See below for a transcript of the Karyn Purvis talk you can watch here: https://vimeo.com/4005215.
Learn more about her work at one of these websites:
One of the most important pieces of information that’s come out of our 10 years of research has been working to understand the behaviors of the children. When I see a child’s behavior, what does that behavior really mean? What is that child really saying? What does that child really need from me? How can I respond in a way that is going to bring life to my child and to our relationship? These are possibly the most pressing questions that we have to answer as we work with our children. A child who has come from what we call a hard place, and is now in an environment that doesn’t understand his behavior, becomes more confused, more frustrated, and more filled with hopelessness about his life.
David and I, my colleague, who you’ll hear to speak of attachment later in the day wrote an opinion editorial, and we titled it ‘Violence Among American School Children — The Language of Unmet Need.’ So if my child is trying to tell me a need that they have and I don’t get it. When they ask with their voice or when they ask with their behaviors, they’re going to use more and more controlling behavior, more and more manipulative behavior, and more and more aggressive behavior.
So I what to talk to you about today is understanding a child’s need, and that need won’t be for everyone on a high end of a continuum of risk, but the need is there for every child even a little tiny one who’s just come home to us from the hospital the week after they’re born. For us to learn to appropriately understand the messages from our children and meet them at the point of their need is going to make all the difference in their trajectory of their outcome. Now I want to draw for you what has come for us to be the synthesis of 10 years of research; it’s not only our own research but the research of others. What I want to draw for you is the cycle when a child’s needs are not met because they’re harmed or abused or neglected; when the child’s needs are not met, there is a typical trajectory. What I want to show you is how we would understand those behaviors and understand that trajectory and use it as a way to retrace the steps and take the child back where they come from, back to a place for the beginning of healing, back to a place for the learning of trust. We’ve worked with very difficult children; we’ve worked all over the world. I have yet to see a child who doesn’t respond positively to this set of understandings.
So let me draw for you first what would be considered an attachment cycle. In the literature for the last 30 years, there’s been something we call ‘Attachment Cycle,’ so the baby has a need they cry somebody comes right away. And if I were to draw that cycle in terms of the way it looks behaviorally, a child has a need called need expressed and attachment literature. Need is expressed in essence; that’s the child’s voice. This is the first cry. Now, many of you like me were stunned and dismayed to read in The Associated Press, I guess, it’s been close to two years ago — a Russian mother was in the hospital with her own child and heard muffled cries in the nursery next to her. That nursery was filled with children who would be sent to an orphanage when they were a few weeks older or a few months older to orphanage hospital section of orphanage reared children, and the mother there with her own child heard muffled cries and she went and opened the door and to her astounding dismay saw a room full of infants who had duct tape over their mouths and plaster over the duct tape.
Now, we’ve known from the research of two Yale pediatricians from the 1950s that if you don’t come to a crying child as a newborn within 30 days, they lose their voice. They quit crying and that’s why many of us have entered orphanage hospitals or baby hospitals and gone into a room filled with little ones laying in their cribs silently; it’s a deafening silence. These babies have learned by 30 days no one comes, so I won’t cry anymore. Our goal — God bless you, thank you sir, I have a marker that works –- Our goal is to hear the voice of the child and to appropriately understand their need rooted in them using voice. So this would be the need is expressed. Now the baby is hungry, cold, wet, lonely, tired, afraid. In a loving environment that’s attentive to this child; their needs are met swiftly not perfectly, but consistently. How many of you are perfect parents? Please don’t raise your hand, okay, because you’re going to be embarrassed. How many of you are perfect parents? Okay. So obviously, there’s none of us who are perfect; we’re never going to be perfect, it’s part of the rules of the game, but we can be consistent, right.
And so in a family where the child’s need is heard and their voice is heard the need is met swiftly. And because that need is met a hundred thousand times in the first year of life, the baby develops what we know as the attachment behaviors. They are trust — someone will take care of me. They are self-worth. Do you know that a newborn’s range of vision is the distance from the crook of your elbow to your face; that’s all those little blurry eyes can see is an adoring face, that’s wondering, “Did God ever do anything so amazing in all of time before?” And that child is pretty convinced pretty early, “They must be special. They must be pretty darn cute, and they have a deep sense of their preciousness and their self-worth. Another sense that child develops is what we would call self-efficacy; I cry, somebody shows up.
Some years ago, when my first child was born, I went to see my parents when he was about six weeks of age. My sister lived in the same town with my folks, and so her son who was six months old had been the only grandchild for a while. So I came home with my little Dwayne, and we had Jimmy in his little seat here, and Dwayne laying here on the bed, and nobody has seen Dwayne before, so everybody turns to Dwayne to talk and all of a sudden, we heard Jimmy start to strangle. We all whirled around and he cooed. That should have been our first clue but we didn’t get at that time. So my parents turned back to meet their second grandchild, and all of a sudden, Jimmy began to strangle again. We whirled around and he cooed. We figured out we need to delay Jimmy beside the way. But he had learned when I choke, somebody shows up. And the little boy at six months of age needed a little more attention than he was getting and he knew the sound that gave him a voice that gave him efficacy. I asked for my needs, I can trust somebody will meet them because I’m pretty darn precious and they know it. This happens a hundred thousand times in the first year of life — I have a need, my need is met; I have a need, my need is met; I have a need, my need is met. And out of this, a child knows who they are; they know that they are precious; they know that they’re loved; they know that they have power to get their needs met in appropriate ways, and they have a deep sense of being valued, precious and loved.
