Category Archives: teens

Helping your troubled teen after they turn 18

Helping your troubled teen after they turn 18
3 votes

Most young people aren’t ready for adulthood by 18 years of age, but your troubled teen is especially unprepared. By 18, their legal status instantly changes to “adult” and they are free to fail at life’s countless tests. Your hands are tied and you can’t keep your son or daughter safe from themselves any more.

Pace yourself for a marathon

Your job as parent is far from over.  Not surprisingly, parenting an 18+ year old will feel the same as when they were 17 years 11 months old.  They’ve been behind their peers for a long time–emotionally or socially or academically. You’ve done everything possible to get them ready for adulthood, but they simply aren’t!  For troubled teens, the teen years last into the mid-20’s or longer. And this is really scary; suicide rates across all age groups are highest for people aged 16-24.  It’s the period of greatest stress, whether the person is suicidal or not.

Many people with disorders aren’t able to take full responsibility for themselves until their early 30’s.

Over the past 16 years, I’ve asked this question of people with mental health disorders, their parents and siblings and children, and their friends:  “At what age did (you, your loved one) make the conscious choice to take responsibility for themselves: treatment, income or job, living on their own, choosing to associate with healthy people. I asked dozens and dozens of people. Their answer? Every single one told me they or their loved one didn’t turn things around until they were between the ages of 29 – 34.

True story: a co-worker once shared about his bipolar disorder and his years of substance abuse and hardships. I would never had guessed this grounded stable person had a troubled past. I asked when he turned his life around; it was 30. I asked what motivated him.  His answer? “I couldn’t avoid it anymore. I ran out of excuses. I hit rock bottom too many times.”

The questions to ponder are how much to sacrifice and how much to let go.  There needs to be a balance.

Parents have a tendency to rescue their adult son or daughter when a crisis befalls because  it’s so hard for the child to recover from set-backs.  But rescuing too much makes them more dependent on the parents (or adult siblings).  Pressuring a troubled teen to be an “adult” when they are not ready may lead to their dependence on others who might make their lives worse.  Or they’ll cope with drugs or alcohol, or risky choices, or give up.

I know of a couple in their 70’s who’d rescued their troubled 34-year-old daughter her entire life, and faced cutting her off because they couldn’t manage anymore.  They were heartbroken to let her go, painfully afraid she would become homeless or suicidal, and deeply regretful they unwittingly undermined her capacity for independence.  Don’t let this happen to you.

The first challenge is deciding where they’ll live.

As with any troubled teen, they must become independent eventually.  It may be a tough call for you:  bear the stress if they live with you? or worry when they leave your protection, possibly forever?  Ironically, your adult child must be better than ‘normal’ young people at managing life because they have so much more to worry about.  Besides the usual adult responsibilities, add self-monitoring for mental and emotional stability, taking meds or obtaining therapy, and disciplining themselves to stick with dozens of choices that support their well-being (diet, exercise, healthy friendships, education or work, financial stability…).

If your troubled teen of 18 must live at home full or part-time, change your rules and expectations. Rules can include a requirement for ongoing mental health care. Your troubled teen must transition to becoming your guest who stays at your invitation and a renter who contributes to the household and follows the landlord’s rules.  You’ll need discipline to step back and respect their privacy and (reasonable) choices and activities.  This may not be easy to achieve–you’ll make many compromises.

In the eyes of the law, you are not responsible for them anymore.

You really aren’t.  In fact, you have the right to banish your 18-year-old from your home and change the locks on the doors.  The parents who do this are usually in fear for their physical and emotional safety–not because they don’t care.  If this describes you, it’s understandable and forgivable if you feel forced into this step.  But know this, things change.  Your adult child will change; banishment is not forever.

There’s good news. Adults have more options for support.

Ironically, your troubled teen, by 18, will have more access to services than ever, and you’ll both get the support you’ve desperately needed.

  • In the U.S., people with mental health problems are protected from job/housing/educational discrimination by laws that protect the disabled.
  • insurers are required to provide mental health care on par with all other treatments and services.
  • Mental health advocacy groups support adults by offering support groups, referrals to safe housing or appropriate job opportunities, social connections with safe accepting peers, and legal and legislative advocacy.
  • Educational institutions have special departments solely for supporting students with disabilities, and that includes troubled young adults.

