You are NOT Alone.
All families experience the same struggles as you do no matter what the age of the child or their diagnosis. They come from all walks of life, all educational levels, all races, and from across the world.
It’s No One’s Fault.
- It’s not your fault. You’re doing the best you can. Forgive and be kind to yourself.
- It’s not the child’s fault. He or she would do better if he or she could.
You Can START NOW.
Even if there is no diagnosis or known cause, the steps to returning order in your life and home are the same for all families, no matter what the child’s age, diagnosis, or cause for his or her troubled behavior. There are many ways to help children with behavioral problems. Most of them work very well.
Causes for Children’s Behavioral Disorders
- Family history of mental disorders
- Trauma history
- Diabetes, epilepsy, thyroid dysfunction, and other medical conditions
- Stressful living conditions (divorce, poverty, domestic violence)
- Brain damage: injury, fetal exposure to substances, environmental toxins
- Unknown causes! Research is still discovering important information.
You CAN Handle This.
You can raise a difficult child and keep yourself and the rest of your family safe; and you can all live with wellbeing. However, your natural parenting instincts for raising children, using incentives and consequences, rarely work for troubled children, if at all. Each child needs a customized approach based on his or her unique strengths and challenges.
You DESERVE Respect and SUPPORT
This is the toughest parenting job of them all. You deserve lots of praise for trying to be the best parent you can be, yet probably get little credit and lots of unwanted advice. Your child has a serious disability, and your family deserves the same compassion and support as any other family with a disabled child. Mental disorders lead to fatalities, and have higher mortality rates than childhood cancers.
You HAVE the COURAGE.
#1 Most Important Thing
Take Care of Yourself FIRST
The task you face may require superhuman backbone and discipline, patience, forgiveness, and relentlessness. You are about to run a 1000 mile marathon, row across an ocean, and climb a mountain. Set aside non-critical life demands and take care of yourself. Your mental and emotional wellness is crucial. A drowning person cannot save another drowning person. Stay afloat. Once you are OK, you will figure a lot out on your own.
“At one point I realized I am the ship, if
I go down, WE ALL GO DOWN!” –Erin Q
Ease Your STRESS
- Do something that makes you happy, indulge, steal moments away from your family.
- Talk with someone who doesn’t judge you; call or visit when you’ve had a really bad day to share your feelings.
- Read something that helps you escape reality for a while.
- Take a coffee break, or a vacation, even if it’s brief.
- See a therapist for yourself, to learn ways to cope and feel better about yourself.
- Get treatment, an antidepressant for a few months to help you catch up
- Practice daily mindfulness such as yoga or DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy)
Get a Life!
You and other family members must take time out to do something enjoyable. Set aside the troubled child’s needs for a while and do what you want to do. This is not selfish or neglectful. There’s only so much your family can sacrifice.
Have a S.A.F.E. Attitude
As a parent, make these your family priorities:
- Safety First – ALL will be kept safe from pain, fear, or violence, including visitors and pets.
- Acceptance – Accept things the way they are now and move forward from here.
- Family Balance – Everyone’s needs will be met–not too much for one, not too little for another.
- Expectations that are realistic – Progress will move slowly–one step forward one step back. Expect your child’s progress to be slow, and limit the pressure put on him or her. Take things one day at a time.
Balance your energy.
Don’t starve yourself, your family, and basic life needs. Look for ways to reduce the time or energy spent on your troubled child. There are probably lots of them. They will be OK.
Your life and family will not be ‘normal.’ Avoid making comparisons; it only adds to your stress.
- You may not see challenges faced by ‘normal’ families. People often hide their struggles, just like you.
- Families with a physically disabled or sick child share your concerns too, and make sacrifices. Their lives will never be normal either.
Manage the symptoms
Your goal is not to fix your child and stop the behavior. What works is adjusting your approach and your home life and environment. Create a therapeutic place that improves the whole family’s well-being.
Examples of Symptom Management
- ADD, ADHD – Does best in a highly structured and scheduled life. Regimen works better than freedom.
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) – Same as above, but take on only one issue at a time so enforcement is easier.
- Schizophrenia/Schizoaffective Disorder – Ask them what they need to lower stress and anxiety, then help them get it. It may not make sense to you; it only needs to work.
- Bullying – Bullies are usually victims and vice versa. Reduce the triggers that cause bully behavior, and teach a victim self-protection skills. ( ADD, ADHD, and ODD are most often bullies and victims.)
- Depression – Provide stimulation, contact with others, conversation, exercise, responsibility for another’s care. Ask them what helps.
- Bipolar – Handle depression like the above. Handle mania depending on the symptoms. Positive mania: ignore anything that’s harmless; stimulate with safe activities. Irritability & anger: redirect anger into high-energy activities that are harmless, and teach self-calming methods like meditation.
- Explosions – Create a safe place for a child to rage as long as they need, where nothing can be damaged. Talk about it later when your child is calm, and make a pact or negotiate how certain things can be handled in the future.
Modify the home environment to reduce challenging behavior
- ADHD kids do not do well in a home that’s chaotic, neither do kids with autism or schizophrenic disorders.
