Parenting the Attachment Challenged Child

There is much literature on how to parent challenging children these days. Unfortunately, much of that literature does not typically address the child with special parenting needs and a special parenting understanding. A child that has been diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or even depression, requires anunderstanding not of the behavior itself, but rather of the underlying dynamics driving the behavior.

cropped-little-girl-painted-handsTake for example the analogy of an iceberg. Typically when we refer to an iceberg we are referring to what we see above the surface. However, 90% of every iceberg is invisible, lying under the surface. What you consider to be an iceberg is really only the tip. It’s an overwhelming thought when considering how enormous an iceberg is above the surface. Imagine the other 90% lurking underneath.
Negative behaviors demonstrated by children are much the same. Whereas we may attempt to remove an iceberg by hacking away from the top down, we will only be spending endless time and energy focusing on the smallest aspect of the iceberg. When we encourage parents to only focus on alleviating behavior through simple behavior modification charts, boot camp tactics, or logical consequences, we are actually missing the most important part of the behavior. Typically a focus just on the behavior may eliminate the behavior for a while to only see it return another day with greater intensity. Specific parenting steps can be taken to effectively help reduce problem behaviors in a rapid period of time. The steps will not be easy to implement, however with a firm resolve to stay the course the effectiveness of each approach is guaranteed to be effective.

The Stress Model

Stress plays a vital role in everything that we do. As an internal experience we rely on stress daily to stay alive, and engage the outside world. In addition, we rely on stress to fight illness, digest food, and recover from difficult times. Just to laugh is to experience a state of stress. In considering parenting techniques for severe behavior we will be relying on a theory of human behavior called the Stress Model. The Stress Model is a very simple theory of behavior that says, “All behavior arises from a state of stress and in between the behavior and the stress is the presence of one of two primary emotions: Love or Fear. It is through the expression, processing, and understanding of the emotion that we can calm the stress and diminish the behavior.

Very important point: There are only two primary emotions--love and fear.

Anger is not a primary emotion. It is a feeling that is secondary to the bodily experience of fear. A fear experience can occur through any of the sensory pathways. Through what you see, hear, touch, smell, taste, and even the temperature of your body. The experience of both stress and fear is cellular. It occurs unconsciously. You won’t always know what causes fear or stress. If you are seeing anger, rage, jealousy, and more it is arising from fear, rather than the anger. Love is the space between two people. It is always present and surrounds us each day. The only thing that keeps us out of love is our fear. Since the presence of love is natural, it is up to us to put fear aside and step into the presence of love. You may have heard it said, “Perfect love casts out all fear,” or “Love and fear cannot co-exist.

”We have calmly come to perceive as love is only fear in disguise. Most often times we do not see this because we fail to see our own fear the majority of the time. When talking about the specific severe behaviors, it will be important to remember the fear and stress they create in the parent first. If you try to overcome fear by creating more fear, you only make fear greater.

Action exercise:

Try to see fear in actions between you and your child for one full week. You’ll be amazed.

Bryan Post, PhD

B. Bryan Post, PhD, LCSW is the founder of the Post Institute for Family-Centered Therapy based in Oklahoma, and is the author of "For All Things A Season", "Dr. Post’s New Family Revolution System", and co-author of "The Forever Child" series. He is an internationally recognized specialist in the treatment of emotional and behavioral disturbance in children and families. Dr. Post 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."

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