Getting Kids Unstuck - Dr. Gordon Neufeld
Getting Kids Unstuck - Dr Gordon Neufeld - Notes of cassette 4 –
The best chance for change comes from inner change. Stuck children need help getting unstuck. Although they can “trip over a trauma” helping them to get unstuck, this is rare. Although it’s sad, we can’t treat our children the same: stuck and unstuck (eg normal) kids are not the same.
Remember that one child’s medicine is another child’s poison!
Dr. Neufeld typically spends the most time with parents getting them prepared, because we can’t trust our usual instincts.
· We are our kids best bet
· Always keep the goal in mind: the goal is to soften the child up - decrease the shell, reduce the hardening
· Be intuitive as to what works, and keep the goal in mind, and you’ll find that some interactions work and others don’t. Don’t try to strategize too far in advance; Dr. Neufeld often finds things fall apart there. Be pragmatic instead.
· Don't get distracted by the individual problems - the surface layer. Although the problems and symptoms can present differently, they are coming from a similar root place. Always aim at the heart of the matter.
· Don't interact from a hard place in your heart - find a soft place you can act from - a place where your own eyes water. This is the place to interact from. You can be quite firm, yet soft.
· Keep the child's limitations in mind - we've got to accept where the child is and don't expect it to be otherwise. This is really important. Don’t expect a stuck 12 year old to act like they’re 12. They really aren’t. Accept them where they are, where history with them has shown them to be.
· Adjust your own internal expectation so you can stop harping at what doesn’t work.
· Help them get from mad to sad.
· Change circumstances and structures, rather than continuously demanding behaviour from them.
· If they want to hit, throw, attack, slam doors, scream, etc - start to channel this energy and help direct it. Remember that this is what their brain is telling them to do. So since you can’t fight nature, you need to work with it. If they want to throw, then you need to help them do that. You come and tell them to hit/throw - this helps to buy time and it helps to bond with them. Always start with the same verb (hit, throw, bite, whatever). If you work with the same verb, then you can have some influence over the subject (ie You need to throw this at that right now!)
· Always counteracting their will/desire is ineffective, and it increases their defendedness.
· Put up a wall of futility only when you have the time, strength, energy, to do it.
· Keep your own limitations in mind: don't always try and stay on top of the inappropriate behaviour. Distract them if you don’t have the energy – do other things.
· Whenever you feel it's urgent (to address inappropriate behaviour), that is probably not the time to act. Rarely will you be pleased with the outcome. This is the time to put yourself "in neutral" - just buy time. "We'll talk about it later". Wait until your own emotions are in check and then deal with it as appropriate. Come back to it later.
· Our insights are important to help us adjust and to understand what will work and what won’t. These insights include:
1. The child is stuck
2. The child is insatiable
3. The child is non-adaptive
4. The child is not capable of ambivalence
5. The child is defended - keep defendedness in mind. If you don’t keep this in mind, you’ll always engage defendedness. We ourselves usually “go ballistic” when we think we aren’t being listened to/don’t have influence.
· Tone of voice is most important in avoiding engaging defendedness. When we realize child is defended, then we’ll rein in our own emotions, lower our voice and increase our proximity to the child.
· Let futility sink in - our futility that nothing much works. Choices don't work, because they are used to avoid things. Consequences don't work, because they don’t sink in. Withdrawal of privileges don't work (child detaches from them). Talk doesn't work (because child tunes out). Sanctions don't work (because they increase defendedness). Negative feedback doesn't work because child is defended against it. Isolation and separation may work, but for reasons that backfire.
· Be aware of our own futility - tears must come to realize it ourselves. Then your own energy will change. Then our own adaptive response becomes engaged and you can begin working from a soft place.
B. Jockeying into a working position
- As much as possible, everything must be done when the child's attachment instincts are engaged.
- That's nature's way; without that, very little can be accomplished. Get the connection - otherwise there's no hope.
(a) Get inside the relationship with the child (Use wooing instincts if needed. Wooing includes getting in their face/attention in a friendly way. We do this naturally with infants and when courting.)
(b) Use touch if possible - attachment instincts become engaged.
