by John and Diane
Working with foster kids means often dealing with kids with multiple behavioral, emotional and cognitive issues. Creative approaches when dealing with frustrating and escalating behavioral situations in the home is the only way to maintain sanity for both the foster parent and the kids in the house. This is how my whistle blowing technique came to be.
I use routine approaches like 123 Magic and Love and Logic everyday with my kids, but for stair-stepping rage and tantrums, this new technique has evolved and has really worked for me and the boys I have had in my care.
To give you some background, for parents who haven’t had kids who are detached or have multiple emotional issues, a normal day for me might include an incident like this:
I might tell Bobby to take a shower. He doesn't want to. I will use 123 Magic or Love and Logic techniques to get him to comply. He resists. Now, this is an issue I cannot lose, so I have to eventually yell at Bobby to try to get him to comply, he will not. I may have to call the police to come and tell him to take a shower (and I have) just to win the argument. Once you begin the fight, you cannot lose.
The next technique I tried was this: If the child refused to do what I asked, I would recite to him all the things I did for him that day, week or month. I found that sometimes kids would reflect on my sacrifices and comply. Others would not.
Then, I noticed that as the child’s refusal and anger would escalate, if I matched his tone and volume, and got even louder, the child would back down and stop the tantrum behavior. This is a tough route to go for the foster parent, and everyone else in the household, as, even though the yelling isn’t done by the parent in anger, it is still loud and disturbing. Once the child’s rage stopped I could back down the argument and begin rebuilding the relationship with the child immediately by telling him that I love him and explaining the reasons for the original request.
Eventually, this gets tiresome and it is a difficult technique for a foster Mom to accomplish as her voice may be softer and she may be a less authoritative figure in the home.
A foster parent is only human, and the constant re-directing and arguing to get a difficult, detached child to do simple routine tasks can be exhausting. This is when I thought of using the whistle system. I realized it wasn't so much the words I was saying when I matched my pre-teen boys verbal arguing or tantrum, but the tone and volume that made the most difference and stopped the tantrum. I decided to talk to his case managers and psychiatrist about using a whistle instead of my voice in a situation of an escalating rage.
My technique was thought out and discussed before use with both his therapists and my foster kids so that everyone understood the use and reasoning behind the whistle. The explanation to the kids was this: I would tell the kids to do something and if they argued with me, I would blow the whistle one short time. If they persist in arguing instead of doing what they were told, I would blow the whistle again. If they continued to argue, I would continue to blow the whistle more loudly and until which time they would do as they were told or went to their room for a time out. Since the kids were already familiar with the countdown system, they understood immediately the consequences of the whistle. They also understood that the whistle was to stop unnecessary back talk and that once the whistle started blowing, they were not going to be winning the argument.
Among his therapists and caseworkers, we discussed the benefits of this behavioral modification system. If it worked, and was used consistently, my kids with attachment disorders, alcohol syndrome issues and ADHD, with all of their impulsive behavioral issues, would be more easily brought under control when in a rage, and that, potentially, the whistle-ending rage technique would be transferable to school teachers or other caregivers for my kids.
So, I began keeping my whistle in my pocket. When, inevitably, a child started back talking and refusing to do as they were told, I pulled out the whistle and blew one quick blow.
I then reminded my child about the whistle technique, and that there would be no more arguing. As he began to argue once more, I blew the whistle again. He stopped. As he started to argue once again, I blew it another time. He stopped. After a few minutes of this, the child left the room without a tantrum, and either does his task or takes a time out.
Now, I don’t use the whistle all the time, and if I don’t have it handy, all I have to do is ask someone to get the whistle for me, and the child who is beginning to argue or tantrum will stop and focus on the fact that the whistle is coming! The unpleasant sound and the knowledge that the argument will be useless are very efficient in stopping the behavior.
Peer pressure also helps make the whistle technique effective. Let’s face it, the only thing worse than hearing people yell is hearing a whistle blow, and I often hear one child tell the other child to stop their bad behavior because the other child doesn't want to hear the whistle.
So, to sum it up, here is why I like the whistle technique to stop tantrum and arguing behavior with my attachment disorder/ADHD kids:
· It’s easy to use by both Mom and Dad.
· I don’t have to argue anymore, which makes my life less frustrating.
· I don’t have to think of 100 different ways of re-stating my reasons for asking my kids to do the action I requested.
· If the child’s behavior is getting to me, he or she won’t know it, because the whistle blowing can only get louder or softer. The child will have no sense of victory if they don’t feel like they are winning by affecting me in any way.
· I don’t have to worry about accidentally swearing or letting my own emotions get the best of me in a verbal argument. Foster parents aren’t perfect, but the whistle will make it easier to be better.
· It’s easier for me to talk to the child afterwards because blowing the whistle is both a distraction from the hurtful things they may be saying to me and a stress release for me, so I can be nurturing and calm after the fight to help heal and re-bond.
· I am not mentally or physically as worn out or tired. My voice is not hoarse after a hard day.
· The whistle around my neck is a visual reminder to the kids not to argue with me.
· The whistle technique is transferable. I can teach it to the other people in my life who may watch or care for my foster kids so that they can have better control over the children’s behavior while they are in their homes.
· After you use it a few times you don’t have to use it very often after that. All you do is have to reach for it and the child backs down from his argumentative behavior.
Why the whistle technique will work on your child.
· It’s louder than they can yell or swear at you.
· It stops them from thinking of a new argument because they can’t finish the first one.
· It disrupts the flow of the argument and the sound may hurt their ears, make them laugh or startle them, but it is not abusive.
· The whistle is annoying enough so that peer pressure will help to modify the child’s behavior in the home.
· Stubborn children who try to out-yell the whistle will eventually give up and realize they cannot physically compete. Eventually they will go to their room and the situation is diffused.
Always consult your caseworkers and the foster child’s psychiatrist before using the whistle technique.
Read: Whistle Blowing Technique Update: Moving Forward next
Read: Whistle Blowing Technique Update: Moving Forward next
image adapted from: flickr: By anneh632