At the dog end of last term I was struggling to write a letter to my daughter’s school explaining just how badly their ‘minus points’ behaviour system had played out in our family, when Dr Amber Elliot’s new book ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’ fell through the letter box. At first I thought ‘great, a distraction’, by a few pages in I felt I was in very safe hands. After reading most of it, the letter wrote itself.
If like me you’ve fallen into the welcoming bosom of the super-parenting gurus (such a tempting and logical place for a while) and then committed atrocities in the name of good behaviour then Dr Elliot will first empathise with you for landing up there. She then patiently explains why trauma is not something to be ‘fixed‘ or trained out. We are invited to journey with our children into their pasts so we can understand at a deeper level why they do what they do, and what grows from this journey is empathy. And in my own experience empathy is essential if therapeutic methods stand any chance of working. A new kind of logic can be mastered, one that takes account of the landscape of the child and leads towards real human connection and healing.
Although I have been through the painful process of being reborn as a therapeutic parent I am not the finished article and there were many useful reminders and some lightbulb moments for me in ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’. I learnt to look at ‘attention-seeking’ behaviour as ‘attachment-seeking’ behaviour. It’s much more than a rebranding exercise. Talking about banishing a child who is craving human attachment, but who doesn’t know how to ask for it, suddenly looks like a terrible idea. Likewise ignoring a child whose greatest fear is to be forgotten, removing things from someone who has experienced nothingness and loss, over-praising those who know for a fact they are bad and are out to prove it. The problem is that behaviour systems can stop us from thinking. This book gets us thinking again.
Often I find that training courses and books about therapeutic methods are heavy on the ‘why’ but flimsy on strategies that work. This is not the case with Dr Elliott’s book which is full of strategies. Not only that, the chapters allow easy access to the relevant information whether that’s related to lying, control issues or sibling relationships. Dr Elliott doesn’t shirk from the difficult stuff either; sexualised behaviours and anger and aggression are covered too.
My only (very minor) comment (and quite honestly if I had not spent the past ten years sweating it out with traumatised children I would not have thought it a problem) is the title. My daughter saw the book on my desk (my fault for leaving it out). She was dismayed. ‘Did you buy it because of me, because I am naughty?’. I tried to explain the irony and failed (irony doesn’t play well in our house). But this is a tiny point and another reminder of how our children see themselves.
I would guess that most adopters and foster carers piece together the information which is so accessibly explained in Dr Elliott’s book. We do it over years, much of it is learnt by experience and the trial and error process is played out at the cost of our children’s well-being. I wish I’d had access to ‘Why Can’t My Child Behave?’ right from the start of our parenting journey. It is easy to read, accessible and thought-provoking and ideal for new adopters and foster carers as well as the more experienced. I know it will become one of the texts I refer to as our journey continues.
Dr Elliott’s book is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and is available on their website and through Amazon.