Posts Tagged ‘discipline’

Can Zip-a -Dee-Doo-Dah Change Eeyore? Using music to chip away at your child’s negative worldview.

April 2, 2012

Which is more powerful, a negative worldview or music?   Don’t count music out too fast.  Research has long shown that music can have a dramatic impact on body and mind.  While I can’t say that music  is capable alone of changing a negative worldview, I do know that for my family it makes a big difference for children and parents alike.

One of the effects of a neglectful, abusive, and/or traumatic beginning in life is that it often leaves a child with a darkened worldview.  We interpret and make sense of our world through our experiences, and when our experiences are largely negative it only makes sense that our view of the world in general would be negative as well.

Parenting  a child who looks at the world like the Winnie the Pooh character Eeyore can be  frustrating and depressing.  It can seem as if no matter what you do your child is still unhappy and gloomy.  That’s because worldviews are not changed with motivational speeches, lecturing, nagging, or  reminding a child how lucky he or she is.  Worldviews do not change instantly just because the child is placed in a better situation. Worldviews are changed slowly and methodically over long periods of  time.  Only after millions and millions of cycles of need are completed for the child  can  these new more positive experiences begin to also impact that  child’s worldview.  Even then, a child’s worldview doesn’t often change dramatically.  I think it is more common to see a subtle lightening of a child’s worldview and hopefully  a continued lightening over time.

Years ago music became a sanity saver in terms of helping me stay upbeat while battling my oldest child’s sometimes gloomy outlook.  I took to singing her rousing choruses of  “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and “Zip- a -Dee- Do -Dah” as we were waking up each morning.  These off key silly moments were as much for my sanity and centering as they were for her.  But I really do believe now that they also helped  to chip away at that Eeyore-like outlook.  She is in her 20’s  now and when she was home visiting recently she gave me a morning hug and broke into our “Oh What a Beautiful Morning.” song.  So if nothing else, it is a fond memory for her.

My two youngest kids are teens now and reminding  me indirectly  that just  being a teenager can weigh heavily on one’s worldview.  Sometimes it’s hard to stay positive and upbeat as a teen in our society.  So I’ve decided to break out some morning music again.  I made a morning play list and this weekend  happy wake up music became part  the Drew family breakfast again.  I do believe over time  it will chip away just a bit at those challenging teen worldviews and if nothing else, it will help me to start each day off on the right foot instead of getting sucked into their grumpy.

Thought you might enjoy a peek at my list.  I’d love to hear what music  inspires your family.

I think this first song started everyday of my oldest child’s first grade year:

My mom and dad used to sing this one to me when I was  small and this is the one my daughter most remembers us singing in the mornings:

Good Day Sunshine, Beatles

A Beautiful Morning, The Rascals

Three Little Birds, Bob Marley

Ok I admit it, my kids were kind of rolling their eyes at my breakfast music this weekend UNTIL this one came on and then they burst out laughing!

Because of James Brown I was given a reprieve on eye rolling for John Denver.  And I’m sorry but who can’t feel just a little happy listening to this….

More Beatles.  You can’t really go wrong there.

Classic….Cat Stevens

Classic ….James Taylor

Feeling Good, Nina Simone

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Sending Parental Messages of Unconditional Love

February 14, 2012

I  thought this day was a perfect chance to remind ourselves  about the importance of sending messages of unconditional love to our children.   In my house we like to say, “Good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, I will always love you.”

Obviously each of us benefits from the security generated when we really know that despite our imperfections we are truly  loved.  For children who began life in less than optimal care and who waited for a  family the message of unconditional love is even more crucial.

Unfortunately, sometimes kids behaviors, especially the  behaviors that can stem from trauma, loss, attachment strain, etc.  are challenging to manage.  It is not uncommon for adoptive parents (and all parents for that matter) to struggle to address negative behaviors while still sending messages of unconditional love.   Take the following example for instance.

Mom says,  “Bad boy!  We don’t throw toys!  Go to your room this instant!”

Message received by child:   I am  bad.  Mom  wants me to get away from her.  I am not lovable.

