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PART 2 Behaviour Management with Bobbi Cook - Theory of Mind, SPD, school refusal and toe wriggling!

PART 2 Behaviour Management and Kinship Care with Bobbi Cook – Youtube Recording

This is Part 2 of 2 recordings with Bobbi Cook.

00:00 - Start 00:08 - Build a team to support yourself and be authentic, age and developmentally appropriate about your own trauma 03:16 - The challenges of one parent learning everything about the child and trying to convey that to ones partner in a heated moment. 11:13 - Theory of Mind: children from trauma, ADHD, ODD, ASD, anxiety or depression don't experience empathy, and will poke the bear until you explode, when they then laugh it off. Why? You need to match intensity. 17:28 - Neurotypical triggers occur between grades 2 and 3 and at transitions, years 6 yo 7, or when puberty hits. For our kids, chronological and developmental ages matter. 19:22 - Our kids expressive language is often more advanced than their receptive language, because of their experiences, so have a good speech therapist on board 21:50 - Any kid who has experienced trauma is going to have sensory processing issues. Same for ADHD, ASD or others. So get an OT to do an assessment on sensory processing to get NDIS support 23:50 - School Refusal: support children getting back to school by communicating with the school and asking teachers to setup 5 minute calls three times per week. Relationships matter. 26:58 - Ability and Capacity: There are times where emotional capability is more important than ones ability. We aren't enabling. It's about emotional attunement. 35:32 - Manage your fear of their behaviour. As long as you have a strategy to implement to manage situations, like tantrums, you will be ok. Wriggling you toes inside your shoes is a great strategy!

PART 2 Behaviour Management and Kinship Care with Bobbi Cook – Transcript

This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice research-based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today we are discussing behaviour management and kinship care with Bobbi Cook.

Welcome Bobbi

Bobbi is the Founder and Director of Bobbi Cook Behaviour Management (BCBM). She provides leadership of BCBM as well as leading workshops, webinars, and speaking at conferences. Bobbi has 30+ years working in behaviour therapy and is committed to providing services to help families move forward. The great thing about Bobbi is that she provides useful and practical strategies based on her training and experience.  Bobbi is also a kinship carer to her 13yo grandson Luca so she understands the demands of caring for those with additional needs and how to “navigate” the system.


I guess what you're talking about too is you've got your own trauma going on at that time so how do you sort of check your own trauma at the door to be there for your child?

I’d be authentic about my trauma at an age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate level with appropriate levels of disclosure. I would never disclose to Luca the level of my trauma and everything that we went through. He never needs to know about that. But it is okay for him to know I feel sad. I do have to get counselling for myself and have done intermittently all the way through. I do have a clinical supervision. I do have good friends. I do hook into a kinship support group. So I am pretty good, not perfect all the time, but I am pretty good at looking after myself. That's so good.

Have you always had those supports or did you also have to come to a point where you acknowledged that that might be helpful?

I kind of had to come to the end of myself.

Prior to having Luca with us I was still a behaviour therapist beforehand and I had already been a long-term foster carer, so I was already aware of Mirabel foundation. I was already aware of Create. So as soon as we got Luca I hooked straight into Mirabel. Because I knew the service that they provided. I rang and said I’m really sorry I can't be a provider for you anymore because I used to provide parent support through Mirabel. I need to take my name off your provider list and I need to go on to your client list. That's so unique. And Mirabel have been an amazing support to me as a grandparent. What they have done so amazingly is that they have just wiped me from their memory banks that I’m a provider. So when I go to MAD, meetings after dark, and I don't get there all the time but when I do get there I’m there as Bobbi, Luca’s grammy. I am not there as Bobbi Cook. I’m grammy and I can sit there and I can cry and I can say to them oh my goodness Luca’s smashed Pete's TV. All five and a half thousand dollars of TV. Big time ouch.


