Category Archives: stress

Five-minute wisdom for parenting troubled children and teens

Five-minute wisdom for parenting troubled children and teens
6 votes

From many years of  counseling parents with difficult children, I’ve found the following wisdom helps clarify one’s priorities, improve understanding, and help take the next steps.

You are not alone. All families experience the same fears no matter what the child’s challenges: guilt, anger, frustration, failure, and mental and physical exhaustion.

There is a way. The steps to finding peace in the home are the same for all families.

You can start now. You can improve behavior without having a diagnosis, and the techniques work for the majority of difficult children.

There is reason for HOPE. They have the capacity to do better. With support and treatment, difficult children improve.

Have realistic expectations: They may not be ready for adulthood, and may need extra support into their 20’s… but that’s OK. There’s time to catch up with their peers.

Plan ahead for a crisis, brainstorm options for an effective response and create a checklist. We can’t think clearly in a tension-filled moment.

GOOD Things to do for Your CHILD or TEEN

Pay attention to STRENGTHS not weaknesses. Always find something great about them.

Guide them to their gifts. Give them ample opportunity to do what they are already good at.

GOOD Things to do for YOU

o Be your own cheerleader. Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control.

o Regularly talk through your feelings with others who understand and won’t judge.

o Get a life, maintain personal interests, and set thoughts of the child aside without guilt.

o Commit to doing the best you can, and own that this enough – plan to let go someday.

You’ve done a good job when they are able to take responsibility for their own care. This is a monumental personal achievement!

KEYS to CALM

In a neutral patient voice, give directions or requests . You will need to repeat yourself, calmly, several times. Your voice should not communicate strong emotions. Tone of voice, not words or volume, is what creates a bad response.

Don’t rush calm. Give the child plenty of time to unwind and settle. Calm is more important than quick.

Ensure there’s a calm place to go – a time-out space, even for you.

Get an appropriate therapy animal – a calm and durable creature unlikely to be harmed.

Reduce chaos in your home: noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV, etc.

Ideas for MANAGING resistance

You want your child to be resistant to the negative things they’ll face in life. It represents willpower, and is a strength to cultivate.

o Be quiet and LISTEN. If you respond, address how they feel, not what they say.

o Use reverse psychology-ask them to do something you don’t want them to do, so they can defy you and do the opposite.

o Choose your battles. Let them think they’ve won on occasion.

o For an ODD child, give multiple instructions at once, including things they do and don’t want to do. It becomes too much work to sort out what to defy.

o Actively ignore – Stay in the vicinity but don’t respond, look away, act like you can’t hear. They eventually give up. Works best for ages 2 – 12.

o Mix it up – Be unpredictable. Give a reward sometimes but not all the time. Try new ways to use incentives or set boundaries and structure.

Nine COMMON Parenting MISTAKES

1. Treat your home like a democracy, let your child have an equal say in decisions.

2. Find fault with them and tell them about it repeatedly. If they do something positive, it’s not good enough.

3. Pretend your child has no reason for their behavior. Ignore his or her needs or challenges. Are they being bullied? Are they having a hard time sleeping? Is your home too chaotic?

4. Make rules and only enforce them once in a while, or have consequence come later.

5. Don’t treat your child appropriately for his or her age. Make long explanations to a 3-year-old about your reasoning. Assume a teen wants to be just like you.

6. Expect common sense from children who are too young (5), or from young adults with a long track record of not showing common sense.

7. Keep trying the same things that still don’t work. Repeat yourself, scream, show how frustrated you are with them.

8. Jump to conclusions that demonize the child. “You are manipulative and deceitful,” “You don’t listen to me on purpose,” “I’m tired of your selfishness…”

9. Make your child responsible for your feelings. If you lose your cool, insist they apologize.

Problem SYMPTOMS, not problem children

– Does not show common sense and is not influenced by reason and logic;

– Has no instincts for self-preservation, and poor personal boundaries;

– Has no well-adjusted friends; has friends who are risky or troublesome;

– Doesn’t respond to rewards and consequences;

– Has limited character strengths: honesty, tolerance, respect for others, self-control;

– Does not make plans they can realistically achieve, hangs on to fantasies;

– Acts younger than their peers. Will not be ready for adulthood by 18;

– Lives in the here and now; doesn’t think about the past or future;

– Does not notice their effect on others.