Now, in the olden days when I was a child, the Encyclopedia Britannica was held in the hand and you flipped pages rather than scrolling them down, okay. So if you will bear with me, I’d like to give you the Encyclopedia Britannica of the same event — remember how there was the human skeleton on one colored sheet and then there was a layer of Mylar, endocrine system, mylar circulatory system, didn’t you love those old things, weren’t they wonderful? Okay, I have an antique set in my garage; it’s covered in dust but I will not give it up, okay. If I look at the same event, my need is expressed, my need is met in terms of something called — you’re going to love this — HPA axis, The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis; it just means the stress system. On this side, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in. The sympathetic nervous system is the heart rate increases, the blood pressure increases, the blood vessels constrict so that the heart is pumping more quickly; I’m ready to run from the saber-tooth tiger; I’m ready to swerve out of the way because my brain is thinking faster, and my reflexes are more acute, and my vision is keener, my pupils are dilated huge so I get a lot of light into my eyes and I can see really well how to escape this current danger.
So the sympathetic nervous system is the “I’m in danger here; I’m going to die.” My body rushes to my defense. So if a child is in a loving environment, the sympathetic nervous system kicks in there but as soon as the parent comes, the parasympathetic kicks in. The parasympathetic brings down the blood pressure, brings down the heart rate, brings down the respiration. Now the baby who’s going [making panting sounds], when you get to them because it took you two minutes instead of a minute and a half to get there. That little baby now is cradled in your arms and they feel your warmth and they hear your voice, and they taste sweet milk and they feel the lullaby as you sing and cradle and rock and comfort them. And so now, where the sympathetic was kicked in now, the parasympathetic does. “I’m in danger, but I’m safe.” “I’m hungry, but I’m fed.” “I’m cold, but I’m warm.” “I’m lonely, but I’m cradled, and I hear my mother’s lullaby” or “I feel my father’s strong shoulder.” This happens for a child who’s left a hundred thousand times in the first year of life and out of balance in the sympathetic and the parasympathetic system comes the foundation for behavioral regulation.
This is a child who now is at kindergarten and somebody hurts their feelings, and their sympathetic kicks in, “They hurt my feelings, but it’s okay; I’ll play with somebody else.” The third grader that they won’t let play the game on their team, they won’t let me play on their team but I have another friend I’ll go play with. This is a child getting ready for Sunday school, and can’t find both of their Sunday’s shoes, so they’re going to wear their flip-flops. By the way, those aren’t foams anymore, okay? I found that out at the mall when I was looking for something for my feet for the beach. So one of those latent revelations that I have just come to, that this child has a need and their need is met. The child has a need and their need is met, and out of this comes behavioral regulation. This child has a balance in all of their stress systems. So anytime they’re upset, they can calm themselves; you calm them before; you were the external modem when they were tiny. And now they’ve internalized what you taught them, and now they can calm themselves.
Now if I looked at one more Mylar overlay in this attachment cycle; if I looked at something that we’ve been very blessed in our lab to look at a lot and that would be called neurotransmitters — now, this is a lovely word; it just means chemicals in the body and the brain. Neurotransmitters like serotonin — if I don’t have enough serotonin, I don’t sleep well. Neurotransmitters like dopamine — if I don’t have enough dopamine, I might be depressed and not find joy in anything. Neurotransmitters like adrenaline — when I’m under the gun or I see somebody swerve into my lane, adrenaline floods my body and I have that quick thinking that comes with a crisis; they’re just the chemicals; they’re the juice of the body; it’s what makes us think, feel, move, okay?
But there are two classifications of neurotransmitters; those that are excitatory — my body is flooded with energy; my body is flooded with chemicals that help me think fast and move fast, and help me escape danger; and then those that are inhibitory — my body has the release of things that help me sleep, help me be peaceful, help me be calm. Anybody notice something that’s missing in a child you love, okay. So the inhibitory and the excitatory should be in balanced in the human body. When the child is hungry, cold, lonely, afraid, wet, this child has a flood of excitatory neurotransmitters. When a loving caregiver comes consistently and swiftly, that child has a flood of inhibitory neurotransmitters. So this is excitatory on this side; this is inhibitory on this side. Now, I’m upset, but I’m calmed; I’m upset, but I’m calmed; I’m upset, but I’m calmed. In the brain chemistry, this is the foundation for mental health. I have a balance: an inhibitory and excitatory.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters like serotonin come three ways — nutrient-rich foods that become precursors for the body to make serotonin; healthy, affectionate, loving touch, and knowing ‘I’m safe.’ What neurotransmitter out of a thousand tests that we’ve seen do you think it’s the greatest deficit? Would you suspect it was serotonin? If you did, you’d be right. And because serotonin is the master regulator of the body and the brain and every function of the body is dependent on serotonin in some way, if we have children with serotonin deficits, we have children whose behaviors are going to be at risk. My need, my need is met; my need, my need is met; it happens over and over again and the foundation for mental health occurs here.
