PARENTING SEXUALLY ABUSED CHILDREN, PART 3
This is the third in a series of blogs addressing the topic, Parenting Sexually Abused Children. These blogs correspond to six foster parent training classes that I am facilitating at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings from 9 a. m. to Noon, starting February 01, and ending February 22, 2011. If you live nearby and want to attend the classes, email me. The title of the class series is Healing From Sexual Abuse. THERE IS NO CHARGE OR TUITION FOR THESE CLASSES.
Tuesday, February 01 Becoming Part Of The Healing
Friday, February 04 What To Expect?
Tuesday, February 08 Interventions: What You Give Energy To Persists
Friday, February 11 HOLIDAY
Tuesday, February 15 Conversations
Friday, February 18 Envisioning A Future
Tuesday, February 22 Grieving The Losses
PLEASE NOTE. Although the target population, so to speak, are foster parents, the wisdom here is for all of us who are parents and or caregivers of any kind, ESPECIALLY FOR THOSE OF US WHO HAVE A GENERATIOAL HISTORY OF INTRA-FAMILIAL SEXUAL ABUSE.
Intrafamilial sexual abuse is NOT rare, so DO NOT BE AFRAID to check out this blog or this class.
I do not hold anything back in these blogs, so if you are offended, I apologize, but this is a serious matter, and one which we need to talk frankly and clearly about, so we can learn to be there in a kind and straight forward way for the children who need our support in healing.
This hub, as well as the previous two hubs in this series, will provide you with both information and skills in parenting children who have been sexually abused.
The photographs to the right are meant to depict scenes of healing, rebirth, a new day, parents creating healthy attachments with their children and grandchildren, children in their innocence which, by the way, is not robbed. That is such a terrible and condemnatory misnomer. We can support both ourselves as adults and our children as children reclaiming innocence. It is there for us to give to them. It is there for them to take by the healing climate we create within our home.
To review the previous two classes and an article from the second class, check out the links below.
PARENTING CHILDREN SURVIVING SEXUAL ABUSE
by Michael V. Merrick, MS, LMSW and Betsy Allen, MA, LMSW
COMMIT TO BRINGING HEALING INSTEAD OF YOUR FEAR OF LOSING YOUR AUTHORITY
So today’s topic is INTERVENTION. To begin, let us review from last class.
THE EMOTIONAL CLIMATE
The number one challenge for us is to create an emotional climate where the child feels safe even when acting out. It is important for us, as parents or parent figures, to keep the climate safe for the child, no matter how outlandish the acting out is. It is certainly within the realm of possibility that a child who has been physically or sexually abused will NOT act out, but it is much more probable that they will. So it is not so much what to expect, but to EXPECT and prepare yourself psychologically and emotionally. BE PREPARED so you will not react but instead RESPOND.
DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT punishing the acting out. The challenge is to support the child regaining self control. This may require a lot of physical intervention on your part in terms of redirecting the child, holding (not restraining) the child in some cases until the child regains self control, providing a safe place for a time out, which you will rehearse and talk about before hand, and being conscious enough to reduce verbal interaction. Once the child and you are both calm, it can be useful to have some conversation whose focus will be letting the child know that you get what the acting out is all about, and then literally teaching the child a new and acceptable way to get his or her needs met.
A WORKING CLASS
Today’s class is going to focus on actual situations that you present. We will put them on the board and cook book them. We will look at several issues in brainstorming and problem solving.
#1: The child and the child’s age
#2: How long has child been in your care?
#3: Where was the child before?
#4: How many different placements and why?
#5. How old was child when removed from birth family and why?
#6: Child premature, drug exposed?
#7: What was the nature of the abuse?
From these seven items, we will begin assessing precisely where the child is developmentally physically, emotionally, with respect to attachment issues, and where the child is developmentally in terms of placement. So the day a child comes to your home is day one, and in a sense his or her developmental time table starts over. So if this child has been in your care for less than a year, then in some respects, the child is an infant, and so on.
Do you get that point? If not, ask some questions. This is a critical awareness on our part as caregivers. It is critical in understanding the whole reality of regression. We all regress at moments of trauma and moments of loss. We go backwards, sometimes very far back, in a split second. My father was fifteen when there was a knock on the door to inform him that his father had just been killed in a train accident. For almost the entire rest of his life he told us he was twelve at the time. So the event immediately knocked three years off of his life.
