Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Last week we began a new behavioral therapy program, with Miles and Keenan and all of the kids. I spent the middle part of last week trying to blog about it, but found myself nearly re-writing the entire darn 200+ page book, Transforming the Difficult Child.

The behavioral program is 3 parts, basically:

1) Providing "Video Moments" for the child throughout the day, which is basically verbally acknowledging what the child is doing or how they are feeling, nearly as if we had an (imaginary) blind companion for whom we are describing our children's actions out loud. This is a way of underlining and documenting to your child that you value them for who they are, a sort of nutritional recognition of sorts.

2) Creating a "Credit" System where children earn credits for Following Rules (no hitting, no whining, no peeing on the carpet, etc.), earn credits for Positive Behaviors (being helpful, talking about feelings instead of acting on them, good attitudes, etc.) and for Chores. This is a purposeful system so that children have some 'slam dunks' where they earn credits easily, and some with goals to strive for. In turn, the credits are used to purchase rewards/treats (basically, everything other than food, clothing and shelter. TV time, playroom time, computer time, cookies, trip to video store, etc., are all possible things to be earned.)

Children cannot "lose" credit with bad behavior. However, as they may have to "pay" Mom or Dad with credit if they chose to use up Mom or Dad's energy in a negative way (a 75 minute screaming tantrum, for example.) This is up to us. But the goal is to make children want the success, so the system should not be made to be punitive.

If the child refuses to do a chore, or there is some sort of problem that needs to be corrected, the parent can "freeze" the spending of credits until that task is completed. Meaning, no tv, no ice cream, no treats of any sort until they comply with the rules.

However, even if a spending freeze is issued, they can (and should!) still earn credits. You want to continue the momentum of success, no matter how small. And sometimes having that success is enough to pull them out of the downward cycle (sometimes).

3) When a child breaks a rule, no warning is issued ("if you do that again, you're gonna get a time out". . . not done in this program.) Just like in a video game or in a basketball game, a time out is issued in a swift, neutral state without discussion or explanation: That's a time-out.

The parent then removes themselves energetically from the child. The parent gives no emotional energy for tantrums, escalations, etc. The parent is neutral. The time-out is only for as long as it takes for some sufficient increment of positive change. So it can be really short (like 5-10 seconds) or longer.

A Re-Cap/Overview
Basically, the program is set up so that Parent Energy is the reward. Children learn that they are given energy and time and recognition for GOOD things. So often we fall into the pattern where we kind of ignore all the good that our children do, and only pay attention/energy to the bad choices. This attempts to reverse that process.

Like a basketball game. The rewards for staying in-bounds and following the rules (points, recognition, cheering, fun) is SO great that no basketball player feels an incentive to break the rules (no energy is given; just a consequence: time out, turn over, etc.)

Is it working for us?

Hatfield, Atticus, Keenan and Paloma are thriving. They all seem to be responding incredibly to having Mom 'notice' them and the things they are doing.

So much so that I could cry. Miles has the ability to really suck all the life out of the house, and I can see just how neglected these other kids feel sometimes. It makes me feel so sad and horrible that things have been this way.

To see these kids blossom and thrive with just these itty bits of 'noticing' given freely throughout the day, well, it's both wonderful, yet very humbling.

The quick, energy-free time outs work wonders. The time-outs for these 4 are usually very short. I think the longest has been 30 seconds. Just calling them on the broken rule, asking them to pause for a moment, is enough to reset them and make them go back to playing without problem. I never knew that could be done so easily.

Plus, for goal-oriented kids like Hatfield, the credit system is awesome. She can keep track of her stuff (which helps me) and she feels excited about earning things that normally we really wouldn't think of or do. So that's a Win-Win.

But as for Miles.

Miles, Miles, Miles.

My dear sweet Miles.

One word: Escalation.

Our therapist and the book warns that for the difficult and intense child, they are gonna E-S-C-A-L-A-T-E.

Ain't that the truth!

Historically, Miles excels at using his anger to control the house. He is very good at controlling situations. He is very obstinate very stubborn, and if he does not want to do something (like a simple chore) he can hold out for days until he feels like he has sufficiently been "forced" to do it. I think, in his mind, if he is "forced" to do something, then he actually hasn't done it, thus in his world, he is still in control.

It's a slippery slope.

Miles has spent the past 8 days trying to get me mad. Trying to engage me in a power struggle. Trying to lure me into yelling, punishing, or consequencing.

This program is simple in that: the child makes the choice. Depending on their choice, they can spend credits or not have credits yet available to them. Credit Freeze= Reward Freeze.

