Friday, May 5, 2017

McDonald's instead of punishment

When I started reading blogs written by foster/adoptive parents, some of the most helpful posts included actual things that happened in the home and stories about how the parents handled the situation.

I used to post things like that more often. With all the babies we've had in our home over the past few years, my actual blogging has fallen by the wayside.

Something happened a couple weeks ago in my house though and I thought it would be a good story to share. This is what therapeutic parenting (sometimes) looks like in our house.

When you go to trainings to become a foster/adoptive parent - you're often told that you'll have to parent differently. The scenarios you're given may or may not be good ones. I personally don't think I've ever attended a training session that actually taught me much. Many of the stories we'd read or act out were either too extreme for me to wrap my brain around or too simplified.

Know what I mean?

So this story is specific. It's not going to be exactly like what happens in your house. But maybe you'll get the gist of what I mean when I say that relationship HAS to be more important than immediate consequences.


My kid was playing video games after school. I was in the other room working on something else. I could hear the tension building in my son's voice. He was getting angry. Really angry. Things weren't going right in the game and his frustration was mounting.

Verbally, I told him from the other room he needed to calm down.

Never in the history of telling someone to calm down has it ever been effective.

I stopped what I was doing and came into the room with my son.
"I can hear in your voice that you're getting upset. Your words are harsh and you're breathing in short breaths. Those are signs that you're getting angry. Do you need to stop playing the video game?"
I came to my son and got down at his level (versus standing over him). I used direct descriptions of behaviors that are harder to argue with instead of vague accusations. I didn't order him to do anything. I tried to let him have control over the situation.

It didn't help. He kept getting angrier and angrier. Eventually it got to a place where I told him that he no longer had a choice in the matter. He was required to be done playing video games.

He took the controller and threw it across the room breaking it.

Another child came in the room and tried to diffuse things. I told that child I had it under control and he didn't need to get involved.

Unfortunately, that made my angry child even more upset. He started making very dangerous threats. He tried to climb over the recliner in order to get at the other child and start a physical fight.

At that point in time I had to make a choice. I had four kids that needed to be kept safe. (Rex was sleeping so at least that kept one kid out of the mix.) I was afraid that if my angry child actually went toward his brother, the other child would lose his ability to maintain control and an honest-to-god fist fight would break out in my living room.

I put my angry son in a restraint.

My angry son was incredibly angry.

I hadn't used a restraint in what felt like years. It scared me. My mind was racing. I took him from standing to down on the ground. Over and over I told my son that all he had to do was tell me what he was going to do if I let him go. I needed to keep him safe. Where would he go to get himself regulated?

My son is sensory-seeking when he's dysregulated. So, as much as he didn't want the restraint, he didn't fight it at all. In a way, he wanted it. In fact, I let go of his hands completely and just kept him pinned close to me and he never honestly tried to get away. He did slowly drag me across the living room. He refused to tell me where he would go to get himself regulated.

I tried not to panic. But believe me...I was panicking.

I honestly didn't know what I was going to do to end the restraint if my son wouldn't tell me where he was going to go to regulate himself.

5:00pm hit and my husband walked in through the door from work. I unpinned my angry son and very, very briefly told Mr. Amazing what had happened. My angry son just sat on the living room floor - almost in a trance of anger and embarrassment.

I looked at him and said we needed to go to the truck. I told him we had to go to McDonald's.

And that's why this is therapeutic parenting. That's why this looks different.

I simply couldn't punish my son for his outburst right then. It would have been the wrong thing to do!!!

Instead, I HAD to meet his immediate needs. My son was hungry. He needed to eat dinner right then. My son needed to leave our home. For my kids, getting out of the house almost always helps with their dysregulation.

So I drove my son to McDonald's and let him pick out his favorite meal. He started eating in the car right away.

Without me having to say much of anything, my angry son told me that he would purchase a new controller with his own money. He would be grounded from the Xbox until the new controller was in our home. And he would apologize to everyone for his outburst.

He also told me about some things that had happened in school that day that had upset him. He was already thinking about what his possible triggers were that caused the outburst.


Relationship is more important that forcing an immediate apology or dishing out consequences. Meeting the immediate needs of the child is more important that punishment. It's much easier, and much more effective, to handle consequences when everyone (and I do mean everyone - the parent and the child) has calmed down.

I think it's safe to say that most all kids do know right from wrong. Even when they act like they don't...they really do. And most kids want to do the right thing. They're doing the best they can. Honest, they are.

Escalating things when there is dysregulation in the house never helps.

Believe me, when my angry son threw that controller I wanted to lose my mind. I wanted to yell. I wanted to smack some sense into him. For goodness sake - he's a teenager. He knows better!! I know he knows better. I've been raising him since he was born. Never in the history of his life has it been OK to throw things across the room in anger.

He knew that, though. He knew he had done wrong. He did not need a lecture from me pointing out truths he already knows. He was embarrassed. He needed a way out. Plus, he was hungry. Lots of kids, especially those that have experienced trauma, have a harder time managing blood sugars and get "hangry".

So I gave him an immediate out. I didn't expect him to fix any of the issues right away. I met his needs first.

I think this is important whether the kid is 2 years old or 17 years old. All of our kids need to have their needs met. They'll have plenty of time "in the real world" to get their asses kicked when they screw up. It is NOT up to me to start that process early. And it certainly doesn't coddle my kids when I meet their needs. It shows them that I care. It helps them regulate faster. And it helps them stay connected. When they are regulated we can talk about what the trigger was. We can go over coping skills that our kids can use when they're triggered. We can make repairs for damages done.

But all of that is only effective if our kids are regulated.

And sometimes that means they get McDonald's after they throw a temper tantrum.


Last Mom said...

All the yes

Stacy said...

YES Yes and Yes!!!!

Bluehorn said...

I'm about to start the foster training process in preparation for accepting some children in. I am literally going through your entire blog, that I found through Pinterest. Thank you so much.