Category: parenting

Why teens run, and what you can do about it

Why teens run, and what you can do about it

It’s an emotional shock when your teen runs away the first time. Your feelings are complex:  anger at his or her rebelliousness; fear for his or her safety; shame that you may be called a “bad” parent or that your behavior caused your child to run.  Runaway teens also have complex reasons for running, and they may or may not be the parents’ fault.

Why they run

Basic teenage development All teens go through a stage where they define themselves as unique, and start demanding two things: 1. freedom; 2. a say in their life.  These are necessary and important for maturity—some do it gracefully and some don’t.  Even teens with a mental illness will go through this normal phase.

Rebellion Most rebellious teens do not run away because they may have better survival instincts.  If a teen is emotionally behind their peers, using drugs or alcohol, and part of a risky crowd that encourages them and undermines their parents’ authority, it’s likely they’ll run.

Mental disorders Mental health problems magnify any or all negative aspects of rebellion and immaturity.  They also disrupt a teen’s thought patterns and cause irrational ideas and fantasies.  They have a high likelihood of running.

Family stress This is the biggest reason: “65% of youth reported running away because of family conflict.”* Think about what’s going on at home that a teenager can’t handle (they are not as strong as they act).  Is there non-stop fighting between members?  Are they being nagged or constantly criticized, and not shown support or love?  Like all children, teens still deserve support and love.  Are they being bullied, or physically or sexually abused?  *National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY

What you might observe that foretells running

  • Changes in behaviors or normal patterns mean something is wrong.
  • Teens who suddenly stop eating or begin to overeat, sleep all day or never sleep, spend all their time with friends, or never want to leave their room.  Sudden mood swings mean teens are unsettled and restless, and they’re not coping well with stress.
  • Outward rebellious behavior is often the start of trouble, but not always.  Inward rebellion is also a problem, such as depression and isolating from their family.
  • Falling grades, truancy, school behavior, and breaking house rules are all symptoms that your child is having problems.
  • Disclosure of intentions to run away.  Some teens will hint that they want to run away and some will outright threaten their family with running.
  • Expressing fantasies that they will ‘divorce’ their family.  Teens often believe they can be legally emancipated before age 18, skip high school and get a GED* and a job, and be free.  A juvenile court judge told me otherwise!  The legal test for emancipation is very restrictive.  *General Educational Development exam–a less valuable substitute for a high school diploma.
  • Accumulation of money and possessions. To survive, runaway teens need resources. Some prepare for their run by saving any money they receive.  They might keep a bag or backpack of clothes and food in the closet to make a quick escape.
  • Risky friends have a very powerful influence on the decision to run away.  Relationships like these almost always include substance abuse.  The risky associates include adults who undermine the parents, and who coach teens how to get away from home. They provide them with cigarettes and drugs, and possibly take advantage of them.
  • Full time access to unmonitored and unrestricted communication, and easy access to transportation, especially a car or an at-risk acquaintance with a car.

What to do if you suspect your teen might run away

“Clearly and calmly let your teen know you are concerned about them, and that their behavior makes you afraid they might run away from home. Invite them to talk with you or someone else about what is troubling them and be supportive of finding positive ways of dealing with their stress.”

Let them know you don’t want them to run away and you’re committed to helping the family work things out, and let them know you are concerned about their safety.

If your teen is intent on running away, give them the phone number of the National Runaway Switchboard* so that they can find safe options while out on their own.”  This does not mean you approve.  A good analogy is informing your kids about contraceptives even though you don’t want them to have sex.  *1-800-RUNAWAY

Give them some facts: Your teen should know the laws, and they should know about youth shelters.  This may help them recognize that you are concerned for their safety… just like you told them.

– – – – – – – – – –

Are you thinking about running away?

Are you worried about staying with a friend and getting your friend or their parents into trouble? Does it matter if you’re reported as a runaway or not? Deciding on whether or not to run away and where to go can be difficult. Here’s what you should know:

  • In most states it is not illegal to run away.
  • If you leave home without permission or stay away longer than you’re supposed to, and you are under the age of 18, your parents can file you as a runaway with the police.
  • If the police find you, you will be taken home or to police headquarters, and your parents will be called to pick you up.
  • If you are staying at a friend’s house or somewhere your parents didn’t give you permission to be, they can face possibly legal consequences.
  • If you are filed as a runaway, your parents can press charges against those allowing you stay with them or abiding you.
  • If you go to a youth shelter, generally they have to contact your parents within a certain amount of time to obtain consent for your stay.  Often, you are allowed to stay only 72 hours (3 days) before you must return home.  This gives you and your parents time to cool off.
  • If you are staying with a friend, in most cases the police are only allowed to do a courtesy check; which means they are not allowed to search your friend’s home without a warrant.
  • It is always best to check with your local non-emergency police hotline or legal aid when it comes to specifics because the law varies.