In order to send messages of unconditional love we have to be very conscious of the language we choose.  Let’s tweak the above example just a bit.

Mom says, “Bad choice!  Throwing toys is dangerous!    I’m going to put this up until you’ve calmed down.  Now come and sit by Mom.”

Message received by child:  Throwing toys is dangerous.  Mom won’t let me throw toys without interceding.  Mom helps  me when I’m upset.    Mom loves me even when I screw up.

Sounds simple but we all know how challenging it can be in the heat of parenting moments to choose the correct words and deliver them with a loving spirit.  I personally motivate myself by reminding myself regularly that I’m not doing this just to be nice or just to be positive.  I’m doing it because the science tells me that this is the kind of parenting that promotes attachment and nurtures emotional health.  One way I remind myself is by continuing to learn and read on the subject.  One author that particularly speaks to me on this subject is Gordon Neufeld.  He  writes,

 “Unconditional parental love is the indispensable nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth.   The first task is to create space in that child’s heart of the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love.  She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love- in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost.  It is not conditional.  It is just there regardless of which side the child is acting from – ‘good’ or ‘bad.’  The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny , uncooperative, and plain rude and the parent still lets her feel loved.  Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted.  She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent’s absolutely satisfying, security –inducing unconditional love.”

Here’s hoping that this Valentine’s Day finds you enjoying the warmth of unconditional love yourself and inspired to keep sending that message to your kiddos.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Resolving to Get What You Want

January 4, 2012

Did you make a New Year’s resolution having to do with parenting?   Or, are you like me… a resolution-avoider?  Regardless,  I heard a great quote today.  Although it was used in the terms of healthy eating, it applies to much more, including parenting.  Here it is:

Don’t trade what you want most for what you want at this moment.

There is a lot to think about in that short little statement, but what first came to my mind was discipline.  Many of our courses talk about choosing discipline techniques that make sense in terms of brain development and building skills such as self-control, empathy, cause and effect thinking, ability to let go of control and impulse control.  While we get a lot of agreement that yes, pull close parenting types of discipline do manage the child’s behavior while building those skills, we find that for many of us (ourselves included at times!) what we want right now, in that moment, sometimes gets in the way.

Take the example of a younger child who is throwing a temper tantrum.  The science of brain development tells us that the ability to regulate one’s emotions is learned through someone else helping keep your emotions regulated.  We also know that we have to be present to help the child calm and regulate that mad feeling.  And yet, there is still a temptation to do something that makes them stop crying or throwing a fit right now!!!   …even if “making it all stop” works against what you really want… a child who will ultimately be able to handle their own angry feelings appropriately.

So, take a moment and ask yourself:

What are my goals for my child?
How do I get there?  Do I know how to get there?
What do I need to get there?

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Take the Elf OFF the Shelf!

November 28, 2011

Santa as a spy who has an obsession with behavior modification--ick!

I have a bone to pick with Santa.  As much as I love the big guy I am really tired of the part of him that is a parent-power-sucking-sponge.  The whole naughty or nice thing has several issues (um, are poor kids or kids in orphanages naughty?)  But the idea of Santa as a spy who is really into behavior modification has a lot of parents compounding the problem.

Santa must be sick of tattle tales!
For some folks who struggle with discipline, Santa is like a big fat permission slip to be wimpy parents.  When we attempt to secure desired behavior through the threat or promise of Santa instead of handling the problem ourselves, in essence we’re saying, “I can’t handle this, maybe you’ll behave for Santa.”  Or, sometimes it has the flavor of mom or dad tattletale-ing to Santa as in, “Do you want me to call Santa and tell him what you’re doing?”

The Elf on the Shelf sucks up money out of your wallet AND parental competency.

Shelve the elves!
Bad as all that is, merchandisers have come up with another way to suck up both our money and our parental competency!   The Elf on the Shelf.   The idea is that you buy a cute little elf to sit somewhere in you house.  During the day, he watches the children.  At night, he goes to the North Pole to report the children’s behavior to Santa and appears in a different spot the next morning, ready to spy on the children again.  In the meantime, parents are able to threaten their children with the elf and the possibility of no presents or an unhappy Santa.  Cute, huh?

