I have a child in my home who does not learn from consequences. He does not seem to see any connection between his actions, the effect it has on himself or others — or that the same thing happened last time he did it. You can imagine how frustrating this is.
We are working with therapists and psychiatrists on this issue. We do not change the consequences each time we find something is not working. I’m sure we did that at first, trying desperately to find something that would connect the dots in this child’s head. There were stretches of YEARS of consistently using the same consequence. It got to the point that the consequence did not matter, but the fact that we were being consistent and following through at least meant to us that we were not giving up or giving in.
I wrote a blog recently about labels and if we “loved them or hated them.” My point was that labels could in fact be helpful when determining why children did the things they did. I needed to know where my kids were coming from and having a label or diagnosis empowered me. I was able to look up definitions, symptoms; see what was similar about my child; see what worked for other parents dealing with the same behaviors. Sometimes it was helpful knowing that children with “this or that” frequently act “this way or that.” Sometimes I would think, “did the child read the manual?” He does exactly what the book says he will do and for all the reasons listed, as well. BUT we are doing everything we are told to do in response and the behaviors don’t seem to change. We need to be consistent, offer structure and routine.
Logically I know this particular child is not doing this to ME, but it certainly can start to feel that way, especially when I’m standing on my head and doing back flips to do all the “right things.” Sometimes it’s hard not to take a behavior personally.
When we look at the research about children with the “label” this child has, we do not see good outcomes. Therapists tell us these are difficult children to work with, because something happened in their early years that cannot be undone. There are voids that cannot be filled. They have set ways of thinking and reacting to situations from their past experiences. Very rarely can they unlearn these behaviors. This was how they survived previously. They do not realize that they no longer need to rely on those maladaptive behaviors. We are told that one day, something will click. It may be years.
We continue to offer the same consequences, although now we look at how the consequence can benefit US as a bonus to possibly, hopefully one day teaching this child cause and effect.