Hopefully the information listed here answered some of the questions you may have had. If not, you can give us a call and we can help.  1-800-RUNAWAY

(Parent: list the names and addresses of local youth shelters here—not adult shelters)

 – – – – – – – – – –

Get to know their friends and their friends’ parents.  If anyone who knows them is concerned about your child’s safety, they may help you if there’s a problem.  Other parents can keep an eye out for your child as well as their own.

Statistics indicate that most children stay in the same general area that they live in. Some go only as far as a friend or relative.  You must know where and be able to communicate with the responsible adults.

Get to know the at-risk youth

and adults that your teen associates with. “At-risk kids hang out together, they know each other’s stories (true or not), protect each other, and keep parents out of the loop.  What if parents got together too, shared stories, and supported each other?  Everyone has the same goal of protecting their child.  Kids’ unsafe plans and activities are no match for the many eyes and ears (and cleverness and wisdom) of all their parents combined.”  Gang up on your kids: Parent networks for tracking at-risk children

If your teen is staying at a friends’, this may be helpful.  You might negotiate with the parent for a friendly arrangement for ‘shelter’ until things calm down.  If you cannot communicate with this parent, they may be guilty of custodial interference.  This is illegal and should be reported to the police.  More often than known, some parents actively encourage other parents’ children to leave home, as well as provide them with alcohol and drugs.

What to do if they run

Notify the police and file a missing persons report.  If your teen has a mental disorder, bring this up on the call and be specific (he needs to take medications, she has a history of assaulting others, he has threatened suicide, she might be out of control and unable to respond if you shout at her…).

Are you worried that your police report will go on your child’s record?  Don’t.  Even if your child is charged and convicted as a juvenile, his or her record can be expunged (erased) at age 18 with good behavior.

The National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY operates a 24-hour confidential hotline for teens and their families. Leave a message with them for your child, www.nrscrisisline.org. They also provides bus tickets to get kids back home to their families

Spread the word among friends and your child’s friends that you reported your child, and ask them to ask your child to call or give a message to you if they see them.  Also spread the word that protecting a runaway is a crime.

Track.  “Friend” your child on Facebook, or find someone who can and will report to you.  Set your computer up to track and store web search history and email.  Search their room.  Get their cell phone contacts if possible, track their GPS location by cell phone, and get every address and phone number of every friend.  All of this is legal.

Investigate.  This is not a situation where you respect your teen’s privacy.  Besides tracking their activities above, drive around and look for them.  Be sure they and their friends see you because then the risky friends will avoid your child.

Check in with your child’s teachers or counselor for any information that might be useful.

Take care of yourself and your other children. This is a difficult time and you don’t have to deal with it alone. Turn to people you know and trust for support. The NRS is available 24 hours every day and offers information and support for parents too.

Ask yourself the hard questions:  Is life at home that bad?  Is there abuse (emotional or physical)?  What changes am I willing to make to reduce my child’s stress at home or at school.

Good news from statistics

  • 85% parents reported that the issues that led the youth to run away were somewhat, mostly, or completely resolved within a month.
  • Most parents reported that their youth used alcohol or other substances less once they returned (68%).
  • Most reported they engaged in physical fights less (64%).
  • Most reported they broke the law less (66%).
  • Of those who ran once, 75% did not leave home again.

Creative things other parents did that worked

True story.  A father made business cards to give to everyone who was ever in contact with his 15-year-old daughter.  It had her photo, contact information, and the message that he and her mother loved (name) and wanted to ensure her safety and appropriate behavior.  He made a point of personally visiting with her friend parents where daughter went.  She hated her dad for this, but never ran again, and every time she visited a friend, the parents always reminded her to call her own parents and report her whereabouts

True story.  Two 13-year-old girlfriends decided it would be fun to run away and party.  During the week they went missing, their frantic mothers collaborated on a ‘full court press’ to notify others and get their daughters back safe and sound.  They printed flyers with photos of their daughters, their phone numbers, and offered a $25 reward, no questions asked.  These were given to the police, posted at school, at youth shelters downtown, and at business hangouts the girls were known to frequent (a mall, a fast food place, a big box retailer).  Both girls were eventually returned safe and sound, and they were really angry.  Apparently, street kids and risky adults spurned the girls because of the flyers, for fear of attracting the attention of law enforcement.

–Margaret

 

Do you have a runaway story?  Please comment on what worked to return your child, or what didn’t work.  Thank you.

The Good Things about Bad Kids

The Good Things about Bad Kids

Take an average car.  If a salesman calls the car a “cherry”, it means it’s in perfect condition. But if a salesman calls the same car a “lemon”, it means it has expensive mechanical problems.  The name means everything to a buyer, whether it’s accurate or not.

See strengths

If you see a ‘lemon’ child, it will change the way you anticipate behavior and treat him or her.  Start noticing your child’s “cherry” behaviors.  What’s great about him or her?  Even problematic behaviors are strengths in some circumstances.  For example: resistance and wilfulness are good survival traits for the future:

  1. Your child will need to resist being taken advantage of.
  2. He or she will need to resist ‘friends’ who pressure them to use drugs.
  3. Your child will need to stick with schoolwork or a job without the distractions of parties or alcohol or other time bandits.

