“When a child misbehaves, remember—kids are havinga problem, they’re not beinga problem.”
At this week’s Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting, SCAN hosted 30 local child welfare professionals to hear from parenting expert Rachel Bailey as she shared insight from her work coaching parents in hundreds of local families. Why do children throw tantrums, hit a sibling, refuse to do chores, and so many more things that challenge parents? And how can parents respond in healthy ways? The group discussed these questions and more—leaving the meeting with some excellent tools and ideas to share with the parents in their communities, including:
WHY? “Many behaviors are the result of kids’ missing tools,” shared Rachel. This includes missing tools like impulse control, handling monotony, transitioning effectively, and problem solving. Negative behaviors can also be caused by a child’s “level of yuck,” as Rachel calls it. If a child is tired, hungry, sick, scared, or in any other form of discomfort (afraid or frustrated or overwhelmed) the brain interprets it as a threat. This fight-or-flight response is meant to protect us, but it can make kids (and adults) impulsive, self-centered, and narrowly focused. A prime opportunity for “bad” or unwanted behavior to happen!
WHEN? Bad behaviors often happen when a child’s needs aren’t being met. This includes biological needs like sleep, food, and a safe environment as well as emotional needs. Children long for connection, they want to know they matter, they want to have the tools they need to be successful, they want to have a voice, and they want to know that they are safe. Rachel reminded the group that reasons for behavior are not excuses—in fact, they are crucial to helping parents understand a particular behavior and help their child change their behavior.
HOW? A child’s bad behavior presents in three ways: They might “turn the ‘yuck’ out” on others (being aggressive, disrespectful or defiant); they might turn it in on themselves (feeling anxious, lacking self-esteem or low motivation); or they try to “numb the yuck” with things like electronics, food, etc. Thinking of these three categories of unhealthy behavior is a great way to better understand the specific behavior in question and how parents can best respond.
WHAT NEXT? Parenting is not about making kids feel good all the time—that’s not realistic! Instead, Rachel encourages parents to “make deposits” in their kids as a response to the many withdrawals taken from them each day. Parents can deposit into their children’s “toolboxes,” teaching them skills to do things like clean up their toys, focus on homework, etc. Or they can deposit into their needs—mentioned earlier—by doing things like making sure their children are getting enough sleep (biological) or asking for their opinion on an important decision (emotional).
“Yes, we’ll make withdrawals from our children,” acknowledged Rachel, like navigating a conflict with a sibling or telling them to finish their homework or manage a busy schedule, “but they’ll have this reserve to pull from when bad things happens—this is the core of resilience.”
For SCAN’s new fact sheets on Children’s Behavior, click here. You can also download an image of our Parenting Can Be Tough “diaper bag tags” that remind parents about some of the biological and emotional causes of behavior and help younger children communicate their feelings.
On March 8th, SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition hosted its quarterly meeting with a focus on the Importance of Routines for Children. Dr. Amy Parks from The Wise Family and Dr. Kelly Henderson from Formed Families Forward joined us to lead a fantastic discussion about why routines are important, how they affect children, and how parents—no matter where they are on the parenting journey—can use routines to support their children and strengthen their families.
Here are 5 keys ideas we took away from the discussion:
1. There are 3 key ingredients to building routines in the home:
• Consistency – doing the same thing every time
• Predictability – expecting or knowing what will happen
• Follow-through – following through with consequences
2. Creating new habits can take a long time – 66 days on average!
Plan on 8 weeks of consistent repetition and active learning for the brain to “myelinate” (when brain neurons connect and actions become habit.) Remember that the brain is “neutral” so this happens with both good and bad habits. This is especially important for parents to understand:
“The brain of a child has no filter for good and bad,” noted Dr. Parks. “As the adult you have to be their filter, helping children make meaning and build habits through explicit instruction.”
3. Different kids (and adults!) learn in different ways.
For some, positive reinforcement is a good way to encourage repetition of new habits. For others, visual reminders like a chart or auditory reminders like a song are more helpful. If a child has a disability or other challenge, it often requires more support, encouragement and tools to build a routine.
4. Every family is different, too.
If a family is in crisis, even the smallest routine—like getting everyone ready to leave the house on time—can be a huge challenge. Many Coalition members are working with families where children are living in poverty, where parents work shift hours with constantly changing schedules, or where a parent is deployed in the military. Even the most high-functioning family can find it nearly impossible to have a family meal together every night. That’s okay! It can be helpful to take a step back and figure out what current routines are in place, good or bad. Then the first step might be “extinguishing” unhealthy routines before adding new routines, or replacing them with simple, healthier steps.
