So many interventions with troubled kids focus on behaviour.
And many of them don’t work.
Why is that?…
It’s because the sequencing is wrong.
If a bricky tried building the walls of a house before digging the foundations, it wouldn’t stand up for long.
A builder friend once told me that a significant amount of the cost of building a house goes into the foundations. A lot of the money goes into the ground!
But this has to be done if the structure is to last.
Kids are no different.
First things first…
Think about it. With new borns, how much of the parenting is about behaviour?
None of it! Right?
This is that lovely stuff where parent and child look intently at each other and
play. The parent mirrors what the child is doing and they work together to match their emotions and their intentions.
It’s through this process that the child learns about who they are and what their body is doing. It’s the process of building attachment.
Later, when the child is a bit older, the behaviour training starts. The order is obvious: attachment first, behaviour second.
Because we work with troubled children, we deal with difficult behaviour. If you work in youth justice, tier 3 & 4 CAMHS, HSB or CSE services, etc. you may also deal with risky behaviour.
We only see children when things are going wrong. And it’s usually got something to do with behaviour.
Here’s the problem: the behaviour distracts us from the underlying causes – weak foundations.
The walls (behaviours) are wobbling because the foundations (attachments) are missing or inadequate in some way.
Notwithstanding the odd case where things are less complex, most of the kids we deal with will have problematic attachments or related developmental issues. Dodgy foundations.
I’d like to suggest that the reason why lots of work programmes and other interventions with troubled kids don’t work very well, is because they are misplaced.
They are trying to prop up the walls, rather than secure the foundations.
Here are some examples:
- Behaviour management parenting programmes
- Offence specific interventions (knife crime, interpersonal violence, car crime, etc.)
- Programmes which target so-called criminogenic factors (anger management, victim empathy, thinking skills, etc.)
All good stuff, of course. But not if the foundations are weak. We must address things in the right order.
Kids with developmental issues need help to find a degree of attachment stability before they can move on.
We need to work on consistency, predictability and reliability (CPR) before we start addressing behaviour.
Here are a couple of examples:
These approaches target the foundations. They work on the premise that a child’s attachments effect everything else.
Is your approach having the desired effect? Are things standing still, or maybe even getting worse?
Then maybe it’s time to ask whether the foundations need some work before you kill yourself trying to hold up the walls…
What do you think?
- Do you agree that attachment comes before behaviour as a focus for interventions? Do you have examples of times when the order of interventions has been wrong for kids?
- Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below – just click here…
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© Jonny Matthew 2017
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