Educating the world about Reactive Attachment Disorder through experience, hope, humor and love.
(Warning: nothing here should be taken as medical advice)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Attaching to your child

You may not know this, but I actually do enjoy getting emails from people - especially people who have children with issues similar to mine. It's not that I'm glad others have to deal with the problem, but it does provide a sense of solidarity and let's us know we aren't alone (and we don't have to navigate this by ourselves). However, I'm not a doctor, or a therapist, or anything more than a father just trying to make sense of all this as I go. That said, there are certain things I have found that work better than others. While I'm not perfect at these, I find the more I utilize these approaches, the stronger my daughter seems to be attaching - which is the ultimate goal, is it not?

For starters, I've learned that children with complex trauma backgrounds tend to be hypervigilant and easily triggered by any irritation, sarcasm, anger, impatience, or hostility that my creep into your tone of voice. Think back to the last few times you were frustrated or upset with your child - if you can honestly say you were able to avoid all of the above, you are a saint. Seriously. It's definitely something I am working on, but it isn't easy (go ahead, try it). However, any time your child senses any of the above, they can quickly become defensive and dysregulated. So rule #1 is to remain mindful of your tone. If possible, step away if you feel you are getting triggered yourself.

Since our children are wired to control and resist (yay us!), any direct commands tend to elicit a reaction to an authoritarian stance. If you think that is going to get you anywhere, well... So rule #2 is to try some skillful redirection by prefacing your request with:

1) A caring expression that the child matters to you.
i.e. "I care too much about you to let you run away. I hope you stay here with us where it is safe"

2) Staying emotionally attuned to the child's inner experiences.
i.e. "Your feelings are important to me and I can see you were really hurt by what Susie said. I can't let you go punch her and I don't want you hurt either. I want to understand and help you through this"

3) Focusing on the child's strengths or commenting about your child having been successful previously and you are asking them to do again what they did before.
i.e. "Last week you really worked hard at being respectful and considerate, and it really paid off for you. That seems difficult for you right now and I wonder if you could try as hard as you did last week"

Above all, avoid power struggles at all costs. Any time you are in a position where your child feels you are controlling them or telling them what to do, you risk triggering reactivity and power games. Remember, the child must always feel they are "in charge". Try giving your child permission to do the action while describing the consequences. This is called a "No Problem Attitude". An example of this is something like "We care too much about you to let you get hurt, because you are important to us. If you decide to cut school, you could do that and we would have to call the police to make sure you don't get hurt. But you can do that if you choose". At this point, walk away to give your child space and time to think over her choice. Oftentimes, this will lead to a good choice (assuming they have decent cause and effect skills).

In short, if you find your child is dysregulated, tantruming, or in a PTSD triggered state...
Talk calmly and slowly, using a few short words
Avoid long discussions or lectures
Avoid becoming triggered into your own anger - this just adds fuel to the fire
Side-step power struggles
Calmly describe the choice
Calmly walk away to give compliance time
Do NOT administer any consequences while your child is dysregulated. This will only increase a sense of deprivation and fuel dysregulation
BUT, DO give consequences later on once your child is regulated. Be sure to remind them that you want them to try again next time because you want them to get the rewards and privileges they want.

If you can catch your child when they are just beginning to move into a dysregulated state, you can try to head it off using the PACE method. These are simple attempts at establishing a connection:
P - Playfulness
A - Acceptance (i.e. "I'm sorry it is so hard. Sometimes I don't like rules either")
C - Curiosity ("I wonder what is going on today? Yesterday it was easy for you to help out, yet today seems harder?")
E - Empathy

Lastly, whenever possible apply the 4:1 Rule of Positive Comments to Consequences (pretty self explanatory)

Anyway, these guidelines have helped me establish better attachment with my daughter and I hope they can help you. I would be curious to hear how they work for you!

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