Make a list of ‘awesome-ness’

Mom carries this in her purse, always.

What is your child or teen good at?  When is he or she at their best?  What character “flaw” is actually a good thing?  What shows intelligence, nimble thinking, a sense of right and wrong, athletic prowess, social maturity, artistic depth, or compassion for those who are vulnerable?

It’s not important to know why they have problems.  It’s important to know what strengths they have to overcome them.

An overwhelmed mom once asked for help with her adult son and daughter. They were still not ready for adulthood, in fact, they were both falling apart.  They needed her more than she could handle emotionally.  After she shared all her concerns, I asked her to list what was great about them.  It took her off guard at first, but she scribbled out a few things and kept the list, and many months later pulled it out to show me that she still referred to it. She said it totally changed her mindset.

Instead of working on your child’s weaknesses, help your child master existing strengths.

Allow your child ample time to do the positive things he or she is already good at, the things that bring out self-esteem and confidence.  Proactively provide the materials and time to attend a class or camp, join a team, write poetry, make art or music, train the dog, style a friend’s hair… anything he or she can be proud of that has value for their future.  Your child’s behavior will improve, and your mutual interactions will improve.

Use the positive power of self-fulfilling prophecy

In her list , my friend wrote that her daughter had compassion for people and wanted to make the world a better place.  What would you suggest this mother do to support her 24-year-old daughter’s interests and strengths?  One idea:  tell her daughter she believed she would be “a natural” at this.  Another idea:  encourage her daughter to get involved in a charity organization.  And the daughter did.

Video game skills translate to other, more useful activities.

Lets take another situation where your troubled son plays online video games to the exclusion of all else.  What do you see?  Rapid mental processing, hand-eye coordination, focus, a passion for technology.  If you need to limit the video-gaming, what can you replace it with?  There are robot kits for kids; he could build a robot and program its behavior.  A remote control helicopter could be given an obstacle course to go through.  Perhaps the obstacles are altered to make them harder to get through. Perhaps there’s a reward for getting through a really difficult course.  Use your imagination, and ask your son to do the same.  Collaborate.  It’s a better form of interaction and it plays to his natural gifts and interests.

Make a point of noticing the good side. They ALL HAVE A GOOD SIDE.

It’s a disability, that’s why they can’t be good at everything

Let’s be realistic, some children with serious mental health problems may never be well-rounded or competent in the many subjects and skills they need for adulthood.  (It is the tragedy of their disability.)  If this is your child, they’ll probably do better in the long run if not pressured to overcome their weaknesses with extra classwork, homework, or incessant behavioral modifications.  Your son or daughter can catch up later, or if they can’t, they at least have something to carry with them into adulthood.

Now about YOU

What are YOUR strengths as a person and as a parent?

  1. You care enough to go online and learn how to be a better parent.
  2. You admit that you need help, and you know how to find it.
  3. (now add your own… and be generous with yourself)
  4.         “
  5.         “

 

–Margaret

Finding humor in your crazy child

Finding humor in your crazy child

Note of caution: it’s never appropriate to make fun of a child.  The purpose of this article is to help a parent’s stress by finding humor in their situation, private humor–never to be shared with the child or anyone else who will share it with the child.

“I don’t suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.”

Things can only go downhill so far until you lose it.  Troubles build, going from bad to horrible, and then your child says something so bizarre or silly, and even though it may be politically incorrect, and even though it may seem sick or hurtful or embarrassing, there is absolutely nothing left to do but laugh.

“That boy gave me so much trouble, then one day he said to me, “Mom, why is it always about you?” !
–Mother of an 18-year-old son with mild schizophrenia

Stop pretending your family is normal.

For parents like you, humor is necessary, even “gallows humor.”  Laughter is a legitimate strategy for relieving stress, and brain scans prove it.  An emergency room nurse once told me that ER staff joke about patients to cope with the intensity of their job, but only among co-workers.  They diagnose some victims as “too stupid to live,” or refer to motorcyclists as “organ donors.”  The police joke amongst themselves about knuckleheads.  A juvenile justice therapist told me her team tells youth sex-offender jokes!

“… as high as 94 percent of people deem lightheartedness as a necessary factor in dealing with difficulties associated with stressful life events.”
–David Rosen, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Texas A & M University, May 2005

Even if you child-proofed your house, they would still get in.

You have permission to laugh at all the crazy, zany, exasperating, nonsensical, and nutball things your child does or says, just never in their presence… or in anyone’s presence who doesn’t understand. It doesn’t mean you don’t love or care your child, but it helps your own mental health. In the support groups I run, a parent will occasionally share a funny story about their troubled child and the room roars with laughter.

The 15-year-old girl had professed suicidal thoughts for so long that no one could remember a time when tragedy wasn’t looming. They had locked up every potentially dangerous item, but the terrified parents were never certain they could keep her safe from herself.  Removing the knives and rope was obvious.  But household chemicals?  Daily life became a quest to guess what else she could possibly use to kill herself, then hide it.  But her mother realized one day that her daughter would probably not ingest household chemicals.  They tasted too bad, and mom knew she would not go through the discomfort.

