Before we start talking about correction, as in, of undesirable behaviors, I want to take a moment to wish this girl a VERY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!
Double digits, baby!!!
Juliana, you are the reason I’m here, in Texas, learning all I can formally learn, so that I can pass it on to others. When you came to us, we fumbled SO badly. We screwed up getting you what you needed in about 18,000 ways. We have talked about this so many times, but I’m going to say it again, I am so sorry.
We finally found our way through trial, error and some help from the Institute for Child Development here at TCU. I remember sending videos of you to them and saying “What do I do about this?!?” and them sending me recommendations so kindly that were, basically, “Well, not any of what you’re doing currently.” We changed everything until we got it right. We got you a GREAT attachment therapist locally. We did a crap ton of neurofeedback, and you fought. You fought so hard every single day to understand what it meant to have a mom after the ones you had in the past failed you SO badly.
When I started to fail too, I made you a promise. I promised I would do better, that I would go and get help too, because I’m not perfect. I took myself to therapy and then I told you all about the training I was going to come to that would help me do even better, and that maybe it would help other people help their kids too. You were sad I was going to miss your birthday, but you are doing GREAT with just dad.
I am so stinkin’ proud of you. I am so stinkin’ proud of us.
It took you and I YEARS to connect. We didn’t feel like mom and daughter for a long time. I felt like a babysitter whose soul purpose was to punish you, and I’m pretty sure you felt like I resented you for breathing. We were in a horrible cycle.
When Darren Jones of the ICD at TCU put this slide up yesterday, I made sure to take a picture of it to show your dad. We would often comment on the “vicious cycle” we would enter into where you would act out, I would punish you, you would feel like you were bad, I would punish you more and we would get more and more and more in trouble.
Then we took you to therapy and we began to view our struggles like this. You were merely trying to survive and we could start a trend of an upward spiral toward the magical place where you felt safe.
Correcting behaviors in a kid who is just trying to survive looks a lot different then correcting behaviors in a kid you view as “manipulative” or “willfully defiant.” We, as parents, absolutely need to make that distinction. We need to find the fear behind the behavior. We need to be as proactive as possible to prevent these behaviors by empowering our kids (more on that tomorrow).
Sometimes though, we can’t catch it in time, the child blows their top and we, as parents, have to level a response. The level of response we approach Juliana with depends entirely on where she’s at. If we can ‘let it go, no big deal’, we absolutely do. She knows that term, it’s her script. She will sometimes breathe deeply as she says it ‘I’m going to let it go, it’s no big deal.’
For her, the next level is to get mouthy, usually with a sibling. She’ll boss and sass and generally poke at them. In other words, she’s not letting it go. At this point, we give a couple options. Do you want to do some heavy work and come on back or do you need a quiet place to read? Either way, the interaction with the sibling needs to end. But, in both cases, she’s not sent away unless she chooses, with her own power, to go read on her bed.
Occasionally we’ll get to a third level where she can’t make a choice and we have to choose for her. If that happens, where we see the full blown flip out looming on the horizon, we drop together and give it ten. Yes, we do push ups with her. Sometimes, I’ll suggest jumping jacks, but when she’s dysregulated, jumping jacks sometimes require too much cross body movement. Either way, this isn’t a choice. We’re doing it together. We’re correcting, and connecting through calming engagement.
The fourth level used to be SO crazy common at our house. It’s not anymore. Joe and I tried to think of the last time we got to this point. Neither of us could. There are quite a few children in our home who came to us from a hard place that spent a lot of time at level four. At this level, they’re lost in terms of communication. At this point, we’re putting out a fire. We are parents, so we’ll hold them. Sometimes, that would leave me with two black eyes, a bloody nose, a busted lip. Yeah, it can get ugly. We wait it out. We sit there, right in the doorway of the safe place and we wait out the rage. When it slows, we offer things we know soothe. Usually, with our kids, that’s food and a water bottle. “Wow, that was a bad one. That’s not okay. We’ve got to find better ways to work through that.”
Those level four days left me ragged. Those are the days that will break you. The whole philosophy behind TBRI though is that you’re teaching strategies that will decrease the frequency, intensity and duration of these level four episodes. When you’re in the moment though, it’s all about survival, for both of you.
Tomorrow I’ll write about how we empower our kids in our home, how we work to get them to where they feel safe.
–FullPlateMom, who still can’t believe her girl is TEN.