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Practical therapeutic parenting techniques for setting boundaries(24 Posts)
I'm currently going through the adoption approval process, and I feel like my head is bursting with all the books I've been trying to absorb! I already have a 5yo BC, and one of my goals is to implement a therapeutic parenting style from now, so it's not yet another change DD has to cope with when her new sibling comes home.
At this point I've read
hundreds quite a few books on adoption and I've found some incredibly helpful (Sally Donovan's Unofficial Guide to Adoptive Parenting) and others less so (Margot Sunderland's What Every Parent Needs to Know). Most focus heavily on the reasons why adopted children may exhibit disruptive behaviours, and techniques which will help to build attachment and therefore hopefully reduce disruptive behaviour over time. This is great, of course, but I can't find anything on what you do IN THE MOMENT when a child is "misbehaving".
For example, sometimes my DD will just wake up on the wrong side of bed, and can be very rude / snappy at me. When she was younger I would give her a 2 minute time-out in the room we happened to be in, and now she's a bit older I would typically send her to her room for a few minutes before going up myself and talking about the importance of family / being kind and polite. I am well aware that these techniques would not be suitable or effective for a child who has been through loss and trauma. What would be the right thing to do at that moment for an AC? How do you set boundaries whilst still providing security and nuturing attachment?
I should probably add that I'm aware of the PACE approach, but so far I've only read guidance on how to apply it in a preventative sense (e.g. spotting potential triggers and de-escalating the situation through making a playful comment or asking an empathetic question). I don't know how to apply it after the situation has already escalated / the boundary has already been crossed. What do you do in real-time when a child has hit another child, or yelled at a parent, or thrown an object? How can you provide consistent guidance of which behaviours are unacceptable, whilst still making it clear that the child and their emotions are valid and accepted?
Exactly by doing that, recognising what feeling might be underlying the behaviour and responding to that. I have a 4 year old and a 6 year old. In the moment I find my two need time to calm down - so I will have them sit for 2/3 minutes in a room with me where they can see me but I'll not chat away to them as I normally would, I'll tell them I'm doing X and we can talk when I'm finished. I'll sit with them and ask them what happened, listen and explain what I saw/thought might be happening eh "I know you said it was an accident when you hit your brother but it looked to me like you might have been a bit angry with him too" and then help think about what else they might have done (left the room, told mum, jumped on the trampoline).
I must be honest though and say that's me on a good day, I also get angry, frustrated and cross and will tell them that what they did made me feel X, and as much as I'd like to say I don't ever shout, I'd be lying. If I do get angry I'll always go back and talk about what I was feeling and help them think of different things I could have done to help.
Therapeutic parenting does set a very high bar in terms of your own emotional literacy and resilience - I don't think it's possible 24/7 and your kids need a real, honest relationship with you. It might be worth thinking about what you like in your current parenting style and why you think it might need to change - it may well not need to. Once you get to know your adopted children you'll know what they need - and they've not read the books so may not like or respond to a "therapeutic" approach.
So the PLACE approach might be to say, to grumpy DD, something like "you seem to be cross, I wonder if you're a bit tired or (whatever you think might underlie it)" and carry on getting breakfast ready/ whatever. Later, find a moment to ask her what she thinks would be helpful to help her keep her temper.
My DD will throw herself around on the sofa, wailing (I'm sorry for the neighbours) when she gets up if she's still tired (and she keeps herself awake at night, but that's another story...). I tend to say that I think she's tired and doesn't feel good at the moment, then chat away about what I'm making her for her packed lunch. Not rewarding the behaviour but not punishing it either.
Generally in any situation you have to choose between building a relationship or controlling behaviour. The more you can build the relationship the better, because that's the basis of long term improved behaviour - but that means as often as is 'safe' ignoring behaviour you don't want.
Do you think the time outs are working? Or do you do them because you feel you ought to do something? Have you tried ignoring any outbursts, and noticing and praising the mornings when she is polite?