Your PRIORITIES in Order

1. You and your primary relationship(s)

2. Basic needs and responsibilities: housing, clothing, food, income, health

3. Your challenged child or teen.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family's foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family’s foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under ADD, ADHD, discipline, mental illness, parenting, stress, teenagers, troubled children

What to do when they stop listening

What to do when they stop listening
4 votes

You don’t have to feel this frustrated.

At some point in their development, all kids stop listening. It’s frustrating but normal. There are lots of good advice for getting normal children and teens to listen, or at least follow the rules and directions given by the parent.But it’s different when your child has serious behavioral disorder, and when their behaviors are extreme or outright risky. Your priority may be to prevent destructive behavior and family chaos when they hate you, blame you, or are willing to take extreme risks. Then who cares about the dishes or homework?

First things first, avoid upsetting yourself.

Avoid repeating things over and over, raising your voice, or expressing your frustration. It really matters.  This stresses you as much as it stresses them. Children and teens with disturbances have a hard time tracking, and it may be pointless to expect them to listen. Your child or teen is overwhelmed by brain noise and does not hear even hear you.

But what if they are refusing to listen?  That’s a different issue.  They ARE listening, and they are definitely communicating back to you.  This is resistance and defiance.  (see Managing resistance – tips and advice )

Things to do when they stop listening

Use technology: texting and email.

This mother should be texting her daughter instead

This approach is so simple and so effective that therapists encourage high-conflict parent-teen pairs to communicate exclusively using email and texts, even if the parties are in close proximity, like at home together! Think about this. You are using their chosen medium; you can keep it brief and concise; both you and your child have time to reflect on your response. Your conversation is documented, right there for both of you to track. No one is screaming or repeating themselves.Word of caution
Watch what you write. Don’t use emotionally charged words or tone. Be sure to read texts and emails over and over before sending! “The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2006 revealed that studies show e-mail messages are interpreted incorrectly 50% of the time.”

Move somewhere closer or farther, change your body language
Instead of communicating with your voice, use your body. For some children and teens, an arm around their shoulders calms them quickly. Or try standing calmly and quietly. Or put some distance between you and your child’s personal space, even if it means stopping and getting out of the car and taking a short walk. Experiment to see what works for your situation.

Use a third-party
Maybe you are the wrong person to carry the message and settle a tense situation. Don’t be too proud to admit that, for whatever reason, your child will not listen to you no matter how appropriately you modify your approach. So use a substitute or third-party. Is there another person who has a better rapport and can convince your child to complete a chore, do homework, leave little sister alone—a spouse, a grandparent, a teacher or counselor, a therapist? What about a friendly animal, live or stuffed? For young children, you can bring out Kitty and ask her to tell Joey that mommy and daddy only want him to do this one simple chore.

Draw a picture, make a sign

As a young child, I recall my parents hounding me for something, I don’t even remember what.  Then they’d ask, “What do you want me to do, draw a picture?” Well, yes in fact, I understood pictures and they didn’t frighten me as much as my parents yelling at me. Pictures and signs work, put them up where the family can see them (and your troubled child won’t feel singled out).  Maybe a funny comic gets a point across in a non-threatening way.  Some sign ideas: “It’s OK to be Angry, not Mean,” “STOP and THINK,” “Our family values Respect and Kindness,” “This is a smoke-free, drug-free, and a-hole free home.”

