We talk today with Sarah Naish, the CEO of the Center of Excellence in Child Trauma and founder of the National Association of Therapeutic Parents. She is the author of "The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting" and "The A-Z of Survival Strategies for Therapeutic Parents." She is the adoptive mom to a sibling group of 5 who are now adults and she has fostered over 40 kids.
In this episode, we cover:
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Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I'm the host of this show, as well as the director of the nonprofit Creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about therapeutic parenting strategies and solutions. We'll be talking today with Sarah Naish. She is the CEO of the Center of Excellence in Child Trauma, and the founder of the National Association of Therapeutic Parents. She is the author of two books, one, the A to Z of therapeutic parenting, and a new book, the A to Z of survival strategies for therapeutic parents. She is also the adoptive mom to a sibling group of five who are now adults. And she has fostered over 40 kids. Welcome, Sarah to Creating a Family. We're so happy to have you with us today.
Thank you, darling. Hi.
Why are we going to jump right in there? Why are some kids harder to parent, and why especially our kids who've experienced trauma. And when we say trauma want to include prenatal trauma, often harder to parent?
Well, there's a variety of reasons. But mainly, it's that the children's experience of the world is different. So their brain has grown and adapted to cope with the world they were born into. So for example, I use an analogy about my say, My children were born on a plane. And unfortunately, the plane for whatever reason was flown by unskilled pilots. And that meant that the plane was swooping and diving and sometimes making a crash landing. Well, that meant that the children were never feeling safe. And they had to adapt to that. Well, just because somebody comes along and says to the child, do you know what this isn't going? Well, I'm gonna move you into a different plane, different airline. And these pilots are great, they can fly the plane, they know what they're doing, the child can't just move planes and go, Oh, phew, I can relax. Now, the point is, they have adapted to the environment that they were in and that and that is full of danger. So they're still looking for that danger when they come to us. The people that hopefully know what we're doing,
exactly, it's a good analogy, as someone who is dislikes turbulence a lot and gets tense and anxious anytime turbulence happens. So I thought, that's a good a good analogy. You say in the in your books, that understanding the cause of the behavior? is the root of parenting, these harder to parent kids, the behaviors we are seeing? Why? Why do we need to focus first on the cause?
Well, the thing is, it's a bit like, you know, if you keep trying to resolve something in the wrong way, you're just going round and round in circles. So we've talked about a needle being stuck on a record like the old fashioned record players. So for example, say you've got a child who's stealing, for example, and we don't try and understand why they're stealing, we're just looking at the fact that the child is stealing. And we meet that behavior with perhaps a standard parenting strategy, which is, well, I'm going to take your pocket money away. Well, because we haven't understood what's behind the behavior, the strategy we're putting in there isn't going to resolve the behavior is not going to change it. So as therapeutic parents, we can get very frustrated, because we keep repeating the same thing thinking like magic is going to happen. But if we don't understand why our children are behaving the way they do, we keep meeting it with the wrong response. It's our response that needs to change in order to change the children's behaviors.
All right, so in this amount of the situation, two sets of the child is stealing, you know, what would what are some root causes of that behavior? Why would a child steal other than they want what they want when they want it? All right. So you start by saying, we have to establish the basics to make their lives predictable, so they can feel safe and grow and heal, ultimately, and you lay out five elements for establishing this base, and I want to go through them because as with all bases, they really are foundational, like I said, stating the obvious, right? Let's start with the first of your five elements, and that is routines. One of the things, why are routines first, first of all, why are they so important for these children?
Well, let's think about the child I was talking about who was born on a plane, you know, there's no there's no predictability there. The child doesn't know what's happening next doesn't know when the planes going to crash doesn't know when there's a bad landing doesn't know when they're going to be fed. So routines, it's often for our children the first time that they're able to predict what will happen next. So with my children, I certainly found very early on that by having a very strong routine where the children knew that they were going to get fed at certain times. That Help them to have lower cortisol levels and to feel calmer and be more regulated. So it made our lives easier. I'm not saying that it was a fun thing to do, it can be quite boring having to have the same routine and you know, pretty well cast iron. But it is important for our children to be able to predict the future, perhaps for the first time in their lives.
Predictability leads to a feeling of control, doesn't it?
Yeah, absolutely. And of course, for our children, that's something that they are seeking a lot of the time. So I often liken that to, you know, the child banging on the cockpit door trying to get in the cockpit to fly the plane with the pilot, because they feel like there's only me that knows how to do this. As parents, we see that as the child trying to be controlling. But actually, it's a fear based behavior. The child is scared about what's happening, and wants to have some control over that,
that's going back to try to understanding the root cause. Right? It's understanding that it is fear based. You know, one of the things we hear frequently from parents is that they realize the the parent who is parenting, the harder the parent kid realizes that the child needs routines, and like you point out, sometimes it feels rigid, but it also fit to ourselves. But it also looks rigid to others. And so often, we get pressured into Oh, come on, relax a little for goodness sakes. You know, it's, that's really hard. Did you find that as well?
Yeah, absolutely. There's always an expert, right around the corner, aren't they? I call them perfect parents. That, you know, have not raised a child from trauma, but know all about reward charts. So So I have a good little story about this. So I had a very good friend and she ran a nursery. So she knew all about, you know, neurotypical children. And she came to my house one day, and she said exactly what you just said, Oh, you're quite strict aren't, you know, lighten up a little bit. And I so I said to her, because I was fed up with it. I said, You know what, you're quite right. Tell you what, I'm going to nip out for a couple of hours, you've finished given the children their tea, and then they just need to have their bath and go to bed and I'll come back, I'm absolutely exhausted. And she was a bit taken aback. So I went, went out, switch my phone off, was out for two hours when I came back. And it is absolutely true. She was sitting in the middle of the room, crying, while the children swung on the curtains were jumping on the table around her. And she looked at me, she said, I'm so sorry. That's why we have a strong routine.
