In this video course, you will be introduced to the founder of Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP), Daniel Hughes, Ph.D. After spending a large amount of time working with children placed in foster and adoptive homes, Dr. Hughes noticed these children shared a similar characteristic of mistrust towards their parents and caregivers. Throughout the video, Dr. Hughes explains his efforts to understand this characteristics and the interventions used to help the children establish new lives from an attachment-focused theoretical background.
It is understood that all trauma is not experienced similarly and children who experience trauma at a young age, are at risk of pervasive problems. These problems include issues with attachment, trouble regulating basic physiological states, cognitive problems, learning disabilities, dissociation, poorly developed sense of self, and impulsive behaviors. Another issue experienced by these children, is constant hypervigilance that helps them identify threats in their environment. This results in missed opportunities for them to learn about the external world and how it impacts them, because their focus is on their own safety.
Children who have experienced trauma by their primary caregivers, learn to dissociate, or not allow themselves to experience emotions, such as sadness. They rely on themselves, so they do not have to deal with potential rejection by others. This is described as blocked trust. In addition, children who rely on themselves due to mistrust, tend to mature quickly, and are not able to learn the normal activities of childhood that safety would have provided them, including playing and how to make friends. Blocked care is when a child repeatedly rejects comfort and support by their parent, and the parent learns to stop caring for the child emotionally. Parents who experience blocked care often have a difficult time keeping an open mind, and do not focus on the meaning behind the behaviors. In order to work on correcting behaviors, the child must be able to trust their parent and turn to them for support.
In terms of the brain, connections between the frontal cortex, the amygdala, areas around the hippocampus, and deeper regions of the brain, are weak in children who have experienced trauma. These connections are important to enhance the ability to identify and regulate emotions, as well as managing the fight/flight/freeze defensive response. These connections must be facilitated if children are going to be able to not only regulate their emotions, but also turn to their caregivers for safety.
Comfort and joy is discussed as playing an important role in forming a trusting and safe attachment. It is the professional’s job to support the parent with finding ways to provide comfort and joy in the relationship. A mental state, neurologists term “open and engaged,” is discussed, which helps allow comfort and joy to be experienced. The professional and the caregiver must learn to stay open and engaged and not become defensive or reactive to the child, so the child can learn to be open and engaged themselves. Dr. Hughes describes the strategy of PACE (Playful, Accepting, Curious, and Empathetic) that he developed to promote a reciprocal open and engaged relationship between himself and the children he works with.
To combat the combine blocked trust and blocked care experienced by children and their caregivers, Dr. Hughes describes the importance of utilizing “intersubjectivity” where children can begin to experience positivity within themselves. This will help to create a relationship based on connection and not mutual defensiveness. He reminds parents and caregivers that mistakes will be made, and that it is important to remain approachable, empathic, and patient to help children rebuild trust.
I have spent my professional life trying to understand and then be of assistance to children who have been traumatised by their families and try and assist them to establish new lives with their fosters carers or adoptive parents. PACE originated from that struggle of finding ways to help these kids and their foster carers and adoptive parents.
I was initially very confused as to why these traumatised children did not respond to the good care they were receiving in the foster homes or adoptive homes. This is because I was coming from the assumption that if you provide the children with what they did not get at the beginning of their lives they would quickly see the opportunity to develop well and take it, but they were not able or willing to do that.
So I spent a great deal of time first understanding them and developing interventions both in the therapy office and with parents and cares in the home to provide these children with the care that they needed and that they would respond to.
The most striking characteristic of these children is that they do not trust do not trust good people. They experienced their parents, therapists, caregivers teachers, social workers as perpetrators, as people who would hurt them. They did not see the intent of these individuals to help them have a good life. They did not trust the motives and misperceived the behaviours of the parents and caregivers, thinking that routine discipline was abusive. I realised there needed to be way to help them experience their lives differently and to want to be cared for, rather than to avoid it. So, much of my effort has been to understand that, and then know what to do about it.