Time outs for you
.
Take your own sweet time to calm down and think things through what to say when you’re challenged by your offspring. Consider how you’ll respond to swearing. Put him or her on hold. Don’t return texts or email right away, “I’m busy and I’ll reply in 30 minutes.” Be specific on time, then follow through, or they might learn to blow you off with the same casual phrase, expecting you to forget. 

A Precaution

Watch your tone of voice
From infancy, we are wired to pick up emotions in the voice—it’s literally in our brain.  Your tone is very powerful and can be calming or destructive. Think about asserting strength and caring in your voice without lecturing. Be assertive but forgiving. Be firm and not defensive. Don’t get caught apologizing for upsetting your child or justifying your rules. 90% of parents know the right thing to say, but its common to say it the wrong way.

Is your child bullying you with their behavior?
I’ve observed child verbally bully and abuse their parents. This is not communicating and not negotiable. You have options for standing up to this without making things worse. Temporarily block their email or calls, or ignore and let them go to voicemail. Declare bullying unacceptable. Pull rank and apply a consequence. You cannot let their harassment continue because they will use it on others.
About that mean-spirited voicemail or email.
When you get an ugly message, tell yourself you are hearing from a scared, frightened person, and you’re the one whose feelings they care about the most. See this as a good thing. They are trying to communicate but it’s mangled and inappropriate. You want them to stay in contact and engage with you even if its negative. When a disturbed child stops communicating is when you must worry.  It hurts, but your hurt will pass.  You can handle it.  They will still love you , and some day they will show you.  Be very patient.
If the things they communicate hurt.
It is best that you take your feelings out of the picture and seek other sources of affirmation and support—this can’t come from your child. If they write “I hate you,” maybe they are really saying “you make me mad because you are asking me to do something I can’t handle now.”

Good luck out there,
–Margaret

How am I doing?  Please rate this article at the top, thanks!

3 Comments

Filed under anger, defiant children, discipline, parenting, stress, teenagers, teens

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family

Practical ways to calm yourself, your child, your family
3 votes

You need peace and serenity in your household, and you need to be proactive to attain it, but how?  Therapy works.  So does disciplined meditation and yoga.  Anti-anxiety medications work, use them, but they’re not the best long-term solution.  You need reliable skills for calming yourself, your stormy child, and all other family members.  In psychological jargon, you need to learn “de-escalation” skills.  (see research at the end of this article on the brain benefits of mindfulness Based Stress Reduction)

Calming yourself in the tension-filled moment

Become consciously aware of your tension and ask:  What are my options for coping with my tension right now?  Brainstorm  options ahead of time and create a list because you won’t be able to process in the moment.  For example:  take a very deep breath, then silently count to 10 backwards.  Another idea:  eliminate distractions.  Turn off the cell phone, send others out of the room, pull the car over, turn off music…  You must strategically choose your response to a common situation, which is a key element of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), and it works.

Be your own cheerleader.  Silently think, “I can handle this;” “I’m the one in control;” “You Go Girl!;” “I am the calm upon the face of troubled waters…”  Have fun with it.  In psychological jargon, this is called “positive self-talk,” and is a key element of DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy).

Ways to calm your child in the moment

Note:  the techniques are different for each child depending on their disorder and its characteristics.  Experiment to find out what works with your child’s typical patterns at home, in school, with others, or other situations that are typically stressful.

In a steady voice, give them directions or requests to calm down.  You will need to repeat yourself periodically as they struggle with their inner storm.  If you ask them to move to another space or use their own calming, skills, use your body language to initiate the act.  If you ask them take a deep breath, do it yourself.  If it helps them to punch a pillow, punch it yourself and hand it over.

Wait them out.  Give them plenty of time to unwind as long if they are not hurting anything.  There is no rush.  Allow long moments to pass as they struggle with whatever is triggering them.

Have a calm place to go to pull themselves together, a kid cave, or a time-out space, even the car.

Give them extra time to “change channels” and go from one environment to another.  Children and teens often have problems “transitioning.”  Examples: coming home from school; getting out of the car after a long ride; waking up in the morning.  Changes are difficult for troubled kids.

