Sunday, July 29, 2007


Many times when we start discussing what is going on with a particular child I hear staff say: "she is just doing it for attention". We say this dismissively, as this invalidates the behavior and means we don’t have to take it seriously.
If you go to a play ground where children are playing and adults are near by, what do you hear constantly from the children: "Look, Mommy!" "Daddy, watch this!" "See how high I can go!" The children are clamoring for attention.
In fact, as adults we also demand attention. When you receive a compliment or an honor, do you call someone to tell them about it? Do you get upset if you try to tell your partner something and they are not paying attention?Attention is the food of the soul, the building material of the brain. It is necessary for growth and change. It is through the attuned attention of another that our brain develops and we form a sense of who we are, what the world is like, and what we can expect.
Attention is one crucial part of what was missing in the development of traumatized children. They were not central. Their needs were not put first. Often there was no one to listen to their stories and to take their disappointments seriously. Their needs were problems to be dismissed, not legitimate. Their cries were not answered. They have an attention deficit- not just that they cannot concentrate, but that they have empty spaces that have not been filled through the loving attention of another. No one was watching.
And now they are in treatment programs in groups of 12, 14, 17. Adult attention is in short supply, and is often monopolized by extreme behaviors. It some times seems the only way of being heard is to scream.
Paying attention is the greatest gift you can give another person. So next time you hear the words "he was just doing it for attention" stop. Pay attention. Listen. Express delight. Remember. Comment. Watch. Look, and describe what you see.
Attention is the nourishment you can give that will enable others to grow.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Change Your Conversations, Change Your World

You can further your change towards a trauma informed treatment program by changing the conversations you have as a staff.

Lisa is a sixteen year old girl who has been at this therapeutic group home for almost a year. During that time she has been known to sneak off and be where she is not supposed to be, and to lie to staff. However, recently she has been doing really well and everyone is quite proud of her. Lisa is scheduled to be transferred to a lower level of care shortly- a graduation which makes her staff very proud.

The other night Lisa sat with her favorite staff and said she had some thing to tell her. She then proceeded to confess a series of occasions when she had lied that no one knew about- such as saying she was at her job when she was really with her boyfriend, and sneaking out of the house at night. These things happened weeks and months ago.

What is the FIRST thing that you talk about at a staff meeting?

Is it what is the correct consequence- should she be grounded even though these things happened a while ago? Do staff take sides on yes, ground her, she needs to learn; no don’t ground her after all she told us voluntarily?

If this is your conversation, the fact that you decide not to ground her does NOT prove that you are using a Risking Connection® / Restorative Approach™ approach.

Instead, your first conversation, and ultimately the only interesting one is: what is going on here? Why is Lisa telling us these things? What was happening with her when she was doing them and what is happening now? Of course, her telling this is probably related to her impending discharge. She is probably saying: Look you guys I’m not so sure I am ready for less help. I know you are proud of me and all but I am scared to death. Plus I don’t want to leave you just as I am finally getting used to you. Look what I am capable of- I should stay right here.
And that conversation leads us to lots of possibilities. Is there more we can do to help her get to know the people at her new place? What conversations can we have with Lisa about her fears of going, the difficulties of saying good bye, and what she needs? We do not need to lecture her on the dangers of running away, or how she will never keep a job if she is not reliable. Instead we can talk about what it all feels like to her, the job, the boyfriend, this group home, the place she is going.

And with these interesting conversations going on we never even need to get back to boring subjects like whether or not she should be grounded.

If you want to change your program, after every event ask: what is going on here? What does this behavior mean? How is this action an adaptation for the kid, what problem is it solving for her? How can we help her to meet her needs another way?

These thoughtful conversations among staff and with the kids will strengthen relationships, teach feelings management skills, help the child (and staff) feel sane and worthwhile, and offer the greatest possible power for healing.