The Impact of Trauma
More recently (10-15 years ago) there has been a greater understanding of the trauma these kids experienced. The trauma is much more severe that trauma that occurs if a child is bitten by a dog, or falls off a horse, or is cut etc. Psychotherapy had not addressed that until then and the therapy for traumatised children was based on the assumption that all trauma was the same. But if you are traumatised by your own parent (who you trust) and you are traumatised many times in your home (where you should be safe), it is much more difficult to comprehend that your new parents and carers are going to be different,
There is now a consensus that these children are at risk of pervasive problems. One is around attachment. They have a great deal of difficulty attaching to and forming attachments to foster carers or adoptive parents. Attachment is crucial for human development, and there are thousands of studies showing that securely attached children develop so much better in so many ways. These children who experienced trauma and poor care do not attach well.
Attachment is crucial for managing any sort of stress, and there is always stress in our lives. Attachment helps us to learn how to rely on ourselves in stressful situations and how to rely on others, and when it’s best rely on ourselves or others. If the attachment pattern is disrupted and becomes disorganised children cannot manage stress either by relying on self or others. Probably about 70-80% of the little children coming into foster care have a disorganised pattern of attachment.
They also have trouble regulating basic physiological states, biological states, and they may not know when they need to urinate or defecate, they can’t regulate emotions very well. They can’t regulate if they are hungry or full, they often don’t know if they are in pain and they might break their leg and not even know that they have broken their leg. Many also have trouble with affect regulation. This refers to the ability to have an emotional thermostat. Terror replaces fear, despair replaces sadness, rage replaces anger, they don’t have a way to keep that moderate. They are extreme volatile.
They are at risk for cognitive problems, learning disabilities, speech and language problems, auditory processing problems, sensory integration problems, and a limited ability to be aware of their inner life (what they think, feel and want) and also to be aware of the inner lives of others, and what others think feel and want. It is crucial to know the intentions of your parent whether that be to make you unhappy, or teach you something, you may need to learn.
The children also dissociate which means they are not present. They seem to be daydreaming all the time, they miss things, they don’t learn from experiences too well because there mind is somewhere else. It’s not just that there mind is inattentive because they are not interested, it’s probably because they are in a bit of stress and when they go into stress they dissociate. They just leave the present mentally and the mind goes somewhere else.
Further consequences are that they tend to be very impulsive, or if they control their impulses they become very compulsive they do the same thing rigidly over and over again. More and more of them are impulsive or very withdrawn. They have a self concept that is either negative or fragmented, and as a result they have difficulty with transition, hard for them to go from one room to another, one class to another one situation to another, and their sense of self is very poorly developed. They either have a sense of self that they are bad and worthless, or a fragmented sense of self where they have a hard time holding on to who they are. As a result they have difficulty with transition from one activity or place to the next, they often feel they lose their bearings and they need a great deal of help with these transitions.
Another underlying factor of why it is so difficult for them is that our brain is constantly seeking input from the environment as to whether we are safe. And when we are not safe (which would be characteristic of a traumatised child) we have tunnel vision. We focus narrowly on things that might be a threat to us. We are hyper-vigilant to anything negative, a loud sound, or anything that might be strange , an expectation that might lead to failure, someone in a bad mood, someone reacting in a small ambiguous way. Our brain is so focused on that that miss opportunities to learn. It is to keep us alive. If we are not safe we need to be vigilant about threats to safety.
One we become safe, our awareness and other areas of the brain become involved in learning about the world. We learn as a child should learn from parents, teachers, friends, television and books. Children have a great natural curiosity about the world when they are safe. But when they are not safe, they don’t see those opportunities and they are not interested, as their interest is in keeping themselves safe. So as we generate safety the children are open to new learning, and if they are in a new situation like a foster home, they can take advantage of it. But they cannot if they are not safe.
Once we have a period of time like that, where they are learning about the external world because they are now safe, they start to try and make sense of the external world and how it impacts on them. And then they start to notice whats going on inside of themselves, and become aware of what they think, feel want. They become aware of what they wonder about, what’s special to them, what they like and what they don’t like. It is a later skill that emerges when you are really safe. Many of the children i have treated with developmental trauma have no clue, no awareness of what they think feel and want, what they like or what they enjoy. Their memories are very limited, again we need safety.