What is it triggering in you and your beliefs/expectations of how she should behave? I'm not saying that those expectations are wrong or unreasonable, but it is good to be intentional about expectations rather than just going along with those set by our parents. Is she able to control her feelings and deliberately choosing to be rude and upset you? Or is something she genuinely struggles with at the moment but will probably be able to control her feelings better in a year's time?
The most useful thing I've done is to let go of believing that I can control/ be responsible for DD's feelings. I can influence them to a certain extent, and I will stop her damaging herself, others or belongings (not that I've had to do that for a long time). But the best thing I can do for her is stay calm and not get dragged into an emotional reaction. It is more effective to notice and praise and encourage what I do want than try to stop what I don't want.
Don't sweat the small stuff. If she is generally kind and well mannered and wants to be 'good', then as she gets older she'll get more able to control the morning grumps. And you're practicing therapeutic parenting for the day when you'll REALLY need it.
And yes, we all get angry and frustrated at times... it is also therapeutic to let your child know that you're human and have feelings. If I shout I make sure I apologise afterwards - I look on it as 'role modelling making a mistake and apologising for it' which is a vital life skill
To answer the real-time examples you've given, I would remove her from the situation and keep her and others safe. Then once she's calm and able to cope would encourage her to do something in reparation. Say sorry if that's not to confrontational, perhaps make a card, fix something she broke or give some pocket money to replace it, make me breakfast in bed at the weekend. Whatever she is developmentally able to do once calm to acknowledge what she did and show remorse, and not trigger further shame.
Of course, if the child doesn't actually feel remorse then you have a massive problem, but it would take a lot more than therapeutic parenting to deal with that...
It takes a bit of getting used to if you've been brought up, as I was, with a more traditional and transactional approach to parenting. And it does tend to blow teachers minds in particular, the idea that reward charts and ever stricter consequences can bring worse behaviour rather than better!
In terms of your example, my kids can be very snappy and will bark requests for things i.e. "DRINK!" repeatedly. I'll acknowledge they're thirsty and will say something like "I'm hearing you're thirsty, I wonder what you might say if you were asking nicely for a drink", if they struggle I'll give them a form of words e.g. "please may I have a drink is much nicer than shouting" and help them repeat that back.
It's important, depending on the age of the child, to help them develop the social skills they need for building relationships with others so correction and boundary setting is important. Doing that in a non-shaming way is the key.
We also do a lot of wondering out loud, particularly about how they're feeling bad we'll talk explicitly about how we're feeling to help them with emotional literacy.
Thank you everyone for the detailed and thoughtful replies. I really appreciate your insight.
The methods you’re describing sound exactly like the way I interact with my DD on a day-to-day basis anyway (which is encouraging!) For me, time-out is something I used when I felt DD had crossed a line and was too worked up for further discussion to be fruitful. In the example I gave originally, I wouldn’t give a time-out the first time DD snapped at me, I would point out her tone and ask her to speak gently/politely. I would also ask her how she’s feeling (tired? Worried about nursery?) If the rude behaviour continued, and escalated to a shout, then I would bring the dialogue to an end by implementing a time-out (in the same room as me). Generally I found that just the countdown from 5 usually punctures the bubble of negative energy. On the occasions when we make it all the way to time-out DD usually calms down during the silence, and our conversation afterwards is much more positive than whilst she was worked up.
In short I guess I’m saying I’ve found time-out to be incredibly helpful as a final line of defence against behaviour that has crossed the clearly signposted boundaries I have set for DD. It sounds as though there isn’t a gentler equivalent available when parenting children who have experienced trauma. I take it that, when dialogue isn’t enough to contain/reverse the unwanted behaviour, you simply have to ride it out / ignore it.
