Darla L. Henry & Associates Home About Us 3-5-7 Model Calendar GRANTS Blog Resources Contact 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.

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