Now, let me show you a trajectory to mental illness for some children, not all. But let me use it as a model for what we would like to see you be able to do in terms of insights. So let me just ask you this question — the things that I’ve drawn here attachment figure — children need an attachment figure, does anybody here not need an attachment figure. Okay, children need to trust. Is there anybody that doesn’t need trust? Children need to know that they are precious. Is there anybody here that doesn’t need to know that? Children need to know that they can make a difference in the outcome of what’s going on in their life because they have a voice. Does anybody not need a voice? I will tell you my 89-year-old daddy just had a broken hip and has been in the hospital, and the greatest loss that he has had is those three things. He needs to know he has a voice in his care; he needs to know he’s going to be safe; he needs to have some idea what is going to happen to him now. These are the issues of human life; these are the needs of all humanity. If we are fostering or have adopted an infant, they need the same things as an 18 year old in our care. This is the essence of humanity; this is the essence of life and relationship. There’s actually research on God as an attachment figure; we know that as a child learns to trust the caregiver, they’re going to see God through the same venue. I need to know that I’m loved; I need to know that my prayers will be heard, right. I need to know that I’m precious; I need to know that someone’s listening when I speak. It is the essence of humanity.
Now, in our work we have documented a trajectory for some children that is not uncommon. At two to three, we have many children who received the diagnosis behavioral dysregulation. So they’re in the classroom with two-year-olds and mother’s day out, and the other children that are two are going [making sound] and ours is going, [Making sound], and they’re just a little bit more busy than the other kids, okay? Now, that is because if this need wasn’t met, this part of the balance didn’t happen, and that means that these things didn’t happen either, okay? So at four to six, because the children have too much excitatory neurotransmission and not enough inhibitory neurotransmitter, the children would typically be diagnosed as ADDHD. At eight to ten, because they don’t have enough serotonin, they don’t have enough inhibitory and they have a lot of excitatory, many of our children receive anxiety withdrawn depression and/or agitated depression. And at 12 or 12 plus, some of our children will receive a diagnosis of bipolar because of this imbalance.
Now, do you all feel the palpable silence in the room? Do you all recognize that everybody just stopped breathing, so take a deep breath with me [Takes a deep breath] okay. Now, how do we bring a child to healing and how do we understand their behaviors if they have experienced absence of care? That’s what we’re about; that’s what our calling is; that’s what our passion is. And we do first begin to turn the tide for our children by hearing their voice and understanding their behavior. So if I have a child — I spoke to a group of several hundred judges recently in a Judicial Conference — if I have a child who’s masturbating at the kitchen table, now that’s a little hard to overlook, right? Can I say to that child, “You know what, you can do that privately but that’s not a table activity?” Can you recognize that if a child has low serotonin masturbation will increase their serotonin where they self-medicate. If you have a child who likes to smear feaces, it’s not the best habit. Can you get a bucket of suds and water and say, “You know that was pretty clever; let’s scrub it off so it’s ready for the next time, but look will you tell me with your words what you need?” Will you recognize that a child who smears feaces is at the absolute hints of frustration with not being heard, and the only way to get attention is to do something horrific? Now, those are the far-end behaviors right.
My first gift to any child I want to work with — is give them a voice. And I’ve worked at giving voice to children of all ages. When an infant coos, I look. When an infant whimpers, I come. When a three-year-old says: I need something, I want to turn off the television or turn off the computer or turn off my cell phone. I was recently interviewed by Parent Magazine, they were doing an article on children getting sucked in on the Internet, and they wanted to know how parents should regulate their teenagers and preteens by who are getting sucked in on the Internet. And I said: “Well, the first thing that they’re going to do to protect their children from the internet is to turn off the phone at dinnertime. And the second thing they’re going to do is to turn off the television when a child comes to them.” What we know is that children who have deep meaningful relationships don’t need objects to satisfy that hole, that God designed for relationship in us. We are creatures who are designed to connect; we need deep, meaningful relationships; and the first way that we deal with those things is hearing the child’s voice. So if I’ve got a child who’s aggressive and I say, “Sweetie, it’s time to go to bed.” “I’m not going to bed; you can’t make me go to bed.” Okay, now rather than for me to come “[Making cat scratching sound]” which I could because I bigger and older — lots older, okay, but I could come to that child and go, you know “[making cat scratching sound] yes you will go to bed.” But I may say to a child who’s violent or aggressive, “Whoa, stop it. Give me some words. You’ll give me words, I know what you need.” “Well, I was going to ask for a compromise.” “Okay, then ask, use your words.” And I will tell you what, when I got a child who’s acting out with manipulation or control or belligerence or being oppositional and they are not using words to tell me what they need, I’m going to say ‘Yes’ as much as I can in those initial months when I first start to learn to use words rather than behavior. I’ll tell you a story of a child we had a beautiful little African-American girl in our last camp, gorgeous little child and she had a mother who was a drug addict; and this child had been drugged exposed and then had been harmed in the first year of life, and then had gone into foster care and tragically as one of the statistics of harm in foster care. When she was adopted — she was adopted by a very loving woman, a very caring woman. This little girl’s in our camp, and everybody’s playing, and everybody’s happy, and everything is great “Kabaam… Kabaam… Kabaam…” She just starts hitting people, she kicks the teacher in the shins; she punches three little boys that are close to her — one in the face, one in the jaw, one in the stomach; she takes out about eight people in 15 seconds before I can get to her. And so I take her in the other room, and I said, and I hold her, I cradle her to myself until she stops flailing, until she stops trying to harm me and everyone else. And I say, “Are you’re ready to use your words baby? Are you ready to give me words and tell me what you need?” She said, “Yes.” And so I turned around, I took her two hands and I said, “Sweetie,” and my body mirrored her body. So she was sitting Indian-style, cross-legged, I sat Indian style cross legged. I want her to have a silent message: I’m feeling where you are; my body is a mirror to you; I’m hearing your voice; nothing else is going on in my universe but your words right now. And I said, “Can you give me hands and tell me what you need?” And she said those other kids were talking about their families, and their mothers, and their daddies and I just found out last night I’m adopted.”
