The interview of a lifetime

bclcWell, maybe this wasn’t really the interview of a lifetime, but I did get to interview someone that’s made a huge difference for my family: Heather Forbes. If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I am a big fan of Heather’s and her parenting model, Beyond, Consequences, Logic and Control (you can read more posts about this model in my BCLC section). Keep reading to learn more about Heather and a different approach for parenting kids affected by trauma or attachment disorders.

I’ve read volume one and two of “Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control,” and I’m so curious to know how you came up with this approach. Can you please share how you developed this model?

I originally entered this field as a mother of two completely out-of-control children who were adopted from Russia. The traditional parenting models were not only not working, they were making things worse in my home. I then sought help from local professionals and again, the dynamics in my home continued to get worse. I stretched out further and sought professional help from mental health experts from around the nation. During this time as well, I decided to go back to school to get my master of social work. The way I figured it, I was doing so much research, I might as well get credit for it with a degree! And as I did more research in my graduate studies into the effects of childhood trauma on the brain, the more I realized that there was a deep and profound misunderstanding of our children from all levels – the parent perspective, the professional perspective, and the research perspective. What was viewed as “bad” behavior was not about behavior at all. It was about fear. Everything that was being suggested to help my children was completely fraught with fear. What my children needed was love and understanding. It really was a concept that simple.

You know so much about your students’ and readers’ families – would you be willing to share a little bit about your own family?

My son was adopted from a Russian when he was 2 ½ years old. He had lived in the orphanage since he was born. Immediately the dynamics in my home started going into a state of chaos as his behaviors were well beyond typical 2-year-old behaviors as he was incredibly violent and completely defiant. We struggled and sought help from friends, family, and professionals, all to no avail. So we then did what anyone losing their minds would do, we went back to Russia and adopted again! I don’t know if that was pure insanity or complete denial. Fast forward 18 years, my children are doing very well in relation to their tough beginnings. We by no means are a perfect family (because there is no perfect family), but what got us through our darkest moments was the value we placed on relationship, not behavior. That doesn’t mean our children could do anything without boundaries, it means that when the light disappeared and darkness prevailed, we never lost the love we had for each other.

I was a skeptic about the Beyond Consequences model when I first heard of it and I’m sure I’m not the only one. What do you tell skeptics when you meet them? What is the biggest hurdle in overcoming our skepticism?

When I meet someone who is skeptic, I open my heart and simply listen to him or her. I am not here to convince anyone of this model, simply to offer it.

Can you explain the Beyond Consequences approach in one or two sentences?

(Here is my two-sentence answer). The Beyond Consequences model is a love-based, relationship-based, regulatory-based, and trauma-based parenting model. It works to remove the fear that has infused our traditional parenting approaches and helps children learn the language of human emotion and to develop their emotional intelligence.

(And here is an expansion of my two-sentence answer). It is about teaching children to learn to self-regulate through the context of a strong parent-child relationship, despite a child who has been traumatized in the past through a parent-child relationship. It helps parents to switch their thinking from seeing a child as disobedient or “bad” to a child who is ill-equipped to handling stress and unable to self-regulate. It gets to the root of the behavior rather than just dealing with the symptoms of the behavior.

In your experience, what is the best way to introduce a parent to the Beyond Consequences model?

Most of us will parent the way that we were parented, even when we try to do it differently. We say, “I’ll never say what my mother/father said to me” and then in the heat of the moment, whose voice comes out of our mouths? Yes, our mother’s or our father’s! We as a human species have a hard time changing from what is familiar. It isn’t until we reach a point of crisis that deep change typically happens. It isn’t until families find themselves at their screaming edge or on the brink that they are able to truly make a life-long and lasting change. Most of the families who attend my trainings or read my books are at this point. So while it is a horrible and unsettling place to be, it is also a beautiful moment of opportunity for families to change generations of dysfunction and it is when the door to healing opens.

Can you share what you’re working on now and what you’re planning for the future?

I have found that this model of parenting is most easily understood by experience and demonstration, not by reading a book or by hearing me speak about it in theory. Feedback from parents has shown that me doing role-plays is the most effective tool for teaching this model. I am currently working to film more role-plays for parents to use as a training tool. I’m very excited about this as I know it will help parents really understand how to make the shift from traditional parenting into a more love-based approach to help their families!

