PARENTING THE EXTRODINARY
There’s a hole in your bucket!
Water is pouring out and your newly finished floor is flooding!
You anxiously try to plug the hole in the bucket to save your beautiful new hardwood floor, but in your panic to save your floor and stop the flow of water, you don’t notice that there is even more water pouring into the bucket from the top and spilling over the edge.
But it’s no wonder you are focused on the hole in the bucket, everyone is telling you that the hole is the problem. It’s clear, isn’t it? It needs to be plugged, and now!
If you don’t fix the hole, and fast, you will never stop the water from flooding your floor. Right?
It is plain to see the flooding, and you are freaking out because you can’t get that darn hole plugged, There’s just too much pressure coming from the top. So, you try harder, maybe you even call a friend to help.
You don’t understand WHY it’s getting worse.
You are now desperate and exhausted.
The water has filled the room and is out of control. You are ready to throw the bucket out, because obviously it’s broken and the hole is unfixable and there is no way to stop this flooding.
And that is exactly what happens when parents, caregivers, therapist and doctors focus on the behavior instead of what lies beneath… the overwhelm coming in from the top.
But you say “NO, my kid is manipulative… or spoiled… or lazy… or just doesn’t care.”
We have some shocking news for those of you who truly believe that.
It’s not possible.
Manipulation, demands, laziness and/or not caring, are all symptoms of anxiety, fear and lack of feeling safe.
What about heredity you say? Well, first of all behaviors like the ones we mention above, are rarely intrinsic.
You can say someone is just like dad, mom, aunt, grandpa, but the truth is, the kind of brain sensitivity that leads to bigger feelings of anxiety, fear and lack of feeling safe ARE inherited, but they are only partially physiologically, they also need to be triggered by an event or environment.
It’s not one or the other, you must have both parts of the equations to get the sum.
So, lets go back a bit.
If you are the parent or caregiver of a child (anyone under 24) who has issues with behavior, then we can pretty much guarantee you there is some serious underlying anxiety, fear, or lack of feeling safe. And the worse the behavior, the bigger these feelings are.
Adding to the frustration to all of this is WHY don’t most therapeutic interventions work?
Many have tried punishments, rewards, strict rules, agreements, therapy and meds, only to find that the kid just doesn’t seem to care if he loses everything… or worse, he loses his temper, (sometimes in frightening ways) and destroys things or threatens you, and things get worse instead of better.
Again, there is no psychologist in their right and well-informed mind that will tell you a child ‘acts out’ violently or becomes completely passive for ‘no reason’. And NO, having ADHD, autism, or learning disabilities are NOT a reason, but they are a way of being wired that raise your brain’s sensitivity to anxiety.
There is always an underlying reason.
“But the kid thinks X, which is not true, so it’s his thinking that’s wrong”
“The kid knows better, I know because sometimes he does better.”
“She just wants her way.”
Again, the kid who is anxious, afraid or doesn’t feel safe HAS to think something to make sense of their fear. And an underdeveloped or very young brain doesn’t have the capacity for complex big picture thinking, so it will often use manipulation, anger, aggression or passivity to deal with that fear, especially when those anxious feelings are escalated.
Which brings up another very important point. After years of experiencing high anxiety, the brain becomes underdeveloped in social and emotional growth. *See the blog post: How Anxiety Effects Brain Development.
It’s important to note that it’s underdevelopment, not brokenness that causes the delay in social and emotional growth. Although in some cases, development is limited, the limitations will always be much bigger where anxiety, fear and lack of safety exist.
When you combine being punished for behaviors that are evoked by anxiety, fear and a lack of feeling safe with an existing predisposition for anxiety, those feelings INCREASE… every time.
Let’s say you are a new and anxious driver and while driving down a narrow highway you miscalculate a curve and nearly miss hitting a 18 wheeler head on. While your heart is still pounding and you are trying to steady yourself, your passenger starts yelling at you. There’s a good chance you will either become enraged, or depending on your personality type, you might completely shut down, unable to continue the drive, or you might become a trembling sobbing mess. The bottom line is that a screaming passenger at your side recounting everything you did wrong, after a terrifying near death experience will definitely make things worse and may even traumatize you, making driving very difficult in the future.
If you have a child with big deficits in social and emotional development, you already have a high starting point for anxiety and are probably experiencing behavior problems, sometimes serious behavior problems. Using punishments, taking away privileges or laying out threats to someone who is already highly anxious will make things worse. It won’t teach them skills, it will teach them not to trust people, and often times you will see an increase in social anxiety as a result.
Punishments and threats do not address the underlying problem that cause the brain to skip the process that allows them to make a conscious decision to ‘do the right thing’.
So, how do you help?
The very first step, the one that so many miss, for reducing behavior problems is to recognize the behavior for what it is.
If we continue to believe that the kid is just bad, broken or inherently awful, they will never begin to heal because we will treat them as bad, broken or inherently awful (and so will everyone else) even if that is not our intention.
No medication, no therapy, no intervention will help the behavior in the long term, without the recognition of the root cause, and thus, the problem will keep coming back and may grow exponentially.
Medication and therapy can have a place, but without knowing how to stop the intense pressure from the over flow of water, you cannot repair the hole. The anxious and fearful thinking must be addressed in order for the kid to be in a place where the brain can access the information necessary to choose the appropriate behaviors.
Without awareness and acceptance of the root causes of behavior, you will end up in a rabbit hole of years of medication trials and errors, therapeutic refusal, increasing behavior issues, and in the worst cases, both the child and the caregiver lose hope.
If you are sincerely interested in helping a child, teen or young adult you must first start with the root cause, and you must be willing to call it what it is… anxiety, fear or lack of feeling safe.
The next step will be to help the child, teen or young adult feel calm, secure and safe. I will address this in future blog posts.
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Hi! I’m Yvette Marie a Thought Wrangler (an intellectual nomad looking for understanding and hope in all things). I created this blog space because I believe Flexibility and Flow in Neurodiversity is not only possible, but necessary for living a full life of health and wellness.