Now in the first place, that shouldn’t happen [inaudible 27:22] That parent really meant well thought she was protecting her but the way that the child found out was devastating for her because it was in one of those moments that we all wish we could bite our tongues about. And I said, “Sweetie, is there anything you need?” I said, “I feel really sad with you, is there anything I can do to help you tell that story?” And she said, “I don’t know how.” I said, “Well, we could make play dough figures about things, we could get a little box where you could write letters that you could save about your feelings, we could get a little journal where you could talk about what’s going on for you.” How many ways can we give a child voice? Many, many, many, many, many ways; it’s the first way that we’re going to understand what they really need. And she said, “Well, I choose this.” And she took two or three tools for voice. And I said, “You know what, if you hit the other children and bite me, I don’t know what you need. But if you’ll give me words, I can meet your need, and I’ll do everything in my power to meet your need.”
So now, sometimes when a child is really out of control, it’s hard to understand that they’re saying something because what they’re saying is so obscured by the behavior. But it’s Jesus who taught us to look at the heart, and it was the Pharisees who saw the actions and missed the heart. And so our goal, as parents, is to be explorers and detectives and to be present for that child so that they feel heard; they feel their preciousness; they feel the power that they have by telling us what they need. That’s the route for us to begin to understand but it’s going to take us stopping, slowing down our world, coming front and center. I ask parents when a child first comes home, if you can’t take 40 days off of work and just be at home, learn that child’s voice, learn that child’s needs, teach that child that you’re listening. I will tell you — I still remember — this as many years ago. My oldest son was 16 years old and was in high school and he was watching one of his favorite programs, and I came into and I said, “Son, I’ve got a question for you.” And I remember he was in his daddy’s great big easy chair and he took the flipper and he turned off the TV and turned his body around to me and I’m like, “Whoa, Nelly. What was that?” You know I felt heard. I mean… I felt connected. So think about how you can silence some of the other noise in your life so that you can hear your child’s voice. Because I will guarantee you what they are saying is not what it looks like.
I was in camp with another child several years ago, and she and her brother had come into custody of Protective Services when their baby sister was died at the hands of their adoptive mother. So the four-year-old was dead; the two, five year old and the six-year came in a camp, and the six-year-old couldn’t use words. So sometimes if we want to understand what children are needing, we have to give them some creative tools. So he and I went and bought a little set of walkie-talkies; and he would go in the little tent; the little camp can’t zip it up, and I’d hide in another room and he would start to tell me about his fears that this woman would find him and take his life. Or he would take his little walkie-talkie and hide behind a tree. Sometimes we would take clay and we would make the thing that was most scary, and then smash it. Sometimes we would use our words and talk about it, but in every way that I could, I wanted to give him voice so I understood what he needed. He would come to me and he would say—not, in the beginning, he wouldn’t come to me—he would dart out of the room and you start running-running-running-running down the road, running down the street running across the street terrifying to us in camp; here’s this little seven-year-old who’s down the road and gone, almost seven-year-old. And so I said to this beautiful child, “You cannot run away because you might get hurt. But if you need to run, if you’ll come to me and say, “I need to run, I’ll go with you and we’ll run.”
And so this darling child would come to me and he would say, “I need to run.” And we had chosen a lap where he could make a lap, and we would go outside of the camp building or if we had the horses, we had a particular lap, and he would run that—I would run the first lap with him. After that, I cheered him on. Okay, but now, here’s listen to this: if you have a child who is a runner, they’re trying to regulate their neural chemistry. Physical activity brings down excitatory that are fear related and brings up serotonin. So if you’ve got a child saying to you or just running away it’s not a rejection of you; it’s a child who’s trying to regulate their own fear and they haven’t learned how to do it. Now ultimately, this boy who had run laps while I cheered him on learned to say, “Miss Karen, I’m feeling very afraid.” And he could use words with me but he couldn’t do that in the beginning. Remember, your children, you have to understand what’s underneath the behavior.
