Understanding Emotional Needs of Non

Understanding Emotional Needs
of Non-traditional Students
Melissa Costigan, LCPC
My Experience
• Masters in Mental Health and Behavioral
• Youth Dynamics, therapist for many nontraditional children
– What DIDN’T work.
• Private Practice continuing to work with this
– What DID work.
• Thrive, parent liaison, working in the schools
Attachment Issues
• Diagnositic Statistical Manual
– Reactive Attachment Disorder
• Change in new DSM V
• My working template
• My working template
– Spectrum of attachment struggles/issues
Behaviors that MAY be associated
Control Issues
Excessive somatic
Avoids eye contact
Self care difficulties
Rageful tantrums
Sexually acting out
Lying, stealing
Acts as if not feeling guilt Struggles with emotional
Superficially Charming
Difficulty genuinely
Hyper vigilant, keyed up
Hoarding/gorging on Food
What MAY cause Attachment Issues?
Abuse and neglect first few years of life.
Sickness in family, this child or other in family
Trauma in family system
Multiple placements in early life.
Primal loss of birth mom.
Depressed primary caregiver
Intergenerational patterns
What you MIGHT see at school
• A “normal”, healthy, adjusted child.
• May be very friendly & very interested in
being “close” to you; clingy & huggy
• May switch very quickly from being “teachers
pet” to being very upset with you for setting a
• May try to make you feel sorry for them and
how horrible things are at home.
What you MIGHT see (Con’t)
• Just stops turning in homework, even though
they have done it. Work refusal. “Forgot”.
Erratic, inconsistent, unpredictable task
completion or non-completion.
• Parents report completely different child at
• Extremely controlling behaviors with adults
and peers.
• Lying; “crazy-making” lying.
Very common: Task Completion
• According to Lawrence Smith, LCSW-C, LICSW,
these behaviors are ways the youth or teen
indicates that s/he is in control, not the teacher.
“[T]this fluctuating pattern of receptiveness to
instruction is one more way the [attachment
disordered] student seeks to remind the teacher
that he doesn’t readily submit to outside
authority . . . task completion is usually a
reflection of how secure or insecure the
[attachment disordered] child feels at a given
Attachment through emotions
• Schools are very behaviorally focused, as is
our society.
– Positive and Negative behavioral plans,
– These systems don’t tend to work for these kids.
• To understand these kids, must look at
relationships, emotions.
Erikson’s Stages of Development
Trust vs. Mistrust
Autonomy vs. Shame & doubt
Initiative vs. Guilt
Industry vs. Inferiority
Identity vs. Role confusion
Intimacy vs Isolation
Generativity vs. Stagnation
Ego Integrity vs. Despair
0-2 years
2-3 years
3-5 years
6-11 years
12-18 yrs
19-40 yrs
60 yrs +
Trust vs Mistrust
• Attachment issues are rooted in this stage.
• When child does not learn to “trust”
– World is not safe, I am not safe.
– Relationships are not safe
– To survive, I must be in control.
– My needs will not be adequately met by others
• Difference between Shame and Guilt
• Egocentrism at this young age.
– Only way to understand world, “It’s all about me”, for
better or worse.
– There must be something wrong with me.
– Stuck in SHAME.
• Highly defended, protected against this belief, but
at same time their behaviors are often about
communicating, convincing adults they are “not
good”, they don’t “deserve” good things.
STUCK in the Water
• Focusing on behaviors leads to feeling stuck.
• Kids with secure attachment, feel worthy of
• Kids with attachment issues will prove to you
they don’t deserve to succeed.
• Often use behavioral plans as a tool to have
control over the adults.
Translate Behaviors into
Emotional Needs
• Looking underneath the behavior.
– Controlling behaviors- need to feel safe.
– Self- sabotaging- “I’m not worth it”, Shame
– Emotional dysregulation– Button pushing
• Control- can I get you emotionally off balance?
• Closeness is not safe. Keeping distance.
• Working model or template, brain wires
accordingly (closeness= fear)
• These behaviors, adaptive skills, developed
out of a need (or perceived need) to survive.
• Dan Seigel, hand model of the brain. “Mind
• When living in an “unsafe” place, capacity to
learn is limited.
What can you do?
• Understand & repeatedly remind yourself of the
“why” of their behavior.
• Focus, as much as possible, on safety in
relationship. Then learning can happen.
• Provide clear structure and boundaries that do
not change.
• Consequences should change, be unpredictable,
• Avoid adding/increasing SHAME.
• Boundaries around hugs– ONLY FOR PARENTS.
What can you do (Con’t)
• Avoid giving 2nd, 3rd, chances.
• Communicate confidence in their abilities and do
not waver in this. “they can handle it”
• Keep in mind child’s emotional age. (middle
school, highschool challenges)
• Avoid power struggles. You both lose.
• Recognize when “thinking cap is off”
• Make some rewards/treats not contingent on
behavior. (sabotage their sabotaging)
• Use HUMOR whenever possible.
What you can do (con’t, again)
• Refrain from using term “manipulation”, instead
• Stress the child’s “choices”.
• “maybe later you will be ready to try again and
feel good on the inside.”
• Feedback should be specific about acts, not “you
were a good boy today.”
• Catch them off guard.
• Cannot be more invested in the child’s success
than they are.
(Continued… AGAIN.)
• Do not expect parents to force the homework
issue. Has to be child’s motivation.
• Consequences for school issues, need to
happen at school, though parents need to
know about it.
NECESSARY. Find ways to make it seamless.
Parents will know BEST about what works.
Triangulation; increase anxiety.
Adults working together for their best interest,
communicates through action security.
• Decreases anxiety, increases ability to learn
• Even in middle school and high school.
• Back to trust vs. mistrust. Emotional age of
• Dan Hughes, “Building the Bonds of Attachment”
• Kate Cremer-Vogel, LCPC & Dan & Cassie Richards “What
Every Adoptive Parent Needs to Know.”
• Daniel J Seigel , M.D., ”Mindsight”, “Whole Brained Child”
• Denise L. Best, LMHC, “Therapeutic Parenting for
Traumatized Children”
• Dr. Bruce Perry, “The Principles of Working with
Traumatized Children”.
• Attachment Disorder Maryland, Inc
• “Different Perspective” Written by Cynthia HockmanChupp, analogy courtesty of Dr. Kali Miller
• “The Dog Ate My Homework”