Does your child with a trauma history seem to go to ridiculous extremes to avoid accepting your offers of help? Do they seem to value independence over relationship? I can relate. And it can be maddening to deal with!!!
When they seem set upon personal failure in order to avoid compliance or obligation to anyone, it can be hard to watch them fail. But failing forward may be the best teacher. They choose not to participate in a family activity? They miss out – – but it is set up in a way that they aren’t going to ruin it for the rest of the family. And hopefully, they can do it with room to come back around. I think sometimes my kids dig themselves into a hole and don’t know how to jump out – – how to change gears.
This type of planning takes some thought. Birthdays, holidays and any type of celebration can bring on negative reactivity from some of our children. By keeping plans low-key and flexible I am able to make adjustments to avoid their controlling (and ruining) the celebration time for everyone else.
For instance, for our daughter’s birthday, I was keenly aware that she had been incredibly oppositional and was apt to opt out. It turned out that we had several in the family with accomplishments that were worthy of celebrating so I planned a family outing (we are party-sized without additional guests) to celebrate all of them including her birthday at the same time. She was teetering on not going to the restaurant at absolute last minute. We didn’t beg or bribe but allowed for her to stay if she wanted. I told her she would still receive her present and we would bring food home for her if she chose. Earlier in the day, I had given her a heads up so it wasn’t a surprise, and when she started in negative, just told her she didn’t have to decide right then, that it would be that evening and she had all day to decide what she wanted to do. Either way was OK. I think that was key. She ended up going after all.
Of course, our disappointment or disapproval of the behavior sometimes shows, but be aware that what they may hear is that you are rejecting THEM, unaccepting of them — not just the behavior but the person underneath. Because of this tendency, efforts to pressure them to change behavior by showing disapproval backfires. The more you explain how wrong or hurtful their behavior is, the more they internalize rejection. (So why do I keep doing it??? Insanity, I know!) They really do want to please and gain your approval. (I know . . . REALLY!)
As we move full force into the Christmas season, I’m reminded of lessons learned; the “normal” separation and independence-seeking of my children given their ages; and the over-the-top independence that comes from their backgrounds.
The need for family and togetherness that is often at the heart of this season cannot be taken for granted. It is there, but often under the surface of an outward stance of fierce independence which is fearful of depending on anyone else for anything, no matter how small. Fearful of being/appearing vulnerable. We can help them. Help them anyway. We can chisel away at the fierce exterior – – a little at a time – – here and there – – over time. And allow their independence, their confident independence to grow past the fake independence that is a cover for their fear of being hurt.
Setting personal boundaries and keeping expectations flexible in the midst of progress toward relational goals is my go-to mindset for this season especially.
How about you? I’d love to read your comments on how you are planning to navigate the holidays!
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