These children do not trust, these children have a great deal of difficulty allowing themselves to feel the pain of rejection. Because they have been abused and neglected and rejected by their parents, they had to dissociate to cope. They find a way to pretend they don’t need it, to rely on themselves, to minimise their reliance on anyone else because they don’t want to be rejected again. You are very vulnerable when you feel rejected, you go into sadness, despair, loss and grief. The children find ways not to be sad but as a result they have to be self reliant. So if we are going to help these children, they need to be safe enough to be sad, which is somewhat paradoxical, but it’s true. Until they are willing to allow themselves to be sad, they will not be open to comfort, which they desperately need and comfort is crucial in developing an attachment.
They have also given up the desire for any joy and delight. Babies and toddlers are filled with life and laughter and joy, but it gets distinguished by parents who do not respond to them and over time they stop looking for it. So now when they’re are given opportunities, it’s exciting, it’s joyful, it’s loving, it scares them and makes them anxious.
Because they don’t want to start hoping for it again they avoid sadness and also joy. The only way to do that is to rely on yourself exclusively, not to turn to other people and relationships. So we have to find a way to do that, to facilitate their ability to turn to others for comfort and joy.
The difficulty for the caregivers and parents and other adults is that the children have communicated a number of times, ‘i don’t need comfort, i don’t need support from you, i’m not sad, i’m not vulnerable, as well as ‘i don’t enjoy being with you’ ‘i don’t turn to you for enjoyment, laughter, fun’. After a while even healthy adults even adults who are very committed and caring, raised very well themselves, over time it’s hard to keep caring for children like that, when the child has rejected you over and over again.
That term we have began to call blocked care. Where the parent has stopped caring for the child emotionally, their mind and heart or no longer open to the child. They may do their job, they may do what’s necessary in order to take care of the child’s basic needs, but in terms of their heart being there and having pleasure in it, and having joy in seeking the child out, and being really interested in the child, that aspect of their care is gone. That starts to dry up neurologically. And it’s hard for a parent to turn that on through will power.
So you have a situation where the child is in blocked trust, with a parent who is in blocked care, and it gets extremely hard to bring the two of them together. As previously discussed, we understand blocked trust as:
- Chronic readiness to defend, reactive, very big emotions
- ‘Negativity bias’ and ‘safety blindness’ – see the negative not the positive
- Not noticing cues of safety and enjoyment
- Brain has basic switch ‘first responder’, amygdala, information goes to the amygdala and the amygdala determines whether it is safe or not, and these children have a bias in the amygdala towards danger or ‘unsafe’ which leads to disengagement and mistrust. As opposed to ‘Safety’ which produces safety and trust.
- Tend to be mindless hard to get them thinking and being interested, because they have given up on learning, convinced the same pattern is going to repeat.
- Take care of themselves ‘provisioning’ keep things for themselves focus on object rather than relationships
- Block their inner life off from others, won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable
- When we experience pain, and it becomes chronic, there are transmitter’s in our brain that generate opioids, so we self medicate to make ourselves numb from the physical and psychological pain.
- Also do it when we want to experience joy, but there’s pain of abandonment and rejection, we turn off our desire for pleasure and desire to be with another person, because we are so certain that it will lead to another failure.
The children who mistrust often develop skills to comfort themselves. Often they have repetitive self soothing, self calming obsessions, and compulsions that they do over and over in order to give themselves some comfort. They are constantly vigilant. They will go to strangers thinking they are responsible for their own safety and the best way to be friendly with someone you don’t know is to be friendly with them. This is because they have found that strangers in general will be friendly back. They tend to not be direct about what they think feel and want. Not only do they not know what it is, but they are afraid that will make them vulnerable. They do not have the assumption that others will meet their needs. They have to take care of themselves, they avoid closeness and they keep others at arm’s length because getting close is going to lead to abandonment and rejection or abuse. They see peers and siblings as competitors, they don’t see that there is enough love affection to go around and they might assume that a parent of caregiver or teacher will choose every other child over them.
Blocked care can set in when you are a parent or caregiver who does not have success in raising a child like this. The parent/carer gets very defensive because to protect themselves from the rejection. Just like the child, the child is very defensive, the parent becomes defensive, and rather than being open to who this child is, and and enjoying this child, the parent is more self protective and vigilant. They become ready to guard themselves against anything the child might do to hurt them, either physically or psychologically. Over time the parent become apathetic. They do their job, but their heart isn’t there any more. They want it to be there, but they can’t turn it on.
