On Sept. 21, 2018, Zohan Ortiz-Gonzalez was born.
As a baby, he was sweet and loving. He loved Baby Shark, playing with balls and listening to stories. And he adored his older step brother and step sister.
But shortly after he turned 2, Zohan’s behavior took a sudden turn.
“He became aggressive toward his siblings,” said his mom, Patricia Gonzalez-Acosta. “He would yell, kick and bite.”
These quickly became daily occurrences, sometimes multiple times a day. The smallest thing would set him off. Patricia tried to correct the behavior, but wasn’t sure what to do. She read him books on proper behavior — “Hands Are Not For Hitting,” “Little Dinos Don't Push,” “Kind Hands Don't Hurt” and others — and would show him videos, but nothing seemed to work.
In March 2021, Zohan was due for a routine wellness check-up, so Patricia took him to see Mallory Salentine, MD, his pediatrician at the Children’s Wisconsin Oak Creek Pediatrics primary care office. After Dr. Salentine checked Zohan’s height, weight and other standard developmental progress, Patricia brought up his recent behavior issues. That’s when Dr. Salentine mentioned the Positive Parenting Program (Triple P).
“Zohan is such a sweet, smart little boy, but he was having a hard time controlling his tantrums and listening to his family. Tantrums and defiance can be normal in the development of children, but sometimes it causes tension in family dynamics,” said Dr. Salentine. “These families are really in need of some support and education on how to deal with these behaviors. Triple P is an incredibly supportive educational program for parents who are struggling with controlling undesirable behaviors in children. It truly helps strengthen the work we are doing in primary care and I am so grateful for our collaboration.”
Triple P is a parenting program for kids up to age 12 who have been experiencing moderate to severe behavior issues. It offers free seminars, workshops and virtual discussion groups — but it doesn’t tell parents how to be a parent. It’s like a toolbox of ideas. Parents choose from strategies that fit their own unique needs, and then they choose how to use them. It is all about making Triple P work for each individual family.
“Patricia was an amazing participant. She's a very sweet mom,” said Nelly Martinez, an accredited Triple P provider at Children’s Wisconsin. “We talked about strategies and she chose the ones that made sense for her family and she started using them right away. I coached her a little bit but she did all the work.”
Some of the techniques Patricia tried was counting. When Zohan would get upset or had big emotions, she’d calmly talk to him and have him slowly count with her. 1, 2, 3….his focus would slowly shift and he’d begin to relax. There is also deep, slow, purposeful breathing in and out that helps the child center themselves and regulate their emotions.
“We’d say smell the flower, deep breathe in, and slowly blow the air out,” said Patricia.
“We cannot avoid the feelings, and Patricia understood that right away,” said Nelly. “It’s about working with children to manage their feelings, expressing what they feel in a proper way instead of, I'm going to show you what I feel.”
But it’s not just about helping Zohan gain control of his feelings. Triple P also offers guidance for parents to better understand their child and what is causing their big emotions.
"One thing that helped me was a behavior diary. It’s a chart where I record his behavior, when, where, what happened before and what feelings were during each specific situation,” said Patricia. “Keeping track of the behavior in a very structured way helped me understand the triggers.”
“It's helping the child control their emotions and it's the parents being more mindful of triggers and consequences,” said Nelly. “It's a two-way street.”
And the results have been amazing. Zohan is no longer aggressive toward his siblings. He’s not hitting, kicking, pushing or biting. When he’s angry, he knows to use his techniques, calm himself, and express himself verbally.
“He still has the emotions, but it's regulated and controlled,” said Patricia. “There's a big difference. He’s changed, and I’ve changed.”
“I hear all of the time how amazing their services are, whether it’s their online educational lectures, group sessions, or one-on-one sessions. In Zohan’s case, I was so grateful Triple P had providers who are fluent in Spanish to break down the language barrier a lot of families face when obtaining mental and behavioral health care,” said Dr. Salentine. “To watch a child grow and to provide support for a parent to help them learn the skills to help their child succeed is such an honor.”
Patricia is a mother, a wife, a full-time teacher and a student. Life can often be busy and stressful. And one day a few weeks back, the pressure was becoming overwhelming and she was reacting and behaving as one would expect.
But then little Zohan went up to his mom and said, “Mom, calm down. Remember, let’s breathe together.” He held her hand as they took some deep, purposeful breathes. And as the tension released, Patricia started to cry.
“He helped me,” said Patricia. “It was amazing.”