His sister dealt with her fear in another way, and she would come into the camp, and she would melt down, and she would become violent. Now, she’s just a little thing but you know that a child, how many of you know you’ve got a five-year-old with superhuman strength when they’re afraid. Yeah, you got an eight-year-old you can’t manage. When the adrenals are pumping with fear, we have superhuman strength; that’s why the great grandmother can lift the car off of the three year old grant grandson, adrenaline. So if you’ve got a superhuman child in your family, you’ve got a child with a lot of fear rushing. Now one of the things we ask parents who start to look at the pupils: are they dilated? Because when adrenaline is rushing through the body, the pupils usually dilate, big. Okay, look at the breathing: are they breathing shallow, are they tense, are they on alert, are their little muscles tight, they are ready to run all the time. This child would come into camp and would immediately become violent, would immediately become psychotic. And again, I took her to a quiet room and I held her and cuddled her and cradled her and just rocked her gently till she stopped thrashing and threatening and cursing. And then when I would turn her around, I’d say, “You’re ready to use your words and not your behavior.” I have to tell you my favorite story about this, and I’ll have to ask you to forgive me for my language because this is what the child said. But I had one little boy that I was trying to keep from harming others, and I said, “Buddy, are you ready to use your words and not your behavior?” And he said, “Yeah, I’m ready. Yeah, I’m ready.” And I didn’t really think he was because I felt a lot of tension in his body still. And so I do a little compliance test that I learned from a therapist in our town. And I said, “Okay then, will you say, ‘Ready’ like a mommy mouse ‘Ready…’ And he said, “I said I was already, bitch.” [Laughs] [inaudible 34:37]
So sometimes when you ask a child if they’re ready for words, you’d need to give it a little time by for them to finish calming. But this child, this beautiful little girl who had seen her sister die, I said, “Can you give me words and tell me what you need?” She said, “I need to go swimming.” Fair enough, so I called the pool. I said, “I know the swim pools not open right now but I’ve got lifesaver certification. I’ve got a child here who wants to go swimming. Can I bring her swimming?” And they said, “Hmmm… let just check with somebody.” And then they call back and said, “Yes.” And so I took this beautiful child down to the swimming pool, and she want to go in the very deepest end of the swimming pool; that’s very deep because we have a diving team, so it’s like, I don’t know, 22 feet, and she wanted to hold on to the side of the pool and she wanted to go under the water herself, and then for me to save her. So she would go under the water and I would grab her and I’d pull her to myself and I’d say, “I’ve got you, you’re safe. I’ve got, you’re safe.” And then she’d want to hold onto the side of the pool and she’d want me to go under the water “Blub… blub… blub…” make bubbles, can you tell her: her sister died. Yeah, she needed mastery over this memory.
And so the first seven days of camp, this beautiful child came into the camp, became violent, was held, cradled until she was not violent, when I asked what she needed, she needed to swim; we were getting to be regulars at the pool; I just kept my suit in towel by the door. And the last morning, I said to this child, holding her hands after a rage had passed, “Sweetheart, can you use your words and tell me what you need?” And she said—and I said to her, “Darling, I don’t understand aggression and other people won’t either. But if you can tell me what you need, I will move heaven and earth if it’s in my power to meet your need, but I need I need words. Can you give me words?” And this beautiful child holding my hand said, “There’s a little girl in the four-year-old classroom that looks just like my baby sister, and every morning when I come in and I see that little girl, I think of the last time I saw my sister alive when her little body was being pulled out of the water, and I remember what she looked like, and she went on to tell a scene—I won’t describe to you because you don’t need it in your memory and I will don’t want it in mine. This child was having flashbacks.
Now some of you may be familiar with the research that was published not long ago that says that according to this very notable University, children in foster care have more than twice the rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of veterans who’ve been in war. Now, that’s fairly staggering because you know what post-traumatic stress displays as — inattention, hyperactivity, irrational outbursts, for some kids, violence and aggression. What about if I’m afraid and you see only my misbehavior and you hammer me for my misbehavior — I am more afraid. What about if I misbehave and you give me words and then I know these things. I know that I’m precious; I know that I’m safe; I know that I have a voice; I know that my needs will be heard. Then I begin to make an environment for healing for our children. We practice self-regulation skills with the children; we practice using words — when I was afraid, I did this in the past but now I’m afraid, I will do this.
Remember, if you have a child from a hard place, they have changes in the brain; I showed you the brain chemistry changes. They have significant changes and those changes put them at risk for confusion and meltdowns. So make everything concrete, make everything tangible, do not use abstractions, and do not use sermons and lectures. Do you remember that Jesus told stories about animals? On occasion, he quoted scripture. More likely, he told the story about the birds of the air and the lillies of the field, okay. Make your communications concrete. And you use less than 12 words while you try to teach your child to use a volume of words. The expression that we have in Texas, I’ll clean up a little bit is spitting in the wind — some of you may recognize, the rest of that one, okay. If you use more than 12 words with your child, you have become the ways of the ocean — blah, blah, blah… flooding over them, right. That’s not okay, try it again, ‘Tell me what you need’ is what I could do with the child who’s acting up. And see, this is irrational for some parents because we’re going to teach them the character of Jesus, right, so I have to gush this behavior. But you know what if you look at the way that Jesus dealt with an adulterous woman or the woman at the well or some of those other misbehaving people, you’ll find out that he gave them voice and he spoke to what was really going on. So I might say to a child who’s misbehaving, “Stop.” That’s not okay, try with respect, ‘I’m listening.’ Or I might say to a child who’s acting out significantly, “Do you want to compromise? If you want to compromise, use your words and tell me. But I don’t understand this thing.” Okay, now the second I get words from that child, I’m back to play, “Oh honey, that was a good job of using your words.”