After a while the parents also only focus on behaviour. When questioned about what the behaviour means, they say “I don’t care, I just want it to stop”. And when we suggest that “Until we understand what it means we can’t get it to stop”, they say, I’m sorry I just don’t have any interest, I just want it to stop. That is survival mode, they don’t have the energy to stop and figure it out, they just want and need the behaviour to stop.
Carers and parents experiencing blocked care also find it hard to keep an open mind. Many parents will try the same thing month after month after month and just get frustrated. Often it is consequences they are trying, as consequences tend to focus on behaviours. So if the behaviour is not stopping, we add more, and make it more severe. They often try to help the child be motivated to do something with a severe consequences, which again doesn’t work.
When we focus on behaviour and correction, we lose the awareness that correction does not work without connection. The child has to have that relationship based on trust and enjoyment and be able to turn to the parent for support. Without that there are very few incentives and reinforcements that are going to work effectively.
Neurobiology of Trauma
Now I want to move our discussion to the brain, and looking at how important parts, and what they do.
The frontal lobe is where most of the social/emotional thinking and reflecting happens. It is impacted by and has an impact on attachment, problem solving, complex thinking, delaying and pivoting. All those good things happen there in the frontal lobe. Underneath the frontal lobe is another part of the cortex, which relates to the feeling of emotions like sadness, happiness, fear anger etc. When we experience emotions it is good when there are a lot of connections between the frontal cortex and the deeper regions so that thinking can be integrated with those emotions. When thinking and emotions are integrated it allows the person to have more context on a situation and gives them a better ability to identify and regulate those emotions and emotional states. Without those connections, those emotions become extreme. This can become a problem for those kids who are constantly dysregulated.
There is also a gap between the amygdala and the parts of the brain concerned with emotion, especially sadness. We need to build the connections between the two areas there because it’s critical for regulating the emotion of sadness, but also for influencing the amygdala. It helps the amygdala realise we don’t need to go into fight/flight/freeze (which is our defensive response) so we can be open and engaged.
In the deeper part of the cortex, there are various emotional states and we need to connect the emotional states to the more surface areas of the cortex where the cognitive and reflective functions are located. We also need to connect the deeper emotional part the amygdala and areas around the hippocampus, which which regulate more primitive basic emotion. If we leave the area of the brain disconnected from the rest, the child will be stuck in fight/flight/freeze. So we have to facilitate those connections if these kids are going to be able to regulate emotions and turn to adults/caregivers for safety.
Comfort and Joy
What we have found is that the experiences of comfort and joy are the two most intense experiences for little babies to form an attachment to a parent and create a sense of trust and safety. This enables the child to rely on the parent for a full range of experiences and enables them to develop their brain well, and develop their ability to think, feel, have fun and also deal with stress.
When parents say “what can I do to help my child?”, the bottom line answer is give them more experiences of comfort and joy. That may be hard when a parent is in blocked care, when they want to focus on behaviour, and they want to know what consequences to give. It’s important to understand that consequences aren’t going to work until you are going to be able to provide comfort and joy.
If the parent is unable to do that for whatever reason, then the role of the professional if to see what they can do for the parent, which may enable them to do that for the child.. We need to help them take a deep breath and find it within themselves, reasons to do it again. Our responsibility is not to judge the parent who says they can’t do it, but find ways to help them to do it, and it probably means we need to stand alongside them, and go with them into their pain, and comfort them about how they opened up their home and their heart to a child and nothing came back. We need them to find reasons within themselves to start to hope that it is possible, and be open to the possibility of someday experiencing the joy that they hoped to experience when they took the child into their home. That’s what professionals, our responsibility is. If we ask the caregivers to give experiences of comfort and joy to the child, then we have to help them find comfort and joy within themselves.
The incredible thing about the brain is that normal development is all dependent on good experiences primarily through good experience early in life, with your parents and caregivers, or substitute caregivers. During that time, those experiences you have with parents are shaping the brain and making the brain more dense. Its creating more nerve passages from one part of the brain to ther other. Its an elaborate motorway system, where the different parts are all interwoven. So the thinking influences the feelings, the feelings influence basic physiological processes, memory is involved, seeing the context, being able to inhibit, planning, long term goals, as well as who to trust or who not to trust, differentiated learning. All those things occur within the context of good relationships.