Pete took a package from a job he was had worked in that he hated for 12 years to support us. Then he got some of his super out and I said to him buy whatever you want. And what he wanted was a trick TV. That five plus whatever it is you know like a monster. I’m not a big TV person so it really didn't matter to me that was what he wanted. And Luca’s smashed it. Did he have it long? He'd had it for a couple of years. Could have been more painful. It was still pretty painful. It was like top of the range.

So what was that situation was what was going on, I’m curious?

Luca was not being successful on the computer game that he was playing and he lost it, and he biffed the controller at the TV. I’ve heard of someone's TV breaking just from something small getting knocked and it flew off and hit the TV on a particular angle and no more. Pete went through a lot of trauma over that because he really felt like Luca was personally attacking him. So we had a lot to work through and move on from.  We have had the odd holes in the walls and towel tail rails being ripped off walls. We have worked really hard to get what we've got. We lost everything remember. We went bankrupt, we lost our home, we lost our business. It was really traumatic when we got Luca. So we have gone right back to the beginning and actually under zero and built all of that back up again. That's another layer. We lost it all because we took Luca on and here he is now, we've had to work really hard to get what we've got, and it feels like he doesn't respect it. So there's that double whammy and I know a lot of our families go through that with holes in walls, they can't have anything precious all of their precious things have been broken. China cabinets have been decimated. They've got nothing precious left or if they have it's got to be in a box put away safely.

So how do you let that go? How do you manage that?

Well I go and get counselling and work it through and get that support to process it. What about Pete? Does he manage differently? He still has some maladaptive things going on. He will internalise it and he gets more depressed and distressed than I do. So I need to get good support for me so I can support him to process it. I’d like to say you know we're a really well-adjusted couple and we both go off to counselling and we both feel as comfortable in that space as each other, but I’d be lying because that's just not true. And this is often the case. I’m the one in the relationship that actually has the emotional resources to sit on the webinars, get the training. I go to all the paediatricians appointments, I’m there with the OT and the physio. He's been working to keep our family afloat, so he doesn't get to have all of the incidental professional development that I do. And then I’m then left to try and explain to him what the occupational therapist has said. I’ve got it in my head and I get it, but then trying to explain it to him so he understands, I can't do that. But how can you because you're understanding it because of your years of knowledge. And you can say it out loud and I’ve had the same experience so you can say it out loud and you can say it three or four more times and you're still kind of sitting here going what doesn't he get? But he doesn't get it because he doesn't have all the other knowledge. So I can say to him well the behaviour therapist said sometimes a behavioural response just to allow a behaviour. So that doesn't mean let them get away with it. It doesn't mean that we're ignoring it. It doesn't mean we're not having a response, but just for this period of time we are going to allow a behaviour. And so the behaviour therapist has said at this point in time we are going to allow a messy bedroom. And his eyes just start rolling in his head and steam starts coming out his ears and he goes that's ridiculous, that's disrespectful that's not appropriate. And what I can't then find is that right, they said allow the behaviour while we accommodate the needs to actually have their own control in their own personal space. But I don't remember the second part to tell him, that what we're doing is we're allowing this behaviour now, because we're accommodating a need and the way we're going to start putting structure back in place, is to actually insist on the dishwasher being done at night. But I can't pull that all together because as soon as he starts getting heightened about a messy bedroom, I can't stay here (thinking brain) I go back here (emotional brain). And then he goes I don't want to hear what that behaviour therapist says it's crap. And then I get anxious and so I stop sharing with him what the behaviour therapist is saying. So I’ve got all this intellectual knowledge and understanding but I can't actually communicate it to him. He actually feels left out of the loop. He gets really anxious and reactionary.

I go to a failsafe which is you know do you want to parent your child with fear or do you want to parent your child in a loving way and if you want to parent in a loving way let's just let it go. There is as you say, there's so much knowledge that you have and sometimes it's hard to grasp those kind of pieces.

And in all of our kinship carers and permanent care families, one partner always has more of that information and more of that knowledge because one has got to be earning money while the other one is in all the meetings. They've just got all of that in their head and that's where some of these recordings can fill the gap as well. That's certainly what we've been told.