What words of encouragement can you share with those of us who feel that our situation is hopeless?

It is in your darkest moments that you are preparing and stretching yourself for a new beginning. Your children have the ability to bring to you complete utter chaos and it is natural to immediately see this as them turning your world upside down. But hang in there, because what they really are doing is turning your world right side up. The answers are there. Solutions do exist. Open your heart to your own pain and there you will find your next steps.

“Love never fails” appears on your website, newsletter, and I’m sure many other materials. Why did you choose this phrase and what does it mean to you?

I believe the only thing that truly exists in this world is love. Love is hard to see and to hold on to with all the other distractions, fear being the top distracter. But when it comes down to it and you break everything else down, love is the only reason we are here. Our parenting journeys are an experience into learning the depths of unconditional love and how love can manifest in a multitude of ways. Love isn’t always light and fluffy. It has its ups and downs, it has its strong boundaries, but when you learn to live your life out of love instead of fear, it will never fail you or misguide you.

I still haven’t participated in one of your webinars. What am I missing?

You’re missing the fun! My webinars are live and I’m there on video with you and other parents from around the world for 90 minutes each session. I present information to help you with your parenting but the best part is that I take direct questions from all the participants and we work out solutions right there to your individual problems going on in your home. I can even bring up parents (if they are willing) on their webcams so we can talk “in person” and “face-to-face” in the class. It is a very educational yet fun way to connect and get the solutions and support you and other parents are needing.

Is there anything else you’d like to share about Beyond Consequences?

My hope is that every parent finds the support and solutions they need to create the loving home they originally envisioned for their families. There are numerous resources on my website, many of which are free just to download. I have a variety of programs available to fit the various needs of families. Please check out these resources and most of all, remember you’re not alone in your struggles so never never lose hope!

Most importantly, when are you coming to Detroit again?

I’ll be there to present my full-day free parent training on Saturday, September 27, 2014. I’ll also be in a number of other cities this coming fall. For more information and to sign up for these events, go to: http://www.beyondconsequenceslive.com

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Homework horror

BC is in kindergarten this year and the homework situation is awful. Every Monday he brings home a packet of work that is due on Friday. For him, the work is simple – one digit addition, writing punctuation, and short spelling words like “it” and “can.”

I know he can do the work, yet he seems to enjoy making things more difficult. He often claims that he forgot how to sound out certain letters when he had read them perfectly fine the night before. It takes him a very long time to get through homework and he gets upset when BE finishes before him and gets to play.

I understand that something about homework is probably overwhelming for him, and I wish I could figure out what it is. He’s not old enough yet to really put words to his feelings. If I ask why he doesn’t like homework or what bothers him about homework, he just says he doesn’t know.

As always, I was reading the BCLC monthly newsletter, and of course Heather had some great advice. A reader had asked how to deal with her teenage daughter who wouldn’t help with family dinners, which made her appear lazy. Here are a few quotes from the response:

“To solve this issue, do proactive work and develop a plan with your daughter. This is a child who needs you to join her and to assist her in order to keep her from automatically going into overwhelm…. Explore the real issue: it’s too much for her and it is threatening…. Moving a child out of a state of overwhelm happens within the context of the relationship. Focus on the relationship.”

As always, for Heather, it’s all about the relationship. She did share some ideas for discussing the issue with the daughter, but I know BC can’t have that type of conversation yet. So, it’s nice to be reminded that building our relationship will help. I think he would like more attention than he’s getting, so the challenge for me will be to figure out how to invest more time. We don’t get home from latchkey/work until 6 p.m. and there’s a lot to do before bedtime. I’ll be looking forward to July when school is out for the summer.

Validating negativity

Right now, BC is driving me crazy. His behavior and listening skills are lacking and he doesn’t seem to have much empathy. (Now that I think about it, BE had about zero empathy at his age too, but that’s certainly not the case anymore.)

I haven’t found a solution, and it’s particularly challenging because he’s not really old enough to express what he’s feeling.

A reader question in the monthly Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (BCLC) newsletter helped to give me some more insight. The situation wasn’t really the same, but Heather Forbes’ answer gave me a few ideas. Here’s the question:

My 8-year-old son ‘hates’ everything: the particular car driving down the street, the shirt I’m wearing, the kid next door, the color of the living room, the cashier at the grocery store, etc., etc. I am having trouble understanding this and how to deal with it. Any insights?”