You can’t scare me, I have teenagers!

At health class in high school, the students saw a film about trauma in children.  Upon returning home from school, a 14-year-old son exploded with fury, berated his mother, then charged off to his room and slammed the door, once, twice, three times.  The mother was accustomed to this behavior and went to his room and attempted to calm him down.  He screamed, “I finally found out why I’m having so many problems!  I learned in health class that I am a ‘feral child’ because you abandoned me when I was a baby!

The 20-year-old schizophrenic son angrily obsessed that his mother spoke with his school counselor when he was 11.  He railed that this invasion of privacy was wrong, immoral, hurtful, illegal, unethical, and stupid, and every other sin he could think of.  Mom learned to let him vent, but one day she became exasperated and said, “That was nine years ago! I apologized a hundred times. What more do you want?” The son stopped for a moment, confused, and said, “I don’t believe you. Did you erase my memory again?

The 16-year-old daughter had bipolar disorder. She also had grandiose plans to become a famous person and lead an “epic” life.  She was immensely proud of having an ‘exciting’ disorder that gave her permission to be crazy.  Once she made an unsuccessful attempt to lose weight, explaining, “I tried anorexia but didn’t have the discipline.”


The main purpose of holding children’s parties is to remind yourself that there are children more awful than your own… or maybe not.

The mother of a violent 10-year-old daughter said “I just bought a gallon of spackle on sale, which is great.  Spackle is my friend!”  Another mother with a violent 16-year-old son agreed.  She said she’d become skilled at repairing and texturing dry wall after all the damage he’d done.  Both moms brainstormed starting a company to repair homes battered by troubled children. “It would help the parents, and we could offer support too… and not judge!”

Several parents with troubled children were sharing their frustration from hearing ‘normal’ families talk proudly about their wonderful children, and the fun things they did together.  Each parent had had similar experiences, which made them feel a mix of emotions–embarrassed, ashamed, left out.  One mom finally blurted, “Those stupid happy families, I hate them!”

Do you have a funny story or quote to share about your child?  Please add it in the comments section–you’ll lift another parent’s day.

–Margaret

Planning for Your Troubled Child from Birth to 18 – What to Expect and Do

Planning for Your Troubled Child from Birth to 18 – What to Expect and Do

Parents face daily challenges with a troubled child or teen, and easily overlook the future.  I know I did.  What’s going to happen as they grow and change?  What does one plan for?  It helped me to hear from parents who had already traveled this path.  Based on their experiences, these are some things you can expect–and do–before your child reaches the pivotal age of 18.

Your child may not be ready for adulthood by age 18, but be OK with this.  Collective experience indicates your son or daughter  will continue to need your support and health care management into their mid-20’s.

If he or she reaches young adulthood with the capacity to maintain well-being on their own, you’ve done a good job.

From birth to age ~5

YouConsider yourself lucky if he or she has an identifiable behavior problem early!  You have ample time to understand your parenting needs and prepare, and use the many “special needs” services for young children.  Start a file and keep absolutely every medical and school record and contacts for people and services.  You are about to become a case manager.

Your family

  • Talk with siblings frankly.  Explain that sister or brother has a different brain and will be treated differently.  Inform them you will be distracted by their sibling’s need for appointments and other issues, and that it may feel unfair.  Ask for their patience.  Reassure them you love them very much.
  • Talk with your partner or spouse about revising expectations for your child, and accepting that your life may be harder than you planned .  Discuss how you will work together and share responsibilities, and work through disagreements about parenting the child in the future.

Everyone – Keep friends, activities, and plans the same.  Keep hobbies and interests alive.  Be as inclusive as possible of your special needs child but don’t sacrifice your family’s needs.  It’s a tricky balance.

Ages ~6-11  – young children

If your child’s behavior problems started at this age, read the above.  It still applies, except you may find fewer services, and sadly, more blame.  Seek professional help now.  Early intervention is the key to future mental health.

What to teach your family:

    • Our lives will be different from other families, but this is normal for families like ours.
    • We will support your sister or brother, but we will take care of ourselves and each other, we will have each other’s back.

What you should do:

  1. Make safety a high priority in your home, emotional safety as well as physical safety.
  2. Focus on schedules and planned time for activities every day.  Maintain this structure consistently, including weekends and holidays.
  3. Teach your child skills for managing behavior–they may not be able to stop it completely.
  4. Modify your home to reduce stress: Less noise or over-stimulation.  Better diet. A separate time-out  space.  Lock up valuables or dangerous items.  Consider a therapy pet.  Create a  tradition of whole-family activities:  Wii, playing cards, board games, exercise games, art or crafts, movie night…
  5. Take frequent “mental health breaks.”  Be generous with yourself without guilt.  Let other family members have breaks too.