Santa or the Elf on the Shelf may help bring a little “peace on earth” in the short term, but if parents rely on them during the holidays what happens on December 26th?  Not only is that parenting crutch tool gone, but they’ve been busy sending their child messages of incompetency for weeks and may have accidentally dug themselves into a hole that is not easy to get of.

Do you suffer from Santa or elf dependence?
How do you know if there’s a problem?  Well, some pretty good indicators are having to repeat directions several times, changing your directions to try to gain compliance, scolding, threatening, giving in or punishments or rewards that just don’t seem to make a lasting impact overall.  All this leaves an incredibly exhausted, frustrated and stressed out parent–not to mention a child who is ultimately not happy either.

Take back your parent power!
Fortunately, even if you’ve fallen into a trap where you’ve given your parenting power away to someone else, with some knowledge and a lot of determination you CAN get back to where you need to be.  It starts with taking back your parent power and learning how to manage power struggles.  One resource is our recorded course Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power   But, at the very least, forget about using Santa as a means to control a child’s behavior and if you must put the elf on the shelf, just let him sit there and look cute–don’t make him spy for Santa!

From Our In-Box: Attachment and Biological Children

October 24, 2011

Hi Katie and Julie!

My husband and I just finished Because They Waited, plus the African Countries seminar, for training as we prepare to adopt from Ethiopia.  I wanted to say THANK YOU so much for all the excellent information. I have read a lot of parenting books and a lot of online parenting info, but your seminars were some of the most helpful, applicable content we’ve ever encountered.

We have two biological sons, ages 5 and 2, and as we went through Because They Waited, we really felt like a lot of it pertained to our older son.  He has always been a challenge, and we’ve experienced him as “strong-willed” ever since he was tiny. But since hearing from you about attachment, we are wondering whether he is actually showing signs of attachment strain (which is awful to think about, as he has been in our hopefully-“optimal” care all his life!).

A basic profile: He is smart as a whip — started reading and doing basic math before age 4. He is a collector with varied and sometimes comical passions … he has collected coins, rocks, newspapers, stamps, and plastic lids among other things. He loves to joke, loves playing and watching sports, and loves doing anything with his daddy. He is wonderful, sweet and very loving when things are going well.

However, here are some of his characteristics that cause us concern:

— He was never a “cuddly” baby or child — still very much resists being “confined”
— HIGH need for control of his environment. Always invents a third choice when given two. Can be frustratingly defiant.
— Aggressive and often competitive with his younger brother. Lacks empathy, patience or impulse control when it comes to having his way at home.
— Has not valued or sought friendships with peers outside of our family. He’s not withdrawn, but just doesn’t seem to really know how to engage with kids his own age. Prefers the company/stability of grownups.
— Self-regulates pretty well at preschool, but lets it all hang out at home. He is prone to anger and tantrums with hitting, kicking and screaming when he doesn’t get his way or perceives an injustice.

We have gone around and around searching for the magical method of discipline that will work for him. We’ve used time-out, consequences, behavior modification, and spanking. But after Because They Waited, we’re wondering whether we’ve been going about parenting this child ALL WRONG! We’ve thought of his challenges as springing from rebellion, but thinking of his behavior as springing from a lack of TRUST pretty much breaks my heart.

So, my questions are: Can biological children raised in (not-perfect, but) good and loving homes suffer from attachment strain?  Can you speak to whether there’s a difference between a child with attachment strain and a “strong-willed” but securely attached child?  And do you have any action steps you’d suggest for our specific situation? (we’ve started to apply time-in and general pull-close parenting, and it seems to be making a difference already.)

Thank you so much — we’ve really appreciated your excellent teaching!

–A Thinking Mom

Katie’s Response:

Thank you for sharing your experiences with Because They Waited.  I am so impressed with your willingness to be open to other ways of parenting and with the obvious thought and effort you are putting in to doing your best job as a mom.  These are the kind of stories that keep Julie and I going and the reason why Heart of the Matter Seminars exists!

