Strength in Numbers

It all started a little over two and a half years ago. We entered the room with no small amount of skepticism. We were embarking on “yet another behavior modification program” in a long string of attempts to bring our daughter’s aggressive defiant behavior into some semblance of appropriate. I, personally, was at my wit’s end. Tired of monitoring her every moment and protecting her younger siblings from her tirades. Tired of the destruction, the tension with my husband over how to handle her, and most of all tired of my own desperate and exasperated responses to her. I trusted the experts who were leading the program. They had individually helped us over previous hurdles, though I’m not sure they were aware of it. Still it was a pilot program, and just the latest in a long string of attempts to make some headway with our child. I was ready to try anything but unconvinced that I could succeed. There were about 18 other parents in the room to some degree feeling the same, though I didn’t know it at the time. Surely their problems couldn’t be as severe as ours. Imagine my chagrin when toward the end of the session our leaders asked each family to make a video using the technique we had learned that evening with our child. “Pick a medium-sized challenge and make a video using effective praise to address that challenge. We’ll share them as a group next week.”

We decided to make a video of our daughter brushing her teeth…or rather resisting us brushing her teeth with every ounce of energy she could muster. I couldn’t believe we were going to display this behavior – hers and ours – for a group of acquaintances and near strangers. Praise isn’t so effective when it’s delivered through gritted teeth. I had participated in a language development program that used videos and I had seen how much I could learn from it, so I went along with it, but not with any great sense of joy. The next week as we watched our video along with the others in the class, I learned one really important thing. We were all in the same place. We were all struggling. No one did it perfectly. We all had a lot to learn. Over the next ten weeks, that group of parents bonded on a level that I have not experienced anywhere else. We knew each other’s darkest parenting secrets. We cried together, and even more importantly we celebrated with each other when something worked for our child.

Last night we had a reunion of that class and a couple of other classes that followed ours. We shared more recent videos of our children. Each continues to struggle in one way or another, but they’ve all made amazing progress, and as parents we have a growing group that is empowered to address our own children’s needs, and also committed to work toghether to help our little town begin to support our children in the wider community – at school, at the park, at the play group, and at the grocery store. We’re looking out for each other and for our children.

I am so grateful for the changes we’ve seen in our daughter from applying the principles we learned in this class to her unique personality and needs. It saved our family from a dim to dark future. Last night I realized I am also grateful for the parents who have come alongside us in their own process, and everything that we have learned and accomplished together. There really is strength in numbers.

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