I’m not even sure we have any ducks. We have no one to positively reinforce our choices, our actions. Or even that we are good people; or good parents. Our day to day parenting stands alone, with no comment or reflection from anyone but our children. Their trauma responses and feelings of being under attack are not balanced within our homes by another person reacting differently to us, lovingly, appreciatively, understandingly, supportively; nor showing anything different to their negative feelings. The view our kids develop of us is left unchallenged or mitigated through the eyes of another, and they spiral down into an unshakeable negative stereotype.
One single conversation with an adoption support consultant brought this deficit home to me. Lack of positive reinforcement has now been pointed out as our biggest logistical problem, and her view of me has become a substantial block to moving forward. This bombshell clearly needs to be shared, because it seems there are lots of layers to consciously reframing the picture our children may hold in their minds.
Positively reinforce the existence of everyday acts of safety and family:
“Hasn’t mum cooked a great dinner for us tonight”.
“Awww, look, Dad made sure all the washing we needed for tomorrow was done.”
“Aren’t we lucky – mum did the shopping and brought home all the things we needed ”
Positively reinforce good, simple interactions and empathy:
“Hahahahaha – dad’s joke was funny”.
“I’m going to help mum clear up the kitchen because I can see she is tired and a bit grumpy today”.
“I think it’ll be fun if we play a game with Dad”.
Positively reinforce the constant offer of loving acts:
“Well done Mum for coming to collect us when she felt poorly”.
“Dad is so kind – he’s going to let you borrow his bike because yours is broken”.
“Wow! Mum’s been at work all day, and she still came back and tidied up the mess we left”.
Positively reinforce what is happening in a challenging situation:
“Dad is doing everything he can because he wants to help you work this out”.
“I can see how much mum loves you even though you are mad at her”.
“I hear you saying that Dad is making it worse; and yet i can see he is being very calm and listening to you to try to help.”
Positively reinforce the truth in the face of accusation or gaslighting:
“I know you don’t think anyone cares that your mobile doesn’t work, but I heard mum on the phone for over an hour trying to sort it out”.
“I saw the money was on the table too, and it’s definitely gone; dad hasn’t made a mistake.”
“I heard that conversation, and mum didn’t said it was okay to go to the skatepark today.”
Positively reinforce the process of therapeutic parenting:
“I think dad did a great job of keeping you safe when you felt angry at him last night”
“I see that feeling frustrated is making you cross; I’m going to go outside with mum. There is a hug waiting for you from both of us when you are ready.
“Dad is not going to argue or fight back; this is not okay, so we are going to walk away for a moment. We are here when you need us”.
How much do you do this; randomly reinforce your partner as a positive, loving person and parent? Not simply when a challenging situation arises, but knitted into the ordinary everyday comings and goings of life. However much you do, my consultant would no doubt say you should do it more!
Living without this reflective back up is hard, because the power of positive reinforcement is profound.
So, back to my fellow single adopters and ‘what can we do’? Not much really. People outside the home often inadvertently negatively reinforce our children’s belief through trying to be kind. Inside, trying to do it yourself – or through the dog – mostly seems to feel sarcastic, or obviously pointing something out. Briefing even one close friend or relative on how to do this for you would make a big difference.
In advance of more input on this from the consultant, ideas welcome!