PACES therapist: The gift of watching a mom and daughter begin to thrive

December 12, 2019

Earlier this year, PACES therapist Samantha Underwood received a call from an overwhelmed single mother. Her 7-year-old daughter, Rachel (not her real name), would scream and cry at least twice a day when she didn’t get her way. She would sometimes hit and bite her siblings. And her mom got frequent calls from school about Rachel’s behavior.

When Samantha arrived at the home, she learned that Rachel’s mother was more than willing to learn new skills to help her respond to her children’s behaviors. Drawing on a model called Parent Management Training (PMT), Samantha taught Rachel’s mother how to demonstrate good behaviors and how to set expectations for Rachel and her siblings. 

“She (mom) had been emotionally reactive to the kids’ behaviors,” she said. “And it’s understandable for parents to yell and scream because you don’t have any other tools. Now, however, she’s beginning to master the PMT skills without me showing her.”

Those skills involve helping Rachel learn positive ways to let off steam. Now, Rachel and her family find times to walks. Her mom regularly sets aside time to dance with Rachel to YouTube videos.

Just as important, Samantha showed Rachel some techniques she can use to regulate her emotions. The balloon breath is one that really helps. When Rachel feels like she’s about to get upset, rather than scream or cry or hit someone, she takes a deep breath in through her nose, fills up her belly, then slowly breathes out through her mouth, releasing the ‘balloon’.

“She’s learning how to take cues from her body and her brain, and then identify the steps she can take to calm herself down,” Samantha said.

Rachel has brought these new skills to the classroom.

“I really think she’s learning what it takes to have a much better time at school,” Samantha said. “Hopefully her mom will be getting fewer calls.” 

Seeing mom and daughter make such quick improvements is a reward in itself, Samantha said. “Watching their relationship thrive is so gratifying,” she said. “It’s truly a pleasure to work with them.”