Category: Siblings

How to Handle a Child’s Mental Health Crisis

How to Handle a Child’s Mental Health Crisis

You can sense there will be a crisis long before it happens. You have days when you’re so concerned about your child and family (and work and responsibilities) that you can’t think straight.  You can’t even spend time on little things like chatting with a friend or reading a magazine.  Your intuition says it’s only a matter of time and you won’t be able to handle it.

Before this happens, make a Crisis Plan with these priorities in order:

  1. Safety for everyone comes first
  2. Stabilization and treatment for your child
  3. Stress reduction for the family afterwards
  4. Lessons learned

What constitutes a mental health crisis?

  • When something dangerous has happened or is likely to happen because of a child’s behavior, words, plans, or triggering events that they experience.
  • Anytime a child’s behavior leads to harm or imminent harm to the child or someone else (including pets), or significant damage to property. Harm also includes emotional harm, threats, running away to unsafe places or doing unsafe things.

Trust your gut and trust your intuition.

Examples of a crisis when you must act

  • Watch. Pay attention to evidence your child has plans for suicide, which may include seeking dangerous items; or making multiple references to hating life; or they have a worsening mental state, or there’s been a prior suicide attempt.  Try this: “Use the “S” word: talk openly with your child about suicide.”
  • Look for increasingly troubled behavior over time that leads to extreme behavior:  non-stop raging, assault, repeated running away, threatening, talking about strange things, or spending too much time alone.
  • Pay attention following a traumatic event, such as someone else’s suicide or a newsworthy major tragedy. These can trigger a child to act dangerously on thoughts they already have.
  • The child runs away while psychotic, or depressed, or with a dangerous person–perhaps another troubled child–or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Psychosis of any kind including hallucinating or hearing voices; odd ideas; extreme agitation, anxiety, or paranoia; or a belief they have special powers.

The Crisis Plan

Have a crisis plan for home, school, and any other place where the child spends time.  For some, it’s also the parents’ workplace.  If a child is in college, a student adviser or someone in the campus health clinic needs to be a contact for checking in on your child.

Plan A:  call 911. You will not be bothering the police or emergency responders!

Plan B:  Answer these questions

For a runaway.  Who gets on the phone to call 911, and who goes out to look for the child and bring him or her back without mutual endangerment?  Both should know how to work with police and other community members.  There is no waiting period in a missing person’s report.  Check this article for what to say in call and do when police arrive. “How to work with police once you’ve called 911.”

Note: children have been known to behave perfectly once the police arrive, and police sometimes implicate the parents as having the problem. Don’t let this bother you.  You have demonstrated to your child that you are willing to call the police, and you’ve asserted your authority.  You might point this out to them–another episode of extreme behavior will be countered with significant action on your part. Use a neutral tone and avoid making this sound like a threat!

Who else knows your child and is trustworthy: others parents, businesses, teachers, their friends?  Are any of them able to assist you with talking to your child or keeping them safe?  Can any them help you “hold the fort” while waiting for an emergency responder?  Build a support network in advance:

Who gets on the phone and calls for extra assistance?  And is there a list of phone numbers?  Does your town or city have a crisis response team for kids?  What about a crisis line run by the mental health authority?  Check.  They are there to help.

Who should be appointed to communicate with the child?  This should be a family member or friend or teacher that the child trusts.  Communication with the right person can solve things fast, but with the wrong person can backfire, even from a parent… perhaps especially from a parent.

Who should step in and break up a fight, physical or emotional?  And what specifically should they do or say to de-escalate a situation spinning out of control?  Think about this:  your troubled child can often tell you exactly what works best and what makes things worse.  Listen to them.  It doesn’t have to sound rational to you as long as it works.

How should a time-out work?  Who counts to 10, or who can leave the house and go out for a walk?  Where can someone run to to feel safe and be left alone for a while?  What are the emotional safety rules for when the time out ends?  How can you and your child trust each other enough not to upset a fragile stability?

