PLACE Parenting for Children with Attachment Disturbance
Written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C
When you have a child with any sort of attachment disturbance, you also have a child that is very good at making you feel like you don’t know what you are doing. In one training I went to on attachment disturbance, the presenter, Art Becker-Weidman said one of the parents he worked with described it something like this: ‘It’s like you as the parent are the control station for a radio station, then the kids come up and play with all the buttons until they find one that gets the response they are looking for. When they find that button that gets them what they want, they just keep flipping the switch over and over again.’ I have used this description with the parents that come through my own practice and find it resonates deeply with them as well. What to do when you have a child that is constantly pushing your buttons and finding creative ways to make you feel like you don’t have a clue what you are doing?
Daniel Hughes and Art Becker-Weidman are working to popularize a parenting attitude that really can work wonders if parents are able to maintain it when they have an attachment disordered child (or any child for that matter). It is called the PLACE mentality, it stands for: Playful, Loving, Accepting, Curious, Empathic. I find that while the words are familiar it can be easy to misinterpret the meanings of those words in this particular context so let’s look at each word to see what we are talking about when it comes to parenting children using the PLACE mentality.
Playful– The most common misinterpretation of this quality is that parents believe I want them to throw a parade in their child’s honor every time they do something desirable to the parent. What I mean by playful is just finding an approach that has a less authoritarian tone. Instead of telling kids where to go to find their glasses, encourage them to play a little game with you where they have to look at your face for them to give you a hint where the glasses are. When they look into your face and lie, come up with a playful response “That’s a good one. I’ve always known you were creative. Tell me another!” Often being playful can help everyone tone it down a notch. If you have a child with a history of abuse or neglect, it can also keep them from getting triggered into believing that they are in huge trouble and helps prevent them from going into fight or flight mode so that you have some chance of them hearing some of the words you are saying. A way to really get playful is to learn from a parent that really gets this stuff. Christine Moers is a mom raising adopted children with attachment issues. She posts vlogs on youtube to help other parents (and to keep herself sane). Her video blog: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HDAALaVG27k&feature=fvwrel is a wonderful example of how to discipline in a playful way. I would recommend you look at her videos when you need help staying sane.
Loving– When I think of saying things in a loving way to children, what really helps me to stay in that place is remembering my purpose for saying the words in the first place. Yes, ultimately I may be asking my child to do a task because I want it done. But the bigger picture reason for asking children to do a task is to teach them so that they know how to do it, to give them a system for tackling problems, to get them into the routine of caring for themselves and planning how to fit everything into a schedule, or something else like that. In the end, our job as parents is to make it so that our children no longer need us in order to make it through the day. When we remember that we are asking our children to do something because we love them and want them to be happy, healthy adults, we can state requests in a more loving way. By remembering this, I believe the primary change is our tone of voice, which makes a world of difference to children with attachment disturbance.
Accepting– One trap I see so many parents walk into is the argument with their child(ren) about whether their child is having a reasonable feeling or not. Both the child and parent find this is a way to feel crazy pretty quickly and I would like to present an alternative…acceptance. Here is how it goes, maybe it sounds familiar:
Child comes down to breakfast dressed in a completely inappropriate outfit for school
Parent (being curious): Wow, is there something going on at school today? That’s an interesting outfit.
Child: I knew you wouldn’t let me wear it! You never let me wear anything I want! You’re such a witch! You want me to be the ugliest girl in school!
Parent (accepting): That made you mad. I can see how you would be mad if you thought I wanted you to be the ugliest girl in school.
It’s that simple- do not engage in an argument about whether you want her to be the ugliest girl in school! If that is her belief in that moment, accept that her feeling is appropriate for the interpretation.
Curious– In my office, I often frame this curiosity as being a “feelings detective.” I tell kids I ask lots of questions because I am a very curious person and sometimes it takes me a while to understand things. Get curious about your children. In the above example, rather than arguing about who wants whom to look ugly, you might get curious about it. “I wonder what made you think I wanted you to look ugly when I asked about your outfit.” Another way to help with getting kids to understand you are curious (not judgmental) is to say something along the lines of, “I’m curious what got you so mad because I don’t want you to feel that way again. ” When they tell you what got them mad, again make sure you avoid arguing about whether that is really what happened (accepting) and then …empathize.
