January 17, 2012

Behavior Modification.

  We started some short term in-home therapy with Bella today.  I requested it because the transitions back and forth from 3-4 days with Mom and Dad to 3-4 days with us has seriously been kicking her four year old butt – along with ours in the process.  So mostly I wanted a therapist who could come in and decompress with her – someone, besides us, who can talk to her about everything that is going on.

  So her therapist came.  She is very nice, very to the point, and easy to talk to.  I’m just not sure that our mindsets and parenting theories are necessarily in sync.  We talked about what we’ve been seeing in between visits, the ridiculousness that is bed time, and we went over background info.


  Essentially what I heard was this:


  • Stop worrying so much over the emotional impact of the way you parent her.
  • Her behaviors are primarily attention seeking.
  • You are not being strict enough.


  I told her that at bedtime, sometimes we go on two hours of her crying for her Mommy, needing her back rubbed, talking through what her parents are probably doing, and talking about how much longer it is until her next visit.  I told her this in an effort to explain the deep emotional impact that the transitions back and forth are having on her.

  I was told that this bedtime routine is simply her trying to get attention, and that she’s figured out that if she cries that I will stay in there (some nights, this is true, I will admit that.).  I need to do our bedtime routine, leave, ignore her cries, and in three days it will stop.


A.K.A. : Behavior Modification.


But seriously, she’s four.  She’s away from her family.  She is going back and forth between completely different environments, expectations, and structures.  What I hear from that advice is : Ignore that she is hurting in ways she doesn’t understand, and then she’ll stop telling you.

This is not a solution. 

I honestly don’t think it’s possible for a four year old to go through that, and then have behaviors that are not derived from the pain of their circumstance.  Sure, some of her behaviors are attention seeking : because she needs attention.

What happened to fulfilling the cycle of need?


  I know there are probably a lot of people this therapist sees that just want the behaviors to stop.  Sometimes, in the thick of it, that’s what I want too.

  But really what I want is to know how I can best love her and support her emotionally through the behaviors.


  I guess I’m just disappointed.  I’ve tried really hard to develop our parenting practices in therapeutic ways, and it makes me bristle to hear advice from a therapist that does not take into account the hurt that her little heart is carrying.

  I also know that therapeutic parenting is often in pretty strong discord with many accepted parenting techniques.  But I’m not here to get pats on the back for turning my traumatized children’s behavior around over night – I’m here to comfort the hurt that causes it.


  So where do we go when our therapists are telling us that we should just treat the behaviors as if these children have had everything they ever needed and more?  I don’t know, but I do know that I can’t wait  to get to    This Conference. 

Because there is a reason that foster and adoptive parents struggle with behaviors more than other parents, and it’s not because we’re all incapable of being consistent.


(P.S. If you need book or video resources on therapeutic parenting and you’re at a loss, please e-mail me – I am happy to send you some!  It will make you feel less crazy, and help you understand where all this behavior is coming from!)


  1. I think this is one that is a fine line. I too struggle with it and probably end up being, most times, a bit more on the "harsh" behavioral modification side than the emotional support side. Truth is I don't think they are mutually exclusive. I understand the need for therapeutic parenting and demonstrating what appropriate emotional support is during and after trauma, but on the other hand I also want my children to learn that foster parenting can but should not become and excuse in life and end up producing an overwhelming and uncontrollable victim mentality as they grow older. If I can help them process their feelings through support AND teach them appropriate behaviors, that is the best outcome.

    Of course, I don't know how to do THAT perfectly. If you figure it out let mie know.

  2. I have never fostered a child as old as Bella. My oldest was 3 and I had her for one week and it was a very sad week. Very thankful she went to a good kinship placement - but even after that I was told she had a very hard time with the loss of her bio-family.
    Moving on... I agree with you Maggie. I think it is a hard decision to make. Sure, you can recognize that at times her behavior might be for attention. But if you just ignore her cries and don't help her sort through some of it when will she get to? I don't really have any advice but just wanted to say that I am sorry that this transition (even if it is playing out text book style - which never happens) is putting such a big strain on Bella and your family. You are doing an excellent job :)

  3. oh and I just got a job as a PS Mapp instructor :) Yep, when I grow up I want to be like Maggie Popp. hehe

    fostermamajulie (at) gmail

  4. We had a problem with our 2yo foster daughter biting herself. Therapist told me to just ignore it and she will stop. Yeah right, like I am going to ignore it while she leaves bruises and bite marks all over herself. Only idea that I have is to try talking through some of these things (when she will see her parents, what they are doing now, etc.) an hour or two before bedtime and tell her that we are talking about this now, so that at bedtime we can go to bed. Surely her being over tired and past her bedtime can't do anything but make her more emotional. It sounds like you are doing a great job, keep trusting your instincts and hang in there.

  5. I had the most horrific therapist encounter a couple years ago. I had a man come in to my home to meet with two terribly traumatized little girls. They had suffered EVERY imaginable trauma in their 8 & 9 young years of life. They too had a horrible time at bedtime. OK...let's be honest...they were in a constant state of dysregulation.

    Anyway...this therapist looked me in the eye and told me my girls just needed to get over it. Sure, they might have been molested in a bathroom. But it wasn't "this" bathroom. They just need to move on.

    He had a TON of other unbelievable statements like that. My skin was crawling when his hour was up and he left.

    I let our agency know that he was not welcome in my home again.

    Finding someone that truly understands trauma is difficult. I'd give anything to go to that conference!! Unfortunately, my little cherubs have court that week and I can't plan for anything that coming weekend because I have no idea what our schedule is going to be as they will most likely be transitioning out of our home at that very time. (sniff sniff)

  6. To me her suggestions sounds great, except...for your everyday average child who is growing up in a stable health family, but NOT for a child who has been through trauma. Thats teaching her that her feelings are not okay, and could be setting her up for some processing issues in the long run.

    If her visits are consistant and your pretty certain that they will definetly take place, maybe you should consider making her a kid friends calendar, big fun stickers she can put on that will show her where she will be when, and she can count how long it will be until she goes back home. Although, if a visit may be cancelled that could open up a whole can of worms with new behaviors.


Thanks for commenting!!


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