It’s not the behaviour, it’s the relationships

Lisa MillardFamily Relationships, News

I have worked as a social worker for many years and have met with hundreds of families going through all kinds of challenging times. Through my experience, I know that the behavioural challenges parents or carers contact us about always boil down to relationships.

At Beacon Family Services, we use a range of therapies and approaches to support children and parents to create and build better relationships with each other. These include:

  • Neurobiology which helps us to understand how the brain and the nervous system
  • Attachment theory which focuses on the bonds connecting children and parents
  • Child development theories which give an understanding of the capacity of the child within their environment

Many of the techniques we use are derived from Theraplay® and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP).

Developed over 50 years ago, Theraplay® has been recognised by the Association of Play Therapy as one of seven seminal psychotherapies for children . It “builds relationships from the inside out”. Theraplay®-based sessions include playful activities to create emotional, loving, rewarding and supportive connections between parent and child.

Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) was created by clinical psychologist, Dan Hughes. It helps families make deeper emotional connections with each other. This form of therapy is particularly helpful for adoptive families. Often, children who are adopted or fostered and have been let down by the adults who cared for them or had to leave adults who have cared for them well. DDP helps children who have lost trust in adults to develop and build positive relationships.

At Beacon, we find these approaches helpful for a number of reasons:

1. Our approach means we listen carefully to parents and involve them in our sessions

Because our therapy sessions are dyadic, or about two people, parents are part of our sessions with their children. It’s the concerning and worrying behaviours of their children that bring parents to therapy. Within every session we feel it’s essential to listen to families to truly understand how day-to-day feelings and behaviours are linked for a particular family. Listening to parents throughout and building a shared understanding ensures that changes move from our sessions into family homes.

2. We prioritise relationships, not behaviours

Attachment, is about a child’s emotional bonds and informs how they understand, trust and thrive in their world. Their behaviours are how they communicate their needs. By focussing on how we think the child is understanding their world, we work with families to strengthen relationships, leading to a change in behaviour. This can be very important if children have diagnoses or parents suspect these are necessary. 

3. We help families learn through play

Play is another way children communicate.  During playful interactions we can help them experience relationships as safe and supportive. This is central to experiencing joy and connection and it allows children’s and parents’ brains to respond to the potential of their relationships. 

4. There is no time limit

Every family is different and needs unique support. When families are offered a certain number of sessions, it can feel like failure if things haven’t changed in that time.  Working relationally means we are there for families as and when they need us. This means at that throughout a child’s life and development, families can return to therapy as necessary.

5. Our therapy sessions are strongly based on sound principles

Theraplay® focuses on four essential qualities found in healthy parent-child relationships — structure, engagement, nurture and challenge.

Structure organises a child and sets limits creating safety. Engagement lets a child experience being seen, heard, felt, and accepted by a parent. Nurture soothes and calms a child, allowing them to feel good about themselves. Challenge allows a child to develop new skills which helps develop confidence with the support of their parent.

Central to DDP is a way of thinking which deepens the emotional connections in our relationship with others referred to as PACE. Playfulness brings enjoyment to the relationship. Acceptance creates psychological safety.  Curious exploration within a relationship expresses a desire to know the other more deeply. Empathy communicates our curiosity and acceptance, as we recognise and respond to the other’s emotional experience.

At Beacon we are committed to building strong, healthy, resilient relationships which benefit children right through to adulthood.