Darla Henry & Associates
ABOUT US        3-5-7 MODEL        CALENDAR        DIALOGUE        RESOURCES & STORE        CONTACT
In This Issue
The 3-5-7 Model
July 2013

We've all grown up hearing the saying "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you."  The problem with this saying is that it isn't true!  Words are powerful and they can and do  hurt... but they also have the power to heal.  This month we challenge you to think about the words you use in working with children, youth and families and ask you to think about how we can best use words to help the healing process. 


Words Have Meaning

We use these terms "acting out", "manipulative", and "attention-seeking" often in our work but what do these terms really mean?  Are they helpful terms? Do they provide us with the information we need to understand our children, youth and families?   


These "descriptors" often have a connotation of negative intention-and most of all, these terms do not allow us to use the skills of the 3-5-7 Model; they do not allow us to recognize the painful feelings that are being expressed, they do not set us up to listen to and be present to the expression of all feelings, and they do not affirm the pain and hurts from our children, youth and families' experiences.

In my book 3-5-7 Model: A practice Approach to Permanency I wrote:


What if we viewed "acting out" behaviors as expressions of unresolved grief, demonstrated by:
  • denial or avoidance of the reality of the situation;
  • protest of the reality of the loss through anger and ultimately rage from the deepest feelings of hurt, a life lost as it has been known;
  • sadness to withdrawal to depression from the despair of fearing that no one knows their pain. "Can anything be done to undo what was done that resulted in this awful experience-to be placed with strangers, away from those who are to love me most?" Is it validation that you may not be loved, proving your greatest fear-that you may not be lovable?

Approaching acting out behaviors from a grief perspective will begin the clarification process for grieving losses. This process will begin to lessen the behaviors that are the criteria for many of the diagnoses that children and youth receive as survivors of abuse, neglect and dependency. Normalizing many of these behaviors asthe result of grief and loss removes the label as a pathology. In this reframe, we can view each child and each youth within their wholeness, spirit and humanity-- a much stronger place to begin.

How do we use the language of the 3-5-7 Model in our work?
Often we talk about using the language of the 3-5-7 Model in our work with children, youth and families.  But what do we mean by this?  Our hope is that as you become familiar with and practice the 3-5-7 Model in your work, you will begin to describe what you see in the behavior of children, youth and families within this framework.  For example, a child who "makes up stories" may be a child in need of clarification.  A youth who states he "does not want to be adopted" may be hard at work in the task of integration-trying to make sense of having many parental figures in his life.  A parent who acts in an "aggressive manner" toward staff may in fact be expressing the anger related to the loss of their children.  When we can describe the behaviors of our children, youth and families in this way, it becomes far less challenging to know how to respond.  

"Attention-seeking" behaviors are a clue that we missed something!


Try this the next time you find yourself describing a child or youth's behavior as "attention-seeking": instead of spending time trying to figure out how to stop the "attention-seeking" behavior, try asking yourself what the unmet need is!  Remember the attachment cycle, and think about how the cycle can guide us to support our children, youth and families.  


To actualize permanency in relationships, it is essential that the attachment cycle be repeated, in response to physical and psychological needs, between those engaged in relationship building. As needs are being met with predictability and regularity, a contextual perception of safety occurs and trust is established in the relationship. Every relationship is based on or lost in this process. When the cycle is not completed, relationship building is disrupted and attachments are incomplete.   Given this, we can view those "attention-seeking" behaviors as opportunities for us as caregivers and workers to respond to a need and complete the attachment cycle for our youth.



Excerpt from 3-5-7 Model: A Practical Approach to Permanency

Featured Activity
Key Concept:              Working with Life Events  


Primary Questions:  Who Am I?  What Happened to Me?

Name of Activity: 
      Feelings Tic Tac Toe


Purpose:  Identifying and expressing feelings related to being in foster care.  This activity can help prompt the child to talk about how they are feeling about an upcoming event, such as a pending adoption, reunification with birth family, or a traumatic historical event, such as the death of a loved one.


Materials Needed:  Feelings Tic Tac Toe worksheet (Tic Tac Toe grid with pictures that represent the following feelings in each square: happy, mad, nervous, scared, loved, guilty, jealous, sad, relieved; or you can use other feelings on the grid as well).  Wrapped candy pieces are used as markers on the game card. 


Getting Started:  This game of tic-tac-toe can be used with an individual child/youth playing with the worker, or it can be used in pairs of children/youth of similar levels of functioning.  Players alternately place their candy pieces on the work/game sheet provided in an attempt to get either an uninterrupted horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line of three.   Once a player gets three in a row, he must uncover the feelings faces in the line and describe a time when he experienced each of those three feelings. If he talks about all three feelings, he gets a point. If no player gets a straight line, nobody gets a point for that round. Once a player accumulates five points, he gets to eat one of the candies.


Tips and techniques to making the activity meaningful:   Most children/youth are familiar with tic-tac-toe and will enjoy this version of the game.  Children are generally able to understand the concept of feeling happy, sad, or mad.  Other feelings, such as guilt or jealousy, need to be explained using examples that the child will understand. For example, "Guilty means feeling bad about what you did.  If you cheat on a test, you would feel guilty when you realize that you did something wrong."  Once the child comprehends each of the feelings on the game board, he is better able to ascribe feelings to situations in his own life. As the child talks about his feelings, the worker can reflect on the child's feelings, ask the child to elaborate, and praise the child for his openness. For example, the worker can say to the child, "I'm glad you felt comfortable enough talking about your sad feelings when your mom died. If took a lot of guts to share that, so you really earned that point!"  When it is the worker's turn to share, the worker can tailor responses in a way that would be beneficial to the child.  This activity is best completed when the worker has a good relationship with the child and knows the child's history and current situation.


Credit: Creative Interventions for Troubled Children and Youth (2006) by Liana Lowenstein, MSW.

What are your thoughts about our use of language in our work with children, youth, and families?  Do you agree or disagree with our statements?  What are the challenges you experience?  Visit me at our FaceBook page and continue the dialogue!

Darla L. Henry

2012 Darla L. Henry & Associates
P.O. Box 4847 Harrisburg, Pa 17111-0847
dhenry@darlahenry.org   |   717-919-6286