I wanted to ask you about theory of mind as well. Can you tell us about that and how it impacts on children's behaviour?

So theory of mind is the ability to be able to put yourself in someone's shoes to understand their experience and then moderate your behaviour in response to that. So it's kind of like being able to have empathy. A a child who has suffered trauma, ADHD, ODD, ASD, anxiety or depression all have impaired theory of mind, so we see in their behaviour that they don't have empathy and we go oh they just haven't got empathy, they're a bit of a sociopath or they are a psychopath in the making. And it's actually bigger than that. They don't actually understand what empathy is at all. So they actually don't ever experience that, nothing.

So what they see and experience is they'll be losing the plot and we'll say it's all right we understand calm down. But we understand, we know how you feel or we can imagine how you can feel and they go no you don't know. You're just all there calm and you're very cool and you’re not showing me that you understand at all. Then what happens is they learn how to poke the bear and they poke and they poke and they poke until you're losing the plot and you're blithering idiot and you've gone out of love based parenting into fear-based parenting. And you're screaming like a tyrant and you you're just beside yourself and then they kind of go oh jeez, okay, and they'll laugh at you and it's almost like they're ridiculing you. What they're actually doing is that they're having an experience of empath,y because they're actually seeing reflected in you their level of distress.

So what does that mean for parenting? That laughingis just this intense emotional relief. Often we find after we actually lose the plot, they're bouncing around happy and they want to have a chat and they're ready. Would you like a cup of tea and they're all you know they're settled and great and we're sitting in the corner and we don't even want to look at them because they've driven us to this place of insanity. Because we have actually been trying to stay regulated. We're wiggling our toes we're doing our 478 breathing, we're walking out of the room, we're having a drink of water, like we're channeling mindfulness through every pore of our being to stay regulated.

So does that mean sometimes regulation doesn't work? Do we need to match them or something? We need to match the intensity yeah. So we have to stay regulated but we can match intensity. I am so mad at you. I can see you are so mad. Tell me what are you so mad about. So we're still totally regulated yes but we're matching their intensity so they actually experience empathy.

And does that help them if they can experience empathy. Does that help with the change down the track? That's right because empathy can be a learned process. How do you know if someone has got this?

Are there tell tale signs that we should be looking for? If a kid's losing the plot and if they poke and poke and poke you, until you lose the plot, and then they calm down, you know they have got no theory of mind. Or if you're saying I understand it's okay, calm down, and they go you don't understand anything,  or if they smash a TV or they keep escalating and escalating to try and stir you into a frenzy. You understand how distressed they are yes. If they can know that you understand their level of distress much more obviously, they don't have to escalate and you can resolve it much more quickly.

You have got me thinking about lots of school scenarios where you know it ends up in a punch or something, you know something quite extreme, because maybe that is the theory of mind, that they're looking for that kind of level of matching if you like. Wow.

It's huge as you unpack theory of mind and look at how that plays out and then you kind of take a step back and go into your observing self. You then look at how things play out in your family and go okay he's poking his sister, like he is annoying his sister, he's annoying his sister and he is driving her crazy, and she won't engage and she's trying to ignore him and then once again she loses it. He's okay.


I wanted to ask you also are there common sorts of threads or timings when issues occur with children? Are there particular things parents could kind of be a bit more on the lookout for at certain times?

Look that is such a good question and we would normally say with a neurotypical child who's developmentally normal, whatever that is. So normally we would say between grade two and grade three there's a big jump in academic rigour and requirements so we would see an issue there. So the big transitions and puberty we would see issues.

However, it's quite different with our kids because their chronological age and their developmental age is often quite different. So when we got Luca he was two years and the paediatrician said he was developmentally eight months old. So look at your developmental age, not your chronological age. So Luca is now 13 and a half and physiologically he creates secrets. So he's going through puberty, physiologically he's 13 and a half, emotionally he's still probably sitting at about four or five. You’re reminding me of a time when someone said to my child I’m talking to your child, why isn't he talking back to me? Because he looked like a seven-year-old but he was a three-year-old.