Redirect their focus.  Draw attention to something to distract them in the moment (this is a useful kind of channel-changing).  A young child could be directed to a physical activity (draw, push clay around, throw a Nerf ball against the wall), a teen can be asked to play their favorite music (even if you hate it), shoot baskets, or take the dog for a walk.

Animals heal, but strategically pick the best animals.  If you can have a calm smiling dog, a calm affectionate cat, or a little low-key animal like a hamster, bird, or turtle, you’ve got pet therapists.  Excessively active or barking dogs and aloof kitties probably won’t work.  If you can afford calm livestock like a goat or horse, the ‘largeness’ of their serenity works wonders!

What makes a good “security blanket” for your child?  I’ve completely wrapped anxious children and teens in a blanket or coat, and they became immediately present.  Have a child bury themselves in a favorite piece of furniture, or let them get their video game or iPod.

Once a situation has passed, ask yourself what happened just prior to your child’s episode.  Was there a trigger?  Did they just transition from one kind of place to another?  Do you have options for removing the trigger?

It is very common for a trigger to be so small or elusive that you miss it.  The child or teen’s sibling could have sniffed or rolled their eyes without you noticing.  An object your child or teen reached for (like a remote control) could have just been unintentionally grabbed by someone else.  If you can identify the little frustrations that send them to the stratosphere, and address them immediately, it will proactively ease their mind.  “Your sister is not supposed to tease you and I’ll see that it stops.”  “Your brother was not trying to bother you by taking the remote just now.  It was an accident of timing.”

Calming your home for the long term

Calm your emotional self first and think Zen.  If you can take 5 minutes during a day, even a stressful day, sit quietly and breathe, and consciously work at eliminating all thoughts, ALL THOUGHTS, you would calm down.  Not thinking anything is the hard part of meditation, yet it is the skill that makes it work, and there’s proof.

Maintain bodily calm with the big three: exercise, sleep, and healthy diet.  You’ve heard this a million times already, but there’s good reason and proof.  If you can’t simultaneously maintain all three habits in your family, take one at time and you will still see benefits.

Calm the sensations that exist in your home environment.  Reduce noise, disorder, family emotional upheavals, and the intrusive stimulation of an always-on TV, etc.  Create a place or time period in your home where anyone can go that’s contemplative, where people agree to behave as if they’re in a library, a special place of worship, or a safe zone.

Have you ever wondered how a hospital psychiatric ward is designed to keep patients calm?  I’ve visited a number of wards, and the best ones I saw were in China, where I toured with a delegation of mental health practitioners.

Visual: they had windows and lots of light, plants, and beautiful aquariums with gorgeous fish and lots of bubbles.  Those hypnotic fish are great de-stressors.

Sound: besides the bubbling aquarium, there was often low-energy music.

Physical: soft furniture, a table where people could gather in the comfort and buzz of a group, and nooks where people could remove themselves from the buzz and avoid over stimulation.

Two things to avoid

Do not communicate strong emotions in your voice.  Word choice and sound volume don’t matter as much as strong emotional content, negative or positive. Strong emotions trigger an unstable child or teen, yet are hardest to control when you are excited or under stress!  Practice vocal neutrality.  Which is better: “Will you please let the cat out?” versus “Will you PULLEEEEZ let the cat OUT!!!

Don’t pressure the child to calm down when they’re not ready—it takes time for anyone to unwind.  Wait patiently while a child or teen works through ugly emotions and finishes releasing their stuff.  You may have to take it on the chin, but this will pass.  Let them have their catharsis.  We all need to release our stuff, and we all need others to patiently let us.

In my support group, I’ve observed that very stressed parents, who visit for the first time, need at least one solid hour to vent and cry before they’re calm enough to benefit from another’s supportive words and sympathy.

 

 

 

Be the calm, spread  the calm, live the calm.

