Sunday, April 3, 2011

Attachment focused Therapy and Parent support

In attachment focused therapy with adoptive families, the parent can be a profound agent of healing and change by practicing being the 'secure base' for the child in session. From this perspective, it is the job of the therapist to help the parent identify the strengths and deficits of his/her own parenting/attachment style and compassionately recognize how these patterns are contributing (exacerbate or relieve) the child's need to do the behavior. Or how the behavior of the child intensely 'triggers' the parent. Parent coaching is a significant part of the treatment.

Most parents find the parent only sessions informative, supportive and useful. If as a parent, we can learn and practice using self-compassion and not judge ourselves so much,  so that we can be curious  about our own effectiveness and  obstructions which contribute to the  relationship with our child, then it will go a long way to finding solutions.  An example of this is when the  intense feelings such as anger and despair, are left unharnessed by the parent and they are having difficulty staying regulated when their child is acting out.

This is not uncommon in the parents that I see, and it soon becomes clear to me, the parent, and the child that the parent is ineffective in 'being in charge' to provide appropriate strong, nurturing limits when emotions determine the disciplining. Here is an example: If, when you (the parent) were an 8 year old child you 'disrespected' your father by talking back, or saying "I hate you" and as a result you were spanked and sent to your room, then this may be the only option you feel you have as a parent when your child says the same words to you in the same intense way. The anger and despair often experienced by parents is totally understandable and reasonable, however, if we discipline from the intensity of this 'feeling' place, without fully understanding it,  then the lesson for the child will be saturated in that negative feeling state of the parent. Consequences will be felt by the child as punishment and will increase the negative behavior of the child.

Support for the parent comes in the form of parent coaching and exploring options for you to manage your intense feelings so they do not stall effective disciplining and connecting well with your child.
ie. Time ins with the parent in the same room (not necessarily doing the same activity) are more  effective and get better results than time outs in another room.  Separation from the parent during these times of intense feeling, especially for the foster adopt child, can be experienced as punishment, and can exacerbate their pain and inability to regulate their own  feelings and impulsive behavior.  However, if a parent is so upset themselves it is preferable to take a brief time out away from the child to find your own equilibrium. And, there is not just one way of managing this situation.

It is so important as a parent to retain a sense of humour; develop an ability to play and have a willingness to try something new if the old patterns are not working. Together, therapist and parent can often find creative ways  to interrupt the  negative pattern of relating  with your child when her behaviors and feelings become difficult to regulate. 

There is an element of surprise and confusion often for the child when the parent reponds in a very different way than they are used to experiencing. It is important not to trick or make fun of your child at these times but it is also important to not take yourself so seriously.

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