Sheila and the Joys of Therapeutic Parenting
In this post, Sheila, a Foster Carer with Lika for 3 year, talks us through her learning and development in therapeutic parenting ideas and how learning these new skills have enabled her to help create change with the two children in her care.
When you first joined Lika, what did you think about the therapeutic approach?
I thought that Kate-Marie and Linda would think the same way I did about children’s behaviour – that you can get fed up about it. However, they didn’t – they really taught me how to think differently about separating the behavior from the child.
I thought this was really interesting and I really wanted to work with them more after this!
I hadn’t thought about therapeutic parenting approaches before Lika. In the conversations with the Lika team and after the therapeutic parenting training, I noticed that, actually, I do some of this already. This made me feel confident that I can do the therapeutic parenting.
After the training, I developed my skills further and thought differently about what is going on for the boys when they are acting out.
I stop more and think.
I give myself space to look at what I did, not just what they did. This helps me to be more effective in my parenting, it helps the boys more. I don’t get angry or show a reaction to the behaviour. I can actually be fun and still manage behavioural difficulties – this actually makes the boys calmer much quicker.
I also learnt that I can negotiate and not lose my parental authority, I can ignore and still make a difference to their behaviour. I had a better relationship with time – I didn’t need to do everything there and then.
How did you learn to use the skills?
It was both using the theory, which I learnt from Lika’s therapist, and watching the videos about therapeutic parenting, which is all the theory-based stuff.
I also learnt how and when I could apply the skills from particular situations. For me, the role plays with Kate-Marie, we’re really helpful. I would be the child, and she would be me – using the therapeutic approach. Then we would swap and I would try to talk to her using the therapeutic approach, so I could try the skill out before doing it with my boys.
Also, at group supervision, I would follow advice form the other carers who were training in the approach. This was different as they could also tell me the positive effect that they had in that similar situation.
Did you notice a difference in the children in your care, after using the approach?
Yes – definitely!
The children I look after were physically abused, they would talk a lot about how I wanted to hurt them, or I would hurt them. The therapeutic approach to help me understand why they did this. It was because their world was pain and hurt, so they couldn’t believe that I wasn’t going to hurt them or cause them pain: I was keeping up a pretense that I would soon drop and hurt them.
I used this to help me keep calm when they say these things and remind them that them been hurt is not allowed, that it is not going to happen and I would only keep them safe. They have now started to understand that what happened in the past was not ok, that it was not what should have happened, and they are learning that life CAN be safe.
There is still work to be done here, and I have learnt from the training and group supervision that that is ok too! Things take time, and its ok, it’s a journey and it’s a process.
The boys would have a huge outburst and be aggressive towards me, if I ever said ‘no’ to them. This would be very difficult to manage, it would be exhausting and I was feeling that it was getting too much for me to handle.
However, when I learnt how to use different words, in these moments – for example I used to say “no, you can’t have it any more”, I would say “The TV time is too long”. Now, I use reframes and choose words that are not to do with them or blaming them, that helps them understand boundaries without feeling that they were always in trouble – and they learn better this way.
I also stopped feeling that I needed to show them I had more power – I actually flipped that over and made them see they have the choice, if they choose positive behavior, they get rewards, if they choose negative behaviour, there are natural consequences that follow them. When the boys broke a game console of theirs, because they were frustrated, I explained that it was broke, so they couldn’t play it. Now I see they understand the effect that their behaviour had on their things, now they remind each other that they need to be calm with their games, or they will loose them.
I also have taken more time to think about the boys emotions, and how this effects the way they behave. So I develop code words for something that is embarrassing for the boys, for example, if they have an accident, I use the code word, so that they don’t feel embarrassed, but are able to listen to me, clean themselves and we can then talk about this – because they don’t need to feel ashamed, or feel that they need to defend themselves. We are working together to help the boys to learn new skills.
When there is an incident that has happened, and the boys disagree with me about what happened, I’ve learnt that we can go back a day after and explore the impact of the behaviour of the other – the boys do this to me too – and we say to the other who this made them feel. I feel that this makes us closer together, we understand each other more, we feel more empathy for each other. This also helps the boys understand that their behaviour can have a negative impact or a positive impact and they have the power to choose this. It also helps me to learn how they experience me as a carer, and how I can be more helpful to them.
Would you have been able to make similar changes to those children, without this approach?
I don’t think so no.
I think that if I used bog standard parenting, I wouldn’t be able to separate out the boys from the behaviour that is difficult. This would break me. It would be impossible.
I wouldn’t be able to see my responses are also part of the behaviour patterns they have – I have to think about others behaviour too – even from the past, it all effects the way they behave. It’s not just them doing this in front of me now.
It’s a whole life time of interactions and responses that lead them to do what they do.
I wouldn’t have been able to understand this before – I may have just thought they were behaving badly deliberately; it would have wound me up.
The thinking is different, it helps me think ‘why’? Which is so helpful when you are looking at something you can’t understand at first. Having lots of different ideas helps me to have a better response to them – which then helps them manage their anger better. There is less of it because of this.
It’s not fast but I wouldn’t be able to have the relationship with time I have either without the therapeutic approach. I wanted to see what I said to the boys today having effect tomorrow. The approach helped me understand that there is a logic and a reason behind the behaviour, I can see the knot better, and I use the skills to slowly – at their pace – to unravel it with them, and rebuild a new one.
Because I have learnt this – I can learn from them, they way it works for them – rather than the way I knew it worked before.
To be honest, I wish I had this therapeutic parenting training when I was a younger mum! I think all parents should have this training, it’s so helpful, it’s partnership with your child, it’s not a battle ground.
How has Lika helped you maintain the therapeutic way of caring?
Lika do reflective supervisions, so I bring the exact issue from my home, in my home where the issue happened, so it’s really relevant and when the issue comes up again, I can recall these conversations again and it helps me to pause and respond thoughtfully.
In these supervisions, I sometimes disagree with my supervisor – which means that we had a discussion about why we have different ideas, and we explore different ideas – so I have more ideas.
We also agree a lot! But we still will look over what I did and how it was therapeutic and why it was helpful – which builds my confidence and awareness of my skills.
Also the team, they work together to notice when I am feeling stressed – they all rally round to give me support even respite and taking the boys out, so that I don’t burn out. This is all the time, I’ve never felt like this, before I’d look for help and it wasn’t always there – this is there ALL the time – even at night and weekends. This helps me to have the fuel to continue.
Is it fun?
Yes, lots of fun!
There are so many different ways to use the therapeutic parenting approach! It can be silly, playful and daft.
Since I have started fostering, it has lightened my life. It has also lightened the children’s life; they can joke again, even though we are dealing with a lot of sadness and anger at times – we can use these different approaches to make it fun.
The one I have used a lot is a word game, so that when my boy was swearing at me, the meaning was changed, to be positive, so all the members of the family would thank him for calling them something really nice – this was fun, because everyone would laugh. The reaction of being angry towards him was not there, so he ceased trying to get that reaction, the word changed and the behaviours changed. It was a fun time – everyone would roll around laughing!
We use the boys’ imagination to develop metaphors, things that make them strong against anger and fear. We build stories together, which we build on every day, to help them to feel they can change their behaviour, they are not blamed, but they have the power to be different.
This helps them to understand the responsibility of their own behaviour – but they don’t need to be shamed for it, they can get a real understanding by using lighter approaches. This is change you can see.