Can Plan B be a trigger?

Discussion in 'General Parenting' started by Allan-Matlem, Oct 20, 2010.

  1. Allan-Matlem

    Allan-Matlem Active Member

    From the clinicians blog -

    Can Plan B be a trigger?


    We get asked this question from time to time by parents with whom we work. That’s because sometimes when families start trying to collaborate proactively with their child (what we call Proactive Plan B) they find that just bringing up a problem triggers their child. In other words, they start off using the first step of Proactive Plan B (the empathy step) and quickly find they have to do what we call Emergency Plan B because their child is rapidly escalating before their eyes. Other times, their child might simply shut down and not participate in Plan B. Either way, if this happens with a family you are helping, they might ask you this question, “Can Plan B itself be a trigger?” The answer of course is yes. Sometimes simply starting Plan B by making an observation about a problem can agitate a child. Adults typically assume that this is because the child doesn’t want to talk about problems and things that aren’t going well – which of course none of us tend to be wild about! But it could also be that some empathy training is needed to get Plan B off the ground. There are many ways for your clients to start a conversation about a problem they want to work on – some more likely to cause agitation or shutting down than others.

    We instruct parents to begin the empathy step of Proactive B with the words “I’ve noticed …” What comes after those words though is crucial. We teach parents to remain as neutral as possible and to remember the philosophy behind the whole model: children do well if they can. If he could do well, he would do well. Something’s getting in his way, and the parent’s job in the empathy step is to try to figure out what. So an example of not so wonderful empathy: “I’ve noticed you don’t want to do your homework lately.” Why is that not so wonderful? Because we don’t know that he doesn’t want to – that’s what we would call “high-risk empathy,” making an assumption that could prove quite wrong. We’d suggest something more neutral and lower risk, “I’ve noticed homework has been frustrating for you lately.” Of course, then you are going to ask for more information, “What’s up?” (by the way: Be prepared to be surprised by the child’s response to this question because our assumptions often prove to be quite off base). In any case, the child is much more likely to answer this kind of neutral, low-risk empathic observation. Some other not so wonderful examples, “I’ve noticed you were being quite rude to your friends this afternoon.” Better version: “I noticed things didn’t seem to be going so great with your friends this afternoon. What was going on?” Reassurance can also play a critical role as part of good empathy. Some well placed comments like “I know you don’t like struggling with the homework either” or “I know you weren’t trying to upset your friends” can go a long way towards easing tensions.

    If tweaking how your clients state their observations isn’t getting you anywhere with a particular family, sometimes you might need to do Proactive Plan B in the office about the very issue of talking about problems! In other words, “It seems like when your mother brings up an issue she would like to talk about, you get upset. I bet there is a good reason. Can you help us understand why?” That might need to be a conversation you would have privately with the child first to increase the likelihood of getting their concerns on the table before proceeding with Plan B with the parent in the room as well. Once you have a better idea of what’s getting in the way, you are better prepared to troubleshoot the process. In such a conversation with a child this week, we learned that she despised talking about problems with her mother because she felt like she was always the one having difficulty and her sister was “always the perfect one.” With that information in hand, we could address that cognition, provide some reassurance that her sister had things she was working on as well, and invite her to brainstorm with us how they could work on things together without her feeling like she was always the problem child. Other children will have other reasons for bristling at what appears to be an empathic observation. Whatever the reason, it might need to be addressed before Plan B can proceed effectively. This is why we think of Plan B as perhaps your most important assessment tool. As soon as you ask families to start doing Plan B, you learn a lot from their struggles with the process about what you need to be working on with them.

  2. Jules71

    Jules71 Warrior Mom since 2007

    Great info. Thanks.
  3. Marguerite

    Marguerite Active Member

    It's like I've often said, Allen - when questioning a kid, be careful to not prompt the answer by how you phrase the question. Because kids want to do well if they can, they can often 'lift' the answer they think you want to hear, if you don't phrase the question right. So what you get is what the child thinks you re asking, and not what you really want to know.