- Children with bipolar symptoms get bored easily and need help harnessing their energy. Stay alert to risk-taking, anger, loud fast speech, explosive energy, and redirect it away from family members and pets.
- Children with depression withdraw into their dark place and stay there; they need light and uplifting sensory experiences.
- Anxious children should not be forced to face their fears, however, they should be nudged to pay attention to their fears and try to tolerate them.
SAFETY: PLAN Ahead for WHEN things go Wrong
When your family is trapped in an uncontrollable situation, you can go to a crisis plan you write ahead of time. (see “Call 911 – Make a crisis plan for your troubled child”) It spells out what everyone should do. All family members make this plan as a team (perhaps not your affected child). This is a very effective way to handle the crisis, and importantly ease the emotional distress of you and your family.
Definition of a CRISIS
A crisis is when someone gets hurt, or is at risk of being hurt–a child might attack someone, destroy property, run away, cut themselves, attempt suicide, or make specific plans for harming themselves or others. Children often make threats of harm, but a crisis is when they have the means (weapons, drugs, or other hazards in the home) and a history of harm. A crisis is when a child’s behavior is persistently extreme and abnormal, such as excessive agitation, hearing voices or hallucinating, sleeplessness, or other dysfunctional or inappropriate behavior.
Ideas for a Crisis PLAN
- Appoint tasks to family members so they know what to do and what is expected. If a crisis can’t be managed, call 911 and report a mental health crisis and a need for emergency services. A child may need to go to the hospital. There is usually a local mental health crisis number to call for immediate advice or connection to emergency services.
- Have back-up: other family members or understanding neighbors or friends. It helps to know that someone will show up when you’re overwhelmed.
- Remove all means of harm or have a “lock down” plan (barricading members in a room for their safety, sending a sibling to a neighbor’s…)
- After the crisis – Talk with a friend, or get professional help such as therapy for yourself. Take a “mental health day” to tend to your and everyone else’s well-being (go out to eat, watch a comedy, walk in nature).
About HOUSE RULES
- Few, Simple, and Fair (parents follow them too)
- No more than 3 or 4
- The best rules are specific (who, what, when, where, why, how)
- Have at least one meal together at the table every day.
- Limit time on TV, video games, or computer use to 2 hours max.
- Settle 15 minutes in your room after arriving home from school, and again after dinner
- Get 30 minutes of exercise indoor/outdoor every day.
- Clean the dinner dishes by 7 pm.
- Show respect: anger is OK but not screaming, swearing, or door slamming.
ALL Children NEED These
2. Adequate sound sleep
3. Good diet: lower in fats and sugars; higher in fruits, nuts, vegetables, and lean protein
A noisy chaotic home, fighting among family members, teasing or bullying at school, pressure to manage more than they can handle, lack of sleep and exercise, fast food diets, and ignoring or denying a child’s genuine needs or problems they can’t handle. <– LOOK OUT FOR THESE
What HELPS different Disorders (examples)
- A bipolar child might need a safe way to expend energy or ease depression.
- An autistic child might need a low-stimulation calming room.
- A depressed child needs social contact or other stimulus to be drawn out of their interior.
- An ADHD child needs schedules and rules, and opportunities for creativity and multitasking.
- All children need an emotionally safe and supportive environment.
How to manage your child
- Observe their behavior without emotions or judgment. Notice when they do well and make note of the situation: in the morning? during a meal? around lots of activity or when alone? Now pay attention to what makes behavior worse, the triggers.
- Remove triggers that set off unsafe behavior. Triggers can be simple things like transitions from one environment to another, which feels to your child like “changing channels” too quickly. Example: when going to or from school; or when getting into and out of the car. Ensure they are not being teased by siblings or by other upsets.
- Look for little things that calm or improve your child’s behavior. Some children do better when in a quiet room alone (schizophrenia, autism, anxiety). Some children and teens need music and activity around them to settle their nerves and help them focus (ADHD). Some do better with rigorous exercise (depression), or some need to do yoga poses or keep their hands busy (anxiety disorders).
- Catch your child or teen doing something good and point it out immediately.
- Negotiate. This may seem counterintuitive, but yes, you can negotiate with your child without giving in. This technique is called Collaborative Problem Solving or CPS, and it works remarkable well. Check out these books by Ross W. Greene.
Your Highest PRIORITIES
Your problems are too numerous to solve all at once, so limit your energies to the highest priorities in your life, in this order:
- YOU! Your well-being and health
- Then all family members
- Your income and other basic necessities
- Special needs of your troubled child
There is NO one RIGHT Path.
Be flexible and adjust your approach.
Trust your observations, judgment, and intuition
HEALTHY Families Look Like THIS:
- A couple stands by each other and supports each other; they put the stability of their relationship first, even if they don’t always agree. If the parents are divorced, they still do this.
- Parents regularly reach out to others they trust, and avoid those who take their energy or bring them down.
- Siblings are supported and protected by the parent(s), and given attention and appreciation for what makes them special. They are asked about their feelings, and helped to take care of themselves and avoid their troubled brother or sister.
- Pets are appreciated and cared for.
- Basic needs are met: healthful food, a maintained living space, clean clothing, income, sleep, exercise.