Empathy– Empathy looks like this,” If I thought someone felt that way about me/ said that to me/said that about me I can see how you would feel mad/sad/ scared too.” That’s all empathy is being able to see something from the viewpoint of another person. Empathy does not involve any discussion about whether someone is right or wrong for feeling the way they are feeling.
So, why does this work? It works because our children with attachment disturbance find the things we need to do most often, educate, speak with authority, and parenting, to name a few, to be triggers to them of things that remind them of times they were hurt or neglected. When kids do not learn the typical role of parents early on, they easily misinterpret the actions of parents. Using the PLACE mentality is one way of reducing the number of triggers for your child, not to mention that it just makes parenting more fun. I use it with my own securely attached children as well. Of course, this is a very quick overview of the PLACE mentality. It is important that if you feel you are in a position with your child(ren) where you need to utilize the PLACE attitude more and could use support in doing so, that you see a therapist that has an attachment informed practice.
- Announcing a New Group for Parents of Children with Attachment Disorder (help4yourfamily.com)
- What is Attachment Disorder? (help4yourfamily.com)
- The Spectrum of Attachment (help4yourfamily.com)
October 18, 2012 - Posted by help4yourfamily | attachment, attachment disorder, help for parents, parent support/ self improvement | Adoption, Attachment disorder, Attachment theory, Child abuse, children, Children Youth and Family, counseling, Family, Kate Oliver, mental health, parent, parenting, psychology
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Kate Oliver, LCSW-C (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) has been a clinician working with traumatized and attachment-disturbed children for the last thirteen years. She is co-owner of A Healing Place, a successful private practice in Columbia, Maryland, since 2007.
Kate earned her BA from Goucher College in 1997 and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Maryland in Baltimore in 2000. Kate first worked with the Sexual Trauma, Treatment, Advocacy and Recovery Center (STTAR Center) working with abused and neglected children in Columbia, Maryland. While working for the STTAR Center, Kate found that while some children responded to traditional child therapy practices, there were a significant number of children who showed little or no improvement in their overall emotional well-being. Kate sought out specialized training to learn more about attachment, the bond between parents and children, and found that by using attachment-based strategies built upon research by John Bowlby, and Mary Ainsworth, and models that foster parent/child attachment, even the most challenging children and their parents, saw major, life-changing shifts, not only for the children she was working with, but the parents as well.
After the STTAR Center, Kate accepted a position with Tamar’s Children, a program that took pregnant, incarcerated women from prison to a treatment facility that worked on teaching the women to bond with and attach to their babies, while also helping the women to heal their own broken attachments, and history of trauma and addiction. Kate was quickly promoted to Clinical Director of Tamar’s Children. The program was internationally recognized for having a successful, evidence-based practice using an attachment-based model. From working with some of the most severely disenfranchised parents, Kate received important information about how to help all parents maintain a happy, healthy relationship with their children with little or no additional financial investment for the parents.
In 2007, Kate co-founded A Healing Place, a mental health private group practice in Columbia, Maryland, where she focuses on working with families with children who have a history of trauma and/or attachment disturbances. A board certified supervisor, Kate has been an invited presenter to teach continuing education courses for other social workers and psychologists. In her courses, Kate teaches attachment-building techniques and presents about her sub-specialty, working with families headed by gay and lesbian parents.
Kate is a former board member for the organization COLAGE, a non-profit group that works toward community building for people with gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender parents. She is currently a member of Attachment Disorders Maryland, a group that works to educate parents and professionals about working with children with attachment related issues.
Kate lives in Columbia, Maryland is the mother of two amazing daughters, the partner to a fantastic husband, and the daughter of one mother and two gay dads. She loves to read any book that crosses her path, write (of course), and she recently started dancing again, a passion she has had since her youth.
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