Miles has been on a credit freeze most days. The first four days, I would catch any little positive thing and award more points. Which, for some reason, further pissed him off.

What I really like about this program is that even when a child refuses and can't spend credits, they are still part of the family. The child is with us, and I can notice and recognize all the positive things about him that I love. I am acting towards him in a calm, positive, loving manner. I have nothing about my own behavior that I feel guilty or badly about (because believe me, I have spent a huge amount of time feeling like I was doing so many things wrong!)

Nothing is withheld from him-- he is with us at meals, he is not banished to a room--and I know that I'm giving him what he needs. All that he is missing is the "extras" in life, but the last time I checked, tv, computers, ice cream and all the "fancy" toys weren't necessities.

The escalation, though, hit another turning point around day 4. Miles was becoming SO agitated that he could not get me to engage in a negative power struggle, that he began acting out against me aggressively. Which is why he did not go to Haiti camp.

Since last week Thursday, Miles has scratched up my chest, twisted my finger, kicked, bit, spit, hissed, and hucked laundry baskets at my back. He's attacked me from behind. He's tried peeing in my bedroom, and when I caught him and tried to pull up his pants, it took both Hatfield and Atticus to rip him off of my back, and then the 3 of us to get him to a safe area.

That was fun.

Through it all, I have managed to remain calm and not engage. I show that I am VERY angry that he is doing this, and that it is NOT OKAY EVER to hurt your mom. But he is unable to engage me into having my very own adult temper tantrum, which is what I'm pretty sure he wants me to do.

Of course, the book does not explain what to do when your child goes full-out ape shit on you. So we're meeting with the counselor again tomorrow, and I'm anxious to hear what he has to say about this.

Which will be good, because right now, I'm just about done with this child. I can handle the escalating non-compliance, the 2 hour long screaming festivals, and even the peeing to some extent. With those things, I need a short break, but typically, I'm a pretty tough chick and can bounce back with my usual "I've lived through way worse than you, little boy, so don't think you can be the death of me" attitude.

But this constant barrage of physical attacks? I'm not dealing with it very well at all. I've never had this before. This is SO outside of my own normal that I Don't. Know. What. To. Do.

I hate what this is doing to my house and family. The other kids are nervous and always worried about me and are so wary of Miles. Hatfield's contempt for him is palpable, and after he scratched her up and bit her, I can't blame her. And truthfully, I find it really hard to just "bounce back" after losing half the skin on my large toe from my kid throwing a laundry basket at me.

The Mister has been gone since yesterday morning, and he returns tonight. And I'm so glad. Because I just need to have a good cry in private. And then I need a huge hug.


geralyn said...

You know what I think? I think you are doing the best you can given the situation. You are going above and beyond to try and bring normalcy to your household and to help Miles adjust to life with a loving family.

So weird that love would cause anger, but to hurt kids, they don't tell us what we need to do to heal them. It's trial and error. My darlin' Sarah, you are a fabulous mom and I am lucky to count you and your family among my friends.

Maybe we should meet in Minneapolis which is just about half way for both of us and do a little 'retail' therapy for ourselves. Whatya think about them apples??

Hugs girlfriend,

Anonymous said...

Not sure what to say here. You are an amazing, patient mom. I struggle with the system, but I do think it is going to work.... if I can just stop myself from giving in to providing him the negative attention he so clearly is trying to get.

I can only hope to be half as good as you are.


Jenny said...

You've been doing wonderful things for these children, but be careful. Please be careful. How horrible to not be/feel safe in your own house with your own children...

Mighty Isis said...

So sorry to hear about the escalation, Sarah! Not surprised, but so sorry that you have to go through this, my friend. I agree...the physical raging is what cuts me to the core...and most affects my other kids.

All I can say is you are such a great mom, you love your kids fiercely, and you are taking the right steps to help Miles heal. And I'm here for you, my friend! I wonder at some point if it would be helpful for our nonraging kids to get together and talk through their feelings about this issues? Might help them to talk with other kids who struggle with the same problem in their family.


bbbunch said...

I love you! I'm thinking and praying for you daily! We need to get together soon :)


blessedfamily said...

Hi Sara,
I am soo looking to do something like this. Is the book called Transforming the Difficult Child? Does it tell you how many points to establish for each category (Following Rules, Positve Behavior, Chores (although he's supposed to earn money for chores... hmmm)?? Do you take away current TV time, computer time, etc in order for them to earn it? Ugh..See?? This is why I am having trouble.