    We also need to get into this habit of communication with our kids NOT just when we snap into "let's try Basket B mode" but in fact ALL THE TIME. I have got into trouble here before when I've told people that a change in mind-set is needed, but this is what I am talking about. Especially when a kid is given a label of ODD, the parent can increasingly feel set up for failure, with a kid who is choosing to be a problem, choosing to be difficult and oppositional. It is the parent who has to change mind-set here, to a position of "give the kid a chance to be good" and a parental attitude of "he really wants to be good but doesn't know how."
    Kids can be really sensitive and pick up disapproving vibes, even where you don't intend to project them. But if we could tape-record your responses to our children then play them back, most of us would be horrified at how we speak to them and be less surprised that a child who is already "inflexible-explosive" does not respond as well as we hope.

    One mind-set trick I use on myself (to keep my attitude to my child in a more productive direction) is to treat my child as I would a friend who was staying with us. Or a friend who is sharing our living space. I call it the flatmate approach. If you ever lived way from home in share accommodation you hopefully will remember what I mean - somehow you work out house rules and you set up a system that works for you, by mutual agreement. Of course the person who pays the lease gets overriding control in a lot of situations, where it would impact on their rental record. But issues such as what sort of meals to prepare, who is doing the laundry this week, who is cleaning the bathroom - all these are a compromise worked out with friends. Your flatmate leaves dirty plates under the sofa, how do you discuss this with him? Chances are, you handle it differently to how you would tell off your child AGAIN for just dumping the dirty plates where the dog can get at them. But especially as they get older, these kids need to learn how to get on with other people on an equal basis, adult to adult. Because how you treat your child is how they will learn to treat others (including you). You are the parent, the adult, it is your example being set.

    Much of this is very much at odds with how we were raised. Also, when we are stressed, we tend to snap back to old habits and what we know.

    Basket B, reflection mode - I wrote at length on this on another thread. I have learned to absolute LOATHE pure reflection, especially when I'm on the receiving end. I learned to do this myself when I was trained as a telephone counsellor, and at times when I have needed therapy or counselling, I sometimes have to stop my therapist and say, "Don't do it. It is a major trigger for me now, because I do NOT identify it with empathy; just the opposite."

    What I have found with "Explosive Child" methods, is that you have to adapt it to your child and your situation. Reflection does not work for me. Some mild level of reflection does work for difficult child 3 but we have to move on fast, or he wallows in his misery and rapidly escalates his rage if we allow him to focus on it too much without seeing where to take the discussion. So if I say, "You're angry because you missed out on a turn," difficult child 3 will begin to rage even more that he missed a turn and it's not fair. If I then say, "You feel it's not fair you missed a turn," I will get, "I SAID THAT!!" or he will continue to focus on "I missed having a turn and it's not fair, the teacher is a jerk, the other kids are jerks, I hate it all, it's not fair," and we will have reached a point where physical damage risks being done to people and/or property.
    So instead I need to move beyond reflection, FAST. It can still include some level of reflection, but needs more, including a sense of direction. But it is of course still important to not make assumptions. Questions are a good way of changing the direction of his thoughts.
    "You're angry because you missed a turn and you feel it's not fair. [reflection]. Did anyone else miss a turn?" [ask this hoping you know the answer is yes]. Or you could add, "Is it something we could do later on perhaps?"
    Sometimes a compromise can help. "I'm sorry you missed out on a turn. Maybe we can do it after school. And then you won't have to rush off because class is going back in."

    Depending on the child, we need to help them learn how to get out of an endless logic loop in their thoughts. "I'm angry, it's not fair, I'm angry, it's not fair, I'm angry, it's not fair..." round and around. Add in reflection from another, "You're angry and it's not fair," and it's "light blue touch paper, stand well back" [common instructions on fireworks]. In other words, you just threw kerosene on the fire.
    But if we can first show that there ARE other directions to take their thoughts then help them find the way, then over time they learn to do this themselves.

    We too often forget just how much help our difficult children need at such basic levels. But often they are fast learners. That can also be part of the problem. If your fast learner has learned some bad mental habits (such as setting up those endless logic loops in their thoughts) then you need to put in work to help them unlearn them. The best way to learn is through successful interactions. As parents, we need to be the ones to help set up these positive experiences and often it has to begin with baby steps. You may be having more successes than you realise!