Monday, October 25, 2010

The Connected Child: Chapter 3

Today we're talking about Chapter 3 in The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis, David Cross & Wendy Sunshine. The chapter is called Solving the Puzzle of Difficult Behavior.

As a foster parent, playing detective is one of your first primary roles. When our girls came to us, we were initially told that CPS hadn't been involved with them other than helping to orchestrate the kinship arrangement they had been in for the past three years. That couldn't have been further from the truth!! One of the workers at our FGC (Family Group Conference) indicated Friday that CPS has been heavily involved with our girls for at least the past seven years! That means that these two beauties haven't had safe and stable living their entire lives.

All that the girls have endured has shaped who they are today.

According to The Connected Child, adopted and foster children can bring with them
  • abandonment, loss, and grief issues
  • attachment dysfunctions
  • neurological alterations
  • cognitive impairments
  • coordination and motor skill problems
  • sensory processing deficits
  • fear
  • anger
  • flashbacks and post-traumatic stress
  • shame
  • anxiety
  • depression

The book goes on to point out that these types of impairments are rather subtle. I know that I have to constantly remind myself that some of the misbehavior is simply because the girls CAN'T do what I'm asking of them. It's not willful defiance. They literally can. not. do. what a healthy child could in the same circumstances. They are playing catch-up and it's going to take time!

Going back to that bullet point list, my foster daughters have issues with every single point except the coordination and sensory processing. That's some serious baggage to bring with them everywhere they go. It does significantly affect how they interact and behave.

Because my girls are showing that they want to heal, we're being rather up front with this. MissArguePants has actually asked me, "Why do I argue so much?" I answered her honestly. We never try to talk bad about anyone that has hurt the girls in the past. But I'm not going to deny the fact that abuse has occurred. I explained that the reason she argues so much is largely due to the fact that she doesn't trust adults. Adults have hurt her in the past and she has every reason to not trust them. I reminded her that she's safe now and that with time and consistency, she will start to trust us and she probably won't argue as much.

Of course I didn't actually use the word "consistency" as concepts like that are over her head. I have to keep conversations like this incredibly simple! Academically,  our girls are both third graders. But when it comes to emotional development, they are much younger. (I'm anxious to get their psychological evaluation back to see if it covers this and to see if I've come to the same conclusions as the doctors did.)

The last section of Chapter 3 is Seeing Beyond Misbehavior. The book says we need to look beyond a difficult behavior and ask ourselves:
  • What is the child really saying?
  • What does the child really need?
For me this means that I have to first try my hardest to not let the misbehavior trigger ME. (Whew that's a hard one sometimes!!) I have to stay calm so I can figure out what the child is trying to communicate.

Then, I have to try and meet the need. For example: when MissArguePants is completely dysregulated and upset, but I know she didn't eat anything for supper and opted to not have the PB&J that was offered as a substitute for what we were serving, I have to meet her need first. She's hungry! And until she eats, she's probably not going to be able to process anything else that is going on around her in a healthy way. It doesn't do me any good to talk to her about being disrespectful or how she shouldn't throw things in the living room until I can get her to actually eat something. And as much as it sometimes feels to me like I'm rewarding bad behavior, that's really not the case. Bottom line, MissArguePants doesn't trust me yet. And if she has a need I'm not meeting (whether or not she has effectively communicated this need) I'm not going to get her to trust me until I meet that need.

Like I said...tons and tons of detective work!!


Cheryl said...

You're doing a great job, Detective! (I didn't mean to delete the above comment; I'm just not very smart this morning)

Mary said...

I'm going to have to invest in a copy of The Connected Child. Sounds like a great resource.

jendoop said...

It does sound like a great book. Your last example is a good one to show how parenting a neglected child is different than an average child. It can be really hard to turn off my automatic reaction, to think through the differences before I react to a behavior. Usually being more loving/less disciplinary is the answer.