I work in a group home, and there is one 13-year-old boy who just calls everyone names, all the time, all the other youth and the staff. I was just wondering if anyone has had any experience dealing with type of behaviour, and I'am curious to what has worked and what hasn't worked. Thanks.
I'm curious what you have tried so far. How long has the youth been there? Are you saying that he is calling everyone inappropriate names or just names other than their given names. I suspect that this is an issue for you and what have you done to relieve your own stress regarding being called names. What is the response of the other youth? So, no quick fix but more info might be helpful.
Restorative practice sessions worked with us.
Before deciding to "punish" him, why not ask him how people in his house talked, and whether that kind of name calling was common in his home before coming into care. Perhaps he might have been the recipient of ugly names, and it feels better to him to be on the giving end rather than the getting end. Or, if he was neglected, he may be using a behavior that guarantees that he will get attention. Negative attention is not "bad" attention to a kid who is used to getting no attention. Before deciding on a course of action, you want to track down the meaning of the language to him.
I think there are two aspects to this: 1. What does the behavior mean ? and 2. How do you respond ? The behavior might be addressed simultaneously on both levels.
As to meaning, I would certainly see a need for recognition and attention in the youngster. I would offer it essentially unconditionally. When possible, I'd approach him in a positive way when he isn't calling somebody names. Also, I would find ways to help him feel accepted and a part of and contributor to the group, by involving him in activities in which he can shine, and helping him have tools for relationship formation.
Try to determine what function the name calling has for him. Was this something that was customary in his past or was necessary for him ?
As to what to do when he name calls, I would suggest a sense of humor and a light touch first of all. Not saying, "we don't have name calling here" or "you lose 10 points", etc. Rather, comments like "Wow ! That's quite a name". "Hey – I've been called things before but not that !" " I heard names when I was in the service but that takes the cake !" (in a pleasant, humorous voice.) Clap your hand to your forehead. Maybe make up some playful names and call him that playful or whimsical name back. Make an interchange of it. Encourage plays on words – e.g. if he calls someone 'Mother f-----' (a common expletive from my experience) respond with, "Hey, Joe – ever heard of the Mother Truckers? It's a women's moving company !" Non-escalation and distraction are the approaches here, for surface management of the behavior.
Life space interview approaches of course can also be helpful – depending on the context. Ask him what his feeling state is in private and make a surface level interpretation – e.g. "Joe, I notice that just before bedtime is a time you start calling people names – I wonder what's going on ?" or, "I know you were angry when John elbowed into line ahead of you and I don't blame you. But calling him a s----- didn't really help resolve the situation either. Can we talk about some other ways of handling such a situation ?"
Later and privately he can be helped to acknowledge others' feeling states (e.g. not liking name calling), " Joe, the kids do get angry when you call them names and we have an upset on our hands. Can we come up with some ways to bypass this ? Is something bothering you when you name call ? Can we help you with it ?" and "Sometimes when kids call others names they don't like, they actually have something else on their mind. Does this resonate with you" ?
Perhaps he needs help in framing his oral responses – so he can say what he thinks and feels directly but in more socially acceptable language. It is certainly possible that he does not know how – again names may have been customary and had a necessary function in the past. Social skill development so to speak.
What a challenge!! It is one that is common to us all (whether in a group or foster home, detention center, psychiatric hospital, or at home with our own kids)!! To deal with that challenge, there are several questions that I would ask:
Chronologically he is 13y.o.; Developmentally, is he 13 also?
If so, is calling other names age-appropriate behavior for 13-year old boys? What is in it for him? Is he doing it to create conflict, to navigate through the anxieties of interacting with others, or provoking in order to engage others because he lacks the social skills to interact appropriately?
If it is to create conflict, my focus would be on strengthening the skills of the other youth in the home around him. Coaching them in "how to deal with challenging personalities" and strengthening their conflict-coping skills may help him learn better ways to interact with others, as well as teaching them invaluable skills that are transferable to all other settings. Meet his emotional needs and kindly guide him towards alternative interactions while providing a safe environment that will support him and help him develop new skills.
If his behaviors are due to age-appropriate anxieties; applaud him for being normal!!! Share stories of your life experiences at that age, and run groups where the youth can all role-play appropriate interactions without singling him out. Their is a wonderful reward that comes from having healthy relationships and he needs to experience them.
If it is his way of provoking an interaction (regardless of what type), role-playing and coaching him through developing healthy relationships may help him add tools to his "interaction toolbox." Adolescence is an awkward time and the support of a positive coach to help him navigate through interpersonal anxieties will help him become a much more successful contributor to social settings. He needs to experience healthy relationships before valuing them. The role-playing and practicing in a safe environment will expose him to those experiences.
Don'ts: Do not focus on the behaviors. As we all know, behaviors are used to communicate feelings and he needs to learn better ways to do that (which means we need to become creative educators sensitive to his needs). He may need help in identifying and exploring his feelings in social settings with his coach.
Focus: Find out the feelings (or reasons) behind the behaviors and provide learning opportunities for yourselves (personnel) and the youth (all) in the home.