Now the child has learned these lessons that are the essence of life; they’ve learned who they can trust; they’ve learned that they are safe. These are the, I think maybe, is this the one? These are the essence of life — “[Making sound]” All right, I’m back. All right, so they’ve learned who they can attach to because they have voice; they’ve learned who they can trust because they have voice; they’ve learned that they have preciousness or self-worth because they have voice; and they’ve learned that they have self-efficacy because they have what? — Voice; that’s right. So if I want to understand the behaviors of my child, I’m going to try to do it by beginning to give them voice. Now, do I let a child hurt me? No, I don’t. Do I let a child be disrespectful? No, I don’t. I don’t tolerate disrespect. Stop, try it again, or a child who’s just mouthy with me, I can even get compliance being playful “Give me that pen.” “Whoa… are you asking or telling?” “Hmm… I was asking. You want to try it again.” “Yes, could you please give me that pen?” Wow… that was great asking.” I have to tell you I was with my three-year-old grandson a couple of them months ago, and he said something to me in a mouthy tone as three year olds or sometimes want to do. And he said, “Put that down,” because I picked up one of his toys, and then he looked at me, and he said, “Do you want me to try that again?” I said, “Yeah, I do.”
So these are principles that any child can grasp. I have a zero tolerance disrespect, and I’ll tell you that I’m probably asked more of the children that I serve than most people in their life but I also have an absolute 100% attention to a child for them to know I would rather be here with you than anywhere in the world. And when I first work with a child, no matter how hard her life has been or how difficult she behaves, within three minutes, I want that child to have seen in my face that I know there’s no other child in all of creation that God made quite like this child. And then in spite of the fact that they had to take her to the mental hospital for a year because she had a butcher knife in her hand, that I see who she is and I see her preciousness. Do you want to know why that little girl tried to cut her mother’s throat? Now, I don’t believe she intended to cut it but she put a butcher knife to her mother’s throat. And as you know, you can’t take that lightly, right? Do you know why? Went to a Bulgarian orphanage the week she was born, was adopted at 12 years of age.
Now you’ve got a child who living in a Bulgarian orphanage all those years has no one. She has changes in her brain chemistry in her HPA axis; she has changes in her whole bearing development; she’s got learning disorders that nobody has figured out because of the period of time when she was exposed to alcohol and utero and many of you are serving and loving foster or adopted children who have brilliance in some areas but they have this one area that’s always a problem for us, and we think that they’re being belligerent over their homework, and the truth is they have a discrete learning disorder because that’s the region of the brain that was forming when their mother used alcohol drugs. So don’t mistake the fact that your child can talk like a child eight years older than they are, or the fact that they’re brilliant in math with the fact that they meltdown over their homework for reading. Because this is the region that’s very often damaged by drugs and alcohol. And so this child came home from an orphanage; her parents put her right into public school — good-good-good people, god-fearing people, meant the best in the world for this child — put her right into public school; this child is in public school. And I can tell all the children’s stories that I use with their permission and their parent’s permission, Rosie is in public school; she’s coming home and getting anxious over her homework, over her reading, and her math because she doesn’t get it. Now, she can’t communicate I don’t get it. So she just gets more and more agitated. And then over a month, she starts beating her face, so she [inaudible 45:31] her nose because she feels so stupid, she can’t get it; she’s so confused get it; she doesn’t understand the language; she doesn’t understand the science; she doesn’t understand the any of it. And ultimately sitting at the kitchen table with the mother saying you have to read these three pages for your science assignment, the child said, “I can’t do it with actions, not with words” and she pulled a knife to her mother’s throat and said, “I can’t do the homework.” That wasn’t the words; this was the action, okay.
Now that child went to a mental hospital for a year, and then she went to residential treatment for two years. And when I saw her in residential treatment, she was the most aggressive child they’d ever dealt with. So here’s Rosie; she’s 16; she’s the most violent child this facility in Illinois has ever had; she has 70 violence reports in a year — seven-zero. So on average, every five days, she’s put in a hold which is the law in Illinois for residential treatment facilities for violence or she’s put in a secluded room which is the law for residential treatment facilities or she’s taken to the psychiatric hospital or she’s taken to juvenile hall — 70 times in one year. So I arrived to work with this child and they said, “By the way, did we tell you she beat up everybody who has ever tried to work with her in three years?” And I said, “No, by the way; you didn’t tell that.” And they said, “Well, would you mind if we had you sign these release forms?” And so the lawyers had drawn up several release forms for me to sign that I was going to hold them harmless when this child bumped me to the ground and pummeled my face. It was a very exciting venture for me.
Now they had hired two gorillas goon guys that had a walkie-talkie and they were just outside of the room where I would work with his child for a week with her parents who would come from another state and with her counselors that were there. And so I said, “I’ll sign all the release forms that you want me to sign.” And I came to that little girl realizing that violence is usually fear or pain; violence is rarely violence; anger is rarely anger; aggression is rarely aggression. Those are all almost always, virtually always secondary emotions; they follow fear; they follow pain. And so, I came to Rosie like a puppy dog wagging its tail. I said, “Hey darling, did you know I miss Karen and I’m the queen of bubblegum and I’m also the queen of toys, and actually I’ve got a bucket of gum over there and a bucket of toys over there. Do you want to see my toys?” And she said, “Yeah.” Now I have disarmed her fear response because I know violence is born out of fear. So rather than coming to her going like, “I’m here from Texas. We are working on you this week.” You know I’ve come to her like a puppy dog wagging its tail, and I’ve got bubblegum to share with her and I’ve got toys. Now, I’ve picked up my basket of fidgets and she starts just to grab and I say, “Oh..ho… you can have anything in this bucket but you need to give me words with good eyes. She looked at me. You know she couldn’t quite do the words in the bubble gum because she’d have the brain coordination down for it right. So I settle for what I can get start with, “Can I play with that?” Sure, of course you can. Wow that was good, given me words; give me five. Woohoo!!” So I begin to give her voice from the very beginning.