(c) Surprise with warmth and initiative
(d) Act as their compass point - tell them where you're going to be - invite their dependency, make it safe when they're stuck - help with things they request help with. This is a tactical retreat to much earlier in the relationship. They should be counting on you, not on peers with whom they have to project invulnerability.
(e) Keep connected - greetings and good-byes - lots and lots. Little notes etc. Stuck kids are not ready for normal peer interaction – they should only be around the adults that are in charge of them (as much as possible). They are either excessively attracting or repelling peers. Encourage dependency on you. Later on, the more secure they feel, the more they’ll start venturing forth.
· Always work to the relationship before you make a request of them - always engage attachment - always work inside of that. “Posture” is very important; always connect with them first (a minute or so), before making even simple requests. Don’t come to them out of the blue with your request. Connect, connect, connect.
· When there are incidents, get outside of the incident to begin working on it. Treat incidents as accidents and don't do your work there.
· Use discipline sparingly because it doesn't work.
· Come alongside the child as much as possible - they need to have a sense that you are for them and not against them. Focus on their frustration (which needs to be permitted), not their aggression (which can’t be permitted). Focus on their intentions rather than their achievements.
· When appropriate, help them hit the wall of futility; ie when you have the time, control and energy – and they need something from you and their outcome is not desirable. But, even then, be with them, rather than against them if possible, ie inappropriate behaviour might result in both of you going to her room. You are trying to change the situation or structure, without trying to “teach them a lesson”.
· Bring the child on-side as much as possible.
· Due to defendedness, don't suggest that the child is a problem, only that they have a problem. It make it difficult for them to gain distance, perspective on themselves then. Try to take things to a “one-step removed” analogy.
· Cut them slack - suspend normal operations. Distract them when you don't have the energy to face head on (for the wall of futility). You may distract in these circumstances, simply to impose order on the situation. Buy time – you don’t want to waste all of your energy there. Don't deal with them while still inside the incident.
· Preserve relationship when there is no hope; because without the relationship, their can be no progress.
· Solicit their good intentions; this brings the child on-side and also you (because you change your thoughts towards the child to be more loving and friendly). But don't have expectations on the basis of their good intentions - that would be cruel. Thinking this way helps you to become their coach, instead of their prosecutor.
In his own children, two things Dr. Neufeld always uses in his own interactions. He uses these the most as they are relationship-based:
1. Always increase proximity, rather than decrease it. It increases their attachment and makes them want to be good for you.
2. Always try in the next day or so following the incident to move back and solicit the good intention. i.e. to greet someone nicely, to be polite, etc.
· The crux, the key point, is to soften the child.
Just like the story of the north and south wind who are both trying to get someone to remove their clothing [ie their shell], people do not defend against warmth. Be warm.
· Tricks do not work. You can sometimes pound or trick through defences, but usually the defendedness is subsequently increased over the longer-term. The mind must be gently coaxed to change – it will not do so in a threatened environment.
· Create a shame-free atmosphere at home - absolutely no teasing to make someone feel as if there's something wrong with them. He has huge long talks in his family if this occurs and will solicit an intention from all concerned. No teasing for awkward phrasing, etc. They need an atmosphere where they can let it out and be vulnerable.
· Take the lead and drop your own guard - share your vulnerability' we can't be hard and expect them to be vulnerable. You can’t come across as a cold hard detached person, come from a place of hardness. Share some things that show your vulnerability.
· Always acknowledge the courage it takes to admit vulnerability - ie to an "I'm scared", you might respond by saying that a lot of people won't even admit that, that takes a lot of courage to say that, etc. Reverse it so that vulnerability is recognized, encouraged (perhaps even celebrated). Remember that peer culture rewards invulnerability.
· Avoid indulging defences (if you can); eg tuning out, tuning out with television, etc. You can’t stop “letting them get away with it”, because the behaviour is so deep-rooted, but you can stop the brain from not attending to it. The difference is is when there is a connection with the child (eg after supper, or sometime else when warmth exists) we can’t get away with not looking at it. Gently tell them that we need to talk about it (the situation that existed previously). Even if there’s not much response on their part, they still have to deal with it. Make sure you acknowledge their frustration.
