "It isn't fair. She embarrasses me. She can't do anything. WE can't do anything and our whole life is centered around everything that SHE ever does. We can't do anything we used to do. Everything is different. I just want it to go back; I just want it to go back to the way it was before."

Mom: "I know....." (quietly pausing and working to stay present with her daughter)

Jackie: "I'm angry."

Mom: "Are you angry at me and dad for doing this? Tell me. I can handle your anger. I want you to give it all out to me. I haven't known how angry you are at me...I'm okay with it. Tell me 'I'm mad at you, mom!'"

Jackie: "I'm AM mad at you! I'm mad at everything. I hate that you and dad did this to me. Why didn't you love me enough not to mess up my entire life??!!?"
This conversation might need to continue for a while, each time with mom "dancing" with whatever her daughter says in return, allowing her daughter to lead the conversation. Yet, the most important part of such a dialogue is that it happens with emotional intensity, at the heart level.

Allowing Jackie the safety of a parent who is present and working to just listen, will allow her to discharge her anger, pain, and frustration now and not in the heat of a difficult moment when her sister is melting down.

But perhaps you are saying that you've tried this and these types of conversations happen over and over without movement forward.

If this is the case, then you have to dig deeper. Are you stopping your daughter at any level? Are you reallyable to handle her anger and pain? What feelings inside of you are coming up when she is expressing? Guilt? Fear of the future? Helplessness?

Feeling the depth of your child's pain in these moments, coupled with your own dark feelings that have not been honored or expressed, will shut you down. Your daughter will feel this. Thus, her expression is not being heard and she stays stuck in her healing process. When this is the case, conversations like the one above will keep looping and looping, keeping everyone in a state of victimhood.

You have to allow your pain to be felt, honored, and understood. In order for you to feel your child's pain, you have to feel your own pain first. This can be scary. It may seem that if you feel the depth of pain within you, opening up the floodgates, you won't be able to parent effectively and you won't be able to pull it together.

Ironically, this is exactly what keeps parents from being able to parent the way their children need them to. Parents have to go deep within the caverns of their own hearts. They have to own and acknowledge their own pain.

Parents have to stay in their hearts; that is where their children are living.

Effective parenting ultimately comes from self-love, self-discovery, and self-understanding. Love yourself through your pain in order to get to the depth of your child's pain. Healing resides within this powerful dynamic.

And remember, it isn't always about "fixing" the situation with your child. The "fixing" comes from listening, giving your child a voice, and simply being present.




How can my child reclaim the love of learning?


Children are vulnerable. In an optimal environment, they are not expected to experience this vulnerability until later in life when their minds and nervous systems are equipped to handle elevated levels of fear, stress, and overwhelm. Yet, the key phrase here is "optimal environment." Unfortunately, we live in the "real" world, so children will often find themselves in situations that are far from the optimal and the result can be childhood trauma. Childhood trauma happens at both the emotional and psychological level and it can have a negative impact on the child's developmental process. During a traumatic event (abuse, neglect, adoption, accidents, birth trauma, etc.), the lifelong impact is even greater if the child believes he powerless, helpless, and hopeless. When a child experiences one or all of these feelings, he begins to believe the world is dangerous. Repeated experiences of these feelings will create a lasting imprint from which he operates and behaves. A framework based in fear and survival becomes the child's viewpoint of the world around him.

These early life experiences then influence the child's ability to "behave," or more correctly expressed, the child's ability to stay "regulated." Trauma impacts a child's ability to stay calm, balanced, and oriented. Instead, children with traumatic histories often find themselves in a "dysregulated" state, which manifests into a child who does not behave, cannot focus, and/or lacks motivation. It is not a matter of choice or a matter of "good" child verses "bad" child; it is simply an imprint from the child's past history. It's the child's new normal.

When working with children like this in the classroom, the most effective way to work with them is to work at the level of regulation, relationship, and emotional safety instead of at the level of behavior. These children's issues are not behavioral; they are regulatory. Working at the level of regulation, relationship, and emotional safety addresses more deeply critical forces within these children that go far beyond the exchanges of language, choices, stars, and sticker charts.

Traditional disciplinary techniques focus on altering the left hemisphere through language, logic, and cognitive thinking. These approaches are ineffective because the regulatory system is altered more effectively through a different part of the brain known as the limbic system. The limbic system operates at the emotional level, not at the logical level. Therefore, we must work to regulate these children at the level of the limbic system, which happens most easily through the context of human connection.

