Toolbox Tuesday – Meet WALTER

by:  Julie Beem

walterEven after therapeutically parenting for at least 100 years (ok, more like 17), I still love to get a new tool. This tool came to me over the weekend while I was listening in on a Nancy Thomas seminar. Little did I know that I’d have the opportunity to use it within the next 6 hours.

WALTER is an acronym developed by Matthew and Fawn Bradley of the Beatitude House Counseling Center  in North Carolina. Their practice specializes in families of children with trauma backgrounds. WALTER is an acronym to help both parents in the family stay on the same page. WALTER stands for:

W – warnings. Reminding parents to give no warnings before taking action on behaviors your child already knows are not appropriate. In other words, don’t get sucked into a battle or a “let’s make a deal” situation if your child is already clear on an expectation.

A – arguments. Don’t engage in arguments with the child about family rules and expectations. This could include arguments with your spouse about consequences or actions – especially in front of your child.

L – lectures. No lectures! Our children only process about 1-2 sentences of what we say, especially when they’re escalating. Keep it simple; save your breath. And you’ll stay calmer.

T – threats. No threats – triggers fear/shame in child. But also sets us up for things we can’t/don’t want to follow through on. “Stop that or I’ll….”is a dangerous place to go as a parent.

E – explanations. In the heat of emotional escalation is not the time to explain the rules. Besides, WALTER is for situations where the child clearly already knows the rules and in the moment has chosen to let not comply or to let his emotions rule his behaviors.

R –repeats. Don’t repeat yourself. We parents who are confronted with a recurring behavior from our children that we wish would change can get stuck ourselves into repeating our lecture, explanation, or threat – that repetition really adds to our own emotional dysregulation. “I’ve told you and told you and told you…”

The power of WALTER is that parents can use him to remind each other when they’re headed into the danger zone of escalating the situation by doing any of the above things. “I think Walter is coming.” Or “I ran into Walter today.” are ways you and your partner can let each other know when the other one is headed down the wrong path.

WALTER came to my house Saturday night before I even had a chance to tell my hubby about him. My daughter came into the room complaining about something (complaints are a huge behavior of hers right now) and the complaint turned into saying something very disparaging about a family friend. We’ve been over and over that behavior in therapy and otherwise. So consequencing it with the only thing that she responds to (taking part of her allowance) was the logical step. “Uh, oh,” I said, “That ugly comment about your friend just cost you a dollar.” She started to escalate, but then turned into Monte Hall trying to make a deal. “That’s just a warning, right?” It was then that WALTER showed up. “No dear, no warnings for rules you already know.”

My husband’s face brightened. You see, I had been slacking – been letting my daughter convince me to warn her against this behavior again and again instead of always following through. It happens to all of us – over time we wear down and we don’t want the escalation – we’re trying to keep the peace so we may let things slide that truly are things our children can control.My daughter already knows this is an ugly habit that she needs to break. So I hung with it. We did things WALTER’s way. I spoke little (in short sentences or answering her “why” demands with “why do you think?”). And you know what – it worked!

WALTER is a great reminder and a way to cue your spouse when he/she slips out of being therapeutic. And your child is often none-the-wiser. “Hey, I think WALTER’s coming over.” Or even “Why don’t you take a break and go call WALTER and I’ll take over?” is a good way for parents to help each other stay strong and realize when they do need to take a break and reflect.

Thanks Beatitude House for this therapeutic parenting tool!

Julie has been ATN's Executive Director since 2009. She joined the organization in 2004 after finding incredible support from fellow ATNers when she was searching for answers about her own daughter's early childhood trauma and attachment disorders. Julie leads a staff of passionate professionals and acts as spokesperson for the organization. Prior to ATN, Julie was the president of a marketing and communications consultancy, The Epiphany Group, and has over two decades of experience in professional services marketing, strategic planning and communication strategies. As a graduate of Partners in Policymaking and through personal experience, Julie has garnered a great deal of experience in the areas of special education, school issues, and disabilities advocacy. A published author, Julie wrote a chapter in the EMK Press Adoption Parenting book and was the special needs blogger at Adoptionblogs.com for two years. She frequently presents workshops on attachment and trauma to local and national groups. Email Julie. Julie holds an MBA from Avila College in Kansas City and was a Certified Professional Services Marketer. Julie, and her husband Dave, are parents to four (bio, step and adoptive), including their youngest daughter, adopted from China. This daughter’s attachment difficulties and developmental trauma disorder have changed their lives significantly…in amazing ways.

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