5. Routines can do so much to address a child’s stress levels!
“When things outside of a child’s immediate world raise concerns, a routine can provide security and comfort,” noted Dr. Henderson.
Stress is really a physiological function of the body. Every child and adult has a reaction to stress–fight, flight, freeze, or appease. When our brain has to handle stress, it “turns off” the thinking part of our brain. If our children’s brains can rely on healthy routines and habits they’ve learned, then they can continue to take care of themselves (eat, sleep, communicate) even when they are under stress. The same goes for adults and our routines!
Explore SCAN’s resources on “The Importance of Routines” on the Parent Resource Centerhere. You can also check out some of the videos Dr. Parks and Dr. Henderson shared during their presentation:
Since the launch of the Parenting Can Be Tough campaign, we continue to consider this theme through the eyes of different parents in our communities. The challenges of parenting can be universal—consider topics like discipline, behavior, stress management—but they can also be unique for different groups of families. This month, we invited a panel of experts to our Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting to help us consider the distinct challenges and needs of parents and children with special needs.
The group included Cheryl Johnson from NAMI, as well as Erin Croyle, Amel Ibrahim and Irene Schmalz from the Center for Family Involvement Partnership for People with Disabilities. They shared both personal and professional experiences from a wide range of parenting perspectives–including having or raising children with autism, hearing loss, refugee status, mental health diagnoses, and many more circumstances that might fall under “special needs”. And yet, there was a common refrain for all instances when it came to best serving these parents:
1. ADVOCATE FOR THESE FAMILIES. And help parents learn how to advocate for themselves. It can be challenging for parents to understand how their family will fit into an existing system, noted Amel. “How will I get social services for my son with autism?,” she asked herself when they first came to the U.S. There was no simple answer. The same goes for school systems, medical systems, and anywhere else a family will engage with established procedures organizations. (Facing language, communication and knowledge barriers can exacerbate this problem.) Often, parents need to know they even have rights or the opportunity to ask questions.“Press the systems you interact with,” encouraged Erin. “Tell parents to push. Help them advocate for their kids and themselves.”
2. CONSIDER THE IMPACT ON PARENTS. Practice empathy—ask a parent to share how their family’s specific needs have affected them, on a personal level.“It’s easy to make assumptions about a parent,” cautioned Irene, “but that’s not always the whole truth.” Parents need someone whom they can talk to openly about raw emotions (anger, jealousy, fear, exhaustion) associated with their situation. It’s critical that they learn how to process negative emotions associated with their children and family.“As a parent of a child with a disability, it can feel like being hit by a bus,” shared Erin. “It’s good to be honest about the emotions that come with it. It’s always hard. Any sense of normalcy is gone…It affects every single part of your life. Marriage. Family. School. It even affects having a coffee.”While all parents may have struggles navigating systems, special needs can make navigation much more complicated. Panelists noted that having other adults to talk to—who can truly relate to their circumstances—can be invaluable. Which brings us to…
3. BUILD CONNECTIONS FOR PARENTS. When trusting relationships are built, it can open up doors for families. While you can provide empathy and some support depending on your role in a family’s life, help them find other sources of information and support. Panelists and AIPC members mentioned the following helpful resources as a great place to start:
“The only label a kid should have is their name,” noted Irene. And yet, we know that is not always the case in the systems we navigate. But it can be helpful to offer a gentle reminder to parents from time to time. A diagnosis—or even just a label—living with some special set of circumstances—can certainly change a family’s life. But parents should always be guided and encouraged in simply enjoying their child.
“Sometimes,” shared Erin, “the best thing a child can have is a parent who is happy and enjoying them.”
Last month, SCAN hosted an Allies in Prevention Coalition meeting to discuss the crisis—and our response as child welfare professionals—in Northern Virginia, where in 2016 we experienced 248 drug related deaths, 80% of which were opioid related .
Professor Valerie Cuffee, LCSW, MSW, CPM from George Mason Univerisity (and a SCAN board member) led a presentation entitled Helping Parents with Heroin and Opioid Addiction Using SBIRT(Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment).
Those in attendance learned how to:
Recognize heroin/opioid addiction as a health epidemic
Emphasize the impact of heroin/opioid use or addiction on parenting
Introduce & practice SBIRT tools to address use and addiction
Emphasize the importance of assertive & collaborative referral to treatment
Opioid use, including prescription oxycodone and fentanyl as well as illicit heroin, is widespread in the United States, cutting across virtually all health, racial, socioeconomic, and geographic boundaries. Experts estimate that more than 2.5 million people abused or were dependent on opioids in 2015. As the nation’s opioid use has skyrocketed, more individuals are being impacted by opioids’ adverse effects, including Northern Virginia residents.
