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Be calm. Be confident. Be compassionate.

March 21, 2016

I think I finally get it.  Or at least, I’m getting it in a deeper way.  In a whole-body, brain and heart, I can feel it in my bones kind of way.

calm confident compassion.jpg

In the past few weeks, I’ve have the opportunity to experience first-hand some extremely dysregulated behavior in my office.  In two circumstances, I couldn’t do anything except stay calm and wait.  In a third, I could have chosen a different path (the situation was a bit more contained and I had more power than in the other two circumstances, which were much more vulnerable), but didn’t.  I fully embrace the truth that I am not triggered by a dysregulated child in the same way that a parent would be.  I don’t feel as wary.  I don’t have the same level of attachment involved, which always muddies the waters.  But I think it’s because of these very facts that I was able to maintain the clarity that allowed for this profound knowing to take place.

When children with attachment trauma become extremely dysregulated, enter the red zone, have a down-stairs brain tantrum, we are witnessing a pocket of their disorganized attachment.  I can feel this in my body.  Their nervous system becomes so distressed, so dysregulated, so disorganized.  You can hear this in their tone of voice, see it in their eyes.  Knowing I am seeing their disorganized attachment coming through brings me so much calmness.  So much compassion.  So much sadness.  So much clarity about what I need to do.

The very thing a disorganized system expects is to be met with what led to the disorganization in the nervous system.  It expects anger.  Fear.  Threats.  Dysregulation.  When we meet the pocket of disorganized attachment with the EXACT OPPOSITE, change happens.

When your child is throwing a chair, or a rock…screaming at you….spitting at you (all of these have happened to me recently).  When they suddenly behave as though they have to protect themselves from you by allowing their FIGHT response to surge forward, what they need is your calm presence.  Your strong presence.  Your confidence that you can handle this situation with a calm and compassionate stance.  Your commitment to loving even their parts that are hardest to love.  Your knowing that THIS is not who your child really is…this is just a terrified, disorganized pocket.

When you stand calm, confident, and compassionate eventually you invite your child into connection. This is a fact I have known and embodied for many years now.  What I have known for years, but only truly embodied in the past several weeks, is the truth that it is this calm, confident, and compassionate self that is laying one brick in the foundation of your child’s secure attachment.  New research in the field of memory reconsolidation PROVES that when your nervous system is expecting one thing (an angry, frightening, or frightened caregiver) and it is met with the opposite (a calm, confident, and compassionate caregiver) that THIS is the magic key.  This unexpected surprise– a disconfirming experience– actually unlocks and CHANGES a small portion of the disorganization in your child.

This must be done over and over and over again.  I wish that weren’t the truth.  I wish that this only needed to happen once. But your child didn’t have ONE experience that created a disorganized attachment system.  Your child had many.  Hundreds.  Thousands?  So many new experiences are required.  Luckily, they provide us with many opportunities. Our hurting children are so smart to continue to provide opportunities for a disconfirming experience.

Calm.  Confident.  Compassionate.  Not “lacking boundaries” or “giving in to everything your child wants.”  In every episode I can think of in my office, the disorganized behavior erupted after a limit was set.  In every case, we (the child’s parents and I) did not waiver on the limit.  We did stay calm, confident, and compassionate.  We freely and eagerly offered the opportunity to repair because the intensity of the shame that comes forward after an episode of dysregulation is usually powerful.  Because dysregulated individuals need to know that all parts of them are welcomed and loved.  We offered a drink.  Because I know I’m thirsty after releasing so much intense energy.  I promised the child I’d see them the next week and when I saw them again, I welcomed them with such genuine gladness to be reunited…another opportunity for a disconfirming experience.  I hold no residue of the trauma because I do not take it personally (it’s never personal…even when it is).