Before I answer your questions, let me first say that I can only address your questions in a general manner since I don’t know you or your family.  I do think you’ve asked some excellent questions, though, and would be glad to try to answer them as best as I can:

First of all, yes, attachment strain can be present in biological children who have always lived with their parents. It does NOT mean that they are unattached, but circumstances may mean that they are struggling with trust.  For example, parents who are “wimpy” do not provide what the child needs to believe that they are trustworthy.  Or, a child who has had many, many ear infections early in life may have had so many Cycles of Unmet Need (episodes of pain and discomfort) that they struggle with trust.  Children who have not had emotionally sensitive enough and attuned enough parenting may also struggle with trust.

I believe some children are more sensitive than others.  In fact, one thing that stuck out to me was that your son sounds very bright and possibly even gifted.  These children are more aware and attuned to what is going on around them.  They often have a more keen sense of injustice and ability to reason that can really intensify the impact of parenting that is not attuning to their emotional needs. They often struggle with peer relationships and prefer adult company because their brains just work on a different plane than the typical child their age.

In terms of your question about whether there is a difference between attachment strain and a securely attached “strong willed” child….Yes and no… It depends on how you define strong willed.  I think that oftentimes in our society “strong willed” has become a nice way of saying “controlling” and in that sense, I would say that it’s the same thing…. a lack of trust.  On the other hand, I define my daughter (and myself, if truth be known!) as “strong willed” in the sense of strong opinions, focus and determination but able to allow others to call the shots sometimes–particularly a person in authority.

You asked about specifics on what to do… It sounds like you are already on the right track!  Lots of pull close parenting and Time In, but beyond that, I would suggest really honing your skills at managing his need to control.  This is tricky at times–especially with a smart kid!!!  I am not trying to sell you something for the sake of selling you something, but I really do think that our course “Discipline: Managing Your Child’s Bid for Power” would be very, very useful based on what you are describing.  Power struggles and bids for power all really stem from a lack of trust or an attempt to control and like I said, there are a lot of nuances there that it’s important to think through and understand how to address–both proactively and reactively.

Hope this helps answer some of your questions. Let me know how it goes!

Adoption and School: Why the classroom discipline plan often fails for our kids.

August 27, 2011

If you have seen the inside of an elementary classroom in the past 20 years you have probably seen this classroom management chart or some version of it.   You might be curious as to why this simple chart is the topic of today’s post.   What could it possibly have to do with adoptive families?  The truth is this chart (and other behavior modification tools) can have a large and sometimes negative  impact on our kids school experience.  So with school starting back up we wanted to take time to  talk about how these charts are used, why they can be a problem particularly for our kids, and what to do about it.

How the chart system works:
The  way this classroom management system works  is very simple.  Each child has a set of cards in the pocket chart.  Usually the cards are green, yellow and red symbolizing the go, warning, and stop signals of a traffic light.  Some teachers add an additional  black card.  Every day each child starts with their green card on top.  As the class moves through the day the teacher asks students who show undesirable behaviors or make poor choices to change their card color.

So seven year old Johnny starts the day with a green card on top,  but when he shouts out an answer without raising his hand the teacher asks him to change his top card to yellow.  Later when he turns in his math paper partially incomplete the teacher asks him to turn his card to red.   And finally when he pokes Sally in the arm with a freshly sharpened pencil she sends him to change the card to black.  Of course, landing on red or black usually means a note is sent home or a phone call is made to inform parents and to plan for better behavior.

Each school and individual teacher puts their own spin on the system.  For example, sometimes cards are only changed after several warnings.  Sometimes teachers have children fill out “think sheets” about their behavior when they change a card. Some teachers make individual plans with the parents of struggling students to give daily reports, and on and on.

So what is the problem with these charts and other behavior modification systems?
Sounds like a pretty simple system and I know a lot of teachers use it very successfully with typical kids.  So why would it be any different for a child who joined their family through adoption?  The key to the struggle is not actually about adoption, but instead about less than optimal care in the beginning of a child’s life, and how that care impacts the child’s ability to successfully navigate a behavior modification system like the color chart.