When the child has to do it alone because of mistrust, it is a fast track toward maturation. “I rely on myself, I can do it by myself’ they might say. And they really work hard at it, but it doesn’t work well. They work hard at making decisions, but they can’t make decisions. They try and inhibit, but they can’t inhibit. Or they inhibit but the price they pay is that they never have any pleasure or joy. Sometimes they don’t know how to play, they don’t know how to have friends. They don’t know how to do the normal activities of childhood that safety would give them when they are able to be parented for comfort and joy and then turn to the world for pleasure and fun and laughter.
Open and Engaged
The background experiences in which comfort and joy are more likely to occur, is a mental state neurologists call ‘open and engaged’. When you’re open to the world, and you are engaged with the world. You’re interacting, not just observing. That system of the brain is functioning when you are safe. When you are defensive it doesn’t work very well, and when you are defensive you are not open for comfort and joy.
Our job in helping these kids be open and engaged is to stay open and engaged ourselves. That can be a challenge when we are interacting with a child that it spitting at us or yelling at us or ignoring us. Even deceiving us or just wanting to have nothing to do with us. After a while it becomes hard to stay open and engaged.
If we are able to stay open and engaged, then after a while the child is likely to relax his defensiveness and begin to engage. But that is a challenge. It’s hard to use willpower to make ourselves do that. It takes a lot of awareness, reflection and turning to yourself, just to stop and make sense of things. You need to inhibit your tendency to become defensive and react, and become angry with the child. Because what follows next is you start to rely on yourself, not to turn to your partner, friends, mentors, or supporters. In raising this child and teaching this child how to trust, we probably can’t do it alone, we probably need a team around us for the support that we need to keep going when we get nothing in return from the child’s response.
PACE Parenting (Playful,Accepting, Curious, Empathetic)
When I was learning how to relate to these kids in a way that would make them respond to me, and be interested in me, be engaged, listen, and be open to my influence, I realised I could not do that by being stern. I could not do that with threats or rewards, they didn’t work. I had to do that by having a relationship or inviting them into relationship by which they could be open and engaged too. They would have to be safe with me. As I looked at it trying to give words to define the different assets of it, the name that came to mind was PACE. Being able to be playful, accepting, curious and empathic.
I realised if I could stay in that attitude most of the time, often children would gradually start to be open and engaged with me. They would have a hard time fighting with me, they would have a hard time being angry with me, they would have a hard time resisting the desire to trust me, to rely on me, to laugh with me, or even to cry with me. Because this attitude is so non-judgemental, so inviting, it’s light, but it’s also empathic. Its helping children to know we don’t have to avoid and run away from hard things. Because comfort is available that will enable you to make sense of them, reduce them, and experience a way of looking at hard things somewhat differently so that they don’t have to terrify you anymore. As your mind is opened you start to notice that your foster carer is not your abusive parent. And you start to discover, not only are they not them, but they have something to offer that you never imagined a parent, an adult, would offer. Many things such as putting your interest first, noticing what you think and feel and want. Supporting you and being ready to help you with the hard times, and being interested in sharing joy with you. Being delighted in who you are, as well as discovering qualities about you.
So in my work with parents, much of it is to help them see the value of PACE. Of having an openness. a lightness, so that the conflict, the problem, the discipline issue is not the end of the world. The relationship is bigger than any conflict or discipline, the relationship gives a context in which the problem can be sorted out and managed, and yeah we get knocked off balance a bit, but we keep coming back.
Acceptance means accepting the child’s inner life. Who he is and what he thinks feels and wants. If he wants to be left alone, I accept that. But I might challenge his behaviour a bit. For example, if he turns his back on us, and he wants to spend his whole day in his room. Though this may concern me, and i want to see some change on this, I have to accept that that is what he wants. But it doesn’t mean I don’t do anything about it.