So, more questions.
#8: How does this child act out?
#9: Why is the acting out is so bothersome to you?
This question is not a judgment question as if it shouldn’t bother you. But it will tell you a lot about the barriers that are there for you personally in making an effective intervention or in being able to ignore the behavior if that is what will decrease the frequency of the behavior and possibly make it go away all together.
#10: What have you tried so far with respect to interventions?
Obviously, you think that what you have tried so far does not work. And that is very interesting, because I find that most of what people think isn’t working is working really really well. Isn’t that interesting? So we will spend some time looking at our working definition of “works.”
Often times, we judge whether or not something is working by the child’s behavior which is the last criteria you ever want to use. In fact, the most effective interventions often trigger what is referred to as post extinction burst, which means the behavior gets worse than it has ever been, for a very brief period, sometimes literally seconds or minutes. The problem is we then give a lot of energy to that burst and the behavior pattern gets reinforced and sticks around then in its worst form.
#11: How much energy do you give to this acting out and why? Can you shift? Is there any part of the acting out that you can literally ignore and why and why not?
#12: What are the metaphors in the behavior? What is the child trying to tell us?
#13: Does it make a difference to you when you realize what the child is trying to tell us?
Once we know what the child is trying to tell us, we can then respond to the child’s needs without even intervening in the problem behavior. Once the child’s needs are met, the acting out sort of disappears.
Sometimes, acting out behavior is shouting to us: “I am out of control. I feel very anxious inside. Nothing will stop me from getting into trouble. I feel dirty. I feel nasty. I know no one will understand me anyway, so why not act out? I don’t know why I act out, please stop me. I enjoy acting out, it is the best part of my life. Everything else is a big punishment, and for what? What did I ever do? I enjoy touching other people. I feel on the verge all the time. I control nothing in my life. I do not control where I live, I cannot control who abuses me. So guess what I can control? This behavior which makes you nuts. Goodie! Someone else gets to be nuts besides me.”
So I would never say a child actually sits down and thinks the above, but his or her body FEELS all of that. You want to know how I know that? Simple. If you have not been abused in any fashion at all, then just imagine what it is like to be three years old or even sixteen years old and have someone you know and love force themselves on you and or manipulate you into being sexual with them. Do you feel those statements above? What do you feel? How would you behave? Would you have the courage to tell anyone? What if the person told you awful things will happen if you do tell? This is not an easy experience for the child, and those of us who think it is so simple to stop the abuse, need to take a good look at all the things in our own life, as adults, that we do not put a stop to. And then have the courage to ask yourself why you don’t put a stop to them?
#14. When you are at your most vulnerable place in your life, especially when your vulnerability has triggered you, out of desperation, to act out, for example, getting drunk, having a one night stand, overeating, doing drugs, driving recklessly, shopping uncontrollably, staying up all night because you can’t sleep, disappearing for a day or week, pulling away from the people you love or at least who say they care about you, becoming depressed, going to bed, holding up in your room for days, not answering the phone, giving up on life as you know it, WHAT AT THIS MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE do you need from those who love you or who care for you? A lecture? A good punishment? What do you need the most? If you can answer that question, you have a good start on what children need in the way of an intervention from you.
I am not suggesting by the above that we need to be all soft and sweet. I am suggesting that we do not need to be hard and sour. There are a lot of healing places in between.
WHAT YOU GIVE ENERGY TO PERSISTS
This is our basic premise in working with behavior that drives us nuts. In an earlier blog, I gave an example of a twelve year old who refused to get out of bed in the morning. I will repeat that story here because it is such a good example of figuring out what it is that I wanted to see in the way of behavior change. We all are so familiar with what we do not want to see, but then we have difficulty translating that into what we want to see.
This is the story of a 12 year old relative who was living with us for four months, along with his mother and father and older brother. Every morning, he refused to get out of bed. He whined and moaned like an injured animal. His mother did everything from trying to love him out of bed, to hitting him and yelling at him, to withdrawing from him. It was driving me insane to the point I wanted to use my drill instructor approach with him. You know, “Get your f.... ass out of bed, and I never want to hear any of this whining......” I did pull her aside and showed her exactly how to get him out of bed in the morning, but part of the plan was to stop sitting on the bed with him and to stop telling him “I love you.”