Two Big Things:
· Reflect their experience and expressions back to them, but in a more vulnerable way. If he says, “He’s stupid, I don’t want to play with him anyway” you have to see that below that there’s a woundedness, a hurt. Just try to turn it back to them, just a little bit, “You weren’t pleased with what happened.” Don’t try to figure out what happened, what their story is/was, and don’t counteract them. You are saying to their brain that they can take this a bit more vulnerably and still be OK.
· Just seek out the vulnerability in the situation and turn it back to them, just ¼ of a turn. Always trying to move it a bit, letting their brain know that they can experience it a bit more vulnerable. But if you turn it back to them too far, too directly, then all you’ll get is denials. Go slow, you want to keep them with you. You can use this scores of times a day. What you are trying to do is to gently touch the bruises, the little hurts, without provoking defensiveness. Use the littlest bruises to reach softening. People usually go too fast with this. And also don’t go witch-hunting for their stories. Don’t have to find out what the issue is, just use the process to advance vulnerability.
· You are trying to manually tune their brains in to what they are automatically trying to tune out, or defend against.
· You don’t have to work with what happened at school or the park etc., because there are usually lots of incidents daily – with siblings, with homework, the pet, the toy broke, “it’s stupid”, whatever.
· The whole enemy to the brain is the vulnerability – so you do nothing that would consciously alert the brain to vulnerability such as “Oh, that must have upset you”. When you speak, you avoid direct eye contact, you avoid an emotional voice. Try to connect alongside/beside the child (both physically and metaphorically speaking) – ensure that the attachment is there. If you can feel the attachment, then you gently touch the bruise – an incidental contact, and you quickly move on. i.e If Cindy didn’t want to play with them today, you might say “Oh that was hard, Cindy didn’t want to play. Can you pass me the ketchup, please.” We are seeking to tune in their brain. We don’t ask questions, we don’t ask how they are feeling. We are trying to melt the defences from the inside out, rather than hammering them from the outside. No bleeding heart in your voice. IF the child indicates vulnerability (hurt), then you can move to the next level of concern (“Ouch” and perhaps place your arm around them), but don’t move there on your own without the clue from them.
· You are reversing the process in the brain to tune out – slowly and gently. There is no way to harm the child using this method. Try to bring things to them “one step removed”. You are trying to get softness and sensitivity back into them.
· You must see movement from mad to sad before you begin trying to erect the wall of futility. Always move slowly – most parents move too fast.
· You must touch with your voice/with your warmth
· Stop focussing on what’s wrong. Focus on vulnerability/softness.
If you have softening (and only if), then you can move to letting futility sink in.
· Futility is erecting a wall that they can’t go through.
· You never move towards that if you aren’t seeing mad go to sad at times. (Spontaneous tears is one good sign that child is moving from mad to sad)
· Melt defences first; always the first step.
The goal is to hold the child in the experience of futility, until it sinks in. Hold them by words, in attention, in experience – that you keep putting it back into their face, that the thing didn’t work for them. The restorative part is that when futility sinks in, it increase ego strength. The brain stops armouring the child; the adaptive response begins to awaken.
If you have the energy to take this on (ie holding them in futility) there must be no backing down, do not react to the aggression, you must stay firm so that they can move from mad to sad. Things can get ugly sometimes, because you’re in a highly provocative situation, they can get foul and aggressive, but it’s important t to go all the way, without reacting to their aggression. No lecturing, no problem-solving, discussion of consequences, no rescuing, no putting it into perspective, no changing the subject, etc.
Foil their attempts to avoid and escape. Always bring it right back into their face – do not allow them to avoid. “I know this is hard for you to accept”. We want to let it sink in. Be firm, but with warmth possible – you can offer some sadness in your voice, but always bring the experience back to them. The wall of futility must be there. You can sometimes prime sadness with sadness in your voice, if they aren’t too defended against. So do this privately, not in front of the other kids; you need the maximum control you can get.
· Touch as gently as possible until the tears start coming; that’s when they become unstuck. If we can do this, nature will do the rest.
· IF this is not working, then back up, retreat, to prior steps, mainly softening. THE GOAL IS ALWAYS TO SOFTEN THE CHILD.
· Foil defences against vulnerability.
· Be their therapist to help them experience the frustration – this will help them get unstuck – do not do all the substitutions. Commit the hour to building the wall of futility when appropriate [when you have the time, energy, mental and emotional balance].
... another random musing