Many of our children waited in an orphanage, an abusive or neglectful birth home or were bounced from foster home to foster home prior to their adoption.  Research tells us that not having needs met in a timely, effective, and nurturing fashion over and over again early in life has an impact on a child’s brain development.   Often these children lag behind their peers in the development of brain based skills like cause and effect thinking, impulse control, self regulation, empathy and trust.

So lets go back to Johnny.  Let’s say his development of these skills is not that of a typical 7 year old because he spent the first 2 and ½ years of his life in an orphanage.  Does he have the impulse control to not shout out the answer?  Does he have the self regulation necessary to complete the math assignment without assistance?  Has empathy developed enough to think about how Sally will feel when she is poked?  Probably not.

But even more concerning is that our children who have experienced repeated cycles of unmet need are often lacking in trust, and children who lack trust usually have a strong need to control their environment.  When this is the case behavior modification systems like the color chart are almost certain to fail because the child is more motivated to control the environment than to get any reward that is offered.  In some cases children even seem to purposefully choose behaviors opposite of expectations;  their lack of trust and need to control leading them  to test the competency of their teacher.   It is as if they are saying, “Am I safe in this place?”  “Can you handle me?”  The behaviors are not usually  malicious but instead a sort of desperate  grasp at control.  Not surprisingly this type of  behavior is often misunderstood by teachers and school administrators, and sometimes results in a series of punishments that increase in intensity over time but never really seem to fix the behaviors.

What’s a parent to do?
So what as parents can we or should we do if this type of system is in place in our child’s classroom?   If behavior modification is being used in your child’s classroom and your child is successfully navigating it, obviously nothing needs to be done.  But if your child is struggling to behave in the classroom, is showing poor self regulation or impulse control, has to change their color over and over again for similar behaviors, or is showing signs of controlling the classroom through his or her misbehavior then it’s time  to advocate for your child and  her real  needs.  This means sitting down with the teacher and talking about why your child is struggling, and coming up with a plan to manage your child’s behaviors that will prove more successful.   To get ready for that talk check out this article with tips for talking to your child’s teacher.

And if you have completed the Because They Waited education system you will remember making a parenting plan that included discipline techniques that made sense given the science and research surrounding the adopted child.  We encourage techniques like pull close parenting, time in not time out, and more.  These techniques can be helpful to teachers too.   I’m reminded here of of one of Katie’s posts about time in at school.  Share examples like these with your child’s teacher.

The bottom line is that in order for our kids to be successful at school we need to continue to turn that cycle of need to completion at home thus building and shoring up those brain based skills.  We also need to help teachers understand why color charts (and other behavior mod techniques)   that work perfectly  for so many children, can be problematic  for the child who comes from a background of less than optimal care.  And finally, we need to partner with our child’s teacher to come up with effective ways to manage the sometimes difficult behaviors that kids struggling in these areas bring to the classroom.

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Floors, Parenting and Procrastination

June 29, 2011

I just finished one of my least favorite jobs–cleaning floors.  I don’t mind doing laundry, dishes, gardening, even cleaning toilets!  But I really hate sweeping, mopping and vacuuming.  I put it off, am grateful for our hardwood floor that hides stuff and curse the older kitchen floor that shows everything.  When I finally make myself get started and just do it, I realize that it’s really not that bad and am glad to have clean floors when it’s over.

Today as I finished the hated kitchen floor, it occurred to me that this same phenomenon happens with parenting sometimes, especially parenting kids who have needs that go beyond the typical.  Here are a few examples:

Establishing a parent as the primary caregiver.  It’s hard to shuffle work schedules, put a career on hold, change jobs or start working from home.  It’s also hard to settle into change of pace and meet the new demands (and yes, sometimes boredom) of doing the hard work of daily parenting.  But, we know it’s so worth it to be there building those important foundational pieces of brain development and accompanying skills like trust, cause and effect thinking, impulse control, empathy, the ability to self-regulate emotions, etc….   I have never met a parent yet who regretted putting in the extra time with their child, just like I’ve never met anyone who regrets having clean floors.