I will admit to being apprehensive about this approach. My DD, despite my examples, is a very mild-mannered and polite child who has never been prone to tantrums. So the idea of tackling more extreme behaviour, without a clear demarcation for when behaviour has escalated too far, is somewhat daunting. I have never shouted at my child (I make many MANY parenting errors on a daily basis but I can honestly say that isn’t one of them) but I imagine that the stress of not injecting a moment of calm into a heated exchange must make it incredibly difficult to maintain your own cool.
No one has ever said parenting is easy though! I’ll try ditching the “go to your room” and see how we go. I think my DD is far enough along her own developmental journey that it won’t cause too many issues for us now - the real challenge begins when LO2 comes home (but that’s what I signed up for!)
Thanks again everyone!
I think there are clearly demarcated lines - I will use a form of time out with mine, I'll either sit them somewhere they can see me or I'll sit with them but certainly I'll interrupt their play and give them some space to calm down with a very clear message that their behaviour isn't ok just now.
We also use natural consequences a lot - so if they damage a toy, they don't have that toy any more, if they make a mess we'll clear up together and that might mean there's no time to go to the park, if they aren't behaving nicely while we're out somewhere they'll be reminded and then we'll leave and come home again.
All children need to know there are limits and what those limits are, it makes them feel unsafe if they don't know what's expected of them and that there are clear boundaries. They also need to be able to cope with social situations outside the home and need your help to know what is and isn't ok.
In all honestly I think the concept of therapeutic parenting is much less revolutionary than us advocates would like us to think. Most people I know aim to build a relationship with their children and most use similar strategies as described here for managing their kids behaviours which is why you should think about what does work for your child and really consider why you would change that.
I strongly recommend ahaparenting which has been recommended on mumsnet before. It is a website written by a psychologist, who promotes no punishment and gentle thereapeutic parenting, but not parenting without boundaries. Her message is that boundaries are necessary, but they must be "imposed" in an empathetic way. She focuses on bringing up children to be happy, fully functioning adults, not just on short term control. However, she does have tactics for when things get out of hand. If you google her on youtube, there are a few videos summarising her approach. Her website is crammed full of advice and I sometimes find it a bit overwhelming!
I am not sure if anyone will agree with me here, but I find some of the thereapeutic parenting advice such as that of Sarah Naish to be a gentle and therapeutic form of control, rather than the focus on the long term. So good for short term tactics but not the same breadth of advice.
I think it is really hard and most of us mess up a lot!
this is a good place for info. I'm on their face book page every day.
I think your question is a good one, OP, I've asked it myself many, many times on our adoption journey. Frankly, I've found adoption professionals useless at answering it, especially when it comes to really unacceptable and harmful behaviour.
In my experience, with my child, the broadly therapeutic approach was actually very unsuccessful and we only began to see a real change in behaviour when we stopped talking about his feelings and started focussing on his choices. I'm risking a flaming here as I don't know many people who wouldn't advocate for the gentle, therapeutic approach, but all I know is that is was really, really unhelpful for our son and we've had to do things a totally different way.
Same as you amornin, the gentle therapeutic approach was totally unhelpful for both of our boys- they needed firm boundaries and clear consequences and us always following through with what we said was going to happen. In fact when our oldest son started school he started to do silly things in order to test the boundaries- his teacher took the gentle approach of 'wondering' the cause of his behaviour and having lots of lovely chats about what he might be feeling and instead of helping, his behaviour just escalated until they put in firm rules and consequences and then his bad behaviour completely stopped. I like to think therapeutic parenting is purely doing what your child needs, and it might look completely different for different children.
I'm so glad we're not the only ones, bunting. I found it so hard to communicate this though as I couldn't find anyone to help me work out how to enforce those boundaries, because they all prioritised 'connection' over boundaries, which was so opposite to what my son needed. Conversely, since we started parenting according to what we knew he needed, he has never been so settled or happy or actually so 'connected'!
bunting makes a good point - therapeutic parenting is about giving your child what they need, and it doesn't always fall under the specific 'therapeutic approach' in the literature. If that makes sense?!?
