Thursday, December 18, 2008

Dr. Laura's Advice: Raising Children with Consequences

Have you ever looked into the eyes of a child and just known that they were going to have a difficult time growing up? As if the cards are already stacked against them? Here is a case that I worked on while I was a social worker in Southern California. I hope that you can see that positive and negative consequences work with raising children. I believe that each child is unique and creative; we just have to be unique and creative in working with them. Let me know if some of my child development advice helps you.

Some background on how a child and family agency works: Each week the therapists, counselors, interns and teachers meet to discuss upcoming, current and closed cases. This meeting is a safe and confidential place where children's names are changed. After a family would come to the agency for therapy a case file would be opened. If a child was recommended by their therapist that case would be introduced at our weekly meetings. We would collectively decide who would be the best case for each counselor and also devise the right game plan in helping that child and family.

This is how I first heard about "Mark". Mark was presented at out meeting as an at risk child. He was twelve years old, in middle school and was just suspended from school for picking fights. His parents were teenagers when they had him, got married and divorced before Mark was two. His mother was out of the family picture and left home when Mark was three years old. Mark was raised by his very young father and grandparents. During this time Mark's father entered into a gang and got into a lot of trouble when he was a teenager. He had been arrested three times.

Can you see what I mean by just knowing in your gut that it's going to be very hard for Mark to stay out of trouble in his life and to not have relationship issues?

The team of counselors chose me as his counselor. I felt for Mark and needed to teach him respect for authority right away. I believed that without having respect for authority, Mark would never fear consequences like suspensions, break ups, gangs or jail. Even though Mark and I came from two totally different backgrounds, we connected right away. Well, we did, until I gave him negative consequences for his actions. To show him positive reinforcement, I asked Mark to be in charge of some of the younger children at his school. I gave him the points binder and he proudly carried it with him every day. The point binder gave him the authority to give and take away children's earned points, with my supervision, and he was responsible for choosing a star student each week.

Building from here, I started to have individual therapy meetings with Mark's dad. I suggested that for Mark's sake that he start to try and keep the gang activity and women away from the house. At first this was met with a lot of resistance, but after seeing Mark's improvement in his behavior, his dad was willing to try.

I can remember the first time Mark exploded in anger at me when he didn't like what I had to say. Mark who was very short for his age, threw the point binder across the room, screamed at an entire room of students and stormed off of the premises.

I called Mark's father and let him know what had happened. The next day Mark returned to school escorted by his father and he was very quiet and apologetic to me. Mark and I were able to talk through what happened and began to work on his anger. He admitted that he learned his anger from watching his father use anger at people and gang members to get what he wanted. He promised he would try to keep his anger in check and continue to come to his therapy sessions.

Mark showed signs of dyslexia in class and had never had one on one attention at school for a teacher to realize that he had a learning disability. Mark's dyslexia made him feel slower and not as smart as the other students in his class. This angered him. After some testing and a one on one tutor Mark showed that he could learn, but in different ways.

Stay tuned for Part 2. What do you think will happen to Mark next? Was this a success story? 2 out 5 cases usually are. Have you ever known a child like this?


Braja said...

Phew. I couldn't do what you do.

Now I'm going to catch up with Chapter 5...

word verification: fackpoo
you makin' this up people?!!

pj said...

I would have to guess that if marks dad is on the right page with you then mark will be as well. Maybe I am ssuming wrong but they are a package. Learned behavior with reinforcement is tough to combat.

Simplicity said...

Your job must be so rewarding when you see the 20% success stories!

I'm thinking if Mark felt pride in carrying that binder around, he has a great shot at success!

A learning disability is so difficult and, if the education system isn't putting the required support in place that's needed, the children suffer so much! My daughter has a learning disability and it varies from teacher to teacher how well she does...and that causes a lot of stress for her because there are so many unknowns!

Kudos to you for having the strength to see these children walk through these tough times in life!!

George said...

If there is a success for Mark. I would see one step forward, then a couple back for a while until he had discovered empathy, responsibility for his actions and the rewards of the two.

People in general find it hard to achieve a goal without a sense of little successes accomplishments on the way. I've seen (a token of economy therapy) work with ones that find it hard to see that, the way the rest of us would.

The father would probably need more intense family therapy. Without a strong parenting it would be harder to bring up a strong child.

I wish all the best for mark, you the energy draining alone that takes it toll on the case worker.

It would take just one disappointment for Mark, to unravel it all and he may not find the worth justifiable. That’s when real strength is needed.

God Bless. I'm will be looking forward for the outcome...

Chris Lim said...

Great point about Mark's issue with dyslexia! This is often confusing and frustrating. A great resource for parents (and educators) is found at it is The Parents Guide To Dyslexia.