Okay, now you're living everybody's dream, I'm going to tell you, I can't tell you how many times I would have liked to have done that. And that was exactly so you're living, you are living my dream. So I can hope and I can imagine that that would happen. And I want everybody else to be able to as well. Yeah, you just have to toughen up to it. You have to accept that people, and including people in your own family, grandparents and others who who are going to think you're being overly controlling, and too strict and, and too, too rigid, just to, you know, allow a little fun in your life type of thing. And it. And I do think that as our children become more regulated, we can lighten up some but then we have to, even when we Lighten up, we know that there's only so far that we can go before we've let them they start feeling out of control, they start, they don't have that security. That's
right. And in fact, on the problem you're talking about is so common. It's we're asked about it so much that in the latest with the survival strategies, I've actually done a table of useful phrases. And it's in there for when people patronize you and say, Oh, just like that. I've got all the things you can say, you know, and other things like what not to say you can think it but don't don't say it. Oh, there's
probably a lot of those. Okay, give us one or two, that people would that a parent could say when they're told some version of you're too strict or lighten up or have a little fun.
So I would say something like, Oh, I see what's happened here and I would do kind of bit patch. Like I said, it's up to your to the neurotypical children. You I'm parenting neurodiverse children, and actually, you have to parent them differently. Would you like me to give you a resource on that? I've got a couple. And then I do I follow up and I give them one of my little books or resources and ATP or it's literally just a little fact sheet that says when you're speaking to a parent of a neurodiverse child, do not say this.
Do not say what you just said? Yeah, yeah. All right, excellent. You're second of the establishing the basics to make the child's life predictable. Your second base is establish yourself as a safe base with empathetic and nurturance. So talk to us a bit about that.
Well, you know, because of making the child making sure the child can see their life is predictable, we have to become part of that predictability. So often our children would have been met with very unsafe responses. And because of that, they will naturally, you know, try and push our buttons, and they will sometimes be expecting a, perhaps an abusive response for us from us, that isn't going to happen. And we can only really demonstrate to them through time of responding appropriately, that actually, we're not going to hurt them, we're not going to overreact and that we are safe. So once we can show the child that we are safe, that helps the child's cortisol to lower and they can start to well to stop testing us. Now that takes a long time. It's not quick, but it is about making those plane landings many, many times you bring the plane down safely. And over time the child goes on, I think this person has got it, I think they can keep me safe. But we're not going to do that by talking to them or telling them we're safe, we have to demonstrate it. So that will be things like you know, if a child is lying to me, or doing something which is designed. So say for example, I've told them to definitely not put an item of clothing on and then they put that clothing on and they dance into the room wearing it. That will happen because the child is expecting me to react in a perhaps a way that happened in the past. They're testing to see how safe they are. And what I need to do is say, oh, that's, that's an interesting choice you've made? Oh, well, you know, I'll wait till you've changed. And then and then we can carry on with our day. But what I'm not going to do, and why did you do that? I can't believe you. That's the kind of response the child is expecting. And we have to do it a lot of times. And it's tough. It's difficult we do become actors really good at acting. Yeah, very,
that's a good in keeping with the transportation analogies, you use one that I that really clicked with me that the parent is the engine of the train, and they're pulling behind the little cars, and the little cars are our kids. And I had four, you had five. So here I am the engine. And there were four little cars behind me five behind you. And one seemed to always be jumping off the track. But I still needed to be the engine, I still needed to be that safe base and and tried to get the child back on the track. Somehow that just really stuck with me. Yes,
absolutely. Because it's only by moving forward, that you keep the children on the track. So sometimes it can be a bit tempting to kind of stop and go hang on a minute. So the child has stopped me maybe they haven't gotten their shoes, or maybe they're not walking out the door. And it can be and sometimes we get dragged into that and we go and we start following the child. And we're going back down the track. But if we just keep moving forwards and say, Oh, I can see you're struggling with this, Nevermind, it's time to go to school now. And we keep going we just keep going forward with our parenting. The children do follow us they do follow on behind, they don't want to be left behind. So I think part of that as well as about looking at who is there? Who's putting coal in the fire? Who's who's helped me drive this engine. and who isn't? Because it's tiring doing it on your own. So we need to get the children to secure attachment station.
That's such a good point. It is tiring doing it on your own. Absolutely. Another thing you say that that is that really resonates in this establishing yourself as a safe base is to respond to the child, not to the child's demand. Can you give us an example of what you mean by that?
Yeah, sure. So I always say it's about looking at what our children need. And what our children need is different to what they want, although they're very good at telling us what they want. So for example, my child might have a phone as a teenager, and they might break that phone now that that might be broken on purpose through sabotaging whatever the child is likely to say to me, I want a new phone I want if I have to have a new phone, I'm going to hear it 100 times a day. If I don't get a new phone, I'm going to die. Well the thing is, that is what the child wants. That isn't what they need. What they need is to learn that if they break something, that's a shame, it's it's broken. It's not there anymore. We're building synapses in their brain by helping them to understand that the broken phone is no longer available to them. And we would help them to perhaps get a phone another way but it's going to take a while it's not going to be immediately replaced. So it is about and I might even say that to the child. No, I know you think you really really want another phone, but it's my job to look at what you really really need and I think a little break from your phone. Were very helpful for you. Okay
Hey guys, if you are not a subscriber yet to Our monthly newsletter, please go over to Bitly slash C A F guide, and subscribe now, that's Bitly bi T dot L y slash, C, A F. Obviously, for creating a family, C, A F guide all one word, you will get a free download guide for parenting a child exposed to trauma when you do. And you'll also get great content delivered right to your inbox monthly as well. All right, so the third element for establishing the base after setting, establishing routines and setting yourself up as a safe base. The third is, be honest about their story. Be honest about the context agreements, be honest about the things happening in their life. Let's talk some about that. Why first of all, is that so important?
