This week I welcomed back developmental and clinical psychologist, Kathy Platzman from Floortime Atlanta, an expert on the Developmental, Individual differences, Relationship-based (DIR) model. Not only is Dr. Platzman an Expert DIR Training Leader, but she is the Director of Clinical Training for the Interdisciplinary Council on Developmental and Learning (ICDL). She is also a Fielding Graduate University faculty member.
I spoke with Dr. Platzman about a very human condition: that of blame in the context of raising a child with developmental challenges. This topic idea came up in the context of a school discussion where another DIR training leader discussed working with staff in a school who might sometimes say things like “If only the parents would...”, essentially passing the buck on their responsibility to work with a child in their care by blaming someone else for the child’s problem behaviour.
Avoiding the Blame in Floortime with Dr. Kathy Platzman
What is ‘the blame’?
Blame can take many forms including, “If only the parent would ___, then the child could ____...”, “All the parent does is sit and watch TV, and all the child does is swing all day…” “If only, my ex-spouse wouldn’t have done _____, then ____“, or “If only the school understood my child’s individual needs, then my child wouldn’t come home each day from school with such trauma…”
All of these things may be true but with this idea it’s implied that if you find the guy who caused it, it will never happen again. The question is, “How can we forget about the ‘blame’ and just focus on the here and now and figure out the environment“?
While it’s easy to blame others, all you can do is focus on that very moment, what’s in front of you, and looking at what you can do to make this environment better for the child to help the child’s regulation.
As a species we are very prone to blaming and self-blaming. We’re very quick to take in criticism and self-criticism. And parents have received the message that they are very important in their children’s lives, which implies that if there’s a problem, it’s your fault. That’s the blame. It’s always worth our mental energy to think it through so we don’t do it to ourselves.
Instead of wasting all of the your precious and limited mental energy on the blame, we could be enjoying the moment, changing the moment, and thinking about the future instead of being stuck in the past.
The Virtues of Avoiding the Blame
You’ve identified your problems, and you’re ready to problem-solve. Dr. Platzman says that if you can really look at yourself and say “this happened for a reason” and get analytical about the reason, then you’re much less apt to repeat the problem. Remind yourself that you know your child better than anyone else, do positive self-talk, and think about where the criticism is coming from.
Often, parents using the DIR model have their children in a school that is using a different philosophy such as ABA (Applied Behaviour Analysis). From the teacher’s point of view, it appears you’re misbehaving, but by having a dialogue you can help them understand what you’re doing at home, or you can agree to disagree with them. Having the attitude of ‘Let’s try to make things better’ is the more productive approach.
From a psychologist’s point of view the buzz word is ‘locus of control’, she says. If you feel like nothing is in your control, that you are a victim in the world and nothing is your fault, that the world is out to get you, that the teacher doesn’t understand you, that “If they had only recognized my child’s problems earlier, then…“, this is very apt to lead to depression on your part because you see the world as happening to you. If you know what you can control, and then control it, you will have more mental energy for the present moment.
The Blame Games
Self-blame When we blame ourselves it’s a horrible feeling, Dr. Platzman says. “If only I had read this DIR stuff and applied it earlier…”. It’s never too early and it’s never too late. Self-blame can be really debilitating. It leads you down the wrong path. Who gave you 20-20 vision for the past? How do you know what would have happened? You don’t. You can only move forward.
Other Blame You can also hold up the other people in your child’s life to standards that they can never meet, expecting them to respond perfectly. “If only you were the teacher you should be…”, “If only you were the pediatrician you should be…”, etc. Blaming others is only robbing yourself of energy that you could use in the present moment.
Value Your Mistakes
Parents so often assign blame for what they feel are ‘mistakes’. When we instead value our experiences as learning moments, we realize that there are no mistakes. There’s no rush in development. There are no ‘make-or-break moments’. That’s not how life works. So don’t be in a rush because there is no rush in Floortime. A golden moment that is missed is just one little moment over time. There will be many more.
Break it down
Rather than blaming, let’s focus on our child. All you can do is try to aim for regulation and work up the developmental capacities. If your child is not regulated, then let’s look around the environment and figure it out. Is it too loud? Is it too crowded or visually distracting? Is food giving my child indigestion? How can I adjust the environment to the child?
Dr. Platzman likes to do a check-in when she sees her clients:
- Well-being: Is this child feeling poorly?
- Sensory: What is this child seeing, hearing, etc.? Could we provide anything more in this environment? This involves knowing the child’s individual sensory profile.
- Sensorimotor processing and language processing: Are we not giving the child enough time to process what we say?
- Wonder what the child is thinking about: Did somebody give him bad news? Did he see something in the school yard that he didn’t understand?
- Caretaker: Is (s)he stressed? Is her day going poorly? What’s going on with her that we could provide support to? Sometimes they don’t want their vulnerability known, but we can assume they are under duress.
Children blaming parents
When the child blames the parent it’s telling us that the child is feeling, “I can’t blame myself. This feeling is too intense. You’ve got to take it on for me.” The child isn’t in problem-solving mode. They’re in ‘this isn’t fair’ mode, where they want you to fix it for them. And we tend to want to fix everything for them.
When it’s “everything is against me“, it may be true but it’s still a problem to solve. It might be a problem for you to fix or it might be a co-regulation problem. We have to go back to the developmental capacities and work up that ladder. Dr. Platzman says “Go low and slow” and find the rift in the developmental function. It’s an indication that the child is in over their head.
Going ‘Low and Slow’
When a child is in the blame mode, (s)he might say something like, “You’re a terrible parent!” You can always work to co-regulate by responding with something like “Well I have some other ideas.” Dr. Platzman gives a general example of a child blaming a parent for their failure on a school test for the parent not making them study enough. The parent could respond, “I’ve got some ideas about it. I wonder if you need help studying? I’m happy to help you study.“
If you do feel at fault, you can continue, “I got too busy and I know you have a hard time remembering your homework and you rely on me. I’m so sorry. What I’m going to do about that is program my watch so I can help you study every evening.” Own the part of the blame you are to be blamed for, but let yourself off the hook because you went into problem-solving mode, Dr. Platzman suggests. In other words, be calm that you screwed up, make lemonade out of lemons, and co-regulate.
Co-regulation starts with the technique and ends with being a way of life.
Co-regulation can be so challenging, especially during intense emotional outbursts. Sometimes you try everything, nothing works, and eventually it just stops. It can be so tiring. It takes unusual patience, Dr. Platzman acknowledges.
Being proactive and using prevention helps a lot. But even mentioning this can seem like blaming (“If only you had been proactive, then …“). Sometimes, you can do the right thing and it can still happen. Emotional outbursts can be unpredictable. It’s random. Some stuff is beyond our control.
Nobody can tell another person how to feel or how they should feel. And there are cultural and/or family differences, Dr. Platzman points out as well. What we all need is to lose our cool and recover. We need to learn that too. It’s equally important to demonstrate, “I was really angry earlier, but I’m ok now“… or “It must have been scary for you to see me angry earlier.” But some parents can’t do that. Some people can’t apologize. You learn what’s acceptable–what it’s ok to lose your cool about–by watching your family growing up.
Hopefully you enjoyed today’s post and got some good take-aways about how to deal with ‘the blame’ in your life. If you found today’s podcast or blog helpful or informative, please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter via the links below. If it resonated with you and you have a story to share, please consider adding it to the Comments below.
Until next week… here’s to affecting autism through playful interactions!