Don’t let your family become emotionally battered when your troubled child or teen goes through one crisis after another. It’s the last thing your family needs—more stress and exhaustion! Since your main job as a parent or caregiver is to reduce stress, you must manage the inevitable emergencies in a way that quickly settles down your family, as well as get help for your child. Are you prepared to head off a crisis when you see one coming? Does your family have a plan for when (not if) your troubled child has a mental health emergency that puts everyone or everything in danger?
I got my crisis plan idea from the “red alert” scenes on Star Trek, when red lights flash and an alarm sounds, and crewmembers drop everything and run to their stations with clear instructions for protecting the ship.
Think of your family as crewmembers that pull together when someone sounds the Red Alert because your child is becoming dangerously out of control. Each family member should know ahead of time what to do and have an assigned role, and each should know they will be backed up by the rest of the family. This will be tremendously reassuring to everyone. Together, you can manage through a crisis, reduce the dangers, and ensure everyone is cared for afterwards.
Have a crisis plan for the home, the workplace, and the school…
…and start by asking questions. Here are some examples:
o Who goes out and physically searches for a runaway? This person should be able to bring the child back to school or home without mutual endangerment, and they should know how to work with police or community members.
o Who gets on the phone and calls key people for help? Who do they call, the police or a neighbor or a relative? Does your town or city have a crisis response team for kids? Some do.
o Who should be appointed to communicate with the child? This should be a family member or friend that the child trusts more than the others.
o Can a sibling leave to stay at someone else’s house until things cool down at home? Which house? An escape plan for a sibling can protect them and, just a little, help them manage their own stress.
o Who should step in and break up a fight? And what specifically should they do or say each time to calm the situation? Believe it or not, your troubled child can often tell you what works best and what makes things worse. Listen to them. It doesn’t have to sound rational to you if it works to calm them down quickly.
o How should a time-out work? Who counts to 10, or who can leave the house and go out for a walk? Which room can someone run to to feel safe and be left alone for a while?
o What should teachers or co-workers do to calm down a situation and get their classroom or office back to normal as quickly as possible?
Experiences and evidence has shown that a rapid cooling down of emotions and rapid reduction of stress hormones in the brain supports resilience—the ability to bounce back in a tough situation. Your entire family needs resilience, not just your troubled child.