After I have accepted what the child wants, then I’m curious about,it. Why do you want to spend your life in your room? Maybe because he doesn’t think if he is with a family that he will fit in? He probably feels that they will be disappointed in him, or they will ask him to share, or to have fun and that scares him. So he prefers to be in his room because he can control what is in his room. It doesn’t offer much but it avoids frightening things. So i’ll have to accept his wish, help him to understand it and have empathy for it. Then he is much more likely to take a deep break, and come out of his room. I’m not going to drag him out of his room, but i’m not going to ignore him and let him set his own pace, or he might stay in his room for years, and never have any any confidence to take the initiative,.
The curiosity is “hey, I wonder why you did that, not the ‘why did you do that’, the curiosity is trying to get to know the child’s inner life. Helping them to be safe, helping them to start to wonder what they think, feel and want, so they can start sorting things out for themselves and know what is in their best interests at a deep level.
The empathy means you are not alone with your pain and your sadness. You are communicating that “I am with you in it. I am willing to stay with you in it, because you are important to me.
Sometime parents will say, “I can stay in that attitude (PACE) when the child is co-operating”, but they often think that it doesn’t work during times of discipline. This is partly because they dont use it during times of discipline. Many of us only discipline children when we have an edge to our voice, and somewhat of a sober serious stern voice and our face, because that is how we were raised. It’s no big deal if we are securely attached. But it is a big deal if we have a mistrusting child who takes that as more proof of not being liked. So if I can discipline with empathy acceptance and curiosity, discipline works so much better. It doesn’t give me a headache and the child doesn’t see discipline as a threat to self, it’s just the child gets it that it’s about my behaviour, it’s not about me. So I really encourage parents to practice using PACE around times they have to discipline a child too..
What I am asking of parents, is to have a compassionate state of mind where the parent can interact with the child from their pre-frontal cortex. We want the parent to interact with the child from their anterior cingulate where they are able to maintain a reflective, empathic, intuitive, patient and mindful stance towards their child. This helps the child move out of his basic fight/flight/freeze and move into a similar state in their own mind, because two brains tend to want to synchronize. My goal is to help my child’s brain mirror my brain, as long as my brain invites the child into a relationship.
Blocked Trust and Blocked Care Combined
If we are both defensive it’s probably going to escalate and we’ll both get more and more angry, or more and more withdrawn, physically or mentally. We just won’t notice each other anymore, and won’t care, and ignore each other. That becomes a deadly cycle, so when you have blocked trust and blocked care together that’s the danger. What we want to do is try to influence the brain of the parent and the child and have a connection at a higher level between the two brains. This is called “intersubjectivity” by the researchers this describes situations where our experience which is positive of the child, influences the child’s experiences of themselves and of us.
If I experience what is underneath the child’s behaviour, and I can see underneath his anger is fear, fear of abandonment, I could have empathy for that. And as i do have empathy for that the child starts to experience themselves as vulnerable, and he can begin to show his sadness, rather than his anger, his fear rather than his shame, and he can go in to being open with our experience of him.
So I have to help a child to be able to experience himself in the way I do. When I’m able to maintain a state of mind where I can see and experience him underneath his symptoms, see underneath the problems, I see tham as strategies to survive. I see that he wouldn’t have had those if he had had good care at the beginning. He would have been able to engage like other children do, in a very co-operative, regulated, interested open way to the world and to relationships like other children do. So that is my goal. My goal as a therapist is to use my mind, to enable the parents mind, to help the child’s mind, to move into a relationship based on connection, not based on defence, mutual defensiveness.
The Ultimate Goal
I want the parent to never forget that much of the child challenging behaviour comes from an effort to survive trauma that we can never imagine. We have to help the parent to keep that in the back of their mind and see that it is probably central in the child’s misbehaviour.
It’s not an excuse, the child still needs to learn how to act in a way that is socially appropriate, otherwise they’re going to have a hard life, but they need so much support to do that, they need so much understanding so much PACE, so much patience. Threats and consequences are just not going to do that.
I have to find a way to keep myself feeling warm towards the child, feeling affectionate, If I can see underneath the child, I might be able to do that, but it still may be hard to do that consistently over time. So I need someone who can be supportive of me. I have to have a partner, if not a partner a mentor, a best friend, a colleague. Some support, someone who gets it, who isn’t judging me, someone who knows how hard it is, somebody who has affection for me. If I can have that I am more likely to be able to maintain affection for my child.