Managing resistance: tips and advice

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

From ~12-18 – ‘tweens and teens

If your child started having problems at this age, most information above still applies, but this may be the most difficult period!

Two things happen in the teen years:

  1. They enter a normal phase of development where they seek their own identity, and want freedom and a social life separate from the family.  But they take more risks, and expose themselves to more risks.
  2. Some mental disorders start at this phase, or get much worse and become quite serious:  major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder, anorexia, borderline personality disorder… Risks include school failure, criminal activity, substance abuse, suicide, and assault.

Priorities

Safety – You may need to take unusually strong measures to ensure physical and emotional safety. Many need to lock up all knives, or allow siblings to lock themselves in their own room for protection, or search their teen’s room, or take away the cell phone and internet access.

Your well-being and that of other family members – Assertively seek outside support for your family, such as a support network of friends and family, or a religious community or support group, or mental health treatment for yourself, or all of the above.

Education – This is critical, even if it’s only for one or two classes per day.  If your teen cannot complete high school in time with their peers, it’s not a disaster. They may not graduate now, but they can finish their education eventually.  It’s never too late.

Positive peers and adult mentors – Keep your son or daughter from risky youth or adults.  Encourage activities with anyone they like and trust whom you approve of.

Ongoing mental health treatment –  your child may not believe (or accept) they have a mental health problem but they can at least comply with treatment.

By age 18

mature at 25

25 years???  Yes, hang in there.  Pace yourself.  You can do this.  At a minimum, this is what your child needs–fundamental criteria for a functional adult life:

  • A steady job and income, or a meaningful activity (volunteering, school)
  • Healthy, stable relationships
  • Maintenance of health and hygiene
  • Decent housing, maintenance of housing and belongings
  • Maintenance of financial stability

Additional information about young adults in here:  “How to Help Your Troubled Child After They Turn 18

Faith can help, and harm, a family’s mental health

Faith can help, and harm, a family’s mental health

When faith helps

Most of the time, people can heal and find peace and self-acceptance through faith. All the world’s great faiths, those that have lasted centuries, are kept alive for this reason. All have common themes of healing and service to others. When things go poorly, meditation and prayer, with others or in private, lead to connection and wholeness. Faith reveals that things are better, and will be better, than they seem.

When families are in crisis because of their troubled child, parents tell me they depend on faith, even parents who don’t profess a faith practice. They say it’s their only source of strength. Most families with a child who is sick, disabled, or mentally ill will go through dark times, when a parent’s world is simply too overwhelming. Most often, no answers are forthcoming, nor any rescue. The only choice is to hand over their burden to a “higher power,” God, the Buddha, Allah, the Great Spirit… This act of “handing over” is a foundation of healing in Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

Few things help a family more than a supportive community of believers.  There will be one person who listens to a frightened parent on the phone, and another person who takes a traumatized sibling on an outing, and another person who provides hugs and cookies. If a mentally ill child continues to decline, a good faith-based support network will stay on. The child may not thrive, but the family does, and has the strength and forbearance to handle the years’ long task of supporting their mentally ill loved one.

Science shows that faith results in better lifetime outcomes for a child

This writer typically trusts science, but in the depths of my family’s despair, only faith and the prayers of others kept me from falling apart.

There are scientists among the faithful who have asked the question: does faith really help the mentally ill? In another blog post, Spirituality and mental health, some research are summaries of research going back 36 years.  (Follow this link for the research citations.)  The answer?  Yes, faith makes a real and measurable difference in improving mental health.

More recent scientific research shows clear evidence from brain scans that meditation and prayer change brain electrical activity, from anxious or agitated to serene and grounded.  The person actually feels and behaves better.  This article has more information on this, Yoga – Safe and effective for depression and anxiety.

Like prayer, “talk therapy” or psychotherapy also shows improvement on brain scans. Imagine, just talking with someone improves the physical brain. According to the article appended below, “When God Is Part of Therapy,” many prefer therapists who respect and encourage their faith. It just makes sense.

When faith harms

This section is a personal appeal to faith communities who have unconscionably failed families and their children with mental disorders.

Faith communities depend on people, and people have biases and foibles.  Many of ‘the faithful’ hold negative beliefs about others, right or wrong.  Children who suffer, and their families, are identified as possessed, of evil character, disbelievers, victims of abuse, or cruelest:  those who are paying for their sins. Families are repeatedly told these very things today.

“Sometimes, people hide from the Bible. That is, they use the Christian holy book as an authority and excuse for biases that have nothing to do with God.”
–Leonard Pitts Jr., Miami Herald

Stigmatization from a faith community is a cruel betrayal.

A child’s inappropriate behavior is not a choice, it is a verifiable medical illness, one with a higher mortality rate than cancer:  Mental illness more deadly than cancer for teens, young adults.  Families with sick children need support; our sense of loss is devastating.

Testimonials

Mother with five children, one with bipolar disorder:

“We were members of our church since we were first married, all our daughters grew up here, but when my youngest spiraled down, I was told the sins of the father are visited on the sons. Or we weren’t praying enough. I knew they thought (Dad) had done something bad to her. We left and went church shopping until we found a pastor who understood and supported us.”

