If you have been following this series, congratulations! We just made it through Disc 1! Hopefully the minutes that you have scanned these posts have saved you the hours it took for me to watch it! Don’t fret – I’ve got your back all you parents in the middle of it all. I know you don’t have time when you’re drowning to find the lengthy answers because I’ve been there too – it can be quite overwhelming. So skim through this post for some ways to take action that may lead to positive results!
A disclosure first though… this particular section was so practically good that I believe it spans outside of adoption and into parenting in general. Especially the parenting of a preteen. My oldest is in that season and I am unabashedly using these techniques on him. He was secretly watching the series with me as he pretended to read his book. Dr. Purvis would present an idea and I would just look his direction and nod. He returned my nod with his nod and there is an understanding that in preteen world you can look just like a child from a difficult background despite your charmed upbringing. Hormones can do crazy things. I am not ashamed. He gladly proofs my writing from a child’s point of view, making sure that someday our youngest daughter Grace will enjoy reading them and know she was loved from the start. He is normally my eyes and ears for that check. This time however, he will read this one and know that I am coming at the preteen angst with some trust-based parenting. Look out; we are about to script some new behavior!
Scripting New Behavior:
The overriding concept in this section is that a child’s preciousness is never up for grabs. Never. The troubling behavior on display is a survival skill, not the child’s identity. As parents, our role is to play and nurture rather than punish and to allow play to become the healing environment. We shape and show the right behavior to promote change.
Creating scripts helps to redirect the survival behavior. Use short phrases that have great meaning to teach self-regulation. Make sure the vocabulary honors everyone and is straightforward. Used in this manner, the scripts teach social skills that the child may have never learned before. Examples such as “Stick Together,” “No Hurts” and “Have Fun” are easy to recall goals that can be repeated and expressed often. They can be acted out with puppets or written on popsicles sticks as reminders. Practicing in calm times is key so that the memory is there in the “not so calm” times to call upon.
A partnership with the child must exist in the goal setting. This helps the child to own his or her behavior and the consequences or rewards that follow. Goals should be communicated and created in multiple outlets, written down and if helpful, with pictures. Access and repetition is key.
Teaching Life Values – Show Respect:
While much of the behavior changes are occurring through play; there still is no tolerance for disrespect. A child learns that he can always share or verbalize his feelings. However, this does not give the child the right to act on them. Simple scripts like, “Don’t touch without permission” or “Please ask to get in my space” make a child aware and attentive to how respect looks. Playfully practicing respect is vital. Puppets and acting out scenarios where respect is violated and then “re-doing” the scenario where the “respectful response” is praised, builds a partnership between child and parent as they investigate respect together. Practicing in the mirror also fosters eye contact and a way to observe body cues in responding to positive and negative ways of showing respect. This is specifically a great tool for children who cannot control their impulses – such as jumping at adults without warning, exaggerated displays and use of other’s property without asking. When the parent sets the proper example, a child can then give back what the parent has already given and demonstrated in respect. We must show our children respect if we want respect in return.
For even the smallest of issues, have the child ask permission for even the seemingly nicest of gestures. For children who have had a need to control everything to survive, this is key. The parent can redirect with a question such as “Are you asking me or telling me?” to kindly steer their child back into a successful reality after a rude outburst displaying their need. “I want crackers NOW!” is easily redirected with a simple script from the parent, “Are you asking me or telling me?” so that the child is reminded and can self regulate a better way of expressing need.
Mark the Task:
In order to build new methods of communication, specific tasks need to be “marked” clearly and in detail. If a child responds to an instruction, instead of saying, “You are such a good girl,” be specific to what was done well. Comments such as “Good asking!” or “Good obeying!” or “You did that on the first try, thank you for your eyes in watching Mom!” are all specific to the task and make a concrete point to the child. Knowing that new experiences promote joy, allows children to gradually take chances with the script “With permission and supervision.” This is key for the children who have had to fend for themselves and are overly independent. We want to meet their desire to experience new things, but with the loving supervision and assistance of the mom or dad. Simple activities such as playing “Red Light, Green Light” or “Stop and Go” can assist children in learning these scripts. Combining “With permission and supervision” with “Listen and Obey” can take those simple games and expand them into silly or extended versions with new activities with each new success.