First of all, the child knows what has happened to them, even if they don't hold it in their active memory their body knows. So their body will remember frightening things that have happened, there'll be things that trigger them like smell, like certain environment, certain sounds, that kind of thing. They already know it. So if we try to fob the children off by saying something like, Oh, your mum and dad couldn't look after you. That doesn't resonate very well with the child, because what they hear there is you they couldn't look after you. So does that mean they could look after somebody else? Is that because there's a problem with me? So I found with my children, and the children I worked with Now it's very important to say, Do you know what there are some people who are unable to look after children? We don't know why sometimes we know why sometimes we don't, they're unable to look after children, and they couldn't even look after you. So therefore they couldn't look after any children. Because you're like the best children ever. You're the best kids ever. And they couldn't manage to do that. And then I would answer the children's questions, honestly, I would tell them what had happened. And that's not about saying, oh, for example, I would never say to a child, your parents loved you. If I have no evidence for that. Be and my children say now to me that if I had said to them, that their birth parents loved them, they would have felt very worried about forming relationships. Because if that's what love was, they didn't want it because they came from a very abusive background. So instead, I said, this is what happened in your home. This is how your birth parents work. This is what happened. This is why we think it happens. And it's very sad. And I'm here for you.
What I noticed about that story is you also were not putting their birth parents down. You weren't saying derogatory things, even though you likely feel them?
Yes. Yeah, that's right. That's right. Because when you do that, really, you know, we never do know the whole story. We never do know. And although my children's birth parents did behave appallingly, and were very, very dangerous, something made them that way. Something happened to them to make them that way. And I don't know what that was. So it's not my position to judge. But it is my position to assure the children that it was not their fault. Whatever happened was not down to them.
All right, the fourth element of establishing a base after routines, setting yourself up as a safe base and being honest about their story without filling in the gaps that you don't know. The fourth one is establishing clear, strong boundaries, on its face that is obvious kind of goes back into the the idea of routines being being very clear about what you want. But what do you do when these boundaries are crossed?
Well, I think that's going to be kind of where I'm at in point five around consequences and what we do with that, but we have to be very clear about how we set those boundaries out in the first place in order to make sure the children understand. So for example, language is very important. I remember saying to the children, can you empty the dishwasher, please? Well, what I know now is that my children heard that as are you able to empty the dishwasher? They didn't they didn't hear it as I as me saying it's your turn transitional. So I learned to change my language into its alternative dishwasher time to do it now. Thank you. So part of boundary setting is around really looking at our language and making sure we're giving clear direction to the children which can't be misinterpreted. And if we have given that clear direction and set out those boundaries, then if those boundaries are transgressed or they're not met in some way, then we as the parent have to make sure that we are allowing consequences to occur natural consequences or logical consequences to occur.
And that is the fifth element. So perfect. Great segue. All right. So using natural life, or life or logical consequences, let's talk some about that. What do you first of all? How does that differ when we hear people say, I'm going to give you a consequence, versus using the natural or the logical consequence?
It's really interesting, I think, because what I always ask parents to think about is, who is that for? What who is that consequence for so for example, if you have a child who has a, for example, stolen something, they've taken some money or whatever, and you are saying to them, Well, you know, because you took that money, I'm going to take your pocket money, or or even better, I'm not taking you to the cinema, I'm not I'm not taking to the movies tonight. Unrelated, completely unrelated, that's a punishment. And that's for our benefit, that's for the parents benefit, that's to try to make us feel better for the child, that doesn't help them to link what they did, with what has happened. So one of the things our children really struggle with is linking cause and effect because in their early life, consequences didn't make any sense a lot of the time. So what we have to do is we have to build these synapses in their brain by saying, oh, okay, because, unfortunately, you took that biscuit, there are no biscuits left the cookies, there's no, there's no cookies left for later, they've all gone, we can have an apple instead. But the cookies are all gone, what I'm not going to do is rush out and buy another load of cookies, or I'm certainly not going to say I'm going to take pound out of your pocket money, because that's unrelated. So it's our job to really help the child to link, I did that. And therefore this has happened. And the best way of doing that is a natural consequence where the child's broken the phone, the phone is broken, the child has thrown the remote control for the TV out the window, the TV doesn't work, that's a natural consequence. But when we want to perhaps do a little bit more, or we want to make those legs a bit stronger, we might put in something else. So for example, my daughter, she tried to jump out of a moving car, obviously very dangerous. And my husband grabbed her and pulled her back in it he he nearly said, right. That's it, you're not going to the party tonight, completely unrelated. And I said, No, no, no, that's what's going on here. So I said to her, because you tried to jump out the car, it's very dangerous, we need to keep you safe, until I can be sure that you're safe. I'm not gonna take you in the car. For the next week, I'm gonna just check the say. So I'm relating her try and jump out of the car to something to do with the car. So I call that an extended natural consequence. So you got to do something, it's not something that just occurs on its own, but keep it as close as possible to the actual action and event. So the child starts to learn, I did that, and therefore this has happened.
Yeah, I'm so glad you raised the the issue of recognizing cause and effect for neurotypical kids that is a developed natural developmental stage, we don't expect it of a two year old, but we do expect by 678, that the children are unbending beginning to understand, I do something and or something happens. And this is the effect I do something and this is the effect. But early life trauma include, especially perhaps prenatal exposure, in we know from prenatal exposure, for example, that it actually changes the structure of the brain, you can look at the MRI of a child who has been prenatally exposed to one who has not depending of course, on the timing and the substances and things such as that. And it affects the area of the brain, that that affects cause I have the word that we use when we are developing cause and effect. And early life trauma can do the same. And plus, honestly, trauma often makes our children developmentally younger than their chronological years. So that also impacts understanding, again, we don't expect understanding of cause and effect of a two year old but further we do have an older child. So I'm so glad you raised that. Because it is it's so much of of life is based on and behavior and getting along in the world is based on understanding cause and effect.
Absolutely. And certainly in my five adopted children, you can really see that happen because my youngest child was removed at birth. And she has as many issues as my older children.