“Oh, I have to tell him I love him....no one told me when I was that age....”
I tried to convince her that she had twenty three hours and fifty nine other minutes each day to tell him she loved him. Just not then. It was mixing up apples and oranges! She could not get it and continued each morning with the insanity.
I wanted to kill them both (colloquially speaking!). But I contained myself and asked myself the question. What do I teach in parenting classes? That's right! What is the behavior I want to see more of?
At first, I could not answer the question. It was as difficult for me as it is for you. But finally, I realized how simple the answer was. I wanted to see him up, dressed, and ready to catch the school bus BEFORE the school bus arrived! Once I realized that was the behavior I wanted to see more of, I started looking for it.
Yes, within three days of me getting clear what the behavior was, it showed up, right smack in front of my face. That is how it works. There he was, dressed, standing in front of the mirror, combing his hair, fifteen minutes prior to the school bus showing up. Wow! There it is.
So this is what I did. I walked to the bathroom door and said, “Hey, you have a good day today.” I said it with lots of gusto and a big smile. I said it with an underlying tone that non verbally said, “I know you are going to have a good day because you are such a cool kid. And I like you.”
I was shocked at his response. “You have a good day too.” Whoa! Where did that come from? I was expecting an F bomb! So I knew this was THE moment. So I said, “Hey, tomorrow morning, I don’t have to be at the office till later, so how about you and I hitting Starbucks before your bus gets here.”
Here is the kicker, folks. It was not a deal. It was not a contract. We went to Starbucks probably three times over the next six weeks and every day he was up and ready for school on his own. What made this happen was his experiencing someone wanting to have a relationship with him, someone giving him energy when he was doing well and not vice versa.
I know it sounds simple and naive. But I tell you, it works. What you give energy to, persists.
So, sexual acting out or very aggressive and disgusting acting out, like pooping in your pants when you are fourteen years old, smearing feces all over the bathroom at any age, calling you all kinds of never before heard names, stealing, lying, climbing out of windows at night, using drugs, becoming promiscuous, posting naked pictures on the internet or phone, getting involved in pornography, failing school, perpetrating sexually on younger or weaker children. Yes they seem a lot more difficult than not wanting to get up in the morning.
But the principle remains the same. First of all, what is the child or teen telling us that he or she needs? Are you willing to respond to those needs without punishing the acting out? And most importantly, what is the behavior you want to give energy to so that desired behavior can flourish?
Yes, a child or teen needs to learn consequences. And there are plenty of natural consequences involved when one acts out. Plenty. It is often redundant to add consequences of your own. And let’s talk about that today in class.
If you need to add consequences, make them fit the crime, so to speak, and make sure they are time limited. My suggestion is to start every day fresh. No need to bankrupt either yourself or the child or teen. Any consequences you add, in addition to the natural consequences, are totally ineffective if they leave the child feeling damaged, dirty, toxically ashamed, sexually assaulted, demeaned, despicable, devalued, hurt, hopeless, or powerless. This is so so so important to look at when administering extra consequences in addition to the natural ones. And you do not have to ask the child or teen if they are feeling any of that. You will know by their body language and how they respond or NOT respond to you. You will know, and if you don’t think you will know, then let’s talk. You may not be dealing with your own abusive history both as a child and as an adult.
Many of us, many of us, continue in abusive relationships even as adults. It is just too painful to acknowledge, but consequently, we don’t get it when we are working with children or teens who have been abused. We don’t get what? We don’t get it when we replicate the abusive experiences in our relationship with them by punishing them.
I know, these are hard words, but it is critical if we are ever going to create healing environments for the children in our care to really really get it. Get what? Again, just how important our own healing is to our capacity to be a healer for the children and teens in our care. We are as blind and as incompetent as our own buried and untreated abusive experiences, both present and past. Ugh! I know, it is a big “ugh” for me too.
So if you are here in class, we are going to begin cookbooking on the board. If you are here online, please present your most difficult child or children or teen in the COMMENTS SECTION and check back for a response. If you do post a child you are having difficulty with, make sure you answer those fourteen questions above.
THANKS FOR PARTICIPATING TODAY. LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING YOU NEXT TUESDAY. FRIDAY IS A HOLIDAY. Tuesday’s topic, CONVERSATIONS.