Last year, our therapist recommended the book “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children with Severe Behaviors,” by Heather Forbes. The book is what the title says and flips on its head anything you have previously learned about parenting.
As I read, I agreed with the author on several points. Her basic premise is that traumatized children need to know they are unconditionally loved and accepted as they are before they can begin to change their reactive behaviors. This makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Especially if you express it on a basic level. For example, yelling at a child with PTSD only heightens their stress and anxiety. This activates the frontal cortex, the “stress center” in the brain, and since all their brain power is concentrated on surviving the stress (flight or fight), they are actually unable to respond to disciplinary measures or logic. She uses her educational background and scientific knowledge to shore up her personal experiences as an adoptive mother. It’s a useful and practical theory.
That said, I find it really hard to put into practice. The last thing I want to do with a child in the throes of a huge tantrum is sit beside him calmly. I have trouble with my own frontal cortex when someone is screaming and thrashing around beside me. Sometimes I manage to do as she suggests (mostly through deep breathing and a lot of self-encouragement), but it certainly does not come to me automatically at all.
I think it is a very useful book and opened my mind to what is really happening to the kids under stress and how it impacts them. The book needs a lot more fleshing out for different behavioral situations. I was left wondering, often, how to apply the reading. I have no problem whatsoever with the premise; I just find it hard to apply more often that not. It’s a learning process, and the curve is a slow one because it requires me to oftentimes override my own stress responses.
If you have read this book (or attended one of her workshops), I’d love to hear your thoughts.