For parents, having a child in treatment can be both scary and overwhelming.
“When we talk about recovery, we talk about recovering your health – both mental and physical,” says Coraline Robinson, director of Balance Treatment Center’s intensive outpatient program in San Luis Obispo.
Robinson has seen many parents and their children come through Balance Treatment Center’s program, which uses structured, group-based therapy to empower teens to face their mental challenges while also remaining active their daily lives and school.
While teens in the program may be dealing with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, gender/sexual identity issues, PTSD or other issues, their parents often grapple with questions of blame and wonder what to do next.
Robinson shared some important encouragement and advice for parents of teens in treatment:
1. Your child needs you
When children go through a treatment program like Balance’s intensive outpatient program, it can be an isolating experience for parents. Teens in treatment can display extreme opposition or defiant behaviors, such as threatening parents, abusing drugs or alcohol, lying, stealing, risky sexual behaviors or running away.
Robinson points out that resistance from a teen shouldn’t be taken as a sign that teens don’t need their parents’ help. In fact, reacting with such strong emotion shows how much a teen is influenced and affected by a parent, she says.
“Recovery doesn’t happen alone,” Robinson says. “All the evidence shows that people who show substantial change and sustain that change have reached out for help with their family for support.” Some of the most defiant and oppositional teens can, years later, develop the closest relationships with their parents.
2. Good communication is key
“It’s really important to learn how to communicate love and boundaries at the same time,” Robinson says. The programs at Balance Treatment Center stress how parents can maintain effective, nonviolent communication with teens as they go through the treatment process.
Robinson offers a few simple strategies:
• Keep calm, even if things get heated. Parents need to maintain control of their own words and actions.
• Separate the behavior from the person. Robinson explains that parents need to be able to show love for the teen and yet show concern about what he or she is doing.
• Don’t forget what’s going right. It can be easy to focus on the problems and dismiss the positive aspects of the relationship
• Find your ally. You need someone to support you in whatever hard lines you need to take with your teen. If you have a partner, that person is the logical choice, but your ally could also be a friend or anyone gives you the strength to be consistent.
3. Consistency and structure help
“We’ve heard teens tell us that boredom is one of the most common triggers for risky behavior,” Robinson says. That behavior can include drug and alcohol abuse, sexual activity or risky online activities.
Parents can help take away any temptation for negative behaviors by replacing boredom with structure.
“Teens also have told us that one of the toughest triggers to avoid is opportunity,” Robinson says. “So if they feel committed to their treatment but the opportunity presents itself, it’s very difficult to control that urge.”
Parents can try to remove some of those opportunities and make it harder for teens to encounter those triggers. By creating distance, they help establish a safety net between some of those risky opportunities and their teens.
4. Try to provide a new focus
Any time parents take away a trigger or temptation for risky behavior, they need to replace it with something new.
“Art is a huge protective factor for kids,” Robinson says. Parents can provide materials to create art and a place to do it.
She also suggests some other possibilities:
• Earning money around the house
• Volunteering for a cause the teen believes in
• Working a part-time job
Every parent and child is different. For a more involved, personalized advice and information about therapy sessions, along with treatment options such as live-in residence programs and outpatient day programs, contact Balance Treatment Center, where the staff believe that clients are more than their diagnoses.
Balance programs include a fully licensed primary mental health residential center located in Calabasas and intensive outpatient programs in both Calabasas and San Luis Obispo. The team at Balance believes it’s important to open a dialogue and engage with family members of those suffering. By working together with other professionals in the industry to share innovations and collaborate on ideas, Balance continues the work to end the stigma of mental illness.
For more information, visit them online at BalanceTreatment.com or give them a call at (855) 414-8100.
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