Yeah. And and not knowing the details, but that even prenatal trauma or prenatal exposure. Yeah. It's such an important thing. And you know, that think about a natural consequence and you talk about that This, it, what we're really doing is helping the child recognize that they can impact the world. And that and that, and that is just fundamental to, to all humans, we, especially as we age, we want to know that we make a difference so we can make a difference. So what a powerful thing, following through with the logical consequences could be.
Yeah, absolutely. Because if I think about my children's early life, for example, you know, one of them left in a car, wet, hungry, if he cried, nobody came, if he wet himself, he stayed wet. So like you say, there are no concept, it's like you made no impact on the world. And often our children don't understand the impact they make on the world. So we're actually empowering them by allowing them to experience these consequences.
And I speak from knowledge on this one, it is tempting, when our kids do something that is either pushes our buttons or noise, the EverLiving out of us, it's so tempting that to to, to allow the natural cotton, allowing the natural consequence to happen, is not quite enough. So we want to add an extra dig in there. We want to do as your husband had wondered to do about saying, Well, if you can't ride in the car, by golly, you're not going to go to the party, because that makes us feel a little better. But it's so important to combined, not with nurturance. And part of that means not being gleeful, even well, it's probably okay to have a little ugly inside. We are human after all. But let's talk some about the importance of combining natural consequences with nurturance. And, and kindness and sympathy and empathy and all that.
Yeah, and I can see when a parent is in compassion, fatigue, or is really struggling. That's when the nurtured goes. So that's when I will see parents say things like, well, he, he lost his phones, he hasn't got a phone now. And I told him, It's his own fault. And they're literally like, ha, ha, ha, and I'm like, Okay, so where was the nurturer? Where was the nurture? Remember, therapeutic parenting uses natural consequences with nurture. So, I would be saying, Oh, it's real shame that your phone is broken, you know, let's sit down and work out a way that I can help you to, you know, save up for a new phone, or, or let's look at what the secondhand ones that you can get in the future, I'll give you a nice, nice hot chocolate drink, you know, there's got to be that nurture that empathy with the child. Because otherwise, what happens is, the child just becomes more oppositional to us, we become the enemy. And we have they know, if we're doing it, as you say, in a gleeful way, they know, and then we're the enemy, and we're gonna get very stuck in that. So it won't help any of us. You know,
one of the issue that comes up with using natural or life or logical consequences is that sometimes there isn't a consequence, that is either timely, or it just, it's just there isn't up, I used to one of the things that would was frustrating for me as a parent was the lying, the natural consequence of lying is that you lose somebody's trust. Well, that's not a very concrete consequence, and particularly for a child who is struggling with cause and effect and struggling and need something more concrete. And there are other examples of that where the logical consequences far off in the future, or the logical consequences to dangerous are, or whatever. What do you do as a parent, then when you can't think of the or you can't allow the logical consequence to follow through?
Well, there's a couple of things. So for example, with lying, we know that children often don't know the difference between truth and lies, and they really struggle with that. So that's something I wouldn't bother using consequences or natural consequences with because I don't know if the child knows what they're saying is true or not. So that's quite important. If I can't think of something in the moment, I always say something like, Well, you know, it's very sad that this has happened. I wouldn't say that you did this. It's very sad that this has happened. And I'm going to have a little think about what will happen next. So that's a really good phrase to use, because sometimes you're so angry, you can't Yes, right. Exactly. And just by some time, you know, because things already happened. And quite often you get away you can think of something with lying. You're right, the consequences that they've lost the trust of the person and you might want to point them out to it, they likely won't care. The main thing that I would do is I would just say to them, I know that you're saying you didn't steal the biscuit. I hear you say that. However, I see the biscuit in your hand and the crumbs around your mouth so I decided you did steal the biscuit sometimes I think your brain gets mixed up with what's true and what isn't. And that's enough. It's enough to just tell the child you know the truth. We don't have to prove that after two hours of our life proving that we're right. Just tell them.
Yeah, absolutely. Let me pause here for a minute to tell you about a free educational resource. Thanks to the jockey being Family Foundation, we have 12, free online courses available now, for you, our listeners, when you go to Bitly, slash j, b, f support, that's bi T dot L, Y, slash all one word, j, b, f support, you can see all the titles such as taking care of yourself, when parenting harder to parent kids. Be sure to tell a friend about these free courses too. And thank you. You have what I particularly appreciate about your books and your approach to therapeutic parenting is the practicality of it, it's clear that you have been in the trenches and have you it because so often theoretical is good, it's good for us to know it. But in the heat of the moment theory is the first thing that leaves our brains and I speak from experience. So I particularly like you have what you call the parents model p a r e n t S model, and what I like about it, it's what you need to think about when an incident happens. So okay, something has happened. And all of a sudden, you're you're feeling your cortisol levels, escalating rapidly. And so let's go through what the obviously it's an acronym, and a good one. So let's go through, let's start with the P, what is the P stands for in the parents model of how to handle an incident that right in the heat of the moment.
So the P is the critical pause, the pause where we have to just kind of stop for a second. And think and it's the hardest thing to do, sometimes. But it's the difference between often getting it right and getting it wrong. In literally, it's like, because if you and that pause doesn't have to be very long, it can be a sigh, it can be looking out the window to focus on the fact that there is another world out there. But it's just long enough for us to go, Okay, what's happening? What Why is this happening to ourselves not to the chart in our head? What's going on here? And that critical pause changes how we respond to it. Now, obviously, you know, sometimes we are moving straight into action. But throughout the incident, normally there is places where we can take a pause and think what happened here, what was before it, how am I feeling? Is there anyone nearby I can get that kind of thing. And normally when we can build that pause in that's when afterwards we feel like oh, yeah, I did a good job there, actually.