Mother of two children, one with acute pervasive development disorder:

“I wish we had a “special needs” church. We’re so afraid our kid is going to say something and we’re not going to be accepted. We haven’t gone to church for years because of this. They just turned their backs on us, it happened to another family with a deaf child. They avoid parents in pain. Deep down in my heart I believe in the Lord, but there are days when I wonder “where is God?” People call out to pray for a job, or a kid’s grades, but we wouldn’t dare ask for us, no one would get it, we’d be told we were bad parents or didn’t punish him enough.”

Mother of two children, one with schizoaffective disorder:

“When I went up to the front to light a candle and ask for a prayer for my daughter, I expected people would come up afterward and give a hug or something, just like with other families with cancer and such. But it didn’t happen. No one even looked at me. I left alone and decided never to go back.”

Some good news

FaithNet

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has recognized the need for the mentally ill to be part of faith communities, and the negative experiences most face when they attempt to participate in a religious community. NAMI started FaithNet to encourage and equip NAMI members to engage with and share their story and NAMI resources with local faith groups, and appeal for their acceptance.

Key Ministry

Key Ministry: Welcoming Youth and Their Families at Church
Stephen Grcevich, M.D., president, Key Ministry and child & adolescent psychiatry in private practice, Chagrin Falls, Ohio

“Key Ministry believes it is not okay for youth living with mental illness and their families to face barriers to participation in worship services, educational programming and service opportunities available through local churches.”

Churches in American culture lack understanding of the causes and the needs of families impacted by mental illness, which poses a significant barrier to full inclusion.

“A study published recently by investigators at Baylor University examined the relationship between mental illness and family stressors, strengths and faith practices among nearly 5,900 adults in 24 churches representing four Protestant denominations. The presence of mental illness in a family member has a significant negative impact on both church attendance and the frequency of engagement in spiritual practices.” When asked what help the church could offer these families, they ranked “support for mental illness” 2nd out of 47 possibilities. Among unaffected families, support for mental illness ranked 42nd.

________________________________________

When God Is Part of Therapy
Tara Parker Pope, March 2011, New York Times

Faith-based therapy is growing in popularity, reports Psychology Today, as more patients look for counselors who can discuss their problems and goals from a religious frame of reference.

Studies show that people prefer counselors who share their religious beliefs and support, rather than challenge, their faith. Religious people often complain that secular therapists see their faith as a problem or a symptom, rather than as a conviction to be respected and incorporated into the therapeutic dialogue, a concern that is especially pronounced among the elderly and twenty-somethings. According to a nationwide survey by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), 83 percent of Americans believe their spiritual faith and religious beliefs are closely tied to their state of mental and emotional health. Three-fourths say it’s important for them to see a professional counselor who integrates their values and beliefs into the counseling process.

The problem for many patients in therapy is that many patients are far more religious than their therapists.

Nearly three-fourths of Americans say their whole approach to life is based on religion. But only 32 percent of psychiatrists, 33 percent of clinical psychologists and 46 percent of clinical social workers feel the same. The majority of traditional counselor training programs have no courses dealing with spiritual matters.

When children are hospitalized with other ailments, the family draws sympathy and support from others.  But because of mental health stigma, most families like ours don’t when our child is hospitalized.  If not blame, we are second-guessed, or as bad, met with silence or a change of subject.

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

ARE YOU OVERREACTING?

Your child’s incessant problems and scares can literally give you symptoms of PTSD and anxiety disorder that you can’t control.

Like many parents, you might go to extremes to control situations so they won’t get out of hand. You don’t intend overreacting, but so much frustration has built up that any little irritation sets you off like rocket.  You’re battling to make things stop now.

Overreactions are emergency alarms without the emergency.

You can’t see it coming, but then it happens.  In an instant you are on an unstoppable mission to fix, contain, punish, or halt anything that upsets your sense of well-being, imagined or not. Overreacting is a sure sign of stress and that you need a break!  Overreactions may also come from the anger of losing the day you planned, or the life you planned and came to expect.

Dad, project strength on the outside, even when you don’t feel it on the inside. Relieve your tension later, away from the family or co-workers, by doing something physical, for example.

If you are overreacting to gain control, you are actually losing control.  Your parenting choices need considered, thoughtful decisions instead of an automatic 911 call. When your blood boils, you’re not aware how your behavior creates a toxic environment around you and the rest of your family… nor how it worsens a troubled kid’s behavior.

  • Do you worry even when things are fine?  Do you find things to worry about that aren’t problems?
  • Are you so stressed and traumatized that you just can’t stand it anymore and want the behavior to stop immediately, yesterday?
  • Is every little minor thing a reason to pull out the heavy artillery?
  • Do you overwhelm difficult situations with your own anxieties or explosions?

It’s common for parents with really difficult kids to get stuck this way, so forgive yourself if you overreact, and stop and look at what this does to your relationships and interactions with your troubled child.