What should teachers or co-workers or others do to calm down a situation and get their classroom or office back to normal as quickly as possible?

Can a sibling stay at someone else’s house until things cool down at home?  Which house?  Sibling(s) can benefit from an escape to a friend’s house to protect them emotionally until a crisis has passed.  Ask them.

Teamwork

Think of your family and support network as a team that springs into action when someone sounds the Red Alert that your child is in danger.  Talk to family members and friends or neighbors ahead of time and give them an assigned role.  Let each should know they will be backed up.  This will be tremendously reassuring.  Your child’s crisis will be an upsetting event, but reasonable people will pull together when they know what’s going on and what they should do.  “Gang up on your kids:  Parent networks for tracking runaway children

Experiences and evidence shows that a rapid reduction of stress is effective at reducing the emotional wounds of a crisis.  Rapid cooling down of emotions, or “de-escalation,” is what prevents or limits the fallout from a crises.  You and your family can develop de-escalation techniques for bouncing back in tough situations.  The goal is “resilience.”  More than anyone, families with troubled children need resilience.

After the crisis

Everyone gets a mental health break.  This could be anything:  a day off, eating out, ice cream, going out for a movie…  Do something to get everyone back to an OK place and on their feet.  There should always be a reward for bravery, team work, and a job well done.

Next time it happens

There will be a next time.  A troubled child will be fine for many months and you’ll be so relieved, and then WHAM.  Use a previous crisis as a learning experience.  What can be done better next time?

Your long-term goal is to reduce crisis frequency over time, or prevent them from happening in the first place. 

Many parents have taken these steps to prevent a crisis or limit its severity.

  • Communicate directly with a police officer or precinct, school counselor, or juvenile justice official to explain your child’s legitimate mental health disability and your willingness to cooperate. Build a working relationship with them.
  • Locks on doors: a sibling can protect him or herself and their belongings; a parent can protect belongings, prescriptions, valuables, and money.
  • Track via technology – Track where your child goes and what they see online, and let them know you are doing this. This is legal.
  • Track via eyes and ears on the street – Befriend or build trust with your child’s friends, their parents, their teachers, neighbors, and businesses where they hang out.  Ask for a report if they see or hear something of concern. They may not be able to do anything but just report.
  • Search the child’s room for evidence of unsafe behavior, anything from razors for cutting themselves, harmful substances, porn, weapons, unusual ‘stockpiles’ of stuff (lengthy explanation goes here… just trust your gut if something is out of place). Room searches in your home are legal, but keep them secret and avoid acting on other things you find that aren’t 100% related to danger
  • Lock up dangerous items even though it’s inconvenient for you–kitchen knives, weapons, alcohol, drugs and prescriptions, matches, etc.
  • Lock up money, credit cards, and valuables. With money in hand, your child is on a path to victim-hood or association with people with criminal behavior. For example, they can buy drugs and alcohol from inappropriate people who then rob or assault them.
  • Confront people who undermine your authority. This is often a friend’s parents or other person who thinks you are abusing your child (because your child has told them so). They ‘rescue’ your child and offer safe harbor, and actively help them run away.  This is completely against the law, and they are subject to police action and criminal charges.  People who do this do not have your child’s safety in mind.

Extreme measures

There may be times when, for reasons of safety, you may to do things you are uncomfortable with while you wait for police, ambulance, or friends to arrive.  These are things parents have done in a crisis:  tackle a child and hold them down; or trick a child to get in a car and then have someone hold them down until they arrive at an emergency room (commonly needed in rural areas).  The way to avoid the risk of being charged by your child with abuse or assault is to have those open relationships with the authorities, teachers, and other parents who know your situation.  A letter from a doctor can be really important here.  I was glad I had one.