Okay, so then the a. So now we have pause. And I and I'm very glad you said they're not talking about a five minute pause. You're talking about taking a deep breath, and trying to get your own emotions thinking, get your brain your emotions quelled. And your brain in action is what you're really at that point in trying to do you want to be intentional with what you're doing not emotional. Yeah, there'll be time for emotion afterwards. But alright, so we've talked about the P and the parents model. Okay, now let's talk about the A.
So the A is assess, because what we're doing, as we come into a situation, we are already assessing what's going on. Now, if I've got a child standing on a full story window, so with the window open, there's not going to be any pausing going on really, I am going to walk in the room, see what's happening. And I'm going to take immediate action. So that so I do a little mini assess, which is basically is anyone in danger. It can Can I exit if the child's violent? Can the child exit if they need to get out? Just a little assessment like that, but you know, is the dog here? Is the dog at risk? So I would just be looking around who's here who's around? Is there any risk to anyone before we then move on? Because I think it's really important that we do and again, that will take seconds to do to just have a look around you and check. Where are your other children? For example, where are they? Can you have you? Can you move forwards and deal with this incident? Or is your other child about to walk out the front door onto the highway? Well, that's gonna take priority.
Okay, then the R is for reflection. And that's where I think we're trying to identify what happened what triggered this? What do you mean by reflection?
Yeah, so it's like a little mini reflect obviously, you tend to a big reflect afterwards. But it's literally like, you know, hang on, where does this come from? Um, is there anything I can think of that's caused this what why is this child behaving in this way? is are there any obvious triggers? Is there something that you know that I've missed here? So, yeah, so I would I would look at that immediately as a just to kind of highlight. How did we get here? We were okay, a minute ago, something's happened between now and then what might that thing be? That's happened? So it changes my brain from what the child has done, into? Why might this be happening? By doing that many reflect
it? That is so brilliant, because we're shifting, we're going back to the first thing we started with is that we have to understand the cause of our children's behavior, and factoring in a moment. And again, this is a quick mini reflection, yeah, factoring in a moment to try to think through and say, you know, it's right before dinner, or they've just come off of the bus, I wonder if something happened there, or just something. And that leads us into the E, which is emphasize, rather than ask questions. And that one really struck me because my temptation is to always start asking questions. So let's talk about what you mean about empathize rather than ask questions.
So I might, I would literally, I look at it as is if I become the mirror. So I look at the child and I say to them what I see. So I might say something like, oh, I can see you look really sad. I wouldn't say I can see you are really sad. As I can see, you look really sad. Or, oh, I can see that you're really struggling with this. Or oh, dear things are tricky, aren't there at the moment, just literally saying what I see and saying, what I think the child may be experiencing, that enables the child to really is can be very, very dramatic. You can you almost almost always said a quick de escalation. Because the child is thinking, Oh, my behavior has communicated this that someone is getting what I'm trying to say, especially with very young or, or pre verbal children, children can't express themselves. So that quick bit of empathy there. But oh, do you see I'm really struggling with this, I'll pull you or Oh, no, let me help you. That kind of thing. It's just a much stronger way to form that connection in the moment and to show the child what it is that you're seeing.
And you talk about respond to their feelings rather than the behavior give us an example of what language you would use, let's say the child is tantruming, and is knocked lamps over and is getting ready to do other, you know, is picking up something else that they're going to throw, give us some language. Now at this point, we're trying to focus on their feelings respond to their feelings rather than their behavior. How might we handle that?
Yeah, so if I've got a child, that's tantrum me, I would be saying that kind of thing to them, like, oh, D, you know, you, you've got a really sad face. Oh, my goodness, me, you are angry. Wow, that's some big feelings you've got there. So I'm gonna reflect back exactly what it is that I see if a child screaming, I might need to raise my voice so they can hear me but I'm not going to do it in an angry way. So wow, that's a big shouty voice you've got there, goodness me, I can see that things are really difficult for you at the moment. So that kind of empathic commentary, I wouldn't be saying this point, if you've got a tantrum child, I wonder if this is happening, because you didn't want to go to school or whatever, because that part of the brain is offline, we've got to get the child down and regulated. And we're only going to do that by reflecting back what it is we're seeing and what we think the child is feeling. So So for example, my niece recently, she was trying to come in through a gate, and she couldn't open the gate. And her mother said, No, leave her she's got to learn which I didn't agree with it. I didn't want to undermine her. And I could see the child's getting more distressed and, and the mother said, No, she's, she's, she needs to ask nicely. So I said, Okay, would you like me to show you how I can get her to ask nicely? And she said, All right. So I went over to the child, and I said, and she was very angry, very angry and punching the gate. And I said to her, oh, goodness, me, Daisy, or you look very sad. Now. Oh, you look like you're really struggling here. Do you need some help? She straightaway, stopped crying and said, Yeah. And I said, What is it you need help with? And she said, open the gate, please. So mom was happy because the child had managed I wouldn't have done that with my child. Mom was happy because child managed to say what she wanted her to say. out the gate. She came through and she was calm. I think that if we'd have gone the other way, and that was just a really, really quick but I didn't need to do everything else. But just that bit of I can see you're strong. She can't open the gate. But I think that otherwise, there would have been a reaction of stop crying right now. You're not We're not, we're not gonna let you in if you don't stop crying, you're just gonna be there for two hours, don't hit the gate,
stop hitting the gate, turn the handle, or I've shown you a million times are any of those things are clearly not helpful. So we've gone through we're working on the parents model, we've gone through pause, assess reflection, emphasize it, rather than ask questions. And the end is for nurture. All right, yeah, so nurture, we're keeping in mind, this is at the heat of it, this isn't the heat of the moment, let's give some examples of nurturance that we can use at the heat of the moment. Not I mean, it's, you know, when everything is calm, and you're talking with a child afterwards, it's easy to nurture, then are usually is at the heat of the moment, not so much. So let's talk some about that.
