Be careful what you say to hurting parents

Foster-parenting young children with disabilities has gives me opportunities to learn valuable lessons that I can apply to early intervention, including parenting young children with self-injurious behavior. Let me tell you about one of those lessons.

Lesson I learned: be careful what you say to hurting parents.

Our Little Monkey foster kiddo had challenging behaviors including aggression towards others and aggression toward himself. He banged his head on the floor–hard, scratched and clawed at anyone who tried to comfort him and kicking and biting. If he had no one to hurt, he switched to biting himself.

We were aware that he had been through neglect and trauma and developmental delays including communication and emotional regulation. We received advice from all the therapists all the time. We were exasperated. Our family therapist gave us what he thought was helpful information about self-harming biting behavior. It was a research paper on the root causes of self-injurious behavior. I was grateful for the information because I am a big nerd and like to read scientific research.  

To summarize, the article said that in a small percentage of cases there is a neurological reason, but in most cases the behavior is operant, meaning it was being reinforced by caregivers. Reinforced by caregivers. Reinforced by caregivers?

In that mental state sleep-deprivation, hurting and searching for a solution, this article felt like a slap in the face. It felt like it was my fault! 

Obviously this isn’t what was intended by the therapist, but I lashed out and cried and had all the feelings. 

Obviously this isn’t what was intended by the therapist, but I lashed out and cried and had all the feelings. 

We straightened it out, but the damage was done. The moral of the story for us early intervention providers is to be careful what “helpful” information you give parents that are struggling. It may be misinterpreted by a vulnerable mama. 

In case you are a vulnerable mama needing some help with a child who bites and hurts himself, here are some resources for you.

Here are 6 Strategies for Addressing Self-injurious Behaviors from wonderbaby.org which seems like a great resource.

“Teaching young children the proper coping skills to handle difficult emotions is the best way to end self-harm behaviors”, from the Riley Children’s Health resource here.

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