The infrequent experiences I have with severe dysregulation and disorganization- the level that truly strips me of all potential opportunities to intervene and forces me to just stay calm, confident, and compassionate- cannot compare to the constant dysregulation that you experience in your home.  I get it.  Secure attachment is born of 33% attunement.  33% rupture.  33% repair.  You won’t be able to stay calm, confident, and compassionate in every situation.  You’re going to get triggered.  You’re going to yell or be scary to your child.  This is an opportunity to repair.  Repair is another non-negotiable ingredient in secure attachment, and it is only through rupture that we are provided the opportunity to repair.  I am grateful for ruptures.  I am grateful that I can encourage you to aim for 33% attunement.  33% of the time you can stay calm, confident, and compassionate in the face of dysregulation.  Meet your child’s disorganized attachment with your calm, confident, and compassionate secure attachment.  And lay another brick- knowing that you are truly changing and rebuilding their disorganized attachment system.





Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter!

Join us in Austin on April 29 & 30 for our 3rd annual retreat for struggling parents raising challenging children- EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE.

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

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Attachment & the Impact of Developmental Trauma

February 26, 2016

{I was reviewing a document I wrote for an academic purpose and I realized that some of this may be helpful for you, your friends, teachers, helpers, and extended family.  It’s definitely not written in my blog style of casual and conversational, but perhaps something in it will be just what you needed today.  The portion I’m printing below has been cut and paste from a longer document I wrote.}


Attachment theory, born in the 1950s, is one of the most researched and supported fields of psychology.  Attachment is a biological, relational, and regulatory system which means that attachment first ensures survival, and then lays the ground work for the child’s future ability to form and sustain healthy relationships, and well as develop healthy self- regulatory capacities.  Attachment is categorized as either secure or insecure.  Within the category of insecure attachment are three sub-categories, including insecure avoidant, insecure anxious-ambivalent, and insecure disorganized.

Children with secure attachment develop positive mental models about themselves, relationships, and the world- such as “I’m a good kid” or “I can trust others to be available and meet my needs.”  During early attachment research, Mary Ainsworth noted a consistent attachment cycle that existed between parent/child dyads.  The attachment cycle begins with an infant having a need, expressing the need, and then the parent meeting the need and soothing the child. Secure attachment is developed through the attachment cycle playing out hundreds of thousands of times for a child in the first years of their life.    When a parent is able to consistently and repeatedly meet this cycle in an attuned and responsive manner, the foundation is laid for secure attachment.

Secure attachment is highly correlated with positive mental health, self-esteem, relationships, emotional regulation, and even cognitive abilities.  Secure attachment is one of the best resiliency factors that a child can possess when facing Adverse Childhood Experiences. Dr. Daniel Siegel, founder of the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology, has identified these eight positive outcomes of secure attachment: body regulation, attuned communication, emotional balance, response flexibility, fear modulation, insight, empathy, and morality (Siegel, 2015).

Insecure attachment can develop due to various circumstances.  One can be that the attachment cycle is not adequately met, either with a caregiver who is not attuned to the child’s needs and doesn’t meet them in a timely manner, or a caregiver who meets needs in an unpredictable manner.  Approximately 82% of children who have a caregiver who is abusive or neglectful develop an insecure disorganized attachment (Carlson, et. al., 1989).  Other circumstances which negatively impact attachment include Adverse Childhood Experiences (Felitti, 1998), including loss of a caregiver.

When examining attachment in children, it is important to remember that attachment is specific to relationship, not to the child.   Additionally, it is never accurate to label anyone with one specific attachment style.  All people, children and adults, have pockets of secure and insecure attachment.  Having some pockets of insecure attachment does not suggest that a parent/child dyad is not attached, not does it suggest that the parent is ‘bad’ or doing something wrong.   All parents have areas of strength and opportunities for growth.


