Have you ever felt angry, afraid, self-doubting, ashamed, or just like giving up on your foster child? These are normal but very distressing emotions for a foster parent. Being in the grip of these strong emotions also makes it virtually impossible for us to put into practice specialist Therapeutic Parenting skills no matter how much we might want to or how much skill we normally have. This sets up a cycle of demoralisation and heartache for the foster parent and then of course the child.
Learning to parent therapeutically is the single most important thing you can do to help your traumatized/attachment-disordered child, your child with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome or your ADHD child.
The aim of this group is therefore to help parents cope with the strong emotions raised by caring for a child who is a Ward, is troubled or behaviourally challenging. Some coaching may be offered in the 12 steps of Therapeutic Parenting during the group but the focus for this group will be on emotion coaching and building emotional intelligence (Step 8) and these are methods you can also pass on to your foster child to help them manage their emotions. It is not necessary that you have received specific training in Therapeutic Parenting in order to join. Open-ness and a willingness to be honest with yourself and trusted others are the primary requirements.
Our next Support Group will be held on October 25 from 9.30 – 11.30 a.m. The groups are limited to 6-8 people and are held in a members’ home. There is at present a Northern suburbs group meeting in Carine, and a Fremantle-based group. Other groups can be made available on request.
What is Therapeutic Parenting?
Extracts from “What is Therapeutic Parenting?” http://www.attachmenttraumanetwork.com/therapeuticparenting.html
Therapeutic Parenting is a term used to describe the type of high structure/high nurture parenting that is needed for a traumatized child to feel safe and start relaxing enough that they begin to heal and attach. And because they lack “executive function” – the part of the brain involved in planning and organisation – high structure-high nurture parenting is also needed for children with Foetal alcohol syndrome disorders or with ADHD.
At the center of most therapeutic parenting strategies is the concept of maintaining a highly structured AND highly nurturing environment. At first it sounds like these two things are impossible to do together, but experienced parents will tell you that even for children without trauma and attachment issues, all children need a nurturing environment that is structured. But for traumatized children it is extremely critical that a delicate balance of nurture and structure is achieved. Here’s why…
Traumatized children (especially those who present with attachment difficulties) have a difficult time trusting their caregiver. They operate from a fear-based world view. It is because of this that creating a feeling of safety for the child is so important, so they can let down their defenses and process all the positive things we parents want to give them. But, it is precisely this fear and intense need for safety that makes the balance between structure and nurture so critical.
It is important that children from a background of trauma feel safe – and structure makes people feel safe. But it could also feel cold and punishing. So providing high structure must be done in a calm, self-regulated manner (parent remaining calm). In therapeutic parenting it is often necessary to limit a child’s choices, their activities or their access to stimulating things. But this high structure can also seem very controlling. This is why it must be done with an attitude of love and respect for the child. And the child, even if being oppositional, clearly hears the message that this parent “cares about me, about what I do, about how I behave.” The parent’s calm, loving structure also conveys the message of strength –that the parent is strong enough to handle the child’s deepest, darkest turmoil. The child starts to feel safe.
Who wouldn’t feel safe in a nurturing environment? You guessed it…a traumatized child! An environment that is too nurturing (and permissive) leaves the child with doubts – ‘can this parent handle the seriousness of my “big feelings” ‘? While most healthy children respond positively to nurture and praise, traumatized children are often suspicious of it because it doesn’t match with their own self-image – “I’m just not good enough to deserve to be treated like this.” Or they see the adult as gullible and not strong enough to understand all the feelings of anger and rage within the child. So your child may reject some of the most typical signs of nurturing, like hugs and gifts. He or she may “purposely” sabotage your attempts to be loving and kind. His fear-based brain almost appears to be craving the anger he creates in you as he rejects your nurturing attempts. Yet, nurture, even in very small micro-doses is critical to therapeutic parenting and to helping our children’s hearts to heal. Continuing to meet this child’s behaviors with a calm, regulated response is necessary. Loving eyes are key, along with the habitual half-smile (they go together).
Parents are not perfect, so reaching the optimum balance between structure and nurture is very difficult. You will err on one side or the other. The goal is to recognize the need for both and to practice. And to self-assess to figure out which side you do seem to be erring on, and pull it back into balance. Remember: Parenting is a marathon; not a sprint. You will get another opportunity tomorrow to try again.
So How Do I Become a Therapeutic Parent?
You study and practice! Therapeutic Parenting is “Major League” Parenting, which means you need to approach this as if you were a “professional” parent. You need to train, study, and practice. You need to review how you did each day and strategize. You need to build a playbook, study it, and run the plays. You need to watch other Major League Parents in action, talk to them, ask advice, attend trainings, and practice some more. You also need to take care of yourself – eat right, exercise, get any medical attention you need. Meditation, massage and doing things you enjoy are all important. You need to treat yourself like the Major League player you are!
Below are some therapeutic parenting programs/parent trainers that members have reported worked well for their families. Many parents find that studying each of these gives them more tools to use. Some strategies may work well for your family; others may not. And some strategies work better at different stages in the child’s development and healing.
Dan Hughes/ Building the Bonds of Attachment – http://www.danielhughes.org/
Nancy Thomas/Families by Design – http://www.nancythomasparenting.com/
Heather Forbes/ Beyond Consequences – http://www.beyondconsequences.com/
Howard Glasser/The Nurtured Heart – http://nurturedheart.com/
Katharine Leslie/Brand New Day Consulting – http://brandnewdayconsulting.com/
Karyn Purvis/The Connected Child – http://empoweredtoconnect.org/
Holly van Gulden/Dance of Attachment – http://danceofattachment.org/Index.html
Love & Logic – http://www.loveandlogic.com/
And, of course…workshops and support groups!
Important Tips for Becoming a Therapeutic Parent
- Don’t take your child’s behaviors personally.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself- i.e. physical exercise and nutrition
- Don’t forget to extend to yourself the same patience and grace you extend to your child.
- Remember that the child’s behaviors are based in fear (and sometimes in shame), even though they may be expressed as anger, aggression, violence and rejection.
- Remaining calm, regulated, and positive yourself is the key to making any strategy successful.
- If your child’s behaviors are triggering emotional issues for you, seek counseling for yourself (and for your marriage). Ask your child’s attachment therapist for recommendations.
- Reach out to other parents for support, both locally and through ATN.
- Build respite (breaks from your child) into your family’s life. This is important for each parent, for the parents as a couple (date nights) and for the parents to spend time with siblings.
- Read, study and practice.
Further on The Therapeutic Parenting Support Groups
The group will be small (6-8 people) and confidences will be honoured.* Extra 1:1 parenting support and coaching is available for those in receipt of a Medicare 2710 plan. The facilitator is Juanita K. Berry, a highly experienced psychologist in the area of foster/adopt children who was herself a foster parent. Juanita is also a trainer in Therapeutic Parenting.
Cost of the groups is $25 per session, or $4 if you are in receipt of a Medicare Mental Health Care Plan (item 2710). Child care is available on request.
If you are interested and would like to know more, please contact Juanita’s secretary on 9325 1162. Bookings are essential.
*assuming no-one is in danger