Building stability from broken lives: 3 essential steps…

Children in the care and youth justice systems need help. But some are so damaged it can feel like an impossible task.

Sketch - stability

Sketch - stabilityPhoto courtesy ©123rf/OpasChotiphantawanon (adapted)

So how can we help them to overcome their past?…

If you’ve worked with children and young people for a while, you’ll know a bit about attachment already.

But the key to successful helping lies in what we can do about such problems. How do we turn our theoretical knowledge about what’s wrong into actions that will help?

Before we even think about therapy, behaviour programmes or other interventions we must provide a stable foundation for these to work.

CPR – building the stable context for change…

This is my easy way of remembering three key foundations to setting the right context for children to change – CPR

Image ©JonnyMatthew; 3D small people image ©Kirill Makarov
Image ©JonnyMatthew; 3D small people image ©Kirill Makarov

1.  Children from troubled backgrounds need to know that we’re CONSISTENT. That we’re pretty much always the same. This brings them security and removes the uncertainty that comes from moody, changeable and emotionally labile parenting styles. To recover, kids need us to be the same each time they encounter us. Calm, measured, thoughtful and deliberate responses are best, as we all know. It can be a challenge to achieve this, but it is a worthy aim that will bear fruit in the long run.

To the child, CONSISTENCY means: “You deal with me the same way each time…”

2. Children need us to be PREDICTABLE. Consistency implies predictability. If we treat them the same each time we act, they can look ahead and anticipate our responses. Not only does this further enhance the sense of security, it helps them to learn; here’s how: given a choice in any given situation, a child who has been parented consistently can predict what our response might be. This is turn informs their choices ahead of time and helps guide them positively when we’re not around to help in person.

To the child, PREDICTABILITY means: “I can anticipate you – you’re trustworthy…”

3. Children need us to be RELIABLE. It takes quite a while to harm a child and impair their development, so it will take a while to put it right. Temporary placements, uncertainty about the care plan or a lack of permanence all undermine this process. The sooner we can assure a child that we are in this with them for the long haul, the better.

Photo courtesy of ©alexmillos/123rf
Photo courtesy of ©alexmillos/123rf

Also, reliability is about imparting a sense that we’re not for giving up. That even when things go wrong and times get tough, we’ll bounce back and try again. And again. And again… The key time to bring this principle to mind is during those periods of particular stress and struggle e.g. when boundaries are being tested. Often this is a test of our commitment – “I’m beginning to feel safe, but can I rely on you to stick around and see things through?”

To the child, RELIABILITY means: “I can lean on you – you don’t give up!”

There are many views on the specifics of parenting. But whether in foster care, residential living or at home, our kids first and foremost need stability.

Keeping these three simple CPR principles in mind can help keep us on track and guide our efforts to put theory into practice.

 What do you think?…

  • Please let me know your thoughts about providing stability for troubled children and young people…   Leave a comment below or click here.

Book recommendation:IMG_0929

  • Putting attachment theory into practice – I’m really proud to have contributed a chapter to this new book. It’s the work of colleagues from the Attachment Network Wales and is published by Jessica Kingsley and will be launched at the Network conference this year.

Related previous posts on JonnyMatthew.com:

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2 thoughts on “Building stability from broken lives: 3 essential steps…

  1. Excellent! Our grandson was physically and emotionally and sexually abused by my daughter and her boyfriend. We have custody of him for 5yrs and recovery is a slow but hopefully steady process with lots of love, support and consistency. He is also in trauma therapy and proud to announce the fugitive has been located and arrested by the US Marshals.

    • Hi Bridget, We’re glad to hear that things are going well for you and your grandson. It’s particularly good that he’s getting the professional help he needs as well as the loving care from you guys. It is a long haul, but will pay off in the end. Hope you found some encouragement in the article. Cheers, Jonny.

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