I have to discover something delightful about my child, something I can enjoy and laugh about. I have to see qualities in them that other people can’t see. We do that naturally in our babies, we always see qualities in them that other people can’t see. I have to find the child underneath the symptoms in order to take delight in them.
It’s A Marathon…..
But it’s hard work. I have to really give myself a pep talk and inhibit my first reaction which might be defensive. I have to realise that I am going to mess up as a parent, as a caregiver. I can’t be perfect a this. I’m a human being. Some days will be hard, some days will be bad hair days. Some days I will blow my top, but I can’t go into shame, I can’t go into despair. I might not be able to stop it if I am all alone, but I really need to be able to cut myself a bit of slack on this, because it is a marathon. There will be ups and downs, fast and slow, but I can’t expect this child to respond in a week or a month, possibly not even in a year. I wish I could offer that to parents but I can’t. We don’t know how long it will take but there will be ups and downs along the way.
When the child is rejecting you, and calling you names, a good way of looking at that, is considering that as ‘misplaced mistrust’. They should mistrust their parents, they should, they were violated and betrayed by their birth parents, and now that are giving it to you. So the rejection that you experience really should be directed at the birth parents. Now, is still hard, but if we can keep that in mind, in some ways the child really doesn’t know who you are, they are still seeing you as the birth parents. Part of our job is to find ways to help the child see that you are not the birth parents, to differentiate you from your birth parents, because when they are able to do that, the mistrust will go where it should go, rather than to you. It is generalised mistrust, it goes to everyone, rather than where it should go to (to the birth parents).
We have to make ourselves approachable, maybe even fake it a bit, but really work at it in order to get in a rhythm with your child. It is a marathon. Many parents say they need to sit and avoid their kid and enjoy the quiet for a while. Then give themselves a pep talk and start to engage and interact with the child again. Then after 15 minutes they are enjoying it, and half an hour later they are disappointed they have to stop to carry out some responsibility. You need to remind yourself that it’s going to take time and repetition, but there’s going to be a lot of that before it becomes easier.
As a therapist early on, I thought I should like these kids all the time. Then I realised that there were bumps in the road because the kids were so good at making me angry with them, anxious, and feeling like giving up and feel inadequate when I was with them. The key then was not to pretend i didn’t get angry anxious, or give up or feel inadequate, but to be aware of it, because if I was aware of it, I could think about it, realise where it was coming from (e.g. misplaced mistrust by a child whose trust was violated terribly), have compassion, and get back to being engaged, but I had to be aware of the defensiveness and then release it and let it go.
I have to be aware of the triggers of this child, and ways the child’s behaviour may remind me of my own parents behaviour, or my own behaviours when I was their age. So I have to be aware that I am not a robot, I have a history. And qualities in the child and behaviour in the child may trigger something in my own life in my own history, my own values, my own perceptions that cause me to become defensive and reactive. If I’m aware of those there is a good chance I can learn to de-activate.
The Need For Support
But you need a good support system. A team, family and friends who will support you and who will be with you. And you have to be able to play. If you can’t play a lot, we’re not going to help this child feel safe enough to play. I’m going to be very serious all the time. And if I’m serious all the time, I probably will get worn down.
Don’t Forget To Play
Play will enable us to re-charge our batteries with laughter, joy, and a bit of pleasure. Even during the hard times, you can’t forget to play.
That’s a basic overview of ideas that I’ve (Dan Hughes) developed over the years from reading and thinking and talking and learning. Many of them are summaries I have learned from parents and caregivers who are suffering. I (Dan Hughes) learned in university that wisdom comes from suffering – so some of the brightest people I know are foster parents and adoptive parents, because they have suffered a lot in trying to raise these kids who mistrust them.
Please see this as a summary and overview. Don’t take it as alway right or necessarily right for your child. But it’s a guide to keep an open mind to interventions or ways of looking at your child, that may add something to what you’re already doing. It may help you to stay focused on the long term, and help you to see who the child is, and who they were probably born to be before they were taught to mistrust so severely.
Doing that as we learn to focus on our long term goal of generating some comfort and joy, there is probably some hope that we can help the child move from mistrust to trust, and keep ourselves in a state of mind that provides good care for the duration. Thank you.
The Youtube video this course is based on can be viewed below.