Behavioral Regulation-1-Through-Family-Play

“Play is a uniquely adaptive act, not subordinate to some other adaptive act; but with a special function of its own in human experience.”

Johan Huizinga

Families with children with behavioral disorders...

...may not remember how to play, have fun, and spend peaceful times with each other. Rather, energy is spent in repeating relationships.

When I step in to coach this type of family, who have forgotten, the concept of joy and family time is often painfully absent. Rather, focus is shaped amidst the turmoil and enormous energy spent caring for a child with difficult behaviors.

As parents practice new skills to calm their internal landscapes as well as the environments of their homes, they must also re-learn how to have fun. A vital part of healing the family is reintroducing fun, connective activities, joy and humor into the schedule. A new module in the Coaching Families With Special Needs In Behavioral Regulation provides practical information to help coaches and parents co-create a plan for repairing relationships through family fun.

The other day, when I was in town, I witnessed a shocking event. A funeral procession was slowly making its way down Main Street.. The hearse appeared to have engine trouble at the top of the hill. Suddenly, the back doors of the hearse burst open, and the coffin flew out the back of the vehicle! A few people screamed as the coffin skidded down the street and crashed into a pharmacy at the bottom of the hill. Remarkably, it came to a stop right in front of the pharmacist’s desk. In a flash the lid popped open, and the guy inside asked the pharmacist, “Doctor, doctor! Can you give me something to stop this awful coffin?”

NOTE: What just happened in your brain and body?

Some significant processes occurred in your neurophysiology that have the power to alter not only the way you feel, but also your perception and outlook on past, present, and future situations.

How does the joke relate to self-regulation and repairing family relationships?

[ctt template="5" link="ueYc6" via="yes" ]Laughter IS the best medicine. No, really! It’s true. We had a decent laugh over the joke I just told, and each of you are still benefiting from its effects. @parent_coach[/ctt]

Laughter and humor cause the brain to release ‘feel-good’ endorphins that flood  bodies and minds with well-being. Laughter causes us to breathe deeper and fills our lungs and bodies with stress busting oxygen. The wonderful combination of endorphins and oxygen culminates in a feeling of happiness.

Studies conducted by the Mayo Clinic as recently as 2013, show that laughter and smiling relieves depression, anxiety, and helps the body to produce natural painkillers. Additionally, positive self-affirming thoughts, release neuropeptides that improve our immune systems and help us fight stress. This strikes at the heart of our topic.

Neuropeptides make it easier for us to cope in difficult situations. Here are the chemical reactions we WANT to occur more regularly in the brains and bodies of disorganized and dysregulated families and children. This is just the prescription families need to coax them back to emotional balance and relationship; only, they do not know if you are a parenting coach, who arrives to model and teach this concept.

[ctt template="5" link="bza94" via="yes" ]Now, here is the challenge. How do you coach the long-suffering, overwhelmed parents to initiate a plan to have fun while they are still suffering the after effects of secondary trauma and high stress? @parent_coach[/ctt]

 

Here are some of the challenges you face.

  • Some parents do not believe they will ever have fun or smile again.
  • Others ache to smile light-heartedly and long to regain some of their previous carefree lives.
  • Some parents have convinced themselves that a strict schedule where the child accounts for every minute of the day is the only sane way to keep their child on the straight and narrow; therefore, they do not have time for fun.
  • Others are resentful and angry because of the extreme difficulties a behavioral child brings to the family dynamic, resulting in radical changes in lifestyle.
  • Parents, brothers and sisters have learned to live compartmentalized and disjointed lives in the chaos and conflict that sometimes ensues when living with a child with disruptive behaviors.

All of these caregivers may believe the simple pleasures of life are long lost. It is likely that none of them know how to break current ingrained negative patterns of interacting and bring family together again in playful ways.

Been There Too!

