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>Musings on a Certain Parenting "Approach"

April 1, 2011

>Post one in a four-part series on grace-based NHA.

I purposefully being vague in this post because I can’t recommend the parenting paradigm I’m thinking of whole-heartedly. For three years I have been deeply conflicted because it has helped so much with Hope. Yet in its original form, and even its more recent “Christian” incarnation, it is built on a foundation of self-actualization theory that I repudiate. Not just intellectually. Taking God off the throne of the universe and putting my child in His place literally makes me sick to my stomach.

So what’s a mom to do? Keep using the modified techniques quietly –desperation is very motivating –mentioning it only to friends who I feel sure are spiritually discerning enough to sort the wheat from the chaff. And think and think and  think and pray and pray and pray.

This approach is on my front burner again because it helped pull Hope up out of the behavioral pit she fell into the week I was gone at the hospital with Joy. And it explains why she fell.

For now, because I know there are a few of you out there who know or can guess what I’m talking about, I’m just going to think out loud because the reasons why it helps Hope are beginning to become more clear to me as I understand more about FASD.

Reason #1: This approach presumes the child is emotionally younger than his chronological age and teaches parents how to meet him on that level. If you started parenting in your child’s infancy you may remember a phase before they became mobile when your interactions were unremittingly sweet and positive, when every little thing the baby did (burp?! coo?!) garnered praise. It’s almost at that level.

Reason #2: The advanced techniques (like getting a child to do what you need them to do even when they are not inclined/don’t know how to do it) work because they are almost pure “external-forebrain” work. It sets Hope up for success and prevents her from going to that mental/emotional place where opposition kicks in.

Reason #3: It is attachment-savvy: high nurture, high structure, a combination has proven effective in a broad range of parenting strategies and is also Biblical.

I can take no credit for Reason #4. But listen to this discussion of secondary behavioral disabilities in FASD:

“Secondary behaviors are defensive behaviors that develop over time when there is a chronic “poor fit” between the person and his or her environment. Defensive behaviors are normal protective reactions to frustration and are helpful cues for identifying points of intervention. By definition, these are preventable when a good fit is provided. [Here, the author lists problems that may be secondary, not primary.] …. Secondary behaviors often develop in early childhood, frequently becoming patterns of behavior by adolescence. Early identification of both primary symptoms and secondary behaviors is necessary in order to develop appropriate interventions that prevent or resolve secondary behaviors.” (Diane V.Malbin, FASD and the Role of Family Court Judges in Improving Outcomes, p. 56)

I think the founders of this approach misunderstand why it is helpful in kids with behaviorally tough diagnoses like RAD and FASD. It is not the miracle cure their marketing implies. Rather, I think it may work by remediating the interpersonal/behavioral secondary disabilities that almost inevitably develop in the years before parents/caregivers understand that the child’s behavioral issues arise from brain damage and that the child has very little control over their reactions –the early years  in which even good parents (homestudy not withstanding) can be a “poor fit.”

(Typical parenting techniques presume typical neurology and the ability to learn from cause-effect. It can take years for well-intended parents to run through the gamut of prescribed typical parenting techniques and finally admit that very little in the standard parenting tool box works.)

Looking back on it, by the time Hope was three and we first heard of this approach and were trained in the techniques by a MOFAS trainer, she had already formed a self-image as being a “bad fit” in our family (how else was she supposed to interpret her parents’ frustration with her unresponsive behavior?). This parenting approach showed us how to change our environment into a “good fit,” not by changing Hope (which the “transformation” promise implies), but by understanding and accommodating her differences in our family system.

By God’s grace, after a few weeks of rehabilitative parenting, we’re back on track. Hope and Mercy spent the morning shopping with me (have I ever said that when things are not going well, we don’t leave the house?) and we had a wonderful time together.

Now I just have to  wrap my brain around some way to endorse pieces of this approach while relegating large parts of the philosophy to the trash heap.

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