The difference is as well is that often our kids expressive language is quite advanced because they've heard a lot of adult talk, a lot of inappropriate adult talk for a lot of time in their lives. They know stuff they should never know, so they're expressive language, what comes out appears quite advanced. So if you're just having a chat with Luca you would kind of go wow he is really switched on his knowledge is extraordinary and the way he articulates is extraordinary. But his receptive language, what he understands and how he integrates what he hears on an emotional basis is of a five-year-old. So his responses are like a five-year-old. And he doesn't know when he's gone too far. So you know poo bum, penis, wee, vagina, all of those things that's still very funny and amusing. And he'll start to get the inference in a joke that's kind of like, he's just starting to get double entendres a little bit. And you know with a double entendre you just kind of go uh-huh and keep going. He will go, do you know that that means, did you know that richard cranium means dickhead. How exciting. So that five-year-old stuff. And if he does that in the schoolyard with 13, 14 and 15 year olds, they're like yeah, see you later, move on. So that emotional, that emotional developmental age impacts a lot socially. And then you add that to impaired theory of mind. Wow challenging.


So how do you communicate that with the school? How do how do you get the school to understand this receptive language or theory of mind?

You could take your little recording of this conversation and say look at this. But I think having a good OT and a good Specch Therapist. Really trauma informed Speechy around that receptive and expressive language and trauma informed OT around sensory stuff, because any kid who has experienced trauma is going to have sensory processing issues. Any child who's got ADHD has sensory processing issues. We often think only children with ASD have sensory processing issues. That is not true. It's others as well.  Often we go oh my child's only got a diagnosis of ADHD and anxiety, we can't get the NDIS and that's because you haven't had an OT do an assessment around sensory processing. You can access an allied healthcare plan through your GP to get a sensory profile done through an OT. Gives you that third piece of evidence that you need to be able to access the NDIS. So go and get an OT assessment for sensory processing.  I love working with the senses it's so important. I’m so happy I learnt it with when mine were really young, right from day one while I  was training. One of them was actually coming into school and learning with me as he was born  while I was studying.


So talking about schools and thinking about the challenges of getting kids back to school after they've had such an extended period of time at home, particularly if you've got some of these issues going on or you're introverted or whatever where its sometimes preferable to be at home. What can families do to help with some of that?

Communicate, communicate, communicate with the school. Set up individual webex’s with teachers and support staff. Most schools at the moment are offering online counselling for kids. Help reconnect them to their school. Most teachers are happy to do one-on-one webex’s so if you know your child is really going to struggle going back contact the well-being team at your school or your GP or whoever it is and say can we please have three times a week five minute individual webex's. Teach a child just to maintain relationships because the only thing that works getting back to school is relationships. Look I could say do a routine and start slowly and create a ritual and all of that kind of stuff and absolutely all of those things are helpful. But the thing that will actually make a difference is relationships. It's number one isn't it.  It's actually quite an easy answer but it's something that we don't always think about so that's really helpful. We can ring the principal and say look I can see that Bobbi is really going to struggle transitioning back to school and I’ve just had some input from a behaviour therapist, which you can authentically say,  you've had some input from me. My child requires three times a week five minute individual webex check-ins. Build that relationship and whether the teacher reads a bit of a book that they read to them each day or they just share something of interest, there's that ongoing relationship and a reason to come back. So simple and so good. That's really all I would recommend and I apologise in advance to all of the principals who are going to get this phone call on Monday morning. But the principals will go oh yeah of course and the teachers will actually appreciate it because the teachers at the moment really don't know what to do to support the kids. Absolutely and it’s not every child. No, it's maybe 20% or you know whoever needs it.


So we've covered a lot so is there anything else that we should be discussing today because I could talk to you for hours and hours?

