Riding the Wave of Change Together: Foster Parent Conference

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It is my honor to present at the 41st Annual State-Wide Foster Parent Conference in Garden Grove, CA. on October 12th, 2017. The conference is entitled: “Riding the Wave of Change Together.

I will be teaching a 4-hour seminar on  The Trauma Toolbox – NeuroResilience: How to Trauma Proof Your Nervous System and Healing Strategies for the Hurt Family. 

Descriptions of the seminar are as follows:

You have a beautifully designed brain and nervous system, but what happens when it is exposed to toxic stress and trauma?  Learn the basic components of NeuroResilience to calm the brain and body with easy-to-use nervous system hacks.

How do power-full families live in close relationships with one another?  Learn how to decrease power struggles and teach children to be responsible and fun to be around.  Use practical, power-full parenting tools with interactive activities to help your family heal.

This seminar will be fun, informal, and always functional. Hope to see you there!

Conference Presentation Slides: Click here!

Are Non Traditional Families the Same as Traditional Ones?

One of the biggest hurdles that nontraditional parents must jump over in society is the feeling of being “less than” traditional, two-parent families. Nontraditional families suffer under the weight of guilt and grief as a result of their particular family structure. They often feel isolated and alone, as if no one else could possibly understand the struggles they are going through. The reality is that most nontraditional parents feel that they do not met with societies standard of acceptable parenting and labor under the same feelings of guilt and grief. One way to help nontraditional parents adjust to their family structure is to look at their situation as the “same but different” and “different but the same” as other family types.

Same But Different

Nontraditional families do not have a clear job description or they try to use an inadequate model of the two-parent, traditional family when operating their blended or broken family. This model only frustrates them further. A new, more relevant plan is needed for nontraditional families. The motto: “same but different” can be used when creating this new job description.

Nontraditional parents may have the same values as traditional parents but the way in which they exercise them may be different. The need to have a strong executive or marital subsystem is the same but the makeup of that subsystem may be different. It may be made up of remarried individuals, grandparents instead of actual parents, nonbiological rather than biological parents, or a single parent instead of two parents. Birth order is the same in the nontraditional family as in a traditional one but is different or more complicated where a first-born child in a remarried family changes roles due to the inclusion of new siblings after the remarriage and becomes the middle or last-born child. This can lead to a difficult adjustment and the need to continue respecting the child’s old position along with their new position. Boundaries are the same as in the traditional family but where and when these are set will be different due to the different structure of the nontraditional family. The perfect parenting standard will be the same in the nontraditional parent but differs as nontraditional parents fall farther from the parenting ideal. And power plays will be the same in the nontraditional family as in the traditional family but detriangulation or diffusion take place differently from traditional families. Focusing on nontraditional parenting as the “same but different” helps normalize parenting for nontraditional parents while acknowledging their uniqueness.

Different But the Same

Likewise, focusing on being “different but the same” is also important for the nontraditional parent, to a point. They need to accept, if they are to move through the states and stages of grief, that they are very different in structure and composition from traditional families. Therefore, their experiences and feelings will be something traditional parents may not share. To believe that nontraditional parents are carbon copies of traditional parents and to attempt to live according to principles establish on their terms, will result in further failure in balancing love and limits.

Another way for nontraditional family to balance love and limits is to focus not of differences or sameness but on solutions. Finding what works, regardless of the traditional or nontraditional family parents find themselves in, will assist parents in achieving a greater balance of love and limits.

Love and limits represent two sides of the parenting coin. To have a balanced home, nontraditional families need to have both a “relational discipline” based on affection and communication and an “action discipline” style based on firm limits and structure. How a nontraditional family organizes these two principles of parenting will be similar and yet different from traditional, two-parent homes. By keeping in mind the concepts of “same but different” and “different but the same” nontraditional parents can better manage this balance of love and limits in their own unique fashion.

What are your thoughts on non traditional vs. traditional families? Share here or at http://www.facebook.com/parentingtoolbox 

Try our Micro-Education for more parenting answers!

Positive and negative changes after trauma | Psychology Today

Trauma can shatter peoples’ world assumptions. In the process of rebuilding an assumptive world people often report ways in which they change positively. It is becoming increasingly important to integrate this idea into trauma work.
To help do this my colleagues and I have developed a new self-report psychometric tool – the Psychological Well-Being Post-Traumatic Changes Questionnaire (PWB-PTCQ) with which to assess positive changes following trauma.

To illustrate, a sample six items are shown below.

Read each statement below and rate how you have changed as a result of the trauma.

5 = much more so now

4 = A bit more so now

3 = I feel the same about this as before

2 – A bit less so now

1 = Much less so now

1. I like myself____

2. I have confidence in my opinions____

3. I have a sense of purpose in life____

4. I have strong and close relationships in my life____

5. I feel I am in control of my life____

6. I am open to new experiences that challenge me____

Responses to these statements provide an opportunity for people to reflect on how they have changed. 

Did you score over 3 on any of the items? 

Can you think of think of one or two examples in your life that illustrate these changes?

Are there things you can do in the coming weeks that will help you build on and strengthen these changes?

Clinicians will also find the new tool useful as it allows them to bridge their traditional concerns of psychological suffering with the new psychology of posttraumatic growth. The full scale is 18 items so it is not too time consuming and can be used alongside traditional measures of PTSD.

This is not the first such measure of positive changes to have been developed. But there is a difference.

Those of us who study positive changes following adversity are sometimes criticised for offering an unrealistically optimistic view of the world. I don’t think this is true as the literature makes it clear that change can also be in a negative direction. But the critics may be right that this needed to be more fairly recognised in our measurement tools. 

At any single point in time people will have changed in either negative or positive ways.

But existing measures do not offer the opportunity for people to say how they have changed in a negative direction as well as in a positive direction.

Thus, an important and novel aspect of this new instrument is that it recognises that people may also experience themselves as having changed in negative ways.

Did you score under 3 on any of the items?

If you scored under 3 on one or more of the items, is this causing you considerable problems at home or at work?  Is it leading to significant difficulties with family, friends or colleagues?  Have you tried dealing with the problems already, maybe through reading self-help or talking to others? If so, it may be appropriate to seek professional advice.

So as well as giving indications of how people may grow following trauma the PWB-PTCQ can also help people understand the ways in which they need to look after themselves better or flag up areas in which they might need professional help.

The full questionnaire is described in my new book, What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth http://www.whatdoesntkillus.com.

But the book does not go into full technical detail on its psychometric development. For those who do want to learn more the research paper describing the development of the new tool is now available online in the journal Psychological Trauma http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2011-17454-001/

In the paper we describe the logic behind the questionnaire, its advantages and the research showing its reliability and validity.

I hope this work will interest people. I am always eager to meet new research collaborators – there is so much more yet to be done in this field – so if this new tool does spark some interest in you to use in your own research or clinic please do get in touch.

Ron Huxley’s Reaction: It is good to see a “strength-based” approach to trauma. Trauma has many negative impacts in someones life but it is not destiny. Many people do become stronger and more resilient following a traumatic event. How would score yourself on the measures listed above?

How can you punish an abused child?

I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.

No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.

What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated,  have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.

I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.

I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we  know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.

The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.

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