Referring to my personal experience, I recall feeling old, tired, depleted, and played out. (No pun intended!) However, the words of George Bernard Shaw are appropriate here:, “We do not stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.”

We know that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, and this is true for parents and kids alike. The ramifications of a life without the emotional glue of experiencing happiness, love and joyful interactions with those persons who mean the most to us are profoundly limiting.

So, how do we draw our hard pressed and pressured caregivers out of their old paradigms and beliefs and into the lighter side of life? Here is the four step secret formula to help families begin to have fun together, even while dark clouds linger.

  1. Administer fun in small measured daily doses.
  2. Monitor frequently for signs of heightened stress or conflict.
  3. Troubleshoot prevention, intervention, and exit and salvage strategies with parents should activities show signs of spiraling downward.
  4. Reflection of the effects on each family member is encouraged.

See also Behavioral Regulation 2 and Behavioral Regulation 3

 

Enroll Now in Coaching Families with Special Needs in Behavior Regulation

Behavioral Regulation-2-Administer Small Doses of Fun

Administering fun in small daily doses will be the first challenge for coach and parents alike. After all, what parent thinks about fun when their personal energies are sucked into

  • A perpetual whirlwind of
  • Frequent phone calls from teachers about a child’s behaviors, and
  • Unending fears or concerns for the welfare and future of a child?

 

[ctt template="5" link="CIh11" via="yes" ]This is precisely why activities must be re-introduced in small manageable doses, so as not to cause further overwhelm. @parent_coach[/ctt]

You can be certain that the stress the parent experiences and has experienced, has robbed them of their ability to be creative. Their tolerance levels are stuck in a stress state of inflexibility.

Coaching How To Stretch and have Fun

When, in the course of the coaching relationship, it is time to stretch a client to consider initiating a fun activity with child or family, don’t make them think about it too much. Simplicity makes for an easier transition. Trust me, having to think about it will hurt. The brain under extreme or long-term stress suffers mind-blowing effects, literally!

Stress prevents the frontal cortex in the brain from processing and accessing stored or new information. When you ask, “What can you do to bring more connective fun into your daily lives?” and your client responds with,

  • “I just can’t think!” ,
  • “I’m so confused, I can’t sort it all out!” 
  • “I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

These statements reveal that the frontal cortex is overloaded, and is not immediately capable of making a clear decision. Thus, It makes sense that your client will have a hard time thinking of part or all of a creative plan for fun in the family. Additionally, it may be a case where they just don’t feel like doing it.

When parents are stressed and exhausted, it is difficult for them to ascertain where they will access all this new positive energy you are about to require of them. Coaches make considerations as to the neurophysiology of the parent, as well as the child. Therefore, parents must begin with the simplest of activities. Recall the analogy of the overfilled glass of water or the bucket ready to tip. Use these analogies to help your clients visualize or physically demonstrate where personal stress levels are for them and their child.

Focus on Being Goal Oriented

We are helping the parent to be goal oriented. We want parent’s to experience success and see the measure of their labors. We are not just filling them up with busy time activities because there is a purpose to every action they undertake. With this in mind we:

  • Begin by helping the parent to identify the end goal of the activity.
  • Ask the parent to articulate what they want.
    • They can write it down and then read it back to you. This way mind, heart, and body are fully engaged in the process.
  • What do they want to get? What will they give? What does the outcome look like, as in these four examples:
    • I want this activity to bring our family closer together.
    • I want this activity to help me feel better about my ability to parent in this difficult situation.
    • I want this activity to let my child know how much I love them.
    • This activity will help us communicate better and show that we can still have fun together.

Setting an end goal and keeping it in sight helps the parent to resist giving up when the first few attempts do not go well.

(The prior statement is a huge clue to each of you, that this is a process. Families will experience a learning curve depending upon the amount of conflict or stress in their environment, and with their child.)

  • Discuss a minimum period for a parent to engage actively with child or family. 15- 20 minutes is appropriate.

