Change of Scenery

Change Of Scenery
originally written in 2013

From This
To This.

I wrote a post <— link last year about how we implemented a change of scenery to bring about healing and peace.  ( post at end of this post )
In the webinar I hosted last night, the issue of “Changing Scenery” came up, and I wanted to  expand on that concept to bring about better understanding.

When a child gets stuck in a negative behavior or as BCLC calls it, a “negative feedback loop”,  the point is that they are truly STUCK.  They do not know how to stop, or how to change the direction they are going.
That is where we parents come in.  We have to guide them to a place of felt safety so they can let go.
Many children who are “stuck” suffer from PTSD and truly “feel” threatened when they act out.
This could be on a conscious level or a sub conscious level.

Changing the scenery is NOT a logical linear act.  For us, it may seem is,  illogical.
Because bad behavior in our minds = consequences.  “You do this, I do that.”  It is a tit for tat scenario.  So just “deal with it”….. “If you don’t want consequences, don’t act out!”

We can find ourselves becoming drill sargeants passing out consequences in a continuous flow and suddenly we become combatant enemies.

If you don’t want this, I know I don’t, then how can we bring about permanent change?
Get out of the loop! 
     So, how do you do that?  You change the scenery.  When I say “change the scenery”  I am not talking about taking somebody shopping and buying them gifts to make them stop yelling at you.
That is called bribery!   That is what you see in the grocery store when a child is screaming at the top of their lungs and the parent opens the crackers or chips the child is demanding and gives it to them to make them stop.  This is not only bad for the child, it is also modeling stealing, because those chips have not been payed for!

Changing scenery has a purpose.   The purpose is to get the person who is stuck, out of stuck mode.
Just like a car that is stuck in the mud and needs a tow truck to pull them to safety, our children need us to pull them into safety.

Rocking, walking, going to a park to breathe in the fresh air and smell the flowers, can breathe new life into a very weary child and a very strained relationship.
If this action takes them from a place of rage to a place of safety and love, you have begun the first steps towards healing.

Even with a child who says, “I don’t care!” as they hurl words of pain towards you.   Your response to  them, putting yourself aside, and getting them out of that loop will bring them to a place of caring.

So I ask, if a child is raging for hours, and you have a tool to use to bring calm back into their life, why not use it?  Is it rewarding bad behavior to take a walk?  I don’t think so.
When we think this way it is because we are not looking at the whole child and only focusing in on the negative behavior.   The behavior is there for a reason.  The child is dysregulated.  To participate with them in a regulating activity can bring them to a place where their brain can function well and when they are ready, give you opportunity to lead and guide them. You can do this through  role play, offering new tools to help them keep from going into full meltdown,  and reassuring them you are on the same side.
Consequences that are not natural, do not connect with the illogical mind or even with the logical mind.
A child will not be able to connect, “Because you didn’t do your homework, you have to go to bed 15 minutes early.  Or, “Because you were snotty to mom, you lose your video games for the day.”
These types of consequences don’t really teach and lead to understanding and improvement. For the dysregulated child, they can actually cause the child to spiral further out of control.  They may feel that they are being singled or mistreated.

Relationship is of utmost importance.  Building relationship through natural consequences can lead to a stronger relationship.   If you child didn’t finish homework, the natural consequence is a bad grade.
You can offer compassion to them, and then say, “You know, I just bet you can do better next time!”
“I know you don’t want a bad grade!”  “Maybe we can study together tonight.”  And suddenly, homework is no longer a battle, but driven by the child’s desire to do well.

If a child talks back or uses snotty talk, of course it must be addressed.  But for a child who is stuck,  how you address it is so very important.

We have used the “change the scenery” tool now and then. It is not something we have had to do often, and I want to emphasize that behaviors do change.  Healing does take place and you will not be in a mode of constant meltdowns and upheavel forever.
Things will get much better as relationship solidifies.
Also remember that grief can come in waves, and sometimes old behaviors can return briefly.
It is then we can get caught off guard and not do what is best.

A little about our own words:

“Good for you! You calmed right down!”  “Thank you for rocking with me. I love it when we rock together.”  “Why would you act like that?”  “How dare you talk to me like that!”
As you learn about your child’s struggles, remember that your words of encouragement go a long way in helping them to healing.  Words of discouragement can cause them to remain, stuck.

What I Did Wrong!

Well, as you can see our last few posts have been chalked full of activity. And all on MOTHER’S DAY WEEKEND!
Mother’s day is a trigger time for children who have experienced trauma, and typically we do not make a huge deal of mother’s day. You can’t get away from acknowledging that it exists, but you can get away from the pressure the day brings.

We have been doing so well, and there were no clues leading up to dysregulation at all.  So we went to the ENORMOUS ANNUAL BOOK FAIR with thousands of people,  for TWO days in a row!  Sweetie 4,  did wonderfully both days and really enjoyed herself.

After that, we woke on Sunday Morning to go to a different church where our precious baby grand daughter was being baptized.    Her birth  triggered Sweetie 4 a bit but she expressed it very well, expressing true sorrow.    The Baptism brought once again attention to “love, raise and nurture” the baby in the Lord.  That was a trigger….. because Sweetie 4 was not loved, raised and nurtured.  That sting of seeing loving parents dote on their newborn carries a tinge of pain.

During the service, she had a distant look and I asked her, “Are you ok?”  She said, “I’m bored.”  So I had her help me follow along in the bulletin and let her know we were not there to be entertained, but to worship and see Olivia be baptized.