When the teacher says to a non-traumatized child, "Andy, can you please settle down and quietly have a seat?" Andy has the internal regulatory ability to respond appropriately to his teacher because trauma has not interrupted his developmental maturation of developing self-regulation tools and feeling like he is safe in the world. However, when Billy (the traumatized child) is asked the same question, his response is much different. He takes the long way around the classroom to his seat, he continues to not only talk but projects his voice across the room as if he is still out in the playground, and once seated continues to squirm and wiggle.

Traditionally, we have interpreted Billy as a disruptive child, pasted the label ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) onto him, and reprimanded him for his "naughty" behavior. What we have failed to see is that Billy cannot settle down on his own. His internal system has not experienced the appropriate patterning to know how to be well behaved like his classmate Andy and Billy does not know he is safe in this world, even if he is now in a safe environment.

The brain-body system is a pattern-matching machine. A child with little internal self-control will pattern himself according to his past external experiences. If his past experiences have been chaotic, disruptive, and overwhelming (trauma), he will continue acting this way until new patterns are established. Thus, a child coming into a calm and safe classroom is still likely to be acting as if he is in his previous chaotic and unsafe environment. A child can be taken out of trauma but not so easily can the trauma be taken out of the child. Past patterns of chaos are now the current framework for navigating his world; he knows no different.

The most effective way to change these patterns comes through safe, nurturing, attuned, and strong human connection. For the student in the classroom, it comes through the teacher-student relationship. The reality is, for our traumatized children to learn and achieve academically, science is showing that they must be engaged at the relational level prior to any academic learning.




What do I do for my child when having fun becomes too stressful?


Full Question My 15-year-old daughter can have a great fun family day and then predictably follow-up with a major meltdown. While I understand that these great times are also extremely stressful times, can you give me specific suggestions on how to prepare her for these fun times and manage these times better to avoid the meltdowns afterwards? Answer Preparation ahead of time will help your daughter to create more safety and predictability around a fun event. At 15 years old, she is cognizant enough to be taught why this happens and how her system reacts to such events, even fun events. Draw the graph of the Window of Stress Tolerance (See Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control, Volume 2 for an entire illustrated chapter on the Window of Stress Tolerance). Explain to her how these types of events can stress out her system. Help her to accept herself with the knowledge that these types of events with numerous people and lots of stimulation, are putting her in a place of overwhelm. She is simply reaching her breaking point.

Even though these events are fun, the fact remains that the environment is different, there are people she may not know, the activities may be new, and the location is unfamiliar. All of these variables are going to be a threat to her. This will require her to work exceptionally hard to maintain her regulation during the event. By the time she returns home from “fun,” her nervous system is overloaded and overextended. Thus, the “meltdown” becomes her only choice.

It is incredibly empowering to help a child understand why this happens and why her system is easily overwhelmed.

Additionally, give her as much information ahead of time as to what to expect. Is this a birthday party? Are you going to the bowling alley, to a park for a picnic, or over to an unfamiliar home? Who is going to be there? What is going to be happening? What kind of activities will she be asked to join into?

Help her in her mind’s eye to be able to create this new environment and to experience it ahead of time. Help her to walk through in advance as to what to expect and create a sense of familiarity with her. The goal is to decrease surprises and increase her sense of knowing.

Give your daughter a plan of action. At any time that she is at this event, invite and encourage her to come to you if she is feeling overwhelmed. Give her the permission to come to you and seek you for regulation. She needs this, even at 15 years old, because emotionally she is much younger. Give her the option of taking a break from the event. Jointly, you two can create an “escape” plan ahead of time.

Perhaps the plan is to go with her to the car and leave the event temporarily (reassuring her that she can go back when she is ready). You can help her to regulate by taking some deep breaths, listening to music, or talking and reconnecting within the context of your relationship with her, away from the event. Essentially, you’ll be giving her a “time-in” in order to return back to a state of calm and balance.

Interrupting the fun for just a few moments may be exactly what she needs in order not to reach her breaking point by the end of the event. Instead of a three-hour long party that taxes her nervous system to her meltdown edge, she will be able to take a break from the constant barrage of activity, regroup, reregulate, and maintain a stronger sense of balance throughout.

Relate this to your own experiences. Many of us absolutely need this type of interruption from intense activities, even as adults. If we are at a stimulating event, we naturally find ourselves taking a break outside, checking our phone, or disconnecting in some other way, momentarily, to regroup ourselves.

As a parent, we have to also realize that when we return home, as much as we do to help our children during the event, they might have to struggle. If you come back home and expect her to be okay, you are setting yourself up for frustration and disappointment. She may not be able to come back home easily and comfortably, despite your best efforts.

Lower your expectations according to what is her normal and to what is her nervous system’s capability. If you are expecting her to come home and to be okay and she is not, then you have created a very large gap between her reality and your reality.

