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Monthly Archives: January 2011

Attachment Disordered Children – Radio Show Interview with Ron Huxley

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If you didn’t catch my radio show interview this morning you can listen to the archived mp3 at http://toginet.com/shows/theparentsplate/articles/1314Brenda Nixon, host of the Parents Plate radio show, invited me to chat about the controversial diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and the current state of mental health treatment of traumatized children today. I shared some great ideas in our hour long discussion that you will want to listen in on…everything from how children are diagnosed to attachment neuroscience to practical parenting tools. I even shared on why children with attachment impairments “Monster Up!” – a phrase I coined.Take a moment to download or stream the show at http://toginet.com/shows/theparentsplate/articles/1314

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How can you punish an abused child?

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I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.* Get some power parenting tools in our new premium newsletter. Subscribe today!

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Why can’t your child pay attention?

In my last post I talked about how parents can change a child’s brain. Hopefully you can begin to believe that this is possible. I think it suggest a very different approach to parenting. Instead of trying to “manage” a child’s behavior, we can begin to explore how to “train” a child from the inside out. One of the areas parents might really benefit from this approach is to help them pay attention. I am not talking about dealing with diagnosable Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders but that might be applicable as well. I am simply thinking about ways to get your child to look up from the cell phone or hear your request to come in for dinner, the first time, when they are engaged in play outside. Would you like to say something the first time and be heard without repeating (yelling) it again? How about on a more personal level: Wouldn’t you like to be able to focus on your families needs without feeling overwhelmed and stressed? How many things try to capture our attention in a day? How many times do our children have to ask a question before we turn to focus on them? This is what Amishi Jha, the brain scientist,  is talking about in the short video clip (see below).
People in today’s society have so much demand on their attention that they are constantly battling what to pay attention to. This is true for our children as well as ourselves! Unfortunately, what occurs is that we live our life in “instant replay” mode. We are constantly having to go back and review what someone said or someone did.
We hear our children fighting from the other room and have to go back and rewind our mental tapes to understand what is going on and how we are going to intervene. We don’t have the luxury to live in the moment and deal with only one thing at a time. Consequently, we engage in shortcut strategies to survive. Our children do the same. The brain has an Executive System to deploy attention and memory resources to problems as they occur around us. This is probably why so many of us parents work on crisis mode with our children. We may miss good things our children do as our emotional resources are concentrating on putting out fires. We feel we don’t have the capacity to focus on what is working due to so much focus on what is going wrong. As you can imagine this creates a vicious cycle for parent and child.
How do we keep the play button of the brain on the present moment instead of being focused on the past moment or future moment (on what we need to do next)? Mindfulness researchers would ask this question by saying “how do we pay attention to our present moment without judgement and stay calm in the midst of stressful demands of life?” There are a lot of books that look at mindfulness out that can inform parents on this. My favorite is the book “Parenting from the inside out” by Daniel Siegel. We also have the knowledge of our spiritual practices that can inform a more mindful, present-focused parenting. It may be useful to start meditating on how to pay more attention to our children, in the moment, and model better attentional skills in our children simultaneously. Click link here to watch Amishi Jha talk about how to train brains to pay better attention: Amishi Jha: Building Attention Learn more on this topic and other real life parenting tools in our ParentingToolbox Newsletter. Click here now!

 

Parents can change a child’s brain

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Some of the research listed below suggests that parents (and teachers) are in the brain changing business. Although parents might struggle with changing a child’s “mind” they inevitably have a role in the child’s developing brain.A child’s experiences in life can alter the structures of the brain for good or ill. The most important experiences are those they share with their caretakers. This might put a lot of weight on parents already weighty lives and cause them to feel that can’t do anything right. The only result, they might joke, is pay for the therapy latter!Fortunately, those therapists have long known that optimal is better than perfect. The idea of the “Good Enough” parent is a comforting one, to myself at least. We don’t have to do everything perfect. It is more important that we try, even in the event of failures (blow our top, pick the child up late from preschool, can’t help with a math assignment or get a divorce) a child can come out OK. It is our overall efforts and results that children judge us by and it is our consistent effort to provide structure and nurturing that create the healthiest brains/people.I will share more parenting tools that allow parents to manage this balancing act in the Parenting Toolbox’s newsletter: The Family Work Bench. Get a subscription now!

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Source: http://committedparent.wordpress.com/2007/10/27/if-youre-in-the-parenting-business-youre-in-the-brain-change-business/“No matter what business you’re involved in, first and foremost you’re in the brain change business.” So asserts Houston neuro-psychiatrist, Bruce Perry. In line with that premise, it makes great sense to know at least a few of the basics about how your own and other people’s brains grow and change in ways that could possibly help make them work like Einstein’s, Michelangelo’s and Mother Teresa’s all rolled into one!

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The brain is perhaps best thought of as a collection of interconnected endocrine glands – roughly 52 indiv- idual parts controlling different actions. They all must work together to “process energy and infor- mation.” Thinking about the brain in such terms – as a network of organs that must optimally process the energy and information of our daily lives – turns out to be a very useful template to help us understand our own and others’ reactions to the world, and to make good decisions in response to them. Ideally, we only want ourselves and our family and friends involved in activities that their brains are developmentally suited to handle, and perhaps a little bit more. It’s the “little bit more” that can become tricky, which is how we build resilience in ourselves and our kids. I’ll be discussing resilience often in these columns.Associations Make it HappenAnother important way to think about our brain is as an associating organ. By that, I simply mean that it learns a lot by putting things together. Things like words and pictures, upand down, hot and cold, thoughts and feelings. By pairing things that make the brain feel good with things that we want ourselves or our children to learn, the neurons in the brain become richly connected. A variation of this is sometimes known as “Grandmother’s Rule: You may do what you want to do – when you’ve done what you need to do.” By pairing preferred actions with less exciting necessary duties, like brushing teeth and going to bed at a set, regular time, reinforced learning takes placePlastic is as Plastic DoesFinally, one last thing to realize and remember about the brain and the business of trying to change it, is that the brain is exquisitely “plastic.

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Child Behavior Problems were big concern for 2010

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Recently I did a poll here on the ParentingToolbox to see what some of the biggest parenting issues were in 2010. Sixty percent of the parents that responded said that “child behavior problems” were their main concerns. It could be that parents that come to my blog do so because they are looking for help with their children’s behavior. The blog does focus on that topic over other parenting topics. Even with that possibility, I think it is still quite relevant to parents. It always has been in my 20 plus years of working with families. So it should surprise me to see that result.What the poll doesn’t ask is what kind of behavior issues is troublesome to parents. I did ask about teen drug use, bullying, child abuse and other stressful issues. These got some attention but not much. I am left with the assumption that parents are referring to the age-old concerns of defiance, noncompliance, sibling rivalry, etc.I will be addressing all these issues in my new Premium Parenting Toolbox Newsletter that launches this month. Get on board now while I have the introductory price available and you will find detailed parenting help on topics you need help with. Click here for more information!Leave a comment below on the behavior issues you have been dealing with. Be specific. I may provide some tailored answers to you in the newsletter.

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