So this could be something you know, like an offer of a warm drink, you know, so I might say something like, oh, Dean, I can see you're really upset. And I think I'm going to make you a nice warm drink. Now, that also allows you to exit if you need to exit. So the child is perhaps a bit dangerous, and you might need to give a little bit of space. But it could be something as simple as just touching the child lightly on their shoulder, just like stroking their arm a little bit, if they allow you to touch them, you know, nurture can be done through touch through a sympathetic or empathic face through just being there, just sitting down next to the child and being physically present and saying, It's okay. I'm just going to stay here. I'm here. I'm just going to be here for you. That's actually a very nurturing thing to do to just be present with the child.
To say, I'm not leaving. Yeah, I'm not leaving. I'm not afraid of. You have big emotions right now. But I'm not I'm not afraid. So you don't need to be afraid. Right? Yeah. Yeah. All right, then t, we knew we'd have to come to the thinking part. So the T is for thinking, thinking about the next action to take, again, speaking in the heat of the moment, what type of what do you think What are you thinking about at that point.
So this might happen during the incident, even so, if we, I mean, I've certainly had been in incidents with children where it's taken a long time, the calming down has taken a long time. So I might be sitting next to them and stroking their back and helping them to calm Well, while they're calming, I might be thinking then, or it might happen afterwards, you know, when the child's gone and move on with their day. So what I'm doing here is I'm thinking about, I'm going back over it, and I'm thinking, you know, why did that happen? Well, I think I've identified a trigger. Was that right? Is there something I can do? Is this something I can change to remove that trigger for the future? Is there actually some kind of logical consequence that needs to be put in? Is, is this all resolved? And I'm happy that it's okay. Or is something, you know, neat, further needs to happen that I need to revisit with the child? Or are we able to draw a line under it. And I might want to take a bit of time to think about that, I definitely don't really making that decision. If I'm angry or upset or emotional. I'm going to buy myself a little bit of time. So yeah, so I want to think about the strategies that I've used and if they worked, and what works and what didn't work. And if there's anything else that I could do to perhaps move this on, I might need to have a conversation with the child, I might need to assure them that I still love them. And it's all okay.
And it may be that there is no action that needs to be taken that I like how you said that draw a line under it. Yes. I mean, it's possible that it is not everything needs a needs to have to be handled into the future, and involving the child. Not at this not at the heat of the moment, but later, helping them understand. It sounds to me that I'm wondering if you're not struggling at school, and therefore wanting to avoid going to school? And is that part of it. So and or, you know, whatever, how can how can we how can we set up our life so that this trigger doesn't happen? Obviously, school is not one of them. But there are some times we can set things up about. I'm wondering if you're hungry, that when I noticed that when you haven't eaten, that you really have a hard time. So maybe we need to have fruit sitting out on the counter and just know that you can get it any time or that type of thing. Talking with the child. Yeah.
Yeah. And naming, naming the need, you know, so that's a lot about saying, Oh, I see, I see why you did this. I see what happened. And that often comes later. In our thinking time you say back the child, we're explaining to them why we think they did what they did,
right. And the last of the parents model, it's plural. The last is self care. And I think that is so important, because after an incident, especially a big one, I mean, we have incidents throughout the day, but a big one, we're drained, and we're emotionally fragile at that point. So recognizing that We are not superhuman, even though we might want to think we are that we have to take care. And I think of them. Sometimes with self care as many breaks, I think we think of self care as a pedicure are a massage. And that's not that I love massage. But I. But if that's our idea of self care, it doesn't mean we can do it on a regular basis. So, yeah, so what do you say from the self care standpoint?
So I now talk about self care as essential maintenance. Because when people used to talk to me about self care when my children were growing up, I would literally roll my eyes. Yes, I know, I don't have time for bath bombs. I couldn't even turn the taps on the bath before the children were banging on the door. So I felt this was an unobtainable. But what I realized was that if I didn't do essential maintenance, which was making sure I had a little bit of space away from the children, so that I could free my brain to think about what was going on, everything would actually come crashing down. So those self care bits, those essential maintenance bit, it can be as simple as going out in the garden with a cup of tea. It doesn't have to be a spa break, although, of course, a spa break is lovely. But it is about making sure you've got that time making sure that when you make arrangements to see friends that you go, making sure that you have babysitters, and do you know what your baby sitters will not do it exactly like you do, they won't. And you accept that because your break is more important, because you can come back refreshed.
Yes. And many, many self care, mini breaks, making certain that a friend of mine would she had to have two hours at the end of the day. So she was in put the kids to bed earlier, that was just huge for her, she would pop popcorn, she would curl up and with with a movie. And if she didn't do that daily, that was her recharge, and she needed to do it. Guys, I want to tell you about one of our partners, in fact, one of our longest standing partners, and that's children's connection. They are an adoption agency providing services for domestic infant adoption, and embryo donation and adoption throughout the US, as well as they do home studies and post adoption support to families in Texas. Thank you children's connection. Now I want to talk about some other parenting strategies for tools in our toolkit, so to speak, for our harder to parent kids. The first is identify your triggers. And boy that's and it's often hard to know our triggers, because it seems like our triggers are our logical they should be dadgum. Everybody would be triggered by this kid doing that. So how can we identify our triggers? So I
write a lot about this in the survival guide. And it is literally about first of all you notice it, because what we are quite bad at really is squashing triggers down. So for example, say your trigger is lying. Thank you. And the child's lying to you. What happens is we tend to not notice that's triggered us we are we just feel enraged. And we're not noticing. So that's part of our reflection artists will go I wonder why, you know, when when I knew is like, how did I feel? How did I react? Well, I reacted very strongly. I wonder what it is about the lying that triggers me? What does lying mean to me? And then I just kind of play it back and play it back? And what why is that important in my life? Was there a time in my life when you know, lying had a very big impact on me? Was it that my parents were very, very strong on telling the truth? And there was consequences? If you didn't? You got Do you can identify that yourself, actually. But the first step is actually noticing, like noticing you are triggered? Because that's that's really that's a real skill. I think we tend to just keep going, keep going with it and not cycle back. So that's part of our reflection.