The National Child Traumatic Stress Task Force defines complex trauma as “multiple traumatic events that occurs within the family and community systems…that are chronic and begin in early childhood.” (Cook, Blaustein, Spinnzaola, and van der Kolk, 2003).  Complex trauma has been shown to have a profound impact across seven domains, including attachment, cognition, biology, affection regulation, behavioral control, dissociation/memory integration, and self-concept.  (Cook, Blaustein, Spinnzaola, and van der Kolk, 2003).  It is clear that complex trauma does not only impact a child’s relationships; it impacts their entire self.  It is crucial that parents and professionals all recognize the importance of supporting secure parent/child relationships as this has been found to be one of the most critical factors for promoting resiliency and mental health (Siegel, 2015).

The Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University has identified six early childhood experiences that increases a child’s risk for developing trauma related symptoms, including prenatal stress (substance exposure or other maternal stress), birth trauma, early medical trauma, abuse, neglect, and other childhood traumas such as loss of a parent, divorce, or natural disaster (Purvis, et. al., 2013).

The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) (Felitti, 1998) is a groundbreaking public health research study that demonstrated a clear link between many types of childhood adversity and the onset of adult physical and mental health disorders.   Chronic adversities change the architecture of a child’s brain, altering the expression of genes that control stress hormone output, triggering an overactive inflammatory stress response for life, and predisposing a child to adult diseases.  (Nakazawa, 2015).   The initial ACES investigation included over 17,000 research participants between 1995 and 1997.  Since 1998, the ACE study has published approximately 70 additional research papers.  Some life events considered to be Adverse Childhood Experiences include the loss of a caregiver, being exposed to domestic violence, having a parent who abuses substances, or having a parent go to prison.

Attachment patterns are correlated between children and their parents at approximately 80% (Benoit, 1994).  The best predictor of a child’s attachment is his parent’s attachment state of mind.  Attachment is not genetic- it is developed through the relationship between children and their caregivers.  If we want children to develop secure attachment, we want them to be raised by parents with secure attachment or we want to support their parents in developing earned-secure attachment.

Attachment losses can have a significant and lasting impact on a child’s attachment.  A significant attachment loss shifts a child’s internal working model to things like “Sometimes parents just leave and never come back” or “I cannot trust parents to take care of me.”  These negative inner working model beliefs can have a profound impact on the way a child, who subsequently becomes an adult, navigates relationships, as well as on their sense of self-worth.  Infants, toddlers, and young children who are not yet storing explicit memories (memories that can be recalled later in life) are still storing implicit memories in the form of the inner working models.  Because of the nature of memory processing, implicit memories are very difficult to change and often remain persistent throughout a person’s life (Siegel, 2015).

An important and often over-looked aspect of attachment is how a child’s experience with attachment relationships lays the groundwork for their emotional and physical regulatory cycles.  Children with secure attachment experiences develop the capacity for self-regulation.  They manage stress well and develop positive behavioral and relationship patterns.  Children with insecure attachment experiences develop an impaired regulatory system which has a profound impact on the child’s ability to cope with and manage stress (Schore, 2003).

When children have a history of attachment disruptions or other attachment trauma, providing them with experiences of secure attachment with caregivers who have the capacity to provide secure attachment, is a crucial part of the healing process.  Minimizing future losses and trauma is also critical.


Benoit & Parker, (1994), Stability and Transmission of Attachment Across the Generations, Child Development Vol. 65 No. 5, pp. 1444-1456.

Carlson, V., et. al. (1989). Disorganized/disoriented attachment relationships in maltreated infants. Devel. Psychol. 25:525-531.

Cook, A., et. al. (2005). Complex Trauma In Children and Adolescents.  Psychiatric Annals, 35:5; May, 2005.

Felitti, V., et. al. (1998).  Relationships of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study.  American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Vol. 14, Issue 4 (245-258).

Gray, D. (2012).  Nurturing Adoptions.  Creating Resilience After Neglect and Trauma.  Jessica Kingsley Publisher.

Nakazawa, D.J. (2015-07-07). Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. Atria Books.