These challenges are always a great opportunity for growth and for the development of healthy relationships for both the Caregivers and Caretakers! Have FUN, Patience, and Perseverance!!! (Over and over and over again) :-)
Children Services Unit Supervisor
I have not chimed in on the Child and Youth Care for a few years but have found a couple of the issues interesting. I am going to continue to give a similar answer to these. If the Collaborative Problem Solving approach has not been incorporated into your program it may be time to take a look at it. We have had very good success working with similar issues. This is not a quick fix nor a punitive intervention. It is a cognitive skills based method we have found to be effective. We have been engaged in this process for about a year now and it has challenged the conventional wisdom of staff and required us to take a look at how we have been doing business. The method was developed by Ablon, PhD. and Green PhD. with information available at: http://www.explosivechild.com/
Hood River Oregon
What if the way to address it was to ignore it?
It occurred to me that there are so many 'strategies' we can apply to children and their behaviours – but really sometimes something as simple as ignoring (planned ignoring) can dissuade someone from such behaviours.
Kim McLeod, a.k.a Grandma K,
Helping parents connect with kids!
In one group home where I worked a young girl called me a Hoe, not sure how they spell it now! I said to her, "What did you call me?" and she repeated it. I said "what is a Hoe anyway?" (I knew full well what she was referring to) She said "you know someone who sleeps around...!" I said while laughing "Oh you mean a Whore, that is what they were called when I was young." The look on her face was priceless. She was so disgusted with me and that was the end of that conversation, she NEVER CALLED ME or anyone else in the house that name again. So as you see, humor is very good medicine! I still get a chuckle when I think of this.
When using Life Space Intervention techniques to debrief this type of incident, and trying to help the child gain insight, I would ask questions about the child's expected responses to such behavior. Is the child seeking punishment or, in a very distorted way, seeking friends.
"When you get upset and call people names, what do you expect them to do?" "Are you surprised they would get angry?" The child's response will give you some sense of the underlying motivation for the behavior.
Michael A. Perry
Life Space Crisis Intervention Institute
Thanks for all your responses, you guys and gals are obviously very smart, lots of you are asking for more information on this boy and the situation so here is some:
We have tried ignoring but it's hard when he calls all the other kids terrible names, and they feel like we're doing nothing. The boy is 13, developmentally he's pretty close to 13 as well. We've had him with us since April, and he came as a utter and complete mess, he's been tossed around so much, his step mom actually told his dad its him or me, and he picked her. So as you could imagine he's got some attachment problems.
When I first started working with him I thought I'd try to help catch him up, so I'd help him clean his room, play catch with him, help him make his bed, tuck him in and sing him to sleep. After doing this for a while it seemed to help him mature and a lot of his acting out behaviours went down. This boy is diagnosed ADHD and ODD, he has no problems at school, he never gets in trouble for swearing or acting out, I try asking him why he doesn't have a problem with swearing and name calling at school, but I can't get a answer out of him. A big thing with him though is being in control: when asked not to swear, it's always "I can do what ever the hell I want", and responses like that. It's not just with this particular problem; it's with everything, he wants supper and snack when he wants it not when we make it, he has to go to bed when he feels he's ready, he definitely won't take his meds when we ask him. I try not to engage in these power struggles, but my co workers have a tough time avoiding them, and three staff have already quit since April, because of this boy.
He is also very creative, he loves arts and crafts, he's a great cook, he's energetic and awesome at sports, and he absolutely loves to fish. We've tried swear jars, they don't help, we've tried rewarding him for not swearing, doesn't really help either.
Child & Youth Care Worker
Doreen Johnson House
Way to go Davy! You are doing a wonderful job. Not all the youth care workers will have the stuff to deal with all the youth and the challenges they present.
Sounds like the youth has lots of good things going for him. Even though he is diagnosed doesn't mean the symptoms will continue indefinitely. I had a child who they suspected was possibly ODD and the same thing, the behaviour only presented in particular places (home). He actually had no disorders but was simply mature enough in many ways and required independence from to many rules and restraints. He was set free in a manner of speaking. He grew into a totally mature, appropriate, loving, giving young man who has much to give to the world. The control thing is so understandable considering where he may have come from – lacking any control over self. Doesn't this just takes perseverance and patience? There isn't always a quick fix.
Depending on freedom within the program and the support of fellow workers, you could use his abilities to serve him well. I'm just thinking about giving up some control to him. I know we often think that we need to have the control and make things go smoothly but therapeutically it would interesting to allow the individual to decide when things happen. There is always some room to alter schedules but my point is that given the freedom to choose, he will gain some control and probably settle into a somewhat similar schedule that could be considered normal. The only change being that the youth feels in control. Using meds as an example, the youth can decide his medication times although he cannot decide not to take them. There is some leeway with meds usually (several hours) and the youth can gain some power from making these decisions. How this is implemented depends on the particular circumstances. Example – will the youth actually take the meds or will another issue arise. Ask the youth for his input. Would he like a notebook to keep track and to share with workers who ask and agree to sign for meds at the end of each day or whatever can be created within the confines of the program. I am not saying that meds are to be taken lightly, I'm saying that meals, meds, chores can all be used to give the youth some of the control over themselves/surroundings that they so require. Meet them where they're at!!!! He loves to cook!!!!! How awesome is that!!!!! What a gift!!!