This means an increasing number of children are born into families and environments that revolve around an addiction to these drugs. ChildTrends reports that at least 2 million children annually have a parent who uses illicit drugs, including opioids. Parents who abuse drugs often place their children in danger. This danger may result in neglect, physical abuse, or domestic violence. Nearly 1/3 of children entering foster care do so in part because of parental drug abuse. Even with early intervention, many children of opioid-dependent parents are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder later in life, in part due to the diminished care and unpredictability associated with opioid use.
Opioid use is also impacting adolescents with greater frequency. Among youth, prescription opioid use is often intentional and for recreational use. Many youth need to go no further than a medicine cabinet to find opioids. Adolescents may be at an increased risk due to the common misbelief that prescription opioids are safer than heroin, and that noninjecting routes of administration are associated with less risk of overdose. Adolescents may be more likely to overdose from prescription opioids because they underestimate the strength of the drug they are using and they see their use as very different from that from what they consider to be “street users”.
Adults and adolescents also utilize opioids as a coping mechanism for childhood trauma and/or mental illness. In working together to stem opioid use it is important for communities to reduce the stigma associated with seeking assistance. Innovative programs are growing in places like Massachusetts and Ohio, as well as in Family Drug Treatment Courts like those we have in some of our own local communities.
We need to help abused, neglected and otherwise traumatized children by providing tools that are tailored to their specific issues before they turn to drugs for self-medication. And for those already dependent, the message needs to be clear: it is not too late. Opioid use is not just an individual crisis; it is a community health crisis affecting our children and families. To reduce opioid dependence, the community needs to be educated and involved.
– Today’s blog post was written by SCAN MSW Intern Chamone Marshall
This Spring, SCAN hosted a series of free film screenings and panel discussions about the award-winning documentary Resilience: The Biology of Stress and The Science of Hope. Held with partners in Alexandria, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William, we engaged parents and professionals in discussions about what it means when a child is resilient, how trauma affects the brain and body, and what we can do as a community to use this research in our work with children and families.
Here are the top 5 things we learned by hosting these screenings:
Attendees are committed to creating a common language around trauma informed care in our communities.
Hundreds of viewers left with greater knowledge of childhood trauma and resilience.
We need to have a greater appreciation of the connection between the physical body and mental health.
Attendees appreciated the professional insight from the panelists and the value that the post-movie conversation added.
It takes one caring adult to make a difference in the life of a child.
We’d like to send a special thank you to our panelists:
Dr. Katherine Deye
If you’d like to learn more about the movie and the possibility of future screenings, please contact SCAN’s Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard: tleonard(at)scanva.org
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
This will be the 15th year we celebrate the heroes who work passionately for the children, families and communities of Northern Virginia. Who will we honor this April (during National Child Abuse Prevention Month) with a 2017 Ally in Prevention Award? That’s up to you!
Nominations are now open: please submit a nomination for someone in your community who is “rising above” in their efforts to prevent child abuse, support parents or strengthen families. Who can SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition lift up with this honor? Who can we celebrate as a true leader? Who is someone who sets an example for all of us in the way they protect children and put their community first?
On Friday, November 18th, SCAN will partner with Prevent Child Abuse Virginia to host our 5th Annual “Speak Up for Children” Training for Virginia Advocates. Participants will better understand the legislative process and learn how to be an effective advocate. They’ll also hear policy advocates and legislators discuss some of the key issues affecting vulnerable children and families which will be on the agenda in the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session. #speakupforchildren
On October 5, SCAN—with support from LAWS (Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter) and its Loudoun Child Advocacy Center—brought together 129 local human service providers to hear Dr. Chris Wilson talk about The Neurobiology of Trauma.
This relatively new approach allows those of us who work with children (including law enforcement, school staff, social workers and foster parents) to rethink not only how we question children but also about how we process the information that a child is giving to us.
With more than 20 years of experience in the neurobiology of trauma, vicarious trauma, victim behavior, how to be trauma informed, and group process, Dr. Wilson has worked with a wide variety of audiences and is currently a trainer for the United States Army’s Special Victim Unit Investigation Course, Legal Momentum, and You Have Options Program.