Purvis, K., et. al. (2013).  Trust Based Relational Intervention (TBRI): A Systematic Approach to Complex Developmental Trauma.  Child & Youth Services, 34:360-386.

Schore, A. (2003). Affect Regulation and the Repair of the Self.  WW Norton & Co.

Siegel, D. (2015). The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are. Guilford Press.





Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter!

Join us in Austin on April 29 & 30 for our 3rd annual retreat for struggling parents raising challenging children- EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE.

Near Albuquerque??  I’d love to meet you at the New Mexico Adoptive Parents Conference on March 12!  I’ll be presenting a workshop “Check your Engine! Cultivating Self-Regulation with Dysregulated Children” as well as the closing keynote “Embracing Ourselves, Emerging through Compassion”

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Empower, Embrace, Emerge- A Nourishing Retreat for Parents & Caregivers {Austin, TX}

February 24, 2016


Our 2016 Event has grown from a one-day conference into a two-day retreat!  In addition to the cutting edge information we have provided in the past, this year we will be adding an enriching component that will help connect the learning with deeper experience through mind/body connection activities as well as focused group work!  This nourishing retreat will be limited to 32 parents only!  Space is limited!!!


You’re parenting a child with challenging behaviors, a child who rages, a child who doesn’t seem to desire a relationship with you…’ve read every book,…attended parenting conferences and workshops…and now you’re ready to focus on YOU!! EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE is for parents ready to nourish themselves! We’ve expanded into a two-day format to offer an enriching experience of learning from local experts in the field of attachment and trauma in both large and small groups, while also providing new opportunities to do more in-depth, personal work and connect with other moms and dads. Discussion, groups, and activities will provide an   enriching and engaging experience that will EMPOWER your mind, body, and soul, help you EMBRACE yourself (and your child), and EMERGE as a parent more amazing than you ever imagined.


EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE will begin Friday evening from 7—9pm at the gorgeous Soma Vida for two hours of light refreshments, connecting with each other, and discovering our small groups.  We will lay the foundation for Saturday and you may win some fun prizes!  On Saturday {9am—4pm} we will guide you through large & small group discussions and mind/body activities, all grounded in the fields of attachment theory and interpersonal neurobiology.  We will create opportunities to explore our own attachment strengths and areas for growth, develop new ways to calm our nervous systems, and release some of the shame that so often accompanies parenting a challenging child.

In order to create a safe space where parents feel comfortable being authentic, while also having the opportunity to create real connections with each other, EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE will sell out with only 32 attendees!  To register, click here!


The gorgeous Soma Vida in central east Austin.  The Gallery (where the retreat will be held) is filled with beautiful natural sunlight and spacious enough to provide comfort and connection.



Friday, April 29th from 7pm to 9pm

Saturday, April 30th from 9am to 4pm

***Retreat attendees must attend both days.  Friday evening will provide attendees with an important opportunity to connect with their small group members, allowing us to maximize our time together on Saturday***


We will serve a nourshing lunch (with vegetarian and gluten free options), nutritious snacks, coffee, tea, and refreshing cold beverages


$150 per retreat attendee.  We have capped registration at only 32 attendees in order to provide you with a comfortable space to cultivate change.

To Register CLICK HERE





Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter!

Join us in Austin on April 29 & 30 for our 3rd annual retreat for struggling parents raising challenging children- EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE.

Near Albuquerque??  I’d love to meet you at the New Mexico Adoptive Parents Conference on March 12!  I’ll be presenting a workshop “Check your Engine! Cultivating Self-Regulation with Dysregulated Children” as well as the closing keynote “Embracing Ourselves, Emerging through Compassion”

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Is your kid really doing the best they can? REALLY? {Yes…really}

February 22, 2016

What if we believed that our children were really always doing the very best they can…in that exact moment, with the information they had (and with the amount of regulation they had) that was the very best they could do.  Maybe they could do better in the next moment, or five moments later.  But at that moment, it was the best.