This is what your troubled teen needs to function after 18, listed in order of value:

  1. A constant, supportive family (that sets boundaries and asserts high-as-possible expectations)
  2. Support from peers and mentors or counselors
  3. A job or continuing education
  4. Ongoing mental health care
  5. A safe living situation

Adjust your expectations for how quickly they’ll progress.

Parents with ‘normal’ 18 year olds gradually revise their relationship with them, becoming a mentor and peer rather than a parent.  You can’t do that yet; your challenge is to flow between the role of parent, disciplinarian, social worker, and therapist until they are ready.

You can do this.  Stay patient.  Keep a bridge built.  They’ll eventually grow up.

–Margaret

 

Please rate this post and comment.  Your thoughts and experiences will help others who read this article.

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Filed under adult, mental illness, parent rights, parenting, suicide, teenagers, teens, troubled children

Why teens run, and what you can do about it

Why teens run, and what you can do about it
14 votes

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.
  • Substance use, mostly alcohol and marijuana.  Both cause paranoia and depression and aggravate anger.  I discovered many parents believe there’s no problem with marijuana, but scientific research shows marijuana is especially damaging to adolescents!  See Marijuana and psychosis in teens.
  • 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, 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.

Call the National Runaway Switchboard at 1-800-RUNAWAY. NRS operates a 24-hour confidential hotline for teens and their families. Leave a message with the NRS for your child, www.nrscrisisline.org. NRS 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.

How am I doing?  Please rate this article at the top. Thank you.

–Margaret

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Filed under anger, defiant, defiant children, law enforcement, mental illness, parenting, stress, teens, troubled children

The good things about bad kids

The good things about bad kids
13 votes

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, true or not.

See strengths

If you apply the same concept to your child, it will change the way you think about and treat him or her. You’ve been enduring  disturbed or stressful behavior–this is glaringly obvious–but notice the “cherry” behaviors when you are getting relief from the “lemons.”   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.

Mom carries this in her purse, always.

Make a list of ‘awesome-ness’

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 why they will 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 concentrating 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.

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 feel you must 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.

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

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

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.         “
  6.         “

How am I doing?  Please rate this article above, thanks.

–Margaret

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Filed under mental illness, parenting, teens, troubled children

Therapy types explained: DBT, CBT, CPS, and others

Therapy types explained: DBT, CBT, CPS, and others
3 votes

The fantastic news about the brain is that it can heal itself by talking with someone! And there is ample evidence to back this up.

The therapist or psychologist who works with your child or teen will use a type of therapy or “modality” based on their symptoms or diagnosis, because some work better for mood disorders, some work better for defiant children, some work better for borderlines, and so forth. (In thought disorders like autism and schizophrenia, talk therapy has limits. Those on the autism spectrum need specialized interactions due to their processing issues. Those on the schizophreniform spectrum need medication to think logically before starting

Therapy models. Each type of therapy follows a model, and five are covered in this article. Your child’s therapist must be trained and practiced in any model they use. Why? It’s a matter of quality control. A therapist who has fidelity to a model (adheres to protocol) will help the most people most of the time, because that model has data to prove that the majority will benefit–the ones in the center section of the Bell Curve. (Therapists include psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychotherapists with MSW (Masters in Social Work), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and other licensure.)

Therapy models

CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy
CBT works when the child can examine their own feelings and make sense of them—the “cognitive” part. They learn to understand what affects them and why. The therapist will guide your child to create a list of options for themselves for when they face the next stressful situation that pops up in their lives. CBT helps a person think their way out of the confusion and have plans in place for appropriate actions. It works for mood disorders and anxiety, and some thought disorders if person has ‘insight’ (able to notice when they are behaving or thinking irrationally). CBT is one of the most widely used therapeutic models because it works for people who are relatively stable but enduring a difficult life situation (divorce, medical illness, job loss, and other big stressors).

DBT – dialectical behavioral therapy
DBT is unusual in that it can help anyone for any reason! The term “dialectical” describes how a patient learns to hold two opposing truths in their mind and respond effectively to the discomfort and emotions this causes. DBT is the one therapy model that can work for people with borderline personality disorder, who are considered the hardest to treat. It also helps those with mood dysregulation, those who’ve thought about or attempted suicide, or those with uncontrollable and negative responses to the world, such as oppositional defiant disorder. DBT relies less on personal self-examination and analysis, and instead concentrates on self calming, tolerating stress without overreacting, accurately perceiving the nature of a conflict, and communicating with others appropriately. Anyone can benefit from DBT. Notice how commonly people hear bad news and immediately expect the worst, then act to address the worst possible outcome? Does your child do this, only to extremes?

