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Beyond Consequences

August 10, 2010

On our first date, Edie told me she had been to Russia ten times on mission trips to orphanages and her desire was to bring home a little Russia girl. This dream resonated with me, so in the summer for 2006, my wife Edie and I made three trips to Vladimir, Russia. For five weeks I survived with limited McDonalds (the MickyDees in Moscow are packed, but there’s no such thing as a good burger in Vladimir).

Sept 4th is both my oldest daughter’s birthday and also the day we celebrate GotchaDay for our adopted daughter. She is a delight for us, but raising her is very different than raising Lauren and David. With biological children, you never worry that sending them to time-out will impact how they bond to you – the bond is a given. With an adopted child the bond has to be nurtured and developed.

Somehow Edie heard about Heather Forbes and her Beyond Consequences method as a smarter way to parent adopted kids. Edie and I read the book, watched the DVDs and went to the seminar. It has made a huge difference in my view of parenting and I believe we have all benefited.

In a nutshell, here’s what Beyond Consequences is about.    

When a person is stressed to their limit, or feel seriously threatened they react from deep emotional level regardless of what’s logical. For example, in her  seminar while she’s calmly talking there’s suddenly the loud sounds of bombs and machine gun fire though the speakers. In a room with a thousand parents, teachers, social workers and counselors, about half the rooms ducks in fear. That’s not a thoughtful deliberate action, that’s an automatic reaction.

If ducking in fear was against the rules, would sending someone to timeout for bad behavior make any difference?

Most people have a relatively high level of stress they can handle before they go into an automatic response mode, but even the calmest child can have a meltdown after a 12 hour car ride through New Mexico in the summer heat without any air conditioning, no drinks, and Mom and Dad fighting in the front seat.  

From an American point of view we look at a child who was adopted out of an orphanage and we think the child should be grateful for being rescued. From the child’s point of view, they have just lost their language, favorite foods, their orphanage bed, the few friends they had, the one caretaker who cared, their playground, and sometimes they even lose their name. The child was traumatized by becoming an orphan and then further traumatized by being adopted.

Kids with a history of trauma and abandonment expect the world to be a painful place, so they have a lower tolerance for stress. Situations that wouldn’t upset some kids (like having to wait for snack, a stuck coat zipper, or not finding the shoes that the favorite today) would likely push traumatized kids to the breaking point where they have a meltdown. We might know that dinner is in ten minutes and the hunger will soon be satisfied, but to the traumatized child, it feels emotionally life threatening and the child spirals into the meltdown. The behavior might look like disobedience or a temper tantrum, but in fact it’s an deep emotional reaction that’s out of the child’s control. Sending the child to timeout, or some love and logic consequence, isn’t a solution, and will only reinforce the child’s deep seated belief that the child’s needs won’t be met and the world is a dangerous place.

To the child, the adult in control is the one who’s supposed to make the world a safe place. This means that the adoptive parent will likely to the brunt of anger and pain from the traumatized child even though the adoptive parent is trying to help the child. The hurt from being abandoned by the biological Mom will likely transfer to the adoptive Mom. Being an adoptive parent can be hard.

Beyond Consequences teaches that the way to raise a traumatized child is to understand that the child is living with pain so deep that the child probably can’t even articulate it. The best a parent can do is to try to reduce the stress points for the child and to react to the child’s irrational demands with comfort and love.

On her Gotcha day she had just turned three. Now she’s been our delightful princess for three years.

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