I’m just looking through my list all right oh the difference between ability and capacity. So ability and capacity are the two things that do most kinship carers, permanent carers and teachers heads in. So an example. Luca can fully dress himself right, and he can actually do that really, really quickly on some days. So we know he has the ability to. But we were getting really confused because on Monday mornings it seemed like he had totally lost that ability to dress himself. And it was terrible. Yelling, screaming, crying. Get dressed put your clothes on. Get dressed put your clothes on. Luca would go to school finally in a temper. I would dress him to get him in the car so that we could get to school and work on time. Pete would go to work with the poops and Pete silos.

I don't know if any of you know about siloing but that's where he goes pause there. He works all day and he gets home and then he unpauses. And nothing has happened in the middle, so he leaves mad in the morning and he comes home mad in the afternoon. Whereas Luca has gone to school and he's had a hundred different experiences since what's happened this morning.  I’m the same. So that was happening. Luca would go to school and have meltdowns all day because he was totally disregulated and then I would come to work as a behaviour specialist and I would sit in the chair across from someone saying I’m having behavioural problems with my child, and I would be sitting there going I’m an imposter to be talking to you.

What we did, we made a decision to actually allow Luca not to get dressed himself on a Monday morning. We just dressed him. We did an experiment. And to Luca we said we can see Monday mornings are really rough, so we're going to dress you on a Monday morning. Now Pete didn't have anything to silo. I felt successful and Luca didn't go to school having a meltdown. In my head I’ve got all these stories about enabling and all that garbage that goes on. But anyway we were doing an experiment. At the end of the day you're getting him to school right.  

So what we found was that on a Monday he couldn't dress himself at all, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday he seemed to be able to dress himself, and even if he didn’t dress himself I could say suck it up sunshine go and get dressed. And Friday was variable. Does that depend on whether he was going home with you or with someone else? Yeah and whether he was tired mostly. Of course. So what I came to understand was that he actually always had the ability to dress himself, that ability didn't go away, what changed was his emotional capacity to access that ability, that was what was variable. So on a Monday the transition from the weekend back to school used all of his emotional capacity in the morning and he couldn't access the ability to get dressed. On a Tuesday morning you've done that transition so he actually had the emotional energy to access that ability. And he had the same capacity on a Wednesday and he had the same capacity on a Thursday. However, by Friday being tired, his emotional capacity to access that ability was variable, so we needed to be attuned ourselves to what his emotional capacity was to access that. I’m going to try and use that in my life and be on the look out for it.

It's really interesting. Even for teachers they go sometimes he comes in and he sits on the mat and he manages his body beautifully and he does whole body listening and he listens to the instructions and he goes and sits down and he writes a whole page. And then other days he just can't even sit on the mat. But why can't they have those off days? We have them and sometimes when I go I can't think of anything new to write, or I’m just going to wander around the house until something kind of magically kicks in, or I'll make a cup of tea. So then I think understanding the difference between ability and capacity really helps us in our expectations and it reduces our anxiety about enabling. And if somebody says oh you're still enabling him he's eight years old and you still dress him, you can say well actually he can dress himself no problems at all but I’ve just noticed today that emotionally he hasn't got much, so he's not actually able to access his abilities today. But if I actually support him now by dressing him that will actually fill his emotional tank and he'll actually have the emotional capacity to be successful at school today.

It's about being emotionally attuned and having a coat hanger to hang off what you're doing so you can explain it to somebody else. So when child protection is saying to you why are you still dressing him when he's eight, you can say well actually the reason I’m doing that today is yes I understand this, and my trauma-informed response is so take that and smoke it in your pot. Well you're you know you're meeting the emotional needs of the child. That's what I would say it's quite simple.