There will be fallout if you use force or trickery. Your child will not accept your reasoning or the necessity for your actions.  You can truly apologize for upsetting your child but without admitting guilt. Instead, ask what they want to happen next time they are in a crisis.  You should also honestly reassure them you will never use extreme methods again unless there is a safety issue.

To recap:

  • Trust your gut
  • Act immediately
  • Follow a plan that includes others working as a team
  • Take care of everyone afterwards
  • Prepare for extreme measures
  • Retain your authority as a parent by establishing supportive relationships.

You can handle this!

 

–Margaret

Good messages for siblings (and parents) of a troubled child or teen

Good messages for siblings (and parents) of a troubled child or teen

Your other children already know something is terribly wrong, and they deserve to hear the truth from you.

Most are old enough. They see other children in school and discover other families are nicer, so they don’t talk about their own. They are afraid to bring friends over to visit because of how their troubled brother or sister behaves–pestering them, upsetting them–then those friends talk about it with fellow students and their own parents. Word gets out about your family and people form opinions, especially teachers.

Siblings also feel unsafe and insecure. They never know what’s going to happen! Tell them the truth and trust them to understand and appreciate your candor.

  • You cannot cure a mental disorder for a sibling.
  • No one is to blame for the illness.
  • No one knows the future; your sibling’s symptoms may get worse or they may improve, regardless of your efforts.
  • If you feel extreme resentment, you are giving too much.
  • It is as hard for the ill sibling to accept the disorder as it is for you.
  • Separate the person from the disorder.
  • It is not OK for you to be neglected. You have emotional needs and wants, too. The needs of the ill person do not always come first.
  • The illness of a family member is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • You may have to revise your expectations of your sibling. They may never be ‘normal’ but it’s OK.
  • Acknowledge the remarkable courage your sibling may show when dealing with a mental disorder. Have compassion, they suffer and face a difficult life.
  • Strange or upsetting behavior is a symptom of the disorder. Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your sibling if he or she is thinking about hurting him or herself. Suicide is real.
  • If you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for another.
  • It is important to have boundaries and to set clear limits. You should expect your sibling to show respect for others.
  • It is natural to experience many and confusing emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion, and more. You, not the ill person, are responsible for your own feelings.
  • You are not alone. Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a support group has been helpful and enlightening for many.
  • Eventually you may see the silver lining in the storm clouds: your own increased awareness, sensitivity, receptivity, compassion, and maturity. You may become less judgmental and self-centered, a better person.

Excerpted from “Coping Tips for Siblings and Adult Children of Persons with Mental Illness,” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 2001, www.nami.org.

Don’t let siblings lose their childhood

Don’t let siblings lose their childhood

Siblings suffer when a brother’s or sister’s chronically severe behavior overwhelms the family.  Usually parents are too stressed and exhausted to give them attention.  Their needs are overlooked because their brother or sister demands so much.  ‘Normal’ siblings can be very negatively affected and start to have trouble in school, troubled behavior of their own, and emotional scars that affect them in the future.

It’s easy to see how siblings are affected, but there’s little information on how to raise well-adjusted siblings in a home with a troubled child.  On the one hand, they need to be kids with plenty of love, support, and opportunity.  On the other hand, siblings also need to be part of a family team when there’s a crisis.  They can’t avoid being involved!  I found it necessary to coach the siblings on precisely what to do, with the promise they could be a kid afterwards.  I found it necessary to normalize our peculiar family situation to them.  We were a ‘normal’ family for families like us.

The Siblings’ Bill of Rights

  1. The right to our own life outside the family
  2. The right to have our own concerns acknowledged
  3. The right not to be “perfect” to compensate for our troubled sister or brother
  4. The right to be treated as fairly as our troubled sister or brother
  5. The right to a safe environment
  6. The right to have our own friends and spend time with them
  7. The right to helpful information about our troubled sibling
  8. The right to be supported in our choice of future, and to pursue our future without continually caring for our troubled brother or sister
  9. The right to one-on-one time with our parents-caregivers
  10. The right to have our achievements and milestones celebrated
  11. The right to have our needs and opinions included in our sibling’s treatment plans.

