I will be writing an extremely important post on bonding next week and this information will be helpful in implementing the upcoming technique. But first, I would like to say that there is no quick fix for our hurting children. The information below is not an instant solution, but it will help you move forward with some bonding methods that truly work.
Today we will be looking at Paradoxical Parenting, which works with children who have attachment issues (any child that has been through trauma, neglect, and/or abuse). Why? Because our children are no longer in control when we use this strategy.
Our children want to be in control. When they were in their previous situation everything in their life was out of control, so they now find a need to manage all moments of their existence so that whatever happened to them in the past won’t materialize again. They assume control, and in doing so, they believe they are keeping themselves safe.
“After all, one of the defining elements of a traumatic experience…is a complete loss of control and a sense of utter powerlessness. As a result, regaining control is an important aspect of coping with traumatic stress.” Dr. Bruce Perry
Really, you have to give your child a lot of credit for their intelligence, many of them have set in motion a set of survival skills.
Is your child defiant, does he/she create tension when asked to do something other than what they want? Does it seem like everything is a battle? This is a sign that your child wants control and deals with attachment issues. The book, The Whole-Brain Child, explains why our children are defiant and respond with “No.” “When the nervous system is reactive, it’s actually in a fight-flight-freeze response state, from which it’s almost impossible to connect in an open and caring way with another person… When our entire focus is on self-defense, no matter what we do, we stay in that reactive, “no” state of mind. We become guarded, unable to join with someone else – by listening well, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, by considering their feelings, and so on. Even neutral comments can transform into fighting words, distorting what we hear to fit what we fear. This is how we enter a reactive state and prepare to fight, to flee, or even to freeze.” Does this describe your child? If you have a child who has been through a neglectful situation, trauma, or abuse, I can bet it does.
Paradoxical Parenting sets our child’s brain in thinking mode, instead of reacting mode. It is the idea that when you foresee an issue arising, you stop it by using language that defines what your child is about to do. You tell your child how you expect them to behave, or what they will say. If you know your child will yell at you, tell you “no,” stomp their feet, slam their door, or whatever negative behavior they might exhibit, you name it.
So, you might say to your son, “You’re going to hate doing this, so I want you to yell, ‘No way!’ and stomp off to your room.” Wait and see how your child responds. At first your child will look at you like you’ve come down from Mars. You say, “No, really,” and repeat what you said the first time. If they don’t move and still seem stumped, say, “Go ahead, I’m waiting.” You might be surprised by their reaction. Your child might say, “I’m not going to [insert what you said],” then move forward with the request as if they are the ones who just came down from outer space.
When my daughter had become more bonded with us, we found that Paradoxical Parenting lightened the mood. We make it dramatic (because I am the drama Queen after all). We act like a two-year-old, whining and waving our arms in the air, and she actually laughs. I am ALWAYS a proponent of adding laughter and smiles to our every day lives.
I recommend only using Paradoxical Parenting when absolutely necessary, if it’s over-utilized, your child will anticipate what is coming, and we want to catch them off guard. This is not a permanent fix, we only want to use this method to get them to participate in a specific bonding moment, or if there is an immediate need that should be met before the caregiver pulls their hair out.
Paradoxical Parenting takes the control from your child’s hands. No matter the outcome, in the end, the child does what we need them to do. Whatever decision your child makes, it is one we have chosen for them. If they act out, we told them to have free reign, and if they choose to do what we have asked (make their bed, get their backpack, clean up their mess) they have complied with our request. Win. Win.
*I did not come up with the concept of Paradoxical Parenting, it is a technique that is occasionally used by therapists.