Monday, March 2, 2015

The Truth about Triggers…

 by John and Diane
“Triggers” is a term we use when talking about behavioral impulses that are set off by someone else’s actions or words.  We all have them. Sometimes our own anger can be “triggered” by a tone of voice or being ignored by a reticent teenager. It’s human nature.
When talking about our foster kids though, I have written a lot about triggers because for better and for worse, dealing with a child’s triggers is all part of the job. 
There are always three stages of dealing with a child’s triggers. 
1. Learning them.
2.  Avoiding them and
3. Triggering them.
Here is how I approach triggers.
For children without trust disorders and who are attached to you but may have anger issues:  (Here anger issues are defined as a child who will hit, bite, yell, throw things, break things and call you and others names. He or she will blame everyone else other than himself or herself.)
Learning Phase:
o   If he or she is a new foster child I will watch them and learn what their triggers are and not go near them and tell other to do the same. The reason I will do this is to get them out of throwing fits every day, which can become more of a habitual way for them to communicate rather than to really express what they need to express. 
o   I will monitor what types of things bring out triggers. Authority? Rules? Feelings of deprivation or disrespect?
        Avoiding Phase:                 
o   Once we can go a day or two without throwing a fit, we can celebrate our achievements and trust can begin to grow.
o   I treat the child like a guest, not expecting too much from them, allowing them privileges without expectations, to avoid triggers until the relationship between us develops.  (See:  Youand Your RAD Kid: The Importance of the Trust-Building- Honeymoon Period)
This phase can take some time.... 
      Triggering Phase
o   Once a relationship has been established I can slowly begin to purposefully trigger the child’s behavior to teach them to deal with the “triggers” in different ways.

·       When should I trigger my child?
o    When it is safe for you and the child
o    When you have the time to work through the battle you are going to take on
o    After you figure out how you will handle the child when he or she blows up. Talk it over with your counseler or Doctor beforehand to make your plan.
o   Have a safe plan just in case you forgot something. Is there someone who could help you? Is the camera on and you are taping the incident just in case it gets out of hand?

·        Don’t trigger a child right before getting on the bus to go to school. 

If you do, you will just have sent a bomb to school, even if the child seem like they handle the triggering   ok, when they left to go to school, if you did have the time to go over the issue with the child. Let the school know that the child has been triggered once already this morning so they don’t trigger him again. This has happen to me …Opps!  Sorry teachers!  My child went off at school and continued a triggered argument from home at school.
·       Always, after you trigger the child, talk with them and go over what just happen and let the child know you knew he or she was going to act in the manner they did and it didn’t surprise you.  If you can make it like almost a game for yourself so you can laugh at it in a nice way this will help you not to make the blow up feel or become personal because you had control over making it happen. So it was just a teaching moment between you and the child. Say something like, "I knew you were going to blow up like that Becky, that's why I pushed you like that. I am trying to help you learn how to deal with people differently. How could you have handled that differently? If you had done something differently this morning, would your whole day have gone differently?"  Discuss what different reactions would have brought about different consequences to help the child learn how to react in the future.

Note:  Remember if we are angry or let what the child say or do hurt us we can’t work with the child. It becomes unsafe for you and the child you’re trying to help.  If you do feel hurt but feel like you can handle it, don’t let the child see that he or she has hurt you.   

Tip:  I find if you can double-team a child with a counselor or an adult that is working with you, this works the best.

 Important: If you trigger a child and start a battle you must win.

You control where it will happen and when so you have the upper hand. You are taking that control away from the child.

·       Why do we now trigger the child?
o    Because the child is growing up and soon will be on his or her own and the world will not tip toe around their triggers. It is better to deal with the triggers in a safe setting then for them to face them in a bar or in a jail.

We will trigger them over and over telling them every time “I did it on purpose.” This will either make the child smarter and learn that he has to stop it and he or she has a problem or it will make them mad at you and stop triggering when you do it, so that they feel the beat you. Either way you win.

Like always when I work with my children I ask God for help to give me the strength to deal with the name-calling or even the hitting. I may have to take a pushing but I won't ever let it stop me from helping a child in need. 

I hope you have found this helpful and God Bless you for all the work you all do with your foster, adopted or bio kids with troubles…. 

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  1. Yeah....usually I have read some good things here. But this just seems abusive. I don't want my child to be wondering what I am going to do to purposefully hurt them next. People learn coping methods in times of calm and reason, not in fight or flight moments. I'm going to skip this advise and encourage others to consult your therapy team before trying any thing like this.

    1. I appreciate your point, but I think you misunderstand the concept here. Everything is done in the appropriate time and when the child is ready to move back to a home and deal with a real-world environment. Triggering the child is not done in an aggressive manner, but from a place of teaching. You HAVE to trigger the child, otherwise, people who are not prepared to deal with the child’s reaction WILL trigger him and the results will not be a “teaching moment” but could be jail time. I deal with environmental situations where I need to work with a child’s triggers WITH the child. He knows that these are things we are working on, and wants to overcome his inappropriate reactions so that he can reunite with his family or get back into school etc.
      Not to do this is to prevent a child from healing.
      And, as I said in the blog, I also encourage people to work with their counseling team. My team agrees with this approach and we have seen success with this approach, when done correctly. You have to teach the child to deal with his triggers in order for him to live in the world.
      Thanks again Colleen for your input, I hope you understand out stance.