Press on and I hope you are able to have fun times, with minimal “aftermath.” We all deserve to have more fun in your families. So, be courageous and keep reintroducing joy back into your life!




My child exhibits so much rejection. How do I help?


Full Question My six-year old son can typically get his favorite aunt to laugh. The other day, however, he couldn't get her to laugh and he switched on a dime from a joking child with her to an angry child at me. There are so many dynamics in my extended family and he is with us due to a bad situation. He is actually my nephew. With all these family layers and with him rejecting me and blaming me for ruining his life, how do I keep myself from falling into all these dynamics? Answer For your son, getting his aunt to laugh at him means that he is finally loved and has connection. When he couldn't get her to laugh, his entire world fell apart. It was this drastic. For a child with a high sensitivity to being rejected, one missed connection can turn into complete collapse.

His anger stemmed from the feeling of being rejected. His jokes weren't working so therefore she didn't love him anymore. Then he turned on you in a self-protective response to reject you in order not to get hurt again. As his mom, you have the closest relationship with him, which is also the most vulnerable relationship.

Rejection is a self-protective response, a survival response.

You have to stay very connected to yourself in order not to get pulled into the chaotic vortex within your family. When you are able to stay so strong in who you are, you no longer need anybody else's approval. You cannot change your brother, your sisters, or any of the other relatives. You don't have to solve their issues or convince them that you are doing the right thing, ever. You have permission to stay in a place of love and respect for yourself (even if nobody else can do this in your family).

When you are raising a child as difficult as your nephew, living in this framework is needed for self-preservation. Starting here is the place for finding peace and freedom in your home without feeling like you are trapped or stuck with the situation. Ultimately, you will then move to a place of self-love and that is the gift of the chaos and challenge that has unfolded in your family.

What this means is, when your son comes up to you after not being able to get his aunt to laugh and starts agitating you, you can be able to connect with his rejection instead of feeling rejected yourself. You can step back from feeling like your son is diminishing you. Step back, not from a place of detaching from him, but step back to realize and literally "feel" what he is feeling.

This is the moment to say to yourself, "This is my chance not to be explosive, but to find myself in this chaos." This takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline and self-awareness. When your child starts badgering you, you don't have to become what he is and what he is projecting onto you.

Be cautious though, because you cannot detach and be calm from a place of ignoring him or retreating away from him because this will typically ignite him even more. If he senses you are not present with him and have emotionally detached from him, then the same dynamic of being rejected has now been created for him once again.

This requires going "head to head" with him but not from a place of power and control but from a place of love, passion, and willingness to be in his pain.

What does this look like? Child: "You're just mad because you wish you were my mom. I already have a mom."

Mom: "You're right, I'm not your mom."

Child: "That's right. You just wanna be!"

Mom: "I just want to love you..." (gets cut off by child)

Child: "I'm not part of this family anyway!" You're just trying to get rid of me. Nobody loves me in this family anyhow."

Mom: "Is that what it feels like? (pause) It feels that way, doesn't it sweetheart?"

Child: "Yes, because I know it is true. You just want to get rid of me. Everybody wants to get rid of me. I'm not a part of this family."

Mom: "I'm..." (gets cut off again by the child)

Child: "I'm not a part of this family. You just love everyone more."

Mom: "Everybody else just gave up on you, didn't they? That can't feel good."

Child: "Yes, it is your fault!"

Mom: "Tell me what I did. You're not in trouble, what did I do to make this so bad for you?"

Child: "You took me away from my mom. Mom wanted to have me and you took me."

Mom: (pause)..."What else? What else did I do?"

Child: "You yell at me, you get me in trouble, you always want me to work, you don't want me to play with friends."

Mom: "And it doesn't feel like I love you, does it?"

Child: "You don't."

Mom: "It feels like I ruined your life. Tell me that, 'Mom, you ruined my life!'"

Child: "You did... you RUINED my life!"

Mom: "I'm sorry it is so hard. Tell me more. I need to know how hard this is for you. Sometimes I do yell at you, sometimes I ignore you, we fight, and we don't get along. I don't know how hard it is for you to be in this family and not feel loved."

Mom engages by asking for the anger and she is doing it in an authentic manner. She put aside the fact that the child blamed her for everything, she did not have to defend herself, and she was strong enough in herself to know that she is a good mom and that she is doing exactly what her child needs whether or not he agrees with her or not. It is not the parent's job to convince this child. That is the child's process that he will have to find his way through in his own timing and later once a more rational discussion can be developed between mom and child.

