Consistency is key for The 'Problem Child' in therapy

First and foremost I commend you for recognizing that whatever the situation is, you need to get your child some help because it is beyond your ability to fix it. You know your child well enough to know that something is not right, and you are seeking help with it. Notice the key words in that last sentence, seeking help, 

As a parent it is never easy to admit that you cannot help your child improve a negative behavior, habit, or irrational fear. You may be feeling that you have lost control of your child. You may feel guilt, you may feel like a failure on some level, you may just be fed up with trying because you have "Tried everything and nothing works". Let go of the shame and negative self-talk, it is honorable to ask for help, it takes bravery, intelligence, and a supportive parental love. The stress you are feeling is normal. It is scary to admit your child(ren) need more help than you can give, it is scary to think of what others may be saying about you as a parent when you are not around,  The stress, anxiety, and self-doubt as a parent is completely normal. Please remember your strengths in this difficult time; Bravery, Intelligence, Supportive Nature, and LOVE for your child. Forget the anxiety, negative self-talk, and possible gossip. Who gives a shit what other people think! You are engaging in good parenting by bringing your child to therapy!! High Five!!!

What you can expect during the process; the therapist will interview you alone to learn of history of symptoms, stressful events that have taken place, traumas, concerns, behaviors your child has engaged in, and the methods you have tried using to 'fix it all'.  Next the therapist will meet with your child, and begin to work on a treatment plan that is age appropriate and targeting the behaviors in question.  Play therapy is the most commonly used modality for children and can include painting, playing games, puzzles, and stories. This may seem like nothing more than a play date to you, however the therapist is engaging your child in these activities in such a way that it generates increased self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment, mastery, and all the while your child is talking and sharing perceptions. It takes time to build rapport and earn a child's trust. It takes time to see results at home, and for this to happen the therapist needs your help.

Your child's therapist will meet with you from time to time to give you updates and coach you on methods for handling behaviors and assisting your child in processing feelings at home with you. It is imperative that you use the tools given to you to create consistency that starts in therapy and continues in your environment. As a therapist I have met many parents just like you who put in the time and effort to work with their child and with the therapist to observe successful results after creating consistency. These parents know it is more than the child's issues alone, it is a family issue and change must occur within the family unit to support the new, healthy behaviors. This is true of children of all ages, from five years old all the way up to 21. 

It is not advisable, nor will it result in dramatic changes in your child if you drop them off for therapy, never meet with the therapist, and there is no consistency with therapy at home. A child, of any age, cannot fix him/her self, it takes a team effort. Unfortunately this is all too common with the teen population. Parents never step foot in the therapist's office beyond the initial paperwork and informed consent signature. The teen feels pressured by the parents to make changes when there is no support at home, this causes more stress and more behaviors in the teen who is now feeling like more of a failure/disappointment than ever. 

Moreover, it is unacceptable behavior on the parent's part to sit down in the therapist's office and proceed to yell and throw a temper tantrum. It is unacceptable to minimize your teen and disrespect your teen in the safe space of a therapist's office, the therapist will immediately excuse you from the session and assist your teen in processing what just happened. Then the therapist, seeing that the parent is not being supportive, will work with your teen on coping mechanisms so that the teen can manage the stress of living with a parent who desperately needs therapy him/her self. Finally, the therapist will (hopefully) refer the parent for therapy because it will be obvious that the parent has a lot to work through and is not managing stress in healthy ways (which could very well be the influencer on the 'problem child').

To close, I want to congratulate and send out a virtual hug to all of the parents who seek help and engage in the process, You are a ROCK STAR!!!! To the parents who throw tantrums and refuse to take part in the healing process of their child or teen, I know it's not easy!! You're exhausted, you're frustrated, you're struggling just as much if not more than your child/teen!! You cannot deal with this alone, and while I commend you for being a Rock Star and obtaining help for your child/ teen, I highly recommend you get therapy for yourself as well because you have some serious healing to do too. Virtual hugs to all parents, and I hope you find peace and healing for yourself and your child/teen.

The 1000 mile journey to healing begins with your first, and sometimes your hardest, step.

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Elizabeth Choate, MS, LMFT


Elizabeth Choate


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