Wdoing best they canhat if we believed that?

Would that change how we approach our children’s difficult behaviors? Would we rethink punishments and consequences?  Would we then consider that we need to help them do better instead of making them feel worse?  Would we shift into compassion instead of sitting in judgment?

What if we believe that?

Would we have to consider that it actually might be true about most people?  Maybe even all people?  Maybe…even….ourselves?  Would we then shift into compassion…toward ourselves….instead of sitting in judgment???

I was in graduate school when I first considered this notion.  I was in a staff meeting at the residential treatment facility where I was blessed to have my second year practicum.  Cathy was a psychologist and she was running this meeting.   Like many staff meetings I’ve participated in over the years, the conversation was turning toward complaining rather than problem solving.  It’s difficult to facilitate treatment with children who are all separated from their families and easy to get caught up in focusing on the frustrating barriers.  Cathy said “Remember- everyone is always doing the best they can.”  I don’t remember this being a particularly earth shattering moment for everyone else.  The room didn’t fall silent while we all gaped at Cathy’s genius.  The lights didn’t flicker.  Perhaps this was not news to all my colleagues, but it became a profound and influential moment in my career.  In my life.

A few weeks ago I was prepping for a presentation I was giving to foster and adoptive families about how to talk to their children about the difficult truths in their lives…truths about their history, truths about their biological families.  You know as well as I do that often these are not pretty conversations.  My Power Point slides were prepped and mostly ready to go.  I tipped my hat to Cathy the Psychologist and had a slide where I asked my audience to consider “Are people always doing the best they can in that moment with what they have?” Talking to our kids about the really hard…sometimes really awful….things that happened in their birthfamily becomes just a tiny bit easier if we can embrace that idea.

Anyway.  The night before the presentation I’m reading Brene’ Brown’s newest book Rising Strong and just happened (coincidence?  I think not…) to be diving into chapter 6 “Sewer rats and Scofflaws.”  (PS I had never heard the term Scofflaw before…).  After having a difficult experience with someone, Brene’ flounced into her therapist’s office, full of self-righteous indignation.  (Clue #1- always be curious about self-righteous indignation…it’s covering something up).  Her lovely therapist suggested to her the same thing Cathy said to me all those years ago…that perhaps people really are always doing the best they can in that moment with what they have.  Brene’ rejected the idea and spend the next month collecting data…like any good qualitative researcher would.  Finally, she asks her husband.  Brene’ writes that after much contemplation, her husband Steve replied “I don’t know. I really don’t. All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”  (Direct quote- chapter 6, Rising Strong.  I don’t know what page, but it’s at Kindle location 1772).

Ding ding ding.

Life is better when I assume people are doing their best.

Anyway, it felt like a serendipitous moment.  I was just doing some light reading about shame while snuggled in bed, and here I stumbled on excellent material for my presentation.

But- does this apply to our children?

I’d say it especially applies to our children, but I don’t mean to insinuate that this idea applies to certain people more than others.  It’s just a truth.  We are all equally deserving of embracing this truth.

But- does this apply to our children?  Our children who steal?  Who lie about stealing?  Who manipulate? Who control?

Yes. Yes. Yes. And….yes.  Every single thing your child does is because it’s the best they can do.  In that moment.  This does not mean that this ‘best’ isn’t actually pretty bad.  But it’s still their best.  This doesn’t mean that their best can’t get better…in many cases it really needs to get better for your child to have a shot at a healthy life that doesn’t involve a probation officer.

How can we help them do better?  We jump out of the trauma tornado.  We help them find their voice.  We understand the importance of regulation and give them opportunities to regulate their bodies.  We find opportunities to strengthen attachment.  We give lots and lots of attunement to facilitate attachment.  Now we can understand their behavior…which is not the same as excusing it.