Dr. Wilson reminded those of us attending that defining trauma looks something like this:
extreme fear/terror/horror + lack of control/perceived lack of control = very real changes in the brain at the time of the incident and after the incident
When a child experiences something traumatic, the pre-frontal cortex becomes impaired, meaning “we lose the ability to control our attention, integrate data, and make logical decisions” and the hippocampus is directly affected, thus affecting how a child remembers the traumatic event. This direct physiological impact must be taken into consideration not only when we first interact with children who have experienced a traumatic event, but also in how we continue the relationship with the child and how the child heals from the event.
Key training takeaways:
We must remember that trauma is subjective because threat is subjective. It means different things to different people and therefore, every individual’s response to traumatic events vary.
Children overwhelmingly blame themselves because of their egocentrism – it’s the only context they have.
Victims from 9/11 have given us a “map of danger” that didn’t exist before.
It’s not the relationship that is abusive, it is the perpetrator; we need to say “she was raped”, not “she was victimized.”
Use “soft eyes” not “hard eyes” when talking to children who have experienced trauma. Make the conversation about feelings to help the child recall specific facts that may have otherwise been forgotten or repressed.
This valuable training would not have been possible without the support of our funders: Loudoun Child Advocacy Center, Northern Virginia Health Foundation, Ronald McDonald House Charities Greater Washington DC and LAWS Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. Thank you!
At SCAN, we strive to bring quality training and workshops to the region and to YOU at your place of work or your local community organizations. Continue to follow us to learn more about what we are doing in the community to prevent child abuse and neglect – and how you can become involved and empowered to help.
– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
“The Partnership believes that, when parents share wisdom with one another, we all become better parents.”
The chats can be as simple as a one-time gathering to discuss a specific topic, or an ongoing group providing support and resources. The end goal is to help create communities of parents who are interested in helping a wider circle of children and parents grow up to be happy, healthy and competent.
How did APCYF develop tools for the program? With help from SCAN! APCYF is a member of SCAN’s Allies in Prevention Coalition (AIPC), where they learned about a Working Parent module that Public Education Manager Tracy Leonard had developed for SCAN’s new series of workshops. APCYF’s Michael Swisher adapted the module into conversation starters that help parents have intentional, supportive conversations.
Through our Public Education Program, we are able to create unique tools that allow our Allies in Prevention Coalition members the ability to adapt to the children and families with whom they work. APCYF is a perfect example of how SCAN builds capacity in our community and in our families.
p.s. Parents talk with one another naturally — and often find the greatest source of support from one another. If you know a group of parents who want to have a focused conversation on parenting challenges, share these online resources from our friends at APCYF. Download their tools for free to help spark the conversation!
How does it feel to be a kid in today’s world? How can we help children and teens manage new 21st-century realities — from the impact of online bullying to LGBTQ issues to the tragedy of rising suicide rates among youth? Earlier this month, we gathered in Arlington to discuss this new “Culture of Kids” with our Allies in Prevention Coalition.
Ask kids about their support network. (Explain what it means to have a support network, if they don’t know.) Who would they go to if they needed help? What is the best way to get in touch with those connections? Kids should be aware of and think through this network before a crisis occurs. EXPERT TIP:Identify trusted adults. It doesn’t have to be a parent – help them brainstorm possible contacts.
When it comes to bullying, peer training is key. Bullying prevention programs that include peer training – kids working with kids to model positive behaviors — are more successful and tend to increase parent involvement by linking families to community resources. EXPERT TIP:If online bullying is an issue and kids need help, there are some great resources for kids (and parents) at NCMEC’s NetSmartz.org
Gauge (and be sensitive to) every child’s safety level. When talking to youth, we must try to understand how safe they are in their home and in their greater community. (Neighborhood, school, etc.) For example, is it safe for a gay teenager to “come out” to her family? Her circle of friends? Her school community? Sensitivity when asking questions is also key: “Are you dating anyone?” is better than “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” Even intakes should be considered — instead of a simple “gender” it might work better to include “gender at birth; current gender.” EXPERT TIP: Post a rainbow or HRC (Human Rights Coalition) sticker in your workplace so LGBTQ youth recognize a person and/or space that could be helpful for them.
Don’t be afraid to have touch-point conversations with teens. And don’t be afraid to talk about difficult topics and open conversations around things like suicide: “Do you feel like hurting yourself?”, “Have you thought about killing yourself?” EXPERT TIP:Don’t talk about someone who “committed suicide” because it carries a note of guilt/crime. Instead, use “killed themselves” or “died by suicide.”