From the Sibling Support Project – a national effort dedicated to the life-long concerns of brothers and sisters of people who have special health, developmental, or mental health concerns.  http://www.siblingsupport.org/

Here’s my advice upfront:  Find ample time to put the siblings first.  You cannot let your difficult child rob them of their childhood, their need to grow and be social and do well in school.  Your other children will be part of their brother’s or sister’s life forever, and they will need to be strong and supportive when the troubled one needs help as an adult.  To the parent or caregiver, this is for you:

“Most siblings of people with psychiatric disorders find that mental illness in a brother or sister is a tragic event that changes everyone’s life.  Strange, unpredictable behaviors in a loved one can be devastating, and your anxiety can be high as you struggle with each episode of illness and worry about the future.  It seems impossible at first, but most siblings find that over time they do gain the knowledge and skills to cope with mental illness effectively.  They do have strengths they never knew they had, and they can meet situations they never even anticipated.”  — National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) July 3, 2001  www.nami.org

Sibling quotes – I once asked several young people about their experience living with a brother or sister with a mental disorder, and this is what they said:

“I escaped, I left in my mind.  I wouldn’t let anything bother me.  I dropped compassion and pretended nothing happened, I tried to forget about my family.”  Her sister was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder at age 15.

“All I did was tried to get away when she blew out.  Then I got jealous of all the time my parents spent on her and not the rest of us.  Now I just let them handle it and I take my younger sisters away to protect them but they still hear the noise so I help them feel safe, but it’s hard sometimes.”  Her sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 9.

“To me, it was a death.  The brother I knew and who was so much like me in so many ways had died, and I didn’t know who this person was who was living in my house anymore.”  His brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 18.

Share these messages with your other children, which might help them learn to live with or accept the behavioral disorder of their troubled brother or sister:

  • “You cannot cure a mental disorder for a sibling.
  • No one is to blame for the illness.
  • No one knows the future; your sibling’s symptoms may get worse or they may improve, regardless of your efforts.
  • If you feel extreme resentment, you are giving too much.
  • It is as hard for the sibling to accept the disorder as it is for you.
  • Separate the person from the disorder.
  • It is not OK for you to be neglected.  You have emotional needs and wants, too.  The needs of the ill person do not always come first
  • The illness of a family member is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • You may have to revise your expectations of your sibling.  They may never be ‘normal’ but it’s OK.
  • Acknowledge the remarkable courage your sibling may show when dealing with a mental disorder.  Have compassion, they suffer and face a difficult life.
  • Strange behavior is a symptom of the disorder.  Don’t take it personally.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your sibling if he or she is thinking about hurting him or herself.  Suicide is real.
  • If you can’t care for yourself, you can’t care for another.
  • It is important to have boundaries and to set clear limits.  You should expect your sibling to show respect for others.
  • It is natural to experience many and confusing emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion, and more.  You, not the ill person, are responsible for your own feelings.
  • You are not alone.  Sharing your thoughts and feelings in a support group has been helpful and enlightening for many.
  • Eventually you may see the silver lining in the storm clouds: your own increased awareness, sensitivity, receptivity, compassion, and maturity.  You may become less judgmental and self-centered, a better person.”

Excerpted from “Coping Tips for Siblings and Adult Children of Persons with Mental Illness.”  NAMI, 2001, www.nami.org

Parent to Parent Guidance

Parent to Parent Guidance

Margaret Puckette is a Certified Parent Support Provider, and partners with parents for successfully raising their troubled child, teen, or young adult. She believes parents and families need realistic practical guidance for home and school life, not just information about disorders. Margaret has mentored families for over 20 years. She is an author & speaker, and believes mentally healthy families raise mentally healthy children.

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.
Amazon $14.99, Kindle $5.99