 

 

 

Margaret

– – – – – – –

ABSTRACT – Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density

Britta K. Hölzelab, James Carmodyc, Mark Vangela, Christina Congletona, Sita M. Yerramsettia, Tim Gardab, Sara W. Lazara 

Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging,Volume 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43 (30 January 2011)

Summary in plain English:  Meditation causes structural changes in the brain associated with memory, empathy, and stress, according to new research. Researchers examined MRI scans of participants over a period of 8 weeks. Daily meditation sessions of 30 minutes produced measurable changes in subjects with no previous meditation history. The anxiety and stress region of the brain, the amygdala, produced less gray matter. In a non-meditating control group, these positive changes did not take place.

“Therapeutic interventions that incorporate training in mindfulness meditation have become increasingly popular, but to date little is known about neural mechanisms associated with these interventions. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs, has been reported to produce positive effects on psychological well-being and to ameliorate symptoms of a number of disorders. Here, we report a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre–post changes in brain gray matter concentration attributable to participation in an MBSR program. Anatomical magnetic resonance (MR) images from 16 healthy, meditation-naïve participants were obtained before and after they underwent the 8-week program. Changes in gray matter concentration were investigated using voxel-based morphometry, and compared with a waiting list control group of 17 individuals. Analyses in a priori regions of interest confirmed increases in gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus. Whole brain analyses identified increases in the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction, and the cerebellum in the MBSR group compared with the controls. The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

1 Comment

Filed under anger, anxiety, stress, therapy, yoga

What to do about screaming teenagers

What to do about screaming teenagers
11 votes

When their screaming starts, you brace yourself.  You armor your gut to protect it from the verbal pummeling.  When their cruel words pierce your heart, it breaks.  When it’s over, you want to strangle them or abandon them in a wilderness.  In his  play, King Lear, William Shakespeare wrote, “How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child!”  That was 500 years ago and little has changed.

BUT THIS WILL PASS.  Your teen will quiet down and apologize someday… it may take a few years, but someday.  Until that bright day, remember that you’re tough enough to take it, and tough enough to persevere in the face of high drama and lots of noise.  You are not failing as a parent, but proving you care enough to be a good parent.  Paradoxically, your screamer appreciates your engagement because it’s reassuring to them.  Screaming teens are horribly insecure, and need you to prove you care for them.  This isn’t rational, or fair, but don’t take the screaming personally.  And don’t take it seriously unless the behavior is new or out-of-character, or unless your screamer makes threats of harm.

Difficult teenagers are inconsistent, irrational, insensitive to others, self-centered, childish and…  should I go on?  It may have nothing to do with a disorder per se.   Screaming teens are as normal as screaming babies.  Regard their screaming as you would a toddler temper tantrum.  It is a phase that most teens grow out of unless something else is holding them back.

The way to handle a screaming teenager is to handle yourself first, because you are the king or queen, holder of all power in the parent-child relationship, and you must use your power wisely.  Don’t scream back. Don’t reward screaming by losing your cool. Don’t get hooked.

When the screaming starts, do a personal check-in on your thoughts and feelings

How am I doing?
I am handling it.  This isn’t as serious as it seems.  It’ll be over in less than 10 minutes.

How am I feeling?
I choose how to feel and I won’t let this bother me.  I will rise to the occasion and come out stronger.

What are my options?
I will be persistent until I regain power over our household.  I will live within my values.  I will take care of myself when it becomes stressful.

Keep your expectations realistic

  • You don’t need to be in total control, just one step ahead of your teen.
  • Be prepared for screaming to worsen before it gets better.
  • If you get an apology, accept it, even a weak apology.
  • Don’t expect to hear that they love you, or that they appreciate what you’ve done for them.
  • They will not give you credit for being the good parent you are, yet.

Two simple demands:
1. lower the volume,
2. clean up the language.