Here are excerpts of Heather’s response:

“A child who ‘hates’ everything is a child in a perpetual state of fear and dysregulation. His neurophysiological system has been programmed to see the world as half empty instead of half full …

“Validate his negativity instead of trying to convince him of something more positive. ‘You really do hate this shirt. Wow. Help me understand how much you hate it. Tell me more.’ As he expresses himself, help him shift into the feelings behind these words. (It’s really not about the shirt.) ‘How does that make you feel? …’

“When you can help him to move into this core area within himself by listening, validating, maximizing, tolerating, accepting, and staying present with him, you’ll be there in relationship to guide him towards feeling safe and loved. Thus, you’ll be able to guide him to see that the world is good and hope does exist. It will take positive repetitious conditioning to do this for him.”

Ok, so BC doesn’t say he hates everything, but the advice about affirming his feelings and asking questions was very helpful. Because he’s only 5, I don’t think it will make a big difference right away, but I’m hoping it will set us on a good path for the future.

If you have any advice for me, please let me know!

The two words of the soul

J and I have really benefited from the Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control books by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post, and I’ve written a lot about how we’ve been using this approach. One of the key priniciples of Beyond Consequences is that there are only two true human emotions: love and fear. Other emotions such as anger, are merely a result of fear, they are secondary.

I recently came across a quote that I think sums up this idea perfectly. I wasn’t sure who said it, so I had to read some more about the author, Neale Walsch. Apparently he wrote a book called Conversations with God, which was very popular. I’ve never read the book, so I’m certainly not endorsing it with this post. But, I do feel that his quote is too good not share.

“All human actions are motivated at their deepest level by two emotions–fear or love. In truth there are only two emotions–only two words in the language of the soul…. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear. Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes. Fear attacks, love amends.”

Have you read Conversations with God? What did you think?

When work is more appealing than staying home

I have a confession: I’m nervous about being home with my kids just two days a week this summer. I’ve been working full-time for most of the years the kids have been with us, but now I’m working three days a week. BC stayed home with me two days this week and it went fine. BE doesn’t get out of school until July and it’s having them both at home at the same time that I’m worried about. One on one the kids are fine, but as soon as they get together, it’s non-stop fighting. This drives me crazy.

Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control author Heather Forbes answered another reader with a similar concern in her monthly e-newsletter. The question was:

I’m having a difficult time keeping myself focused on parenting in the Beyond Consequences way. I read several of your books and agree with them, but there are days that I feel like it is all for nothing. We have one good day where I think, ‘Great, this is it.’ Then the next three days we all are disregulated and I feel discouraged. I keep thinking that I’d rather go back to my full-time job, working 60 hours a week with deadlines due yesterday! Do you have any words of wisdom?”

I’m ashamed to admit that on the weekends and the rare weekdays I’m home with both kids, I feel the same way. Sometimes I feel that I’d rather be at work.

In Heather’s response, she addresses the importance of the reader’s status as a stay-at-home parent. She does this by explaining the powerful effect that parents can have on their children.

“Research is showing that simple changes in a child’s environment can literally change a child’s physiology. We are seeing that by placing children with trauma histories in calmer environments with more love-based parenting techniques where a deep level of emotional safety is created, stress hormones within these children’s body systems are decreasing. This means that parents have the ability to literally change the chemical make-up of their children.”

Heather then encourages the reader to change how she thinks about each day.

“Instead of waking up in the morning thinking, ‘I’ve got to get up, fix my children breakfast, pack their lunches, somehow get them out to school on time through the tantrums and meltdowns, and then prepare myself for the dreaded homework after school!’ I encourage you to say to yourself, ‘Today is the day that I will press on to help change my child’s brain. Today is the day that I have the ability to create safety for my child through predictability, understanding, and loving support in order to help my child heal at a physiological and emotional level.'”

I certainly prefer this approach to my own, which is usually very pessimistic. I think the challenge will be thinking this way more consistently and not reverting back to old patterns.

When your child is a hoarder

BE isn’t really a hoarder, but she does show a lot of interest in trash. She always wants to pick up things that she finds lying around, such as a broken crayon in her school hallway, or a cracked cell phone case in the grass. In her recent newsletter, Heather Forbes answers a reader’s question about why her adopted daughter hoards, or collects things. She explains:

“It could be that your daughter’s resistance to throwing things away is representative of her perception of not feeling valued and worthy. This resistance is perhaps a way to recreate a new experience for herself.”