Now within 10 minutes, things aren’t going the way; she doesn’t want to do something I’m going to do and so she challenges me. And so within 10 minutes, she says, “That’s stupid, and I’m not going to that group that you’re going to do.” And so I take a breath and I lower my voice and I say, “Sweetie, you got two choices; you can just stay right here, or you can wait until I’m finished or you can come with me now, but I think we’re going to have a lot more fun than you are if you stay here, which do you choose?” Now choices are about voice, right? “Well okay, I’ll come with you, but it’s stupid.” Okay. And she had a great time.
Now, I want you to know I worked with that child a week and she never touched me; she never lifted a finger. But when I look into a face of a child who’s had a butcher knife to her mother’s throat, I still see their preciousness, right? They see in the reflection of my face; God never made anybody like you in all of time and all of creation; you are so amazing and I am so glad to know you and to be here with you. Now, does that mean I don’t have to stop bad behavior? No, that’s not what that means but that means that my correction is born out of understanding their behavior, and my correction is born out of understanding your preciousness. So I’m not good in your bed and I’m going to straighten you out and make you like Jesus. By the way, that’s not going to work. Pharisees tried it, didn’t work so good for them either, right? But rather, “Look I’m going to be here alongside of you and we’re going to work this out and I don’t know what happened to you before you came home to me but I’m going to be your advocate; we’re going to get through it. But you need these words because I don’t understand when you just hit, okay?”
So one of my favorite stories to tell with Rosie and I have favorite stories with a lot of children — matter of the fact I leave for Ethiopia and Rwanda tomorrow, so next week I have some news stories for you two, got back last Sunday from Scotland. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing with this antique body at this point in my life but it’s been a journey of joy. So Rosie has had several meltdowns because she wants to wash her hair every night. And there are eight children or adolescents in each locked cottage in this facility. So each young adult has 15 minutes to get in the shower and get out. Now Rosie has been carried to juvenile hall and locked up; Rosie has been carried to the mental hospital and locked up; and Rosie has been carried into the secluded room and locked up over arguments about shampoo and her hair. Rosie wants to shampoo her hair every night, and the faculty and the staff have been told they have to be the boss. Now it is true you have to be the boss. If you’re overwhelmed by a five-year-old and you can’t control a five-year-old, there’s no reason for him to trust you to protect him from the world, right. So when you’re saying to that little five year old, “I don’t know what to do, I just get so tired and frus….” The little guy is going, “So you’re in trouble here,” you know. “Because I’m just a little tyke and I’m overwhelming my mom, and how she gonna protect me from the people who hurt me before?”
But Rosie’s having this argument now and I see her body starting to stiffen I see her muscles start to stiffen and I see her jaw start to set, and I’m in a tangle and I see her pupil start to dilate and in this child’s case, actually dark circles; and some of you may have seen this where dark circles start to come just like that. And I believe that there’s some evidence that that’s a glutamate rush and that’s another neurotransmitter that’s excitatory but a lot of eye diseases are caused by too much glutamate. And so I see all of this physiological evidence that there’s fixing to be a violent episode. And so Rosie’s hair, they’re all stiffened up, and she said, “I want to wash my hair tonight,” and the staff counselor saying, “You can’t wash your hair tonight; you can wash it once every third night or every fourth night but you can’t wash it tonight.” And I seen Rosie’s body starts to stiffen and I see all of her little 16 years of life fixing to come to front center. And so I leaned over to Rosie and I say, “Ask him for a compromise.” Now, if he was in a playful place, I would be playful and I’d be Jiminy Cricket and would literally put my little fingers here on her shoulder and say, “I’ll be Jiminy Cricket, I’ll help you,” right. But right now, if I did that I’m going to get my face full of knuckles. So you don’t touch a child’s body when they’re on alert, right, unless you just like being hit.
And so I’m standing there with Rosie and I say to Rosie, hand on her shoulder, just a little bit, not touch and go, “Ask for compromise,” and she turns to the staff counselor and says, “Can I have a compromise?” And then she looks at me and she says, “What’s a compromise?” And I said, “Well sweetie, it’s where you get part of what you want, they get part of what they want, so everybody’s happy.” And so she turns back to her staff counselor and she says, “Can I have a compromise?” Now, they brought me from Texas, right, because this girl’s fixing go back to live at a mental hospital and they don’t want anything else to do. So I know I have a little cachet with this boss and so I’m looking at him, the kid asked for a compromise right, did you hear it?” Jiminy and I are guiding her on this, did you hear that, you know? Now I would never do that with a child but I might do that with an adult. And so he said, “Well, what kind of compromise did you have in mind?” And she took a deep breath and looked at me and said, “What kind of compromise did I have in mind?” And I said, “You ask him if you can get in the shower and out of the shower every night in your 15 minutes, can you shampoo your hair every night?” Oh yeah, all this sounds good to her, so she looks back at the counselor and she asks, “If I can get in the shower in 15 minutes and out of the shower in 15 minutes, can I take shampoo in there with me every time to shampoo my hair?” I whirled of the counselor and he says, “Well sure, you can.”