I'm another person who thinks therapeutic parenting will look different depending on the child. Ours both respond to some feelings based, talking through approaches and at other times really just need a clear boundary. We always try to find time to talk things through at some point but that may well be just about us being very hurt or disappointed by what they've done.
No two children are the same and parenting needs to reflect that, I don't think any one approach is good or bad in itself - take what works for you and your child and leave the rest.
Same here- I actually think having boundaries helped the boys to attach to us- they trusted us to keep them safe, to do what we said, and they knew we cared enough to have boundaries and consequences. Even now, we always say that the consequence is because we love them, so we can't let them behave like that. I think after being allowed to do whatever they liked with birth family and fc, it was a relief to them to be contained and safe.
Hi, thanks for the additional viewpoints, that’s really good to know! I still intend to try the official version of therapeutic parenting first (i.e. no time outs and continuing the feelings exploration approach) however I’ll be more willing to listen to my gut when figuring out what my AC needs rather than assuming that my instincts on parenting an adopted child will automatically be wrong!
Thanks for sharing your experiences!
This has made really interesting reading. We adopted just over a year ago, and both children had few or no boundaries at all; in order to prevent harm to themselves, each other or someone else, I’ve had to physically remove them from a situation much more than I expected.
I do try to ignore ‘the little things’ or most interactions with my boy would be regarding negatives. Boundaries have had to be firm with consequences, with a mix of the PACE approach mixed in.
I’ve also stopped being so hard on myself for not being perfect. No such parent exists.
I think a bit of both for a child to feel safe they need to now that you will keep them safe and setting boundaries and sometimes consequences all though limited and therapeutic parenting and love works. Go with your gut you won't be wrong and ask for advice when needed. I do feel for adoptive parents reading on here you're all very harsh on yourself at times and are given little support.
Thank you for this thread op.We have found practicing therapeutic gentle parenting in practice very confusing when it comes to managing very unwanted behaviours . We had no problems with the gentle stuff but felt frustrated and at a loss faced with rude and unacceptable behavior ( basically normal kid stuff). I too felt that the gentle approach was creating a Miserable controlling monster in our dc. We started to mix the lovely with the very clear, fair, boundaries and she became a more settled and happier child. Not all children have a severe and high level of need and all the books are written by therapists who only really see the children with the severe and high level need. We were at a loss with a child who would not have been at the level to warrant a diagnoses or intervention from professionals but who had some trauma and attachment issues but also had had some good care from her birth family and foster carer. The implementation of boundaries is really skirted around by therapists in the literature in my view. I will await the publication of ‘how to therapeutically manage your child’s unwanted behaviours’ 😁
I have to say, the one thing we have found some success with is the Nurtured Heart approach - de-energising negative interactions and energising positive ones. Part of the reason we felt confident and comfortable with it was that it didn't involve alot of discussion around unacceptable behaviour, it involved just putting in place the consequence immediately and moving on. So it allowed us to move on from gently asking three or four times (which really didn't work for our DS) to asking once, putting the consequence in place if he didn't listen and then moving on. After some really poor input from adoption professionals (that effectively just enabled bad behaviour), I found it quite empowering to find a method that recognised my parental authority as a positive and essential thing for my child.
this thread is amazing and really needed right now - I am on a journey to investigate therepeutic parenting and weaving in boundaries / behaviour management
I try to use TP with my two and have done lots of reading and training around the topic. We don't use time outs but time ins really work especially with my boy who will come and say "sit down with mummy" when he is feeling "wobbly"
I would recommend reading Sarah Naish "A-Z of therapeutic parenting" which provides real ways of responding to a situation.
Also I just wanted to add that part of TP is clear consistent and strong boundaries as it is recognised that our children need this.
It is hard, really hard to be TP all the time. But when I am more mindful and TP with my children the difference is really noticeable. My MIL even asked me more info about it for her to learn as she has seen the change in the children since they have been placed with us- never thought I'd see the day! ￼
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