Love yourself enough to reach your child's heart and pain when he is most "raw." You don't have to defend, justify, or rationalize the situation at the moment. The role of the parent is simply to absorb the pain, not fix the child, convince the child, but to simply allow the space for anger and pain.

This is a child who is terrified, simply terrified, of you leaving him. When you can feel this fear and understand it, it will keep you in your heart and in a place of regulation, compassion, and love for your child. That's where healing happens.




How can I get my child to open up about their feelings?


Full Question I have a daughter who gets very angry when I try to correct her or remind her of basic household rules. I'm trying to stay calm, breathe, and think about what is driving her behavior, but I still can't seem to enforce the rules without her blowing up completely (for example, asking her not to have food and drinks around her laptop). When we are both calm later on, she isn't open to talking about her feelings. I don't know what else to do. Answer When our children can't express their feelings, we have to become vulnerable and open to them first. This, in turn, gives them the permission and safety to explore themselves at the emotional level.

If you are not being emotionally expressive, then she is not going to know how or feel safe enough to do this. Your job is to break the barrier. When you come back after an incident when you are both calm, instead of talking just about the logistics of what happened, explore the incident at an emotional level from the perspective of your heart.

For many children, however, the connection may need to happen more "in the moment" when they are raw, hurting, and already in an emotional state. Giving her permission to be angry right then, will paradoxically keep her from having to get explosive.

Any child who cannot accept corrections or simple feedback is a child who has deep fears of being rejected. Such a child lives with an internal belief system that says she is not good enough nor is she lovable.

Her response to anyone in authority is driven from an unwavering stance of: "I will never be rejected again. I will never allow anyone to be in charge of me. I will never get hurt again."

When she gets angry, which really means she is scared, address her internal belief system by flowing with what she is saying. "Dance" with her reactivity. Immerse yourself by listening to the conversation behind the conversation, not in a controlling way, but in a loving way. For example: Mom: "I need you to move and eat your snack in the kitchen, please. That is the rule and that is what we agreed upon earlier."

Daughter: [Firing back immediately] "Why do I have to move to the kitchen? I'm fine doing my work right here. I'm not going to spill anything. How come every time I'm doing something, you have to interrupt me? I'm doing my homework; so just let me do this without bothering me! Just leave me alone."

Mom: [Pausing and breathing] "I know. It's really hard when I come in here. It is hard when I correct you, isn't it?" [Mom sits down, but not too close to her daughter and starts breathing to calm her own nervous system.]

Daughter: "What are you doing? I just want you to leave me alone right now."

Mom: "I know [Pausing and taking a deep breath]...I know. [Slowing down her speech] I have to hold the rule but more importantly, I need to make sure you're okay." [Mom is shifting from her head and into her heart]

Daughter: "I'm fine. I just need you to leave me alone. Please just GO somewhere. You always tell me you need me to do well in school. So now I'm trying to do my homework and you're bothering me. Will you please leave?"

Mom: [Pausing and taking a deep breath] "How is school going?" [Mom uses a gentle tone of voice with authentic concern]

Daughter: [no answer]

Mom: "School is a lot of pressure. It's a lot of work and I think I've been putting more pressure on you to do well, haven't I?"

Daughter: "Yeah." [with a sarcastic tone]

Mom: [Ignoring the sarcastic tone but heading into the conversation with curiosity and concern] "What class is your toughest?"

Daughter: "Math. It’s boring."

Mom: "You really don't like it, do you?"

Daughter: "No, it's stupid!"

And the conversation continues and shifts to issues surrounding school...

The mom in this dialogue stays very present and brings down her daughter's stress and anger by not reacting to the surface conversation. The mom could sense that her daughter's issue was more about school by the response her daughter gave immediately when asked to move to the kitchen.

The real issue wasn't about the drinks being close to the computer. Instead, the mom worked to listen to the conversation behind the conversation. The mom was able to hear that her daughter was stressed and worried about school.

The fear of not measuring up, not being good enough, and not being acceptable were the other driving forces around the daughter's disrespectful responses to her mother.

Once the daughter's concerns of school are fully heard, validated, and explored, then the mom would be able to return to the issue of the drinks and the computer. The boundary is still held in place, but more importantly, the daughter now has a greater sense of being worthy, loved, and understood by her mother.

Enter into these types of dialogues with the agenda of "knowing" your child verses "changing" your child. Respect, courtesy, and compliance will flow more naturally from a deep internal space from a child when the relationship is emotionally safe, secure, and loving.

Press on to get to the conversation behind the conversation!





 
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Beyond Consequences Institute, LLC

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Boulder, CO 80301

Tel:  303.993.8379

Fax: 321.206.2067