Set the boundary on the loudness of screaming and the use of mean-spirited, foul language.  Remind your teen that it’s OK to be angry; it’s not OK to assault with screaming and ugliness.  Give them an example of what you’d rather hear, for example:  “You are not being fair to me;”  or “Don’t say that about my friends…”

If they can’t communicate themselves in a straightforward non-screaming manner, then restate what you think they mean, using different words so they know you got their message: “You think I’m being unfair to you,”  “You don’t like me criticizing your friends.”  Ask them if you are correct.  Make it clear you got the message even if you disagree with them.  It becomes awkward to scream once you’ve shown you heard them.  It will take them off guard as they think of some other thing  to be upset at you about.

Until a teen can manage basic communication with you, they are not ready to discuss the substance of their complaint.  Make a sincere effort to look deeper and try to understand what’s bothering them.  You will often get this horribly wrong and upset your teen immeasurably, but they will realize on some level that you are aware of  their deep pain and seething rage… and feel more secure.

Use technology and avoid screaming altogether.   Get on your cell phone and text your child, or use email.  This works surprisingly well because you’ve entered their virtual world where they feel safe from your presence, and have time to contemplate and cool off.  Writing/texting is slower, and that’s the point.  Therapists often direct feuding parents and children to communicate only by email for a while.

Listen to what they need and feel, not to what they say.

Most teens have similar needs: to feel heard, to be loved, to make one’s own choices.  Take these away and you have an angry screaming teenager.  But teens also struggle with emotional distress:  family instability, problem with a love interest, or something else they don’t want to share with you because they’re afraid of how you’ll react.  Teenage years are emotional hell, remember?  Ugly rumors on social sites, bullying, grade worries, frets over appearances… would you want to go through your teens again?  Does the thought make you want to scream?

A teenager may be a screamer because of genuine physical discomforts.  Physical things make people irritable, and teens more so:  lack of sleep, dehydration, lack of exercise; excessive sugar and fat; constipation; the monthly period.  A change in the length of daylight affects mood, whether going into the spring or into the fall.  Don’t forget to assess the home environment.  Has there been a significant change in family life?  a traumatic event?  Always consider drug and alcohol use.  If their behavior is unusually or uncharacteristically aggressive or violent, or if it’s changed for the worst recently, get a urinalysis and look for methamphetamine or marijuana. UA kits are available at drug stores or online.  Go through a  medical diagnostic checklist when the misbehavior starts.  Sometimes a few glasses of water is all your teen needs to become human again.  Have a glass yourself.

What if you, the screamee, are the problem?  Are you too strict?  lenient?  picky?  Do you nag without realizing it?  You might be the one who needs to change.  If so, admit when you’re wrong and be the first to apologize and set the good example.  My first apology to a recalcitrant child was awkward and defensive, but I had to swallow my pride and apologize for something I said.  Over time, it got easier, and apologies happened normally and easily in the family.

Self care, find a way to let yourself down easy

Leave people and chores behind for a while, go scream in a pillow, and pull yourself together.  Talk to someone who can listen or provide a point of view that’s helpful.  Set aside a dollar after every screaming fit, and treat yourself to something special later.  Let your screamer know that you’re looking forward to their next screaming episode so you can save more and get something nice.

Family Balance

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family's foundation.  Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

Keep your energy in balance so you can maintain your family’s foundation. Too much spent on your child affects everything else your family needs to survive.

Humor heals

Don’t forget to laugh.  Any parent who’s survived the teenage years will understand that we all need a sense of humor.  It may be a little twisted, but I find these bumper stickers funny.

Mothers of teenagers know why some animals eat their young.

Grandchildren are God’s reward for not killing your own children.

Few things are more satisfying than seeing your children have teenagers of their own.

How am I doing?  Please rate this article at the top, thanks!

–Margaret

1 Comment

Filed under anger, anxiety, Screaming, stress, teenagers

Don’t let siblings lose their childhood

Don’t let siblings lose their childhood
2 votes

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

Leave a Comment

Filed under Siblings, stress