Her solution is a real challenge for me. Both my kids, but BE especially, seem to have an unusual addiction to sweets and even having them in the house can cause a real problem. I think that for my kids, this addiction and the hoarding come from the same place. Here’s what Heather said:

“By accepting her desire to have these items and by working with her on this issue, you are giving her the message that she is valuable, that her ideas are worthy, and that she is lovable — the core issues that are behind this behavior to begin with!”

This is really tough because I want to be in control. I just need to work on accepting my kids where they are. I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot of work to do!

Check out Heather’s newsletter on her Web site.

Dealing with uncertainty

I hate uncertainty as much as anyone, and I like to be in control. This is probably why I lean towards a more rigid parenting style. But, I’ve been trying to achieve more of balance with the Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control method. In her recent newsletter, author Heather Forbes addresses how to handle children who have a hard time switching from one task to another. This definitely applies to my kids, and Heather attributes this to a need for consistency. Here’s an excerpt:

“For children with traumatic histories, they have experienced an over abundance of uncertainty. There has not been a balance between the amount of uncertainty and certainty in their lives. If an imbalance of the two creates a level of fear for the average adult then it is understandable for a child, with limited coping skills, such an imbalance creates an exponential amount of fear.  The result is a child who will constantly seek certainty, at all costs.”

My normal reaction is to take my children’s refusal to comply as a personal insult. But Heather recommends the following approach:

“If the parent can understand that the child is simply working to create certainty in his uncertain world, this negative loop can easily be interrupted. The parent can acknowledge that the compelling behavior (as given in this question) is helping the child feel better and that switching to a new task is incredibly difficult and scary.”

When I can manage to pull off a reaction like this, the end result is usually much smoother. Check out Heather’s complete newsletter on her Web site.

BCLC: rejecting positive messages

Heather Forbes recently sent out her latest e-mail newsletter, and as always, she answered a reader’s question. Here’s the question:

“My son had a terrible early childhood history and constantly tells me he is a bad boy and that nobody loves him. Yet, no matter how much we tell him what a good boy he is or how much we love him, nothing seems to help. How can he continually reject these positive messages?”

As usual, Heather’s response focuses on her belief in the two primary emotions: love and fear. And, as she often reminds her readers, it takes time to establish new patterns and beliefs. Here’s just part of her response.

“While the emotion of fear keeps this child locked in this negative belief system, it is also true that the emotion of love will release this child from this negative belief system. It takes parenting this child in a loving, safe, and emotionally available manner. And it won’t be just one experience, but several experiences, over and over again, with this child being met at an emotional level, in order for new neural pathways to be created.”

I’m very impatient, even with myself, and I tend to think that my family should be making more progress. At this point, the time that we’ve known BE is about equal to the time that we didn’t know her. The time that we’ve been a legal family is less, and the time that we’ve really been working with BCLC is even less. Considering all that, we probably have made significant progress!

Learn more about BCLC and subscribe to Heather’s newsletter at her Web site.

The new outcome

In Heather Forbes’ latest newsletter, she answers a reader’s question about the progress of his son under “Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control” (BCLC). Here’s his question:

For the past six years, we have been implementing the Beyond Consequences parenting model with our son and have seen a massive amount of improvements. We have changed our lifestyle, found the perfect school and teacher for him, and supported him with tutoring.  I feel like my wife and I have even done much of our own work to keep ourselves from reacting and in a place of love with him.  However, even after all of this, I still see our son struggling!  I am frustrated because I truly know that he has everything right in front of him to get better. Is there something more we should be doing that I’ve missed?

I love Heather’s answer, because it’s a great summary of what first attracted me to BCLC: we can only control ourselves, we cannot control our children. Here’s part of Heather’s response:

Let go of your son’s outcome. It is not about giving up; it is about letting go and changing the tool of measurement. Ask yourself about the process in which you engage with him: “Did I give him understanding, acceptance, and validation today?” These are the things that should be measured because these are, in reality, the only parts over which we have any control. We cannot control the outcome of any child, especially a child with a trauma history. Thinking that we can is in essence ignoring and discrediting the strength and power of free will.

Check out the complete newsletter on Heather’s Web site.