Absolutely. And and we tend to think of our triggers as well, of course, I'm triggered because they did this. I mean, it's as opposed to realizing that our emotions were bigger than the event. It's take self respect, reflection. All right. Another thing another one of your tools is to set realistic expectations. And that sounds obvious, but with our kids who have experienced trauma or have experienced prenatal exposure, the setting, having a real having our expectations be realistic, is crucial, isn't it?
Yes, it is. Because you see, the problem is our children are built for survival. They they're very good at looking like they're managing some times they're very good smiling and saying everything's okay. And you know, it's very difficult when you've got a child who is chronically logically, eight, but you have people around you saying, he should be able to, he should be able to do this? Well, you know, if you've missed the first three years of life, getting all those foundation stones in place, you're gonna be stuck. It's not just that you're three years behind, because physically, you might be eight. And emotionally, you might be two. And then what we see is people around us looking at our eight year old behaving emotionally, too, and saying they shouldn't be doing it. And it gets very, very difficult for us. But if we understand, and the way we do that, you ask yourself one little question, when you see the behavior, and you watch what your child's doing, you ask yourself, at what age would I expect to see a child behaving like that. And when you do that, you get the emotional age your child is at right now. So and then you respond to them at that age, not at the fact, you don't get them to say, Well, why are you still crying for a drink? You know, it's 10 o'clock at night, and you're eight years old, you should learn to go to sleep, but I'm thinking is, this is a 18 month old, they can't settle, what would you have done with an 18 month old, you would have sued them, you'd have rocked them, you'd have given them a drink of milk, let's respond to that emotional age, because an unmet need remains unmet until it's met. And we have to go back and we have to meet those unmet needs. So to help our children move on to the next stage.
Okay, another tool you have is to use silliness or playfulness. Give us an example of what you mean by that.
So for example, one day I was sitting in the house with my youngest daughter, she was the only one left at home, all the others had moved out one by one, she was lovely. And the next, the next one up came for a visit. So as she rang the doorbell, or I think he's heard Okay, in a lot. My youngest, Charlie was like, straightaway started going up straightaway, she was triggered, and I could see. So at that point, my playfulness brain comes I need to do something now to regulate her. So I jumped up, put on some really happy music. I said, I haven't done exercises today come to my exercise with me, Charlie, I started doing the, you know, these dancing about and she laughed, jumped up and started dancing with me. So that lowers her cortisol levels. And we know that children can't feel fear, and joy simultaneously. So she's feeling joy, the fear, which is fueling her anger about her sister coming in and taking her space that's gone away. So So it's got to be in the moment. And it's got to be pretty quick. But you know, I used to have quite a lot of laughs with it myself, actually. And now I'm afraid I'm the one who embarrasses my children. And they're the ones that told me to stop.
Oh, that is the joy of parenting older kids, I'm right there with ya. Another tool is removed the audience. What do you mean by that?
So sometimes our children, you know, because they're testing us out, and they want to see if we're safe, they will do things to elicit a response from us. And as part of being that steam train and moving on. So one of the ways I did that, so for example, I'm getting ready to go to school, we've got a video on this actually on YouTube. So we're getting ready to go to school, we're just about to walk out the door, the child's got put their slippers on, but they haven't got their shoes, and they're just being silly, and I'm not gonna, so I know, the more I interact with that, the worse it's gonna get. I know that. So what I do is I do the opposite. And I go, Oh, great. Okay, well, we'll just wait here while I wait for you to finish. So I've just got to make a quick phone call, actually. So I'm removing my attention from what's going on. And I'm making a call a pretend call, obviously, to somebody who doesn't exist. And the phone is on silent. So it's not going to ring and I say oh, hello, you know, yes, we would normally be going to school, but says decided to wear her slippers today. That's funny, isn't it? Anyway, I'll put the kettle on. And now obviously, your brain is thinking, I've got to get to I've got to get into school I need to but actually, the more we indulge ourselves in that behavior, the worse it's going to get. Well, the child wants my attention back. So they've gone off. They've put their shoes on my mum, come on, ready? Come on, let's go need to go to school. They want me off the phone. So I've able to keep up my empathic commentary on the phone call. I can talk about the child and say Oh, dear, you know, I think that's it. I wonder if she's worried about going to school I can stay present but my tension looks like it's elsewhere. So that that really helps
her going into the kitchen and starting on dinner are going and drawing a bath for yourself or something. Yeah, that our attention is often fuel and some things if we remove the fuel the fire but dies out naturally. Absolutely. Here's another tool help kids show they're sorry, rather than demand. They say they are sorry. That's a that's a great one. Talk to us about that one.
Yeah, so our children you know, they do usually want to put things right You know that they do feel this kind of disconnect, but they don't know how to put things right. And we can often get into a battle where we're demanding that the children say, Sorry, I've been
there. And then they say you're sorry. They say they're sorry. And they say like, sorry, and you go, no, okay, you gotta say it like you mean it, then you think, is the adult in this room? Clearly not me.
Yeah. And it's a really easy trap to get into, like, like lying. You know, we don't want to, we don't want to paint ourselves into a corner with that. So I'm not going to ask my children say sorry, I'm going to say. So for example, my son playing in a soft play place with another child, because that's always what parents really struggle with is what other people think, you know, he's bashing another kid. And the mother is going, Oh, he needs to apologize. So what I do is I take my son over, he's with me, and I say to the little boy, I'm really sorry that William hurt you. But if he could say sorry, to you, he would say this. This is what he would say. So maybe now William, and I would say the apology. And now maybe, William, what we could do, we'll go and buy this little boy, a little, a little snack, and given that to show, so we would go and he would come with me. So I'm keeping him close to me. So we'd go and buy that. And then he gives the child so he's showing the child a sorry, and the child is feeling better, and the mums feeling better. But I'm not saying again, you will stand there until you give me a meaningless apology.