Now, here’s the child who’s so violent they can’t manage her. Here’s a child who’s so violent they are fixing if what I do with her doesn’t work they’re going to send her back to the mental hospital — the state mental hospital, so that they can just keep her knocked out on drugs; this is a child whose behaviors are horrific; this is a child who has beaten up her school teachers, who’s beaten up every counselor, and has beaten up every therapist and every worker in the facilities where she’s been for three years; this is a child who knows the police by the first names and those the psychiatric nurse and the whole staff who’s on day and whose on night shifts. But we just heard that child’s voice about washing her hair, and she is putty in her hands because we heard her voice. Kabaam! A hundred million dollars in the trust account. I can trust you to hear what I really need. Kabaam! A hundred million dollars in the self-worth account, you really care about me, I must be precious. Kabaam! A hundred million dollars in the self-efficacy accounts. I can use my words and I can have my needs met by safe adults.
Now think with me for half a minute: what do you think a little girl who goes to the orphanage the day that she is born and leaves the orphanage the day that she is 12, what do you think that child does to comfort herself at night? There’s not a mother a daddy cradling her; there’s no one wrapping her in a soft velvety satin blanket and cuddling her; there’s no one patting her little bottom till she goes to sleep and singing her a lullaby, what do you think that little girl was using to comfort herself? Her hair. For that child’s hair to smell pretty and to feel soft was enough to open the door to her heart wide enough for all of us to come in. We understood her behavior; we understood what she needed; we heard her voice and out of that came the beginning of healing. I will tell you that the staff counselor was astounded that making compromises was an okay thing to do; it was a it was a cool revelation for him. And I will tell you that that little girl went six weeks without an episode report and that episode lasted five minutes before she came out of the room and said, “I’m ready to use my words.” And her next report was three months later. Now, was it an easy journey in the mean time? No, it was not an easy journey because there was somebody 36 inches away from her all waking hours, teaching her how to respond, showing her how to regulate. Within six months that child was moved out of the high-risk facility and moved into a low-risk facility a few miles from her home, so she could start making trips to home to visit her family. We give children voice but by giving them undivided attention. “Yes, buddy tell me what you need. Give me hands, tell me what you need?” We give children voice by getting competencies in our house about feelings and emotions, here’s a feeling chart, “Can you tell me what you’re feeling?” some kids can. But if you said, “Can you tell me what you’re feeling?” And they say, “I don’t know,” say, “If you want to guess,” because sometimes ‘I don’t know’ means ‘I’m confused’ and sometimes ‘I don’t know’ means ‘Do I trust you?’ So if I say or do you really want to hear? So if I said, “You want to guess?” Very often the kids will just roll out with, “What? I don’t know what’s really about. I feel sad and confused.” So by giving them attention, by giving them competencies in which they practice; we might practice with scripts through play, here’s the little daddy puppet, here’s the little baby puppet; the daddy puppet is going to practice, “It’s time to go to bed honey.” And the baby puppets going to say, “No way, [inaudible 01:00:06].” You’re going to say, “Wow!! That was good no respect. Now, let’s try it with respect.” And so we’re going to practice social competencies; we’re going to practice giving words. We can give voice by choices. You can do this or you can do this, which do you choose? You can have peanut butter and jelly or you can have baloney, what do you choose?
I worked with one little girl six year old adopted from China when she was a baby about 18 months old, a little toddler. So controlling — now remember for child’s aggressive manipulative or controlling, they need a what? — Voice. They need to be heard. So her mother would say — I was working with her family and her mother said, “Honey, I’m going to fix you a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” and the little darling said, “No, no, no peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I’ve got a better idea. Let’s have peanut butter and jelly.” Now see, she just made the decision; she’s in control, right. If you’ve got a child that’s controlling, your child needs a voice. So we’ll say to that child, “You know what, you can’t choose the sandwich because mother already choose it chose it but you can choose the fruit, so do you want to have bananas or apples?” Okay, so I’m not going to let a child be a tiny Taliban, right. My goal is not to teach them to disrespect but to teach them that I respect them and out of the way that I respect them and listen to their voice, I’d like them to listen to mine as well, okay, and then I can give compromises. Even to a child who is starting to melt down if I can say, “Do you want to ask for compromise? Let’s regroup and try that,” okay. Y’all may know the expression “It’s easier to calm a phonetic and raise the dead,” y’all know that one. Okay, so it’s easier if you’ve got a child who’s getting out of control, some parents get a little bit afraid about that but don’t, because it’s easier to guide a moving ship than it is when it’s dead in the water. A lot of us have little children who are quiet, withdrawn, and they’re internalizing and were missing that they’re saying the same things: I don’t feel safe; I don’t feel I can trust; I don’t feel I belong here. So we have to watch the behaviors internalizing or externalizing behaviors or children who need voices.
I believe that there is no child that doesn’t want to still connect to us. I believe that there is no child who doesn’t want to look into our face and see reflected in our eyes that no matter what they’re doing or no matter what they’ve done, we see who they really are and we find preciousness there. I believe that there’s no child who can’t come to profound levels of healing regardless of where they’ve come from. But that journey begins when we rightly understand the needs of our children and we give them voice and then we make actions that are consistent with having heard what our child is really saying, and what our child really needs. Thank you all for your attention and for the opportunity to be visit.