We left after the service and decided to go out to lunch for Mother’s day.  Everybody seemed happy about it except Sweetie 4.  She demanded that Sweetie 3 give her a hair band for her hair, not asking nicely.  Sweetie 3 carries hairbands around with her all the time.  If in need, she has an extra.    She gave Sweetie 4  one, and she rejected it.  She gave her another one and she rejected it.  The last one was Sweetie 3’s favorite.  Sweetie 4 said, “I want THAT one.”   Sweetie 3 told her no, very nicely and said, that one I keep for me. You can have one of the other two.  Sweetie 4 stormed off calling her selfish.

I took Sweetie 4 aside and got her calm and then asked “Who was really being selfish?”  Was it the person willing to share, or the person who demanded the other person’s hair band?    There was a blank stare. (Here is where I was trying to use logic and address an issue that was both illogical and NOT the issue! duh)   ( I was looking at the behavior and not what was DRIVING the behavior)

Now NORMALLY,  if such a behavior would have occurred we would have gone DIRECTLY home,  but I felt like that would have made the other girls who were all being kind and sweet feel as though they were being punished.
Sweetie 4 pulled herself together enough to eat nicely and we did have a good time.

But when we got home, the attitude  returned!  She went into a full PTSD mode thinking that we were going to get rid of her, and she was bound and determined to make it happen.
(This is not uncommon.  The child will try to CAUSE the parent to reject them, and hurry up the process because the rejection is so painful.  They think there is no hope, so it is time to just get the relationship over with.)
Once again I tried to use LOGIC! “Of course we are not sending you away!”  She was NOT being logical or making sense, so LOGIC did not work.  Even though we KNOW this and even SHARE IT, it is sometimes hard to remember.  (another DUH moment brought to you by Christie)

We finally got through to her after she exhausted herself,  and we even watched a movie.

But in the a.m. it started all over again.
Sweetie 4 did get up, but then it was time to start school…..   She said, “You are going to MAKE me have a bad day aren’t you!”
“Ummm…. no.  Let’s get our work out please. ”  Once again, I was being logical. I was ALSO NOT RECOGNIZING there was no way she was going to be able to function with math and language when her window of tolerance was barely open.  So I “logically”, 1/2’d her work……. when what
we SHOULD have done, was started with art… but no, I was brain dead.
I was also not recognizing that she was looking through the lens of PTSD, not her normal self.

Things escalated just like the day before and I made a call to our Social Worker.  I am so glad she called me right back!  She was VERY helpful!  She said, “change the scenery”…….. DUH once again!    Of COURSE that is what we needed to do!
It is VERY important to have others in our lives who can help us, because we CAN  forget in the moment.  Just like our children, when we feel emotional or sad or anxious, we can’t think as clearly.
Our social worker Kathi Turner is AWESOME.  She is supportive and full of fun and energy.  She even gave me a story about her dogs (we both laughed) she is trying to train.  (they are rescue dogs)
And how her tone of voice caused one to attack the other. And she instantly knew it could have been prevented.

Sometimes, when a child is stuck in PTSD mode or RAD mode, the best thing you can do is change scenery.  Now Sweetie 4 was in the laundry room  behind the big laundry basket.  I was able to coax her out by using a different tone of voice, catching her interest and getting her into the car.
She demanded to know where we were going.  I know she was afraid I was taking her away.  I told her she would like where we were going, but I would not tell her until she was safely in the car.
She got in the car and the look on her face was terrified.

It was then I said, we are going to go to the park for a walk.  We didn’t get 100 yards down the road and she burst into sobs of relief and sorrow, guilt and shame, and many apologies.
“I don’t know why I do this!  I just destroy relationships!”    I reassured her that we are not destroyed.
We love her and we will always be here.  But when she pulls away from us, and feels alone, it isn’t us that has left, it is her, and she needs to face that AND change it!  ( this is when we can use logic and instruction….. when they are CALM and LISTENING)

How can she make the changes she needs to?   One step at a time. 🙂  Baby steps to healing…..

Using this technique has worked many times in our children’s lives.  It seems odd that you would go for a walk or seemingly “reward” a behavior that is unwanted, but this was not just an unwanted behavior.  It is ALSO unwanted by Sweetie 4.  She does not like it.  She just couldn’t see a path to get out of it, so I provided the path FOR HER.    There are times when the girls do things they shouldn’t and are corrected in a very normal way.  “That was not ok.  We don’t do that because…. or You need to come inside now because ….”

The difference  in dealing with a behavior driven by fear and not just childish irresponsibility,  is huge.   If, we try to treat a fear based behavior like pure disobedience or irresponsibility,  the fear will grow bigger and even be substantiated in thier mind.

What happened could have been prevented, had I been  paying close attention.
Sometimes it is hard when you so much want to do something as in the book fair and chess tournament,  Olivia’s baptism and  going out on Mother’s Day.  We thought that everything would work out.   I took the chance and I was wrong.    And it cost us all.     I felt mad at myself for not being more careful.

By the end of the day, Sweetie 4 and Sweetie 2 were sitting in the wheel barrow together with sketch books in hand, creating nature pictures….. 🙂  Everything was calm , and all just seemed right with the world. 🙂

We are parents by choice, and a family by choice.  It is our honor to do what we do and we love it. We learn from our own failures.  Those failures bring us face to face with our own issues, helping us to recognize where WE need to make tweaks and changes in order to help our children to grow.  Being a parent, whether your child is adopted or not, is difficult and joyous at the same time.  It is CERTAINLY a life changer.   And one of the biggest benefits of parenting, is that it causes us to press into Christ all the more, who is our source of life and strength for each and every day.

I want to mention my other girls.  They are so amazing and loving.  While I was holding Sweetie 4 , Sweetie 2 came over and said, “Mama, it is time to pray…. you too Sweetie 4!” 🙂  (and we did pause and pray)
That’s my Sweetie 2; and that’s my Sweetie 4. 🙂

Comments warmly welcomed!


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