  • Do you stop eating, or start drinking, when your stress is just an overreaction to a situation you’ve already handled?
  • If you’ll do anything to make your child stop a challenging behavior, might you go too far with little things? Will you call the police because they slammed the door?
  • When others hear you constantly complaining, might they consider that the problem is you?
  • Do you mirror your child’s bad behavior to show them what it looks like? Are they interpreting this the way you hope, or are you lowering yourself?
Mom, you know this helps no one. You have every reason to “lose it” but find a safer way to relieve tension. Get away occasionally, or distract your worries with friends or an activity you enjoy.

Overreactions sabotage opportunities for improvement. They terrify everyone , and your family starts to hide things from you, or downplay things, just so you won’t overreact or worry yourself to death. When family members feel a need to keep secrets, the isolation feeds your worry. Members will smooth over problems or distract you with lightness to counterbalance your fearful or explosive state of mind. Now you are less in control and receive less of the support you need for your own well-being.

If you feel paralyzed by worry or lash out as a way of coping, you are disabling yourself stress and/or depression. Before you completely lose control and your self-respect and parental authority, take care of yourself and get help for both your physical and emotional exhaustion. Check in with others and ask them if you are thinking clearly or realistically.

You must be emotionally centered and healthy or you will never be able to help your child become healthy.

Remember, your child and family need you to be 100% together.  Let some things go for the greater peace.  Center yourself so you can notice when your child is doing well and offer praise.  When centered, you are flexible, patient, compassionate, and forgiving.   This draws people towards you, to look after you and care for you.  Go ahead, aim for sainthood.  Just starting down that path would relieve everyone else’s stress over you.

–Margaret

Animals that make good therapy pets

Animals that make good therapy pets

Dogs, cats, and “pocket pets” like ferrets, birds, or lizards are therapeutic for children who struggle with any disability: physical, behavioral and developmental. A calm smiling dog, an affectionate cat, or a small pet they can hold is a great therapist. The right animal offers unconditional love and affection, and the right animal makes your child feel special. If you are considering animal therapy or a pet for your child, strategically pick the right animal. Measurable benefits have been seen with many creatures “ranging from dogs, cats, birds, and fish to goats and snakes.”

When finding a pet, monitor your child’s interactions when they are first introduced to the creature. Be honest with yourself, the animal you like may not be the best for your child. Hyperactive and barking dogs, biting cats, fearful hamsters, and noisy birds don’t work and can be outright stressful. Pay attention—people are often unaware how much stress fussy pets generate and how distracting and chaotic they can be.

What is the right animal?

  • The animal’s natural manner fits your child’s emotional needs.
    • Quiet–if child easily experience sensory overload;
    • Soft, active, or affectionate–traits that help a withdrawn or anxious child;
    • Interactive–if your child needs to maintain interest or needs attention: a bird that speaks, or a dog that follows instructions;
  • The animal likes to be with your child for long periods. The animal has a preference for your child.
  • Your child is able to treat the pet humanely. (Animals can be abused consciously or unconsciously by troubled children.)
  • You appreciate the animal too and aren’t concerned about mess, smell, hair, or feathers in your home. You should consider yourself the one responsible for its care. This pet is a therapist first, and not a lesson in responsibility for your child. They can learn responsibility later.
  • The child’s pet should still be welcome and cared for if it doesn’t work out for your child. If it’s not wanted, consider a rescue shelter or humane society that can find another caring owner.

Dogs

Most people are familiar with therapy dogs. Their natural affinity with humans is the reason why dogs are the most popular of pets.  And research shows dogs reduce depression and anxiety.  If you are interested in getting a puppy to train as a therapy dog, you can find instructions on how to train certified therapy dogs, and modify them to fit your home. Certified dogs need significantly more training because they can be used in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. “How to train a therapy dog”

Birds

The parrots and parrot-like or hooked beak birds have marvelous personalities and will bond with their owner for life. These colorful birds love to perch on a finger or shoulder and spend time with people, other birds, even dogs and cats! The best low-cost option is a parakeet, which is low maintenance, happily chirpy, easily tamed, and easily trained to talk.

“Patients hold and stroke cockatiels so tame that they often fall asleep in a human lap.” Maureen Horton, the founder of “On a Wing and a Prayer” tells of “non-responsive patients in wheelchairs who suddenly begin speaking again while petting a cockatiel as their relatives weep at the transformation.” She described bringing her birds to visit a group of violent teenage delinquents who clamored to touch a cockatoo named Bela. “For a few minutes,” Horton says, “these hardened criminals became children again.”
— “On a Wing and a Prayer,” a pet-assisted therapy program, uses birds to visit patients.” Connie Cronley, Tulsapeople.com

Fish

Fish can’t be held, but few things beat the visual delight and serenity of a beautiful aquarium. Fish do have personalities and form interactive communities in a tank, which are fun to watch, and individuals are fun to name. There is a reason aquariums are common in waiting rooms and clinics, lobbies, and hospitals.  They help people relax and calmly pass the time.