Often as carers we don't actually have the language to explain it in a way that they get it. And we don't actually need to use their language. But we actually need to understand why what we're doing is leading practice. And that is the value of the service that you're providing by doing these zoom podcasts. Absolutely and I think yeah what you've done is given us a frame of reference that we can use. Because we don't always have the structure to explain what we're doing we just you know lead often with just kind of your heart or you know your awareness of your child. That's right and most of us have raised children so we don't realise what great breadth of knowledge we bring.  And the things we're doing intuitively we're actually doing from a huge bank of experience that we all have  that we unconsciously draw from. So because we unconsciously draw from there and we are attuned to the children that we have it's very hard for us to articulate the why of what we're doing  because it's just so much a part of us. But the system requires us to be able to explain our why.


Anything else that you didn't touch on today that you wanted to?

Manage your fear of the child's behaviour. Manage your own fear of their behaviour is that sort of you know like if they're out down the street having a tantrum and you know kind of just own what you know and how you're going to respond, as opposed to I guess letting other people's expectations kind of melt up on your shoulder? Yeah that's it.

The single most helpful tool for managing in those situations is to wiggle your toes inside your shoes and focus on wiggling your toes inside your shoes. I’m doing it now it's amazing. Or meetings with child protection because it's a private behaviour. What happens is when we get anxious or more stressed we tense the top of our body. And so we start taking shallow breaths and our body thinks oh my goodness I need to panic and so our body goes into fight, flight. If we wiggle our toes inside our shoes and we concentrate on doing that our shoulders actually relax. Yes I can feel that happening. Then we can take a big breath and our body goes ah, actually it's okay amigos, calm down, yes calm down amygdala, it's all right, yes it's only burning toast it's not a fire. Such a good tip I’m going to go and teach the kids straight away. So that's so good it's great no one can see it, it’s private. It's just this amazing thing that we can teach our kids that we can use ourselves.

If I lose my place when I’m doing a presentation which I often do because my thoughts go all over the place and I’ve got so much to say yes I go oh I’m just gonna take a minute and I'll wiggle my toes inside my shoes. Get a lot of those thoughts out of the back of my head back into the front of my head. I can move on.

A lot of these kids were giving little tools like a coin in the pocket or a lacquer band on the wrist whereas that is something you've always got, your toes in your shoes. And it's embarrassing to have to go flick, flick or grab your coin. But you maintain your dignity and your integrity and your own personal license and sense of self-efficacy. You can privately access a tool.

So what I encourage people to do is, because it doesn't work automatically, you've got to actually develop it as a skill. So the way to get them to practice it and realise and notice is every time you come to a set of red traffic lights, everybody takes a big breath and wiggles their toes inside their shoes slowly, slowly, slowly, quickly, quickly, quickly, slowly, slowly, slowly and a big breath and let's go. And that becomes a tradition that you introduce that you do at red lights. So then when they come to a red light situation at school with their friends, with a teacher, it's become automatic when they get to a red light, they breathe, wiggle their toes and breathe. Now I understand the red light. There’s always a reason of course, you're a mother. It's not complicated it's not hard, you don't need any equipment, you don't need a book, you don't need a box, you don't need a pile of toys, you can do it in the supermarket. You know when they're having the tantrum. I see you're so upset so what are we gonna do, yes wiggle your toes, yes that's correct in the supermarket. Who cares what anybody else thinks. When people are looking at you they're usually just feeling anxious because they don't know how to help you. But if they see that you are down on the floor and you're going oh no you're so upset let's wiggle our toes, they go oh they know what they're doing and they go. And there'll be no child protection report about this parent not managing their child having a tantrum in their supermarket. So own it and go with it.

Next time someone sneezes near me I’m gonna use it. Someone sneezes and everyone looks at me because they know I’m going to react!

Well thank you so much for giving us your valuable time today I’ve personally learnt a lot so I really appreciate it.

I just thank you so much for the privilege to have been here and just let me know if you want to do it again because I’m more than happy to.

Absolutely there'll be another time for sure!

And to anyone else making the time to listen to this recording thankyou for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life.

Until next time have an amazing week!



Bobbi Cook Behaviour Management