Friday, November 09, 2007

"Negative" Behaviors 2: Acceptance

So I already wrote about why what I at least think of as "behavior modification" doesn't work.

And sorry, I am not going to talk about something that has "worked" here either. I'm going to talk about accepting what I cannot change.

Some of our kids' most troubling behaviors are strategies they needed to develop to survive their trauma and abuse. And when that is the case, I find that the question is not generally, "how can I make them stop doing this" but "how can I live with it" because that behavior ain't going away any time soon. I can report it to the child's social worker and counselor. I can hope over time it will go away, but it is not going to happen quickly.

If they hoard food, eat compulsively, have PTSD responses to strange things, lie without even thinking about it, twist their hair until they pull it out, wet the bed, give you wide-eyed princess look in reponse to everything, then, in my experience, you pretty much have to accept and deal with it.

I've never had a food hoarder, but people I know who have tell me that sometimes letting the child keep a stash of food of their own helps, but mostly it doesn't. Most of the parents I have talked to say that they just have to have a regular time when they sweep for hidden food so that it doesn't become a health hazard. I'm told that eventually the behavior fades away when the kids feel most secure but can come right back when the kid is under stress.

Youth are embarrassed by these sorts of things. Evan did not know why it was so important to him not to let me into his room. He just did. I took a step into that door and a panic button went off inside and he HAD TO GET ME OUT. It aggravated me. After he went to rehab it made me worry that he was hiding drugs. Once I identified it as a PTSD symptom I relaxed.

It just was what it was. I couldn't make it go away. I just had to find a way to accept it.

The problem was that Evan would take things that belonged to everyone (dishes, scissors, towels) into his bedroom and leave them there. Of course I prefered that he not take them into his room at all, but if did, all I wanted was the stuff to come back out. For whatever reason, he never brought it out. He would claim he did, but he didn't. I wanted to deal with that by going into his room with him and help him collect the stuff. I wanted to respect his privacy, and it seemed the best way to do that was to collect things when he was there. In my mind it was simple. He however could not bring himself to let me.

We had one quarrel in his counselor's office in which I proposed multiple compromises. "I'll stand in the hall and point and you can bring me things" and he accused me of being unwilling to compromise and tried to explain how important his privacy was. When he got to the point where he was actually trying not to cry I said, "Okay. I'll just go in when you aren't at home." He shrugged.

And that is when I realized that though he could not give me permission to do that, though he did not WANT me to go in when he was gone, the idea did not panic him. That's when I got it. It all made sense. I don't know what adults going into his bedroom meant for him when he was young, but I can guess. All the rational stuff about how me being a safe person who just wants to get the dirty dishes had nothing to do with the panic alarms inside him. And if anyone can understand that, it ought to be the woman who gets a pass on taking CPR even though she knows full well no one is going to drown in class.

Now, a youth collecting dirty towels and dishes in his room is hardly a crisis situation. It is an example though of a behavior I initially wanted to change and eventually realized I had to accept.

I've got better at that as the years go by. It is still difficult though. There are things the kids do that I don't want them to do, things that bug me, things that I think responsible adults don't do, but they are often not things that I can change. If they are going to go away, it is going to be because the youth decides to work on it.

All I can do is provide the environment in which that change could happen. And generally the the first step is helping the youth realize that they are loved and accepted the way they are.

And this may all sound wise and wonderful, but with every child it has taken me a while to get there. I have had to struggle. I have wasted a good deal of energy stomping around the house saying things like, "All I want are the d*mn towels! Is that too much to ask? If he didn't let them pile up in there, I wouldn't have to go in!"


  1. I have to say, this post made me laugh. After all this time, I do think that our family is doing as well as it is because I learned to accept certain things instead of still fighting against it all! With that acceptance came the ability to relax and enjoy -- by all of us -- and in turn that has created the peace we were after to start with.

    I realize that may not work or be true for everyone, but when I reach a level of acceptance the behavior is not as annoying to me.

  2. Acceptance is a very big part of things. I find, however, some things are easier to accept than others. For example, Slugger has a terrible time making decisions. It's a part of his FAS issues. He can honestly take 45 minutes picking out a pack of gum. It's terribly frustrating. I'm trying to help him learn how to break things into categories and make a categorical decision first and then make the specific decision. He's going to need that skill when he's an adult. But, basically, I've just had to accept that this is him. Making decisions is never going to be easy for him. As smart as he is, this is one area of brain impairment he has because of his b-moms substance abuse. I can accept that, I can accept his ADHD behaviors, I can accept his PTSD trauma responses, I can accept a lot of things.

    But the lying. Oh, god, the lying. And the not listening. Oh, god, the not the not listening. The disrespect. I could go on an on! There are some things that are crazy hard to accept.

  3. How did you get so wise?? Sometimes when I read your posts, I just have lightbulbs go off in my head, of course!

  4. Hhmmm. Little did I know this series was actually going to provoke me to thinking.

    And on a weekend, no less.

    That should be illegal.

    But seriously, I'm struggling witht this one. I am very much a controller. I recognize this. I struggle daily with letting go of my kids and trusting them in the "real world". I do it, but reluctantly at first.

    My struggle is that I often feel as though I'm failing the child if I don't attempt to maneuver change. Or at least encourage it. Or have that child press past their fears/insecurities to become more healthy.

    Heck, I don't know.

    I know with my youngest, the world said she'd never be "as smart" "as quick" "as you fill in the blank" as everyone else. If we hadn't pushed her, where would she be? Certainly not where she is now. (very successful, by any standards)

    To me, I'm scared of accepting some things. Recognizing their causes and being patient with slow moving change, yes. Turning a blind eye, I just can't.

    Looks like I've got more thinking to do. Hhhmm...

    Great post, Yond.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.