And then…moms and dads….we get brave enough to give ourselves the very same grace and compassion.  That we, too, are always doing the best we can.  In any given moment.  With the information we have available at the time.





Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter!

Join us in Austin on April 29 & 30 for our 3rd annual retreat for struggling parents raising challenging children- EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE.

Near Albuquerque??  I’d love to meet you at the New Mexico Adoptive Parents Conference on March 12!  I’ll be presenting a workshop “Check your Engine! Cultivating Self-Regulation with Dysregulated Children” as well as the closing keynote “Embracing Ourselves, Emerging through Compassion”

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Look for their Voice!

January 30, 2016

When we believe that our words don’t matter, humans start to express their needs through behavior.  This is part of the universal experience of being human.   If asking for something will surely get me a ‘no’ then why wouldn’t I just take it (if I believed I needed it?).  Have you ever justified behavior by saying to yourself “asking forgiveness is easier than asking permission?”  Sure- if you believed that using your words wouldn’t help you get what you need.  I know we could spend hours debating what is a need vs. a want, particularly when your child is throwing a knock-down-drag-out tantrum at Wal-Mart because you aren’t buying them a new Barbie doll, but for the sake of argument, let’s just agree that sometimes our brain is confused about needs and wants.  Sometimes a want feels like a need.  Sometimes this is true even for us as adults.  It’s true a LOT (maybe most of the time) for our kids who have experienced trauma and loss because they are largely operating out of the part of the brain that does not distinguish needs from wants.

One of my primary areas of focus when I’m working with a family is helping parents give their children voice.  Voice to process their trauma.  Voice to ask for what they need.  Voice to express their internal experience.  Voice to reduce physical aggression, verbal aggression, manipulation, control….all of these behaviors are about not believing you have a voice.  Most kids have no idea that this is why they engage in those behaviors…that’s OK!  We can just help them.

finding voice

How do we get kids to start using their words?  Well, it’s not really a simple algorithm of ‘do this then that’ and the process will definitely go much more smoothly if you can use your intuition, but I get the need for a basic outline when you are trying out something new.

  1. Be able to be curious. What’s really going on?  Labeling behaviors with words like ‘just’ (he’s just trying to get attention, he’s just trying to make me mad, he’s just being defiant) or absolute words like ‘always’ and ‘never’ is our very first clue that we’ve lost our stance of curiosity.  ALL behaviors are expressing a need.    Seriously.  Every. Single. One.  The need might be “I need to feel more connected to you” or “I need help with my overwhelming feelings” but there is always a need.
  2. Check our egos at the door. Don’t take it personally!
  3. Help your child label what’s really underneath their behavior in non-punitive, non-shaming words.
  4. If possible, have you child actually use those words!
  5. Meet the need IMMEDIATELY. Say YES if at all possible.  In fact, before you ask them to use different words, guarantee that you will help them.  “Hey, I’m going to help you get milk.  I just need asking words.”  This is a far cry from “I’m not going to get you anything if you keep demanding it disrespectfully.”  You may ever start pouring the milk so that your child sees that their need is going to be met…they can risk being more respectful.  PROVE to your child that if they will consider swapping words for behaviors that it will be worth it to them.  Know that eventually you will be able to raise this bar and eventually say ‘no’ or ‘later’ more often.***

***Quick little disclaimer.  #5 doesn’t mean we use bribes to get our kid to stop behavior.  I’m not suggesting that you buy them the Barbie doll they are tantrumming over just to get the tantrum to be over.  But we stay present through the tantrum.  Stay with them through their feelings.  Avoid punishing and shaming.  “It’s so hard to hear no.”  “It’s so hard not get what you want.”  “When I say no, I wonder if you feel like it’s because I don’t love you?”  Then your child learns something else really awesome….that even when they are at their worst, you still love them and can stay with them.  And maybe just maybe there IS an appropriate time to buy the $9 Barbie Doll because your extremely dysregulated child has actually USED GOOD ASKING WORDS and you would pay $1987368 to reinforce for your child how amazing that is.  Remember.  Build the trust bank.  Once the trust bank isn’t constantly running dry your child will have more bandwidth for ‘no.’***

So, what on earth does that five-step algorithm even look like in real life?

