Alvin sticks out his tongue when he is nervous

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Those who can do and those who can't teach

I used to teach a  16 hour class on behaviors and interventions for abused and neglected children and I emphasized the importance of not assigning a time limit to a child's healing process.  As human beings we tend to inadvertently have time expectations on when other human beings should be through with the majority of their grief or trauma.  When someone losses a loved one they have full license to break down at inopportune times, be profoundly depressed, or need comforting for the first year of the loss.  If during year two this is still going on everyone tends to get a little uncomfortable and by year three most are downright put off and statements are made about the individual not dealing well with whatever has grieved or traumatized them.  It is the same for children who exhibit behaviors due to trauma or neglect but unfortunately as adults we tend to put a much shorter time frame for healing on them. I thought of all of this when getting Alvin because he is so cute and so vulnerable and I knew it would be tempting to want to try to speed up his process and I kept reminding myself that only Alvin knew how much he could handle and that when it was too much he would retreat and that I needed to allow him that sense of safety.  And then I turned around and did exactly the opposite. 

I was so encouraged by Alvin jumping on the bed to get my burrito  and subsequently sleeping on the bed that I wanted to recreate the experience because it made ME happy. Ugh!  So, I put a top sheet over the bed and then sprinkled kibble on the sheet to entice Alvin back up the stairs and unto the bed.  Well, apparently kibble isn't as tempting as a burrito and although he came close to getting on the bed he kept retreating.  I knew that he would have a great time having a kibble treasure hunt and so I finally picked him up and put him on the bed.  He was nervous but Alvin forgets everything when he sees food and so he gobbled up the food, spent another 10 minutes making sure there was none that he missed and then finally settled down to sleep.  I felt victorious and so I did it again the next night but something changed and Alvin was more nervous.  He did manage to lay next to me but then I watched as all of his mouth behaviors started again.  They had all disappeared for over two weeks but came roaring back.  I first noticed that his mouth looked different and that he seemed to be clinching his jaw but his tongue kept peaking out.  He then began to do the pressing of his nose thing all over me and then he got that mischievous look on his face.  He began to "teeth" my hands and my face like he had done before.  I realized that his mouth behaviors, with the exception of him being unable to take treats, are directly due to anxiety or stress.  I wasn't sure if some of them were a neurological or developmental issue but when I saw them all back together it was clear that it is how he physically copes with anxiety.  Alvin got himself off the bed and I saw that our dynamic had changed.  He was cautious again and wouldn't get too close to me.  I was angry at myself for several reasons but one of the primary ones is that I was afraid I had just undone quite a bit of the progress we had made in my quest to push his progress.  It was all a good reminder of the fact that whether it's adults, kids, or dogs, they usually give us all the information we need as to how to truly help but it's up to us whether we stop to really hear what is being communicated.  It is then up to us to decide if we want to truly help or if we just want do something what makes us feel good under the guise of "helping".  I knew from the start that Alvin would often be my teacher and what I am so grateful for is how little he holds my blunders against me because within 24 hours we were right back on track, or in this case we were back on the floor.

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