Diffusing the Bomb

Helping children with severe behaviors

Dreena Melea Tischler April 22, 2014
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Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control: A love based approach to helping children with severe behaviors is a book by Heather Forbes dealing primarily with attachment issues.

This is a very interesting book with an unusual approach to helping traumatized children, which includes not only foster kids, but children who spent time in NICU, children who have been involved in serious accidents, grieving children, etc.  Because she recommends a “love based” way of dealing with behaviors, her approach could be tried on any child, not just those with the most severe behaviors.

The main premise of the book is the hardest part to wrap your head around. The premise is that there are only two primary emotions:  love and fear.  She goes on to suggest that when a traumatized child is misbehaving — exhibiting defiance, lying or other behaviors — it is really based on fear.  For example, a child who refuses to put on his shoes to go to school may actually be afraid to go to school or afraid to leave the family home.  This concept takes a little time to absorb but begins to come to light as you read through some specific behaviors.

The second premise of the book is that when you are confrontational, combative, forceful or loud with a child who is experiencing or re-experiencing (through memory) a traumatic experience, those actions only serve to further activate the “fight or flight” response.  Instead, Forbes promotes a sideways, non-confrontational approach in which the parent helps the child verbalize the true emotion (fear) and delays any solution until the child is calmer.  For instance, if a child is has colored on his wall and then thrown his toys around his room, the parent will talk to him about his upset and delay talking about the toys and the walls until much later or even tomorrow.  At this stage the child needs comforting and reassurance.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive but it does seem to work.  Think of it as defusing a bomb;  If someone throws a grenade into your living room, you need to get the pin back in the grenade.  Only later will you deal with why they threw it in the first place.  What I appreciate about Forbes’ approach is it doesn’t seem mean and it works fast.  If you have ever been locked in a “love and logic”  stand-off with a child, you will appreciate both the speed and kindness of this approach.  Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think!

Photo credit:  Dreena T

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Dreena Melea Tischler

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