At school your child plugs her ears and hollers nonsense words when it’s time to go to math group.  This is so inappropriate and disrespectful!  And probably embarrassing for you.  What if you approached this with a curious mind.  Clearly, your child doesn’t want to do math.  WHY?  And remember, no using the word ‘just’- like ‘He’s just lazy.’  Children- all people- really do want to do well.  They want people to like them.  Relationship is safer than discourse.  So why the theatrics about math?  With a little poking, prodding, and some good old fashion guessing, we land on the fact that math is really really hard.  It makes your child’s brain actually physically hurt.  They are overwhelmed, and then embarrassed because they can’t do the math their peers are doing.  Help your child find these words.  Write them in a letter to the teacher.  And make a deal with your teacher that if your child uses those words INSTEAD of putting his hands in his ears that the teacher will LISTEN and HELP.  And this doesn’t mean just acknowledging your child’s feelings and trudging forward with the math assignment.  This means “THANK YOU for using your words to tell me that the math is making your brain hurt.  Let’s brainstorm some ideas about what we should do when your brain starts to hurt.”  This may mean taking a break from math.  This may mean doing a headstand, blowing bubbles, or going back to math problems that are a bit simpler.  Because if you can get this child to understand that his VOICE MATTERS, you’ve just put $100000000000 in their trust bank.  And eventually, you will get them to push forward with the math that makes their brain hurts.  And if you DON’T get them to push forward, then you know that it is making their brain hurt too much and they can’t.

What about stonewalling?  When there are NO WORDS???  You ask your kiddo, in a kind and regulated way, if they want to pause their video games in five minutes or ten minutes so that they can clean their room.  No answer.  You get closer to your child, still regulated, and say “Hey buddy!  Did you hear my words?  Five or ten minutes more?”  No answer.  Now your blood is beginning to sizzle.  How can you get your child to use appropriate words when THERE ARE NO WORDS?  Stay curious.  What’s going on?  How come he is completely ignoring you?  This child doesn’t believe words are helpful.  Give him some words.  “Oh, you don’t want to clean your room.  Hey kiddo, I can see that!  I really though need some words so we can figure it out together.”  No answer. “Wow.  I’m hearing it loud and clear.  You don’t want to clean your room.  It feels like you are saying that without saying it.  Can you say it with words?  If I can get some words then I’m positive we can compromise on this and figure it out together.”  No answer.  Continue to resist the urge to rip the game system from the wall.  “Buddy, if I can get some words, we can find a compromise.  Maybe you need more than 10 minutes?  Maybe you need help with your room?”  Finally you get “I don’t wanna clean my room.”  “Oh that is awesome, thanks for letting me know.  Yeah, cleaning your room is no fun.  I’m open to a compromise.  Do you need more time on the video games or do you need help cleaning your room.”  “Both.”  “Oh OK, cool, I get it now.  How about 20 minutes and then we will work on your room together?”  “Yeah fine, whatever.”  “Awesome buddy thanks for your words so we could figure this out together. So in 20 minutes you will hit ‘pause’ on your game and we will head into your room together?”  Big sigh from kiddo.  “Yeah mom, fine.”  (Disrespectful words are better than no words.  Keep the faith.  Eventually you’ll be able to ask for respectful words.  For now, the bar is so low that any words are OK.  I promise we will keep raising the bar).  

20 minutes pass.  “Hey buddy, I made us a quick snack to power up for this epic room cleaning task.”  And then, you must find a way to make the room cleaning task something that isn’t dreadful, isn’t contentious.  Turn picking up dirty clothes into a game of dirty clothes basketball.  Put on his favorite music (that you hate).  Be willing to put in just as much work as he is, maybe even more, ALL because you know you’re making trust bank deposits.  Trust that his voice matters.  Trust that he can negotiate his needs if he uses his words.  Trust that y’all are on the same team.

