Guest blog from @TheGayAdopter about therapeutic parenting.
It’s a mindset. We understood the theory but the practicality of it all was difficult for us to picture. We have been told we are good at it, and been complimented by other parents, social workers and those involved in adoption. We didn’t think we were but apparently our approach is working…
We were recently asked by our Social Worker to speak to some potential adopters she is working with and although we really appreciated the opportunity, and were excited to share our experience, we genuinely didn’t feel like we had much to add to someone starting the process. We thought about it at length and decided to just do the call with whatever thoughts fell out of our mouths! I hope they still want to adopt…
We were advised by a few people that our parenting style had been praised highly by our ex Social Worker and our agency, we were flattered but didn’t know whether we deserved it. What exactly though were we doing differently to others?!
When you are in the process of adopting, every little step looks and feels like it needs to be managed entirely different from the way you naturally approach things, it looks daunting, it feels like you are not and never will be prepared enough. Now however, in the thick of everything, we don’t know how other families operate, we don’t observe other families as much as we did a year ago, we are so ingrained in our family day to day and our own parenting approach that we don’t know whether it is right or wrong! Maybe that is the key… find your own way and do what works for you…
So how can we explain what we do that is different to what other parents do??
The best advice that we were able to provide the potential adopters we met was to pick an approach and be firm from day one, there is always time to slowly remove let up a little in the future, but set the foundations immediately so the children know what to expect. Not sure how therapeutic this is really but the only way I can explain our approach was that we attempted to:
- Keep our sanity!
- Remove emotion as much as possible from consequences or reactions
- Rely on practical solutions
- Explain what consequences are and rules are and what consequences result from what actions
- Keep the rules and expectations clear and transparent
- Keep the communication lines open and;
- Keep the routine and consequences for actions predictable
- Teach the children to be responsible for the own actions
As an example, our eldest had many many tantrums, and I don’t mean minor stomping feet and a sour face, I mean sat on the floor screaming and purposely attempting to ruin every nice thing that was happening to him at the time. The reasons why he did this, I will explain in another post, however the approach on the first day the same as our response is today.
He would be instructed to move himself to a “Think about it spot” which is usually any spot next to or right near us (if we are out in public it could just be holding our hand wherever we go but we never send him away to deal with his emotions alone) where he would calm down and nobody would engage with him until he calmed down.
When he seemed calm we would ask him if he was ready to discuss his behaviour (give him the respect to speak when he is ready), when he said “yes”, we would have a discussion. This discussion always gave him the opportunity to tell us why he chose (making him take responsibility for his actions) to be “silly”. Usually he was unaware of WHY he did what he did and would usually come out with a random answer, but we could help him understand, even if sometimes it was a guess, eg “I think you were upset because you were scared of being out of routine”. Whether he agreed or not, we attempted to understand his reasons and he would be able to take away an understanding that this was a potential reason why he was being silly. He would be given the opportunity to apologize then we hugged and he would go on his way. We learnt quickly that no matter what actions the boys did, they are not very in control of their emotions yet. It is our job to help them understand and control them as much as possible. They didn’t like getting in trouble but sometimes those emotions just overtake them and they struggle to control their actions… I can relate and I am sure every adult can too!
What I have learnt so far from therapeutic parenting is separating behaviour from actions. Our favourite line in our house is “It is ok to feel sad but your behaviour is unacceptable right now”, we then work with the boys on other ways to manage those feelings (eg. Punching a pillow ONLY, taking yourself away, listening to favourite music, go sit calmly and read…). We talk often about how we manage our own emotions with the boys… they know I like to take myself away and read or listen to music or go for a walk when I feel angry. It is good for them to see us as human…
We tried to give this advice to the potential adopters but as we were rambling, I realised quickly that it is so hard to explain how to manage this without daunting future parents or potentially making no sense and confusing people further. We also felt like frauds! It has only been a year, who are we to tell other people how to do what they need to do. Granted, our boys have come an extremely long way in a year, and we believe it is down to our approach (therapeutic parenting) but we can’t help shake that feeling we are not adding any value
So if the potential adopters whom we spoke with (you know who you are) are reading this… sorry if we scared you with our rambling and I hope this post helps you to make sense of the difficult but not impossible task ahead of you. I promise that once you change your mindset, it will become part of everyday life… which you may find you start to use when dealing with everyone.. including other adults!
Our Centre for Adoption Support offers a host of Therapeutic Parenting Courses, contact them on 01925 534 118 for more information or visit? www.centreforadoptionsupport.oprg