“Pocket pets”

These are usually mammals that like to be cuddled and carried around, often in pockets: ferrets, mice, rats, gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, and very small dogs. It is best to select a young animal that is calm and won’t bite, and handle it gently and often so that it becomes accustomed to being held. Challenges with many pocket pets include running away or escaping their enclosures, urine smell, and unwanted breeding. As the main caretaker, you will want to be comfortable with their needs.

Reptiles

Lizards are also excellent pets and demand little attention, and they are readily accepted by children. My bearded dragon, Spike, comes with me to my support groups. Dragons are a very docile species–safe with young children and popular with teens and parents. Other good species are iguanas, and geckos.

“I’d have to say my Leopard Gecko Mindy is very much therapy for me. She really is my therapy lizard, she wants to sit with me when I’m upset and tolerates me, which even my two dogs and cat won’t. She’ll just find a place on me and curl up and be like “I’m here, I won’t leave you.””
–User name “Midori”, Herp Center Network

Horses

Properly trained horses are extraordinarily healing. certified horse therapy programs are considered medically effective treatment and often covered by health insurance. Horses benefit disabled children and teens across the board: those with physical disabilities such as paralysis and loss of limbs, mental/cognitive disabilities such as development disabilities and retardation, and children with mental and behavioral disorders. The horses are selected for their demeanor and trained to reliably respond appropriately to children who may misbehave. Therapists are specially trained also to collaborate with the horse as a team. Horses have a “large” serenity and a lack of concern with the child’s behavior. They are also intelligent and interactive like dogs, provide a warm soft hide to lean on, and they empower their riders. A child on a horse will connect with the animal’s rhythmic bodily movement, which stimulates the physical senses and keeps the child physically and mentally balanced. According to parents and children in these programs, horses change lives.  New research proves horses are genuinely effective:  Study Suggests That Equine Therapy is Effective.

–Margaret

How has your child’s pet improved mental health?
Your comments help others who read this article.


The science behind animal therapy

Are dogs man’s best therapist?
Psychiatric Times. H. Steven Moffic, MD. February 29, 2012

Note: this is an excellent article by a psychiatrist who moved from disbelief to belief that dogs have a genuine therapeutic value, healing some of the most psychiatrically challenging children. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/blog/moffic/content/article/10168/2040421

Children’s best friend, dogs help autistic children adapt (summary)
Journal: Psychoneuroendocrinology, 2011, Universite de Montreal

Dogs may not only be man’s best friend, they may also have a special role in the lives of children with special needs. According to a new study, specifically trained service dogs can help reduce the anxiety and enhance the socialization skills of children with Autism Syndrome Disorders (ASDs). The findings may lead to a relatively simple solution to help affected children and their families cope with these challenging disorders.

“Our findings showed that the dogs had a clear impact on the children’s stress hormone levels,” says Sonia Lupien, senior researcher and a professor at the Université de Montréal Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital, “I have not seen such a dramatic effect before.”

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/03/09/146583986/pet-therapy-how-animals-and-humans-heal-each-other?ps=sh_stcathdl

Pet therapy: how animals and humans heal each other. (summary)
by Julie Rovner, March 5, 2012, National Public Radio

“A growing body of scientific research is showing that our pets can make us healthy, or healthier. “That helps explain the increasing use of animals — dogs and cats mostly, but also birds, fish and even horses — in settings ranging from hospitals and nursing homes to schools, jails and mental institutions.”

“In the late 1970s that researchers started to uncover the scientific underpinnings animal therapy. One of the earliest studies, published in 1980, found that heart attack patients who owned pets lived longer than those who didn’t. Another early study found that petting one’s own dog could reduce blood pressure.

“More recently, says Rebecca Johnson, a nurse who heads the Research Center for Human/Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, studies have been focusing on the fact that interacting with animals can increase people’s level of the hormone oxytocin. “That is very beneficial for us,” says Johnson. “Oxytocin helps us feel happy and trusting.” Which, Johnson says, may be one of the ways that humans bond with their animals over time.”

Parent to Parent Guidance

Parent to Parent Guidance

Margaret Puckette is a Certified Parent Support Provider, and assists parents on how to effectively raise their troubled child. She believes parents need realistic practical guidance for family life and school, not just information about disorders. Margaret has mentored families for over 20 years. She is an author & speaker, and knows from personal experience there is reason for hope.

You Can Handle This.

You Can Handle This.

You are not alone. It's no one's fault. Behavior disorders are disabilities! Troubled children need a very different parenting approach than 'normal' kids.

Care for yourself first, then set new goals:
1. Physical and emotional safety for all
2. Acceptance of the way things are
3. Family balance, meet the needs of all
4. One step at a time, one day at a time

Practical Guide for Parents

Practical Guide for Parents

A guide with practical steps for reducing stress at home and successfully raising a troubled child. You use the same proven techniques as mental health and other professionals. It starts by taking care of your wellbeing first, then taking an entirely different approach to parenting.
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