What if your kid doesn’t stop the silence?  Never says a word and refuses any kind of compromise by simply remaining silent?  Well, the first place I would explore with curiosity is how entrenched my kid is in the belief that their words don’t matter.  If it’s so ingrained that I can’t get them to eventually engage in a dialogue that ends in me helping them clean their room, then I must look for opportunities outside the current situation to give my child voice and build up their trust bank. 

Overtime, you can slowly start to raise the bar.  Throwing books across the room (or at you) might become “I hate you!” (Ok, words are good.  When kids move from physical aggression to verbal aggression, we need to recognize this as forward progress and keep the faith that things will CONTINUE to move forward and we won’t be accepting verbal aggression for long).  Then it becomes “You are pissing me off!”  Then it might become “I am so mad at you!”  Ok ok, now we are getting somewhere.  And now, moms and dads, our task becomes truly being OK with it when our kids yell “I’m so mad at you!!!”  Feelings are OK!  Feelings expressed appropriately are OK!  And yelling when you’re mad, as long as it’s not filled with hateful or blaming words…but instead with words that reflect the child’s inner reality (“I am so mad!) is really OK!  But, I suppose that’s a whole other blog post:)

I could write 35 pages with examples.  Maybe one day I will!  But for sure, that’s a blog post that is WAY TOO LONG, so I’m going to bring this one to an end.

Give them voice.  You’ll be surprised at how you can apply this idea to just about every difficulty you are experiencing with you child.

Keep on keepin’ on, warrior moms and dads.  It’s worth it.


Like what you read here?  To get more trauma momma support, click here to sign up for my monthly (or less) newsletter!

Join us in Austin on April 29 & 30 for our 3rd annual retreat for struggling parents raising challenging children- EMPOWER, EMBRACE, EMERGE.

Robyn Gobbel, LCSW is a child and family therapist in Austin, Texas specializing in adoption, trauma, and attachment counseling. She is the founder of the Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center.

Trust Based Parenting…In Real Life {Austin, TX}

December 5, 2015

Central Texas Attachment & Trauma Center regularly offers a six hour parenting class for our clients as well as the community.  Trust Based Parenting…In Real Life will be held NEXT Saturday the 12th in our office at 1705 W. Koenig Lane in Austin, TX.  The class is capped at a maximum of eight participants and is held in a small-group setting to enhance your learning experience!

From my website:

Trust Based Parenting…In Real Life
Date: December 12, 2015
Time: 9am to 4:30pm
Location: 1705 W. Koenig Lane, Austin 78756
Cost: $100/person
Class is capped at 8 attendees to maximize your learning!
CLICK HERE to register

“Children do well when they can” ~Ross Greene 

…and it’s our job, as parents and helpers, to provide our kids with what they need, so that they can do well.  Trust Based Parenting is often called “Investment Parenting” by Dr. Karyn Purvis (creator of Trust Based Relational Intervention®).  “Pay now, or pay later”  ~Karyn Purvis, PhD. Heavy on connection and light on correction, this approach is based solidly on the science of child development and has an emphasis on HEALING children- not just compliance or obedience (although cooperation and respect are important values in TBRI®). 

This six-hour workshop is based on the core principles of Trust Based Relational Intervention®- Connecting, Empowering, and Correcting- as well as the Circle of Security®.  Robyn also brings in her training from some of the leading trauma experts, including Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Bruce Perry, as well as leading parenting experts, including Dr. Tina Payne Bryson and Heather Forbes.  Trust Based Parenting…In Real Life will be heavy on examples, video clips, experiential activities, and discussion, with just enough theory to glue together the practical suggestions.

You can CLICK HERE to register!


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