This recommendation is tailored to the family situation, and may have to be adjusted to meet the parent or child’s needs. For instance, 10 minutes of interaction is a lot for some parents or children, while 30 minutes is a great fit for other families to begin with. A joint determination of the period of time is made by parent and coach depending on the parent/child’s level of stress, and the ability to tolerate new interactions. Keep in mind, that additions to or changes in routines, and conditioned negative expectations of interactions between family members are all transitions, which upset the balance as the child or family knows it now.

Consistency and accountability affords greater success for parents.

See also: Behavioral Regulation 1 and Behavioral Regulation 3

 

Enroll Now in Coaching Families With Special Needs in Behavioral Regulation

Behavioral Regulation-3-Choose Successful Play Activities

Play Activities Contribute to Bonding & Regulation 

  • Coach, clinician, and parents choose an activity the parent believes will be most successful. 

That is, the parent believes they have the ability, skills and presence to initiate the activity, invite and prepare the child and family for positive interaction, and equally include each family member. The parenting coach and parent join in accessing and reinforcing abilities. For instance: Help the parent gauge stress levels and practice self-calming breathing before the activity.

Parent and Coach Role Play Words

  • Gathering the family, (“As soon as you complete your homework and Dad walks the dog, we will begin game night! You can make the popcorn!”)
  • Eliciting the child’s cooperation, (“Where do you want to sit so you will feel safe and comfortable? Do you want to sit near Mommy?”)
  • Words or phrases that convey inclusion, affection, or safety. (“We are glad you can join with us and play rather than stay alone in your room.”)

The parent must also be able to arrange the environment to facilitate their child’s success according to their child’s particular needs. For instance: Perhaps cell phones need to be turned off so as not to draw any family member away from the play activity. Kindles, tablets, gaming systems or other technology need to be put away to limit distraction. Positive ground rules or guidelines are established prior to beginning. This is what you, as a coach, will discuss with the parents before they introduce new activities to the family. You might ask them; “Looking ahead - What can you do to orchestrate success and help prevent a catastrophe?”

  • Can the parent pull from their resources and strategies to adjust the environment to help insure greater success?
  • What can the parent do to create safety?
  • Can the coach and parent pace an enjoyable game and then escalate the skills for a child over activities?

For example, if the parent knows their child has difficulty with close physical proximity to other family members, or, that their anxiety levels rise with increased expectations (even when they are positive in nature) resulting in undesirable behavior.

Attend to the Environment

  • Do lights need lowering?
  • Will soft music or deep breathing help with the regulation of excitement the child feels?
  • Does the child need to participate while sitting on a balance ball, or handling a fidget toy?
  • Does the child or family need a slower paced activity to begin, or one that will appropriately help release the child’s pent up energy?
  • Encourage parents to think like a kid!
  • Ask whether the parent is able to share a game or activity they remember loving when they were their child’s age. Again, this will be a challenge for some parents.
  • The coach encourages a parent to examine the roadblocks they experience preventing them from moving into a playful relationship with their child, rather than a blaming, grudging, and resentful relationship.

I mentioned earlier that some parent’s just don’t feel like participating. Fun! Bah, humbug! Consider this a normal reaction. It is the culmination of so much internal pain, hurt feelings and disappointment. It is part and parcel of the confusion and rejection the parent feels from the child, and perhaps, disappointment in themselves.

  • What is holding you back?
  • Where do your fears linger?
  • What could be the result when you decide to do this?
  • What will happen if you don’t do anything?

Regulate the parent first. Coaches help parents apply and practice self-calming, stress management and grounding or centering strategies by asking: What can you do right now, to organize and regulate your inner body and mind so you can make a clear decision you feel good about, and help your family to enjoy this time together?

Consistency and accountability affords greater success for parents.

See also: Behavioral Regulation 1 and Behavioral Regulation 2

Enroll Now in Coaching Families With Special Needs in Behavioral Regulation