Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Blowing the Whistle on Arguing

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

image adapted from: flickr: By anneh632

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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