EMDR – eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
The goal of EMDR therapy is to help a person process extremely distressing memories of trauma and mitigate their torturous subconscious influence so children and adults can adapt and cope when memories are triggered in the future. EMDR is used for people with PTSD (physical, sexual, or emotional abuse) and other traumas such as from war, accidents, and major disasters. The therapy process uses rhythmic stimuli as a distraction during the precise moments when the person relives the traumatic memory—eye movement back and forth (by following a swinging object or a therapist’s hand), clapping, or listening to tones switching from ear to ear through headphones. The person does not have to talk about the horrible memory, so EMDR is less stressful—so important for a trauma survivor! EMDR works but there are no acceptable explanations. It is based on a belief that the memory and associated stimuli of the event must be processed to remove it from “an isolated memory network” where it creates havoc.

Parents as therapists

There are two proven models of therapy that are taught to parents to practice with their children in the home. Like the other models, they don’t work for every child, but they work for most children with a certain range of behaviors, rages, resistance, and physical violence, which can be caused by ODD, ADHD, and depression/bipolar disorders.

CPS – collaborative problem solving
CPS can be learned by anyone to manage an intensely frustrated child who goes into uncontrollable fits or tantrums, and the parent can do nothing to calm them down. The fits may last hours, and must run out of steam on their own. Afterwards, the child is often remorseful. Why? Their brain is “chronically inflexible” and has difficulty with the unexpected, switching from one situation to another or one plan to another. Using CPS, a parent doesn’t enforce rules per se, but negotiates with child so that they together come up with a win-win solution. This is very counterintuitive! The parent does not give away their authority, but offers the child an acceptable choice. For example, if a child can’t get a red jacket because there aren’t any in their size, and they must have red (!), the parent asks the child if they want to order one and wait 2 weeks, or if they will accept another color. This seems fair to the child because they have a say, and much easier on the parent because the child accepts the outcome they’ve chosen.

PMT – parent management training
PMT refers to a proven intensive educational program for parents to teach them skills for managing extremely difficult children, especially those with ODD. PMT helps parents assert consistency and predictability at home and in school, and promote positive social behavior in their child. The parents are also trained to change their own behavior towards their child, and taught how to analyze different home/school situations, “then apply moment-to-moment positive reinforcement or punishment” (called interventions) based on what is happening. The punishments are humane, such as taking time outs. It is hard on the parents, but works for children with serious behavior problems in addition to ODD: Conduct disorder, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders.

What makes a good therapist? Because multiple models are out there, a really skilled therapist will figure out which model your child needs once they get to know them, and they will apply parts of different models depending on your child’s individual challenges. That same skilled therapist will also be a cheerleader for your child, helping them feel good about themselves (and you), helping them discover their talents, and helping them to stay committed to their need for self-care. This is the very definition of a good therapist! Therapy is hard to take for anyone, but your child will trust a good therapist if they feel they have their best interests. Chemistry is important. If your child doesn’t like the therapist or make progress, it’s worth spending the time to find someone else who’s a better match. If the therapist has professional ethics; they will recognize they are not a fit and recommend someone else.

I know of a 10-year old child whose therapist dragged out appointments for a year with zero progress or results. From the start, the child didn’t like her and simply refused to talk with her. And this child, now 11, refuses any therapy because “it’s boring and a waste of time.” What an unfortunate consequence!

How you know you have a good therapist. A good therapist will be able to discover something valuable that brings light on your child’s situation after the very first session. They should ask you for background information about your child, and listen to you when you talk about recent problematic situations. They cannot talk to you about your child’s therapy, but they can encourage you to partner with them, and should recognize your need (your family’s need) for your child to function as normally as possible. You can ask to have therapy together with your child if its appropriate. If the therapist can’t connect meaningfully with your child after a few weeks, ask them about this. If you have any doubts about the therapist, share them, and expect to have a thoughtful, respectful explanation.

Which therapy is best for your child?

Seek a therapy provider with knowledge of all of them, and with experience treating children and teens. Ask about a specialty when you make the initial contact, and ask about a model you think fits your child’s behaviors (based on their descriptions). You can get a one-time assessment from a therapist for an opinion on which model to use. The best way to find a good therapist is through personal referrals: your child’s doctor or psychiatrist, support groups, school counselors, and other parents.

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Filed under mental illness, parenting, teens, therapy

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
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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

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