Gentle and Kind:
Teaching children the meaning of the script “Gentle and Kind” is essential for learning to build empathy for other people and creatures. The likelihood is that they were never taught this empathy young, so they need a concrete way to practice. This can be done with sensory objects and most effectively with pets and animals. Even holding a cricket can teach “Gentle and Kind” well as children naturally engage in gingerly holding the insect! Not only does this prompt help to self regulate their responses but children hear a positive prompt instead of “How many times have I told you not to be rough?! Not to hit your sister?! Not to pinch your brother!?” It must be taught and is a sensory motor response.
The key to this life value is letting the child determine what some of the consequences could be to his or her behavior. This involves asking questions and fostering brainstorming, which is very difficult in the heat of the moment of disruptive behavior. Questions like, “What could happen if you run at her with scissors in your hand?” “What could happen to you?” “What could happen to her?” “Is there a better way to do this?” “Can you show me?” are all ways to foster some critical thinking that may have never existed. We cannot expect our children to know things that we have not taught them. It is an unfair expectation, regardless of their age.
This one might be my very favorite. The idea with this prompt is that we don’t hurt with our words or with our actions. What would happen if we all lived like that!? Many of the children in the series would get a band aid over their shirt where their heart is when their feelings were hurt. I foresee a lot of band aids in my future but love this all the same. Just allowing children the safety to express a hurt heart is crucial. For many, they were covered or masked in their feelings and it is now safe to allow them to be expressed. Acknowledging pain is key in promoting healing.
Sharing Power and Compromise:
Choices always steer to better outcomes for a child with a need to control. Teaching children the respectful art of asking for a compromise builds trust and competency in social situations. A child hears that the parent listens and understands. For example, if it is bedtime, instead of a tantrum, the child learns to ask, “Can I have a compromise?” “May I please finish the page I’m on?” This little bit of shared power and compromise can lead to a more pleasant outcome and trust. If the compromise is not a valid one, the parent works to keep the “train” of success and connection moving with other options.
Behavioral re-do’s teach that trying again is ok and a way to overcome negative consequences. Acting out scenarios with puppets or dolls is a great resource here because they teach a tool in a playful and positive manner. The mood is upbeat and the knowledge is building connection as the child learns that re-do’s aren’t a punishment but a constructive way to build confidence. Here’s the kicker with this one that makes it worth it – “Motor memory trumps cognitive memory!” You can undo months or years of cognitive memory simply by re-doing in repetition and acting out the re-do.
The “Real” Child:
The goal is to connect with the “real” child underneath all of the behavior. You can simply ask to speak to the “real” boy or girl when the behavior happens. The behavior is masking feelings, putting up boundaries for self protection and ultimately blocking connection. If the tone is highly anxious, overly silly or unusually shy in a tough scenario, you can ask to see the real little person underneath it all. It is shocking what that does and how easy it is when the child is reminded by the parent’s tone that it is safe to be who they really are. Hugs and gentle coaxing can help the “real child” to feel safe again. I can testify that I’ve done this and it does work beautifully, even with young children. I’m trying it on my preteen after school today.
Scaffolding – Support Your Child:
Much like a baby learning to walk, children from tough beginnings need a lot of guidance at the beginning. As they master skills, the parent can step slowly away and encourage from the sidelines. We want to give enough support until the child can stand comfortably alone in all of the scripts and life values that promote change.
Change Requires Repetition:
There are actual brain connections that must happen in order to sustain and hold new ways of behaving. It takes 400 times to create new synaptic connections! While this may seem daunting, how many times do you think you’ve said “Stop it!” and “No!” already this week? Repetition in new behavior is not only for the child but for the parent too! In a little while, we all can look and feel better together!
The idea that most impressed me about this section is that we can “script” new behavior. I like this because it was God’s idea to begin with. Just like renewing our minds, we become what we behold and what we do. The old idea of “garbage in, garbage out” is true. We can retrain our minds to react in a way that promotes connection. I love good educational psychology and science but these ideas are not new and actually come straight from the Tree of Life. Our minds were created with the ability to change and with a strong desire to connect. Scripting new behavior is key with children from tough places but even better when it’s inspired scripting by the very Spirit of God. My script for those in the pit today is “Pick One.” Don’t be overwhelmed, just pick one idea to try and see what happens. I’d love to hear about it when you do.
– Photography by Tish Goff