Yeah, because that's a fool's errand. All right, you've mentioned the phone strategy above. But that's another tool. And you mentioned it as a way of diverting attention. But there are other ways we can use our handy phones, which are always with us anyway. Yeah, what I particularly liked, was being able to pay a compliment, but it meant more to especially one of my children, if it was not directed to them. But if they heard me on the phone to my mother, or my husband or whatever, saying, oh, you know, so and so did the kindest thing today, I was so impressed. And, and I will admit that every once in a while it was done without anybody on the other end of the phone. Yeah. Yeah. So any other ways that we can use our appendage called the phone to help us in parenting these kids?
Yeah, no, absolutely. So for example, I've done I used to take photos in the moment of the child when they were doing certain facial expressions, because my children didn't know how to smile. And I would do it. And I'd say, that's what that's what you're smiling, like, you know, what do you think about that? So they could see it right now, while they were doing it? And I said, Do you think this looks happy or sad, I'm not going to share it with other people. But and then we might use the mirror. The other thing that I would do was check my emails. So I'm walking home from school child decides they're going to hold on to the lamppost. They're not going to move I'm going to along Oh, brilliant, you can you stay on that lamppost. That's, that's great. I haven't checked my emails today. I'm just going to check my emails. And I just literally, I'm looking at my phone and just looking at it. And of course, the child's home with a lamppost. Now, they don't really want to hold on to a lamppost anymore. There's no point to hold on to the lamppost. And I'm like, no, no, stay. Stay still lamppost. I know where you are. Yeah, no, I'm going now Mom, we're not gonna do it.
I love your concept of payback time. Explain that. I used it. And I love it.
Yeah, so this is like, so if, if I've had to do something, which has taken me a lot of time, then the child owes me that time back. So because sometimes that's, that's really useful for these situations where you can't think of anything? Yes. Exactly, yeah. Where it's like, you know, there's nothing obvious, there's no obvious natural consequence here. So, for example, you know, I had this role. And one of my boundaries, certainly, as a younger older was that I would do their washing, I would take it downstairs, and then they would need to put it away, we got to a point where they could more or less do that. I know, it was, it was very, it took a long time. But anyway, so I took the Washington down, put it on their bed, instead of putting it away, one of them would always kind of hide it or crumpled it all up, put it back in the washing basket. So that would take me time to sort it out. So I would rather than say, well, you're gonna have to go about in dirty clothes, or crystal clothes, which is not therapeutic, and there's no nurture there, I would say, oh, you know, I was a bit sad earlier, I noticed that, you know, the clothes were all screwed up and put back in the laundry basket. And it actually took me half an hour to sort that out. So now I don't have time to drive you to seven. So because that half an hour, I need to use that for something else. So I'm sorry, I can't take you there. So you need to help me with this. So we can get it done quicker. So I might say so you can help me with the washing up. That's going to pay back some of the time and then we're going to get ahead of ourselves. So I would help get the child to help me to make up the time that I'd lost. So
yeah, and I would also you'd also extend that to energy. I've spent so much energy I am now too tired. to vacuum the living room, even though I planned on vacuuming the living room, but now I don't have time to vacuum the living room and I don't have the energy because I've, I'm tired now from having done all this, thank you so much for being able to do that. All right, and the last you have lots of tools in your books. But the last one that we have time to talk about is and big. And I want to because I think it is so important, is admitting it when we make a mistake. And it comes naturally for some adults and some parents and it comes really hard for some parents. Why is it so important that we do it?
I think it's about saying to the child, you know, we're human people make mistakes. I think that the error we sometimes can make, we can overdo it. So I get a lot of parents that will contact me and say Oh, I I made a mistake. And I did this and I'm so sorry. And I don't know what to do. And I'm such a terrible parents. So I always say to them, oh, hang on a minute. Let's get a bit of perspective. Yes. Do you know what? You know, the amount of times I say to my children? Yeah, I'm sorry. I had a bad day yesterday. And I was a bit short tempered. They will say, Well, you, did you it's awful worse in our minds than it is to the children. So it's still important to acknowledge that and say, you know, I had a bad day. So I was really tired and grumpy. And my daughter once said to me, Oh, was that a bad day? She said, Oh, well, a bad day with you. It's like a day in Disneyland compared to a good day with my birth parents.
Don't remember, it's gonna say for the rest of the parents out there. Don't expect to hear that. It's wonderful, if you would hear it, but you probably won't.
It was some years. Yes.
Exactly. Well, thank you so much for talking with us today about therapeutic parenting. And I truly appreciate it. Will you also share with us about the new book now you have two books. The first is the A to Z of therapeutic parenting, but you have a new book that just came out the A to Z of survival strategies for therapeutic parents. So what prompted you and tell us about the new book? What prompted you to write an addendum a sequel?
Well, it's interesting, it's because you know, the A to Zed in England, the first one has been like the best selling book in adoption, fostering in the UK for four years now. And I started thinking, you know, that's great for the children for helping something about the children. And then I started thinking, you know, it can be so isolating. Sometimes we do have these bad days, our Facebook pages are full of parents saying, I'm a terrible person, I'm overwhelmed. I don't know if I can do this anymore. This is really difficult. And I just thought, I'm going to talk to that. I'm going to talk to the fact that we sometimes have days when we get up in the morning, and we really don't want to carry on. But also, I wanted to make people laugh. Because you know what our lives are ridiculous. We do things we get into situations that nobody could possibly imagine. And so I've there's a lot there as swearing in it. There are some very funny stories in it. But it actually is all about us. It's all about how we carry on and how we do that. And there's not a bath bomb in sight. It's all about practicalities, those anxieties, those feelings of you know, when when people are criticizing you perfect parents extended family, what do you say? Yeah, how do you say it all of that.
It's very practical, and I loved the actual light. Say this say that, you know, that's I am immensely of on the practical end of things. And I so appreciated the practicality of it. So thank you for writing it. Thank you, Sarah Naish for being with us today. This has been great. I truly appreciate it.
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