Starting AND MAINTAINING Time In.  I’ve talked to many parents in the 13+ yearss since we first started presenting the idea of “Time In” in our live seminars.  Once folks understand why it makes sense and that it really does establish parenting authority, competency and boundaries, they are anxious to put it into use in their homes.  It’s not much fun to get started and it takes self-discipline and a commitment to see the job through, but it’s so worth it in the end.  Much like cleaning floors, only doing Time In halfway just highlights the mess.  

Utilizing professionals when necessary.  I don’t think any of us intend to avoid using professionals to help our families anymore than we intend to live in a pigsty and yet, when we put off actually making the appointment (or pulling out the broom!) in essence, that’s what happens.  Similarly, just as it’s not enough to pull the vacuum cleaner out and then not follow through actually vacuuming, it’s not enough to visit a professional and then not follow through *all the way* with a new parenting plan, therapy or other recommendations they have, provided they make sense given the research and what you know about your individual child.   

Being proactive.  This is the first piece of the parenting plan we highlight in Because They Waited.  It is so, so important!  Picture a small sticky spot on the floor.  If not cleaned up, it gets tracked around, dirt and gunk sticks to it and before long it’s just a bigger mess!   Same goes with issues that our kids have.  Most kids don’t come home severely impacted by their early months or years in less than optimal care–they come home with mild to moderate effects.  And yet, if we procrastinate parenting to those issues in a concerted manner, those issues usually just get bigger.  The look of them may change, but it’s often the same core issue just making a bigger mess.

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Thermometer or Thermostat?

April 18, 2011

Here’s a question:  In your home, are you a thermometer or a thermostat?

Think about times of emotional stress in your home:

Do you heat up in measure to the intensity of the behavior, emotion, situation?

Or, do you take stock of how "hot it is" and then actively do something to "lower the heat" in your home?

We all want to be thermostats!  Do you know how to be one?  We’d love to share some of our ideas with you through our courses and webinars.  We would love to hear back from you, too.

What is your best tip for being a thermostat instead of a thermometer?  Visit our Facebook page to share your best idea and to see what others are saying.

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Discipline: “We’re in this together!”

March 25, 2011

Katie’s “The Best Way to Struggle” post got me thinking about discipline responses and how the words we choose when interacting with our kids can help us to “struggle together” or “struggle against” our child.  I think responses that help us “struggle together”  towards success have some common elements.

  1. They are focused on the present and future.
  2. They are stated as positively as possible
  3. They include  some action (big or small) on the parent’s  part.

Here’s one example:

You never pick up your clothes!  Every day the pile gets higher!”  (Focuses on the past and = struggling against your child.)

Your room is a mess.”  (Focuses on the present and might be true, but isn’t very positive, doesn’t look to the future, and lacks action.)

Let’s get started on cleaning up your room.  We are both going to feel better when it is done.”  (Focuses on the present and future, and is positively stated.   This one for me = joining the struggle with my child to help them succeed.)

and another:

Isn’t your homework done yet?  What on earth have you been doing?”  (past and negative)

You are still working on your homework?!”  (present and negative)

You’re not as far along as I thought you’d be.  Let’s move to the  kitchen with that so I can help you get back on track while I make dinner.”  (This one is focused on present and future, is positively stated and includes an action.)

and one more…

“You have been whining all day!”  (past and negative)

“Stop whining!”  (present and negative—This one also sets  up a power struggle because we really can not make a child stop whining.)

“You are having a rough day!  Come walk close to me so I can help you. “ (present and future  focused, positive and includes action)

I’m trying this myself and have to say it’s a challenge (at least for me) to stay out of the past!  Give it a try yourself  during your parenting interactions today.  Listen to yourself as you interact with your child.  Do the words you choose help to create a spirit of “we’re in this together” or do they encourage more of a  “it’s me against you” feeling?

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The Best Way to Struggle

March 21, 2011

Parents and professionals often refer to a child “struggling”.  It might be struggling with anger, whining, depression, behavior, peers, falling asleep, etc…..

It occurred to me the other day that ideally it’s not just our child struggling with [fill in the blank] but that we are struggling together.

Are you parenting in ways that allow you to struggle with your child?  If not, chances are you’re struggling against them.


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