Healing for the Attachment Challenged, Angry, and Defiant Child

Today we attended a Bryan Post seminar on Attachment. Bryan Post is a well known attachment therapist based out of Virginia. From the Post Institute homepage, he is described:

B. Bryan Post is America’s Foremost Child Behavior Expert. Founder and CEO of the Post Institute for Family-Centered Therapy based in Virginia Beach, VA. The Post Institute specializes in working with adults, children and families who struggle with issues related to early life trauma and the impact of trauma on the development of the mind body system. A renowned clinician, lecturer, and author of several books, video, and audio programs, Bryan has traveled throughout the world providing expert treatment and consultation to a variety of groups. An internationally recognized specialist in the treatment of emotional and behavioral disturbance in adults, children and families, he specializes in a holistic family-based treatment approach that addresses the underlying interactive dynamics of the entire family, a neurophysiologic process he refers to as, “The secret life of the family.” Post contends that these same dynamics become obvious and are visibly apparent in every relationship.

The seminar lasted a full day and was very informative and engaging. It included quite a bit of lecturing by Bryan in the morning but segued into role playing challenging situations in the afternoon. This post is just a scratching of the surface. It covers some of the high points in the presentation.

The first concept that was covered was breathing. Breathing is the single most important thing to do to break the stress response. Stress is the enemy that is the root of all bad behviour.

The idea is that all behaviours stem from the stress response. Not all stress is bad and in fact, love is part of the model. In influencing your child's behaviour, there are two concepts.

  1. You can not prevent the future from happening
  2. You can influence what happens in the future.

When you yell, hit, shame, and blame you increase the stress and fear which only intensifies the feelings of insecurity. Children of Trauma literally believe that they are going to die, which is the reason bad behaviours exist. The child is in fight or flight mode. Reduce the level of bad stress and behviours will tend to work themselves out. That means that you really need to put MORE love into the now.

What that means is that you, as a parent, have to not allow reactive behaviour to cloud your parenting and that the dynamic of good parenting is emotional not cognitive. 90% of your communication is non-verbal. Once you have helped your child regulate themselves, they will be better able to attach.

Don't ever take your child's behaviours personally. They are not about you. Be calm and listen. Let your child process his or her emotions. DON'T EVER TAKE YOUR CHILD'S BEHAVIOUR PERSONALLY. It isn't about you. Behaviours are in the moment and are not conscious. If you punish and force the child to be responsible in THAT moment, you are making your child responsible for all the trauma in his or her past. Talk about the behaviours after the child has regulated and don't blame or shame.

There are three pathways of expression.

  1. Attitudes
  2. Feelings
  3. Behaviours

So, when a will express his or herself with behaviours at the base level. Anger could come out as a room toss, smashing things, or getting into fights. As the kid becomes works through the behaviours, he or she will start to express through feelings - "I hate you", "You're a fat pig", and so forth. Finally, a child will express themself through attitudes. Again, remember that these are all about processing a traumatic past. Don't take them personally. When a child is prevented from using any of the pathways you are left with anger or depression.

Relationships ensure survival and without a relationship you have no influence. Relationship is the single most important thing. If you lose relationship, you lose everything. So, if you can remove all threats, the child will be more easily able to feel safe and attach. It increases your influence with the child. A child longs for the relationship between he or she and the parents. At the core of all messages a parent needs to make the child know:

Everything is ok. I will keep you safe. I promise I won't let you die.

Remember that your child's background has made him or her stress sensitive and fearful.

As you remove threats you can begin to experience love. Paradoxically, if you try to grab hold of love it eludes you as the action is taken out of fear.

When you look at the brain, the Amygdala is fully developed by 18 months of age. It provides the fight of flight response. The Hippocampus, which controls short term memory and helps us regulate, isn't developed until the age of three. The Orbitalfrontal cortex, which is the social emotional center, isn't fully developed until age 25. Children of Trauma have hypersensitive Amygdalas and the Hippocampus is atrophied. Basically, when a child's bad behaviour occurs the Amygdala is firing like crazy and there is nothing to balance it. We need to reduce stress to prevent the fight or flight response.

When a child loves his or her caregiver (and caregiver loves the child) Oxytocin floods into the body from the Hypothalymus. Oxytocin is a pleasure giving hormone. Kind and loving touch releases Oxytocin. How Oxytocin relates to attachment is explored in The Chemistry of Connection: How the Oxytocin Response Can Help You Find Trust, Intimacy, and Love by Susan Kuchinskas.

Bryan talked about the parenting continuum - the idea is that you, as a parent, must take responsibility for your child and cease to parent in a reactive way. You should look at your parenting style and figure out five things that take you out of the relationship with your child and five things that bring you closer to relationship with your child. Do more of the things that bring you closer and fewer of the things that sever the relationship.

Parent with love not with fear.

This seminar was fabulous. I recommend all parents, regardless whether they are the parents of Children of Trauma or not, spend a day with Doctor Bryan Post. He shares his insights with love, kindness, and humour.