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Understanding Emotional Needs of Non-traditional Students Melissa Costigan, LCPC.

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Presentation on theme: "Understanding Emotional Needs of Non-traditional Students Melissa Costigan, LCPC."— Presentation transcript:

1 Understanding Emotional Needs of Non-traditional Students Melissa Costigan, LCPC

2 My Experience Masters in Mental Health and Behavioral Medicine Youth Dynamics, therapist for many non- traditional children – What DIDN’T work. Private Practice continuing to work with this population – What DID work. Thrive, parent liaison, working in the schools

3 Attachment Issues Diagnositic Statistical Manual – Reactive Attachment Disorder Change in new DSM V My working template – Spectrum of attachment struggles/issues

4 Behaviors that MAY be associated Control Issues Avoids eye contact Rageful tantrums Lying, stealing Acts as if not feeling guilt Superficially Charming Difficulty genuinely connecting Hyper vigilant, keyed up Hoarding/gorging on Food Impulsivity Excessive somatic complaints Self care difficulties Sexually acting out Struggles with emotional regulation Impulsivity

5 What MAY cause Attachment Issues? Abuse and neglect first few years of life. Sickness in family, this child or other in family Trauma in family system Multiple placements in early life. Primal loss of birth mom. Depressed primary caregiver Intergenerational patterns

6 What you MIGHT see at school A “normal”, healthy, adjusted child. May be very friendly & very interested in being “close” to you; clingy & huggy May switch very quickly from being “teachers pet” to being very upset with you for setting a boundary. May try to make you feel sorry for them and how horrible things are at home.

7 What you MIGHT see (Con’t) Just stops turning in homework, even though they have done it. Work refusal. “Forgot”. Erratic, inconsistent, unpredictable task completion or non-completion. Parents report completely different child at home. Extremely controlling behaviors with adults and peers. Lying; “crazy-making” lying.

8 Very common: Task Completion According to Lawrence Smith, LCSW-C, LICSW, these behaviors are ways the youth or teen indicates that s/he is in control, not the teacher. “[T]this fluctuating pattern of receptiveness to instruction is one more way the [attachment disordered] student seeks to remind the teacher that he doesn’t readily submit to outside authority... task completion is usually a reflection of how secure or insecure the [attachment disordered] child feels at a given moment.”

9 Attachment through emotions Schools are very behaviorally focused, as is our society. – Positive and Negative behavioral plans, rewards/punishment. – These systems don’t tend to work for these kids. To understand these kids, must look at relationships, emotions.

10 Erikson’s Stages of Development Trust vs. Mistrust 0-2 years Autonomy vs. Shame & doubt2-3 years Initiative vs. Guilt3-5 years Industry vs. Inferiority6-11 years Identity vs. Role confusion12-18 yrs Intimacy vs Isolation19-40 yrs Generativity vs. Stagnation40-65yrs Ego Integrity vs. Despair60 yrs +

11 Trust vs Mistrust Attachment issues are rooted in this stage. When child does not learn to “trust” – World is not safe, I am not safe. – Relationships are not safe – To survive, I must be in control. – My needs will not be adequately met by others

12 SHAME Difference between Shame and Guilt Egocentrism at this young age. – Only way to understand world, “It’s all about me”, for better or worse. – There must be something wrong with me. – Stuck in SHAME. Highly defended, protected against this belief, but at same time their behaviors are often about communicating, convincing adults they are “not good”, they don’t “deserve” good things.

13 STUCK in the Water Focusing on behaviors leads to feeling stuck. Kids with secure attachment, feel worthy of success. Kids with attachment issues will prove to you they don’t deserve to succeed. Often use behavioral plans as a tool to have control over the adults.


15 Translate Behaviors into Emotional Needs Looking underneath the behavior. – Controlling behaviors- need to feel safe. – Self- sabotaging- “I’m not worth it”, Shame – Emotional dysregulation- – Button pushing Control- can I get you emotionally off balance? Closeness is not safe. Keeping distance. MUST DEVELOP EMPATHY, UNDERSTANDING

16 RELATIONAL PTSD Working model or template, brain wires accordingly (closeness= fear) These behaviors, adaptive skills, developed out of a need (or perceived need) to survive. Dan Seigel, hand model of the brain. “Mind Sight” When living in an “unsafe” place, capacity to learn is limited.

17 What can you do? Understand & repeatedly remind yourself of the “why” of their behavior. Focus, as much as possible, on safety in relationship. Then learning can happen. Provide clear structure and boundaries that do not change. Consequences should change, be unpredictable, creative. Avoid adding/increasing SHAME. Boundaries around hugs– ONLY FOR PARENTS.

18 What can you do (Con’t) Avoid giving 2 nd, 3 rd, chances. Communicate confidence in their abilities and do not waver in this. “they can handle it” Keep in mind child’s emotional age. (middle school, highschool challenges) Avoid power struggles. You both lose. Recognize when “thinking cap is off” Make some rewards/treats not contingent on behavior. (sabotage their sabotaging) Use HUMOR whenever possible.

19 What you can do (con’t, again) Refrain from using term “manipulation”, instead “trick” Stress the child’s “choices”. “maybe later you will be ready to try again and feel good on the inside.” Feedback should be specific about acts, not “you were a good boy today.” Catch them off guard. Cannot be more invested in the child’s success than they are.

20 (Continued… AGAIN.) Do not expect parents to force the homework issue. Has to be child’s motivation. Consequences for school issues, need to happen at school, though parents need to know about it.

21 PARENT – TEACHER TEAM NECESSARY. Find ways to make it seamless. Parents will know BEST about what works. Triangulation; increase anxiety. Adults working together for their best interest, communicates through action security. Decreases anxiety, increases ability to learn Even in middle school and high school. Back to trust vs. mistrust. Emotional age of child/teen.

22 Resources Dan Hughes, “Building the Bonds of Attachment” Kate Cremer-Vogel, LCPC & Dan & Cassie Richards “What Every Adoptive Parent Needs to Know.” Daniel J Seigel, M.D., ”Mindsight”, “Whole Brained Child” Denise L. Best, LMHC, “Therapeutic Parenting for Traumatized Children” Dr. Bruce Perry, “The Principles of Working with Traumatized Children”. Attachment Disorder Maryland, Inc “Different Perspective” Written by Cynthia Hockman- Chupp, analogy courtesty of Dr. Kali Miller “The Dog Ate My Homework” with%20Youth%20or%20Teen%20with%20Attachment%20I ssues.pdf

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