Hey Parents: How are you doing?

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How are you managing with the kids at home during COVID?  If “I’m fine” is just the “fake news” that you are giving out to your friends and family, you are probably not alone. Not every family is busting dance moves and making cute videos on Tik Tok.  This is a very difficult time and the light at the end of the tunnel may seem to be getting further and further away. Stressful times can bring out the worst in us as we revert to old coping mechanisms that really don’t work well over the long term. The pressure is not letting up, and many of us are collapsing under it.

Newspaper and social media columnists are offering lots of advice, but the reality is that each situation is unique and good advice cannot be applied wholesale to every family set-up.   I am reading lots of stuff that says you should let go of the standards during this time, and I am betting while this may work for some families, it may be wreaking havoc on others. The post-COVID child-rearing nightmare could become reality as your kids forget what normal expectations are, and forget the meaning of the word “no”.

At Creekside Therapy I am offering parent consultations for people who are struggling to manage their particular situation.  I am ready to hear the worst, without judgement or criticism. I am sure that you know what you are doing well and not so well, so we can discuss that and see what else makes sense for you and your children.  I have a lot of expertise in helping parents develop strategies to manage kids of all ages with behavioral issues, and especially teenagers who are struggling. Together we can figure out some ways that you can look after yourself and your kids during this incredibly stressful time, and hopefully set up some strategies that will last beyond the COVID period.  

Check out my website www.creeksidetherapy.ca and make an appointment.  My services are covered by many workplace benefit plans.  If you have financial hardship right now, let me know and we can negotiate a price that is affordable.

 

Parent Support for Extreme Teens

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No one assumes that parenting a teenager is going to be easy.  We all approach it with a certain amount of fear and trepidation.  And rightfully so!  Adolescence is a time of change and development as our sweet and sometimes not-so-sweet children emerge from the chrysalis of childhood to search for their identity as young men and women.  Some of them do the identity search independently, some do it quietly, and some do it kicking and screaming the whole way.  In many cases, the person you thought was your child turns into something quite unrecognizable.

We use the term “Extreme Teens” to refer to the kids who have lost their way and are falling behind their peers in the struggle to develop their autonomy, their independence, a solid sense of identity, and real maturity.  Their “symptoms” include substance use, self harm, anxiety, depression, sexual acting out, friend group changes, social media craziness, truancy or school refusal, disrespect, isolating, and more.  Their immature behavior can leave parents wondering on a number of fronts:

  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Am I doing too much for him/her?
  • Am I paying attention enough?
  • Should I let him/her suffer the consequences of poor choices?
  • How can I help her if she won’t talk to me?
  • How do I keep my child safe?
  • How do I hold a limit with him?
  • Why won’t she listen to my advice?
  • Why is he so angry at me?
  • What do I do about substance use?
  • How do I deal with his/her other parent?
  • What happened to my baby????!!

At the Parenting the Extreme Teen we look at teenagers through the lens of something called the Maturity Model.  Using material from Dr. John McKinnon’s book An Unchanged Mind, we help you figure out how to connect with your teen, see your teen accurately,  and set limits effectively.  And let’s be clear — it is not easy.  This bi-weekly support group will allow you to share as much of your struggle as you are comfortable sharing with other parents who are also trying to figure this out.

We will help keep you on top of developing strategies that you can implement.  Some of these strategies will sound very familiar to you, because we often know what to do.  And equally often, we get in our own way when it comes to doing what we know we need to do.  Parenting the Extreme Teen helps you look at yourself, and what gets in the way, because, let’s face it — we are the only person we really have control over anyway.

Parenting the Extreme Teen is a blame-free zone.  We don’t blame your child and we don’t blame you.  We try our best to understand and be compassionate about where the teen is coming from and to accept our own imperfect parenting selves.  Parenting is not something that anyone does perfectly and we don’t expect that.  This is an opportunity to be human and flawed and not judge or be judged, but to just be curious about how to do things differently.

Come and join us!  Go to http://www.creeksidetherapy.ca to Schedule an Appointment to see the dates we meet on.  $20 per session.

And stay tuned because soon we will have more dates for our Workshop Series on Parenting the Extreme Teen.   These are more formalized trainings offered through Tara McGee from Collingwood Psychotherapy and Yoga Centre that complement the Support Group.

 

Why do I have such a big reaction to my teen?

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Teens seem to pull at our heart strings as well as other strings that we wish we didn’t have.  Like the string that makes us scream in frustration, or the one that makes us say nasty things we wish we hadn’t.  When I think of the parents that I have worked with in therapy I am always surprised by how such level-headed people can be pushed to such extremes by the behavior or attitude of their teen.  Why is this?

The answer to that one is long and complicated.  Those who have been blessed with more than one child know that they don’t come in the same packaging and that there is a separate manual for each child.  What they fail to mention in the manual is that each child has the capacity to “trigger” us in unique ways.  This “trigger” is a sub-conscious, and usually painful reminder of something from our own childhood. Some of you had a good childhood, some less good, and some terrible.  But no matter which, all of us survived it to a greater or lesser degree either by suppressing ourselves in order to keep the peace, to not rock the boat, or by kicking and fighting our way to independence.  We can all identify what the rules for survival were in our families, and which of our siblings succeeded and failed at following them.  We can also identify which of our siblings’ strategies helped them grow up, and which siblings still have some work to do.

Now we have brought our own child into the world and they are also choosing strategies to survive their childhood.   Their choices will “trigger” us differentially based on the choices we made as a child.  For  example, if we survived our childhood by pleasing mom and dad, our own little people-pleaser will seem to be a relatively easy child to parent.  Until he or she reaches the teen years and can’t tolerate the people-pleasing any more and breaks loose in a flurry of self-destructive behavior.  Our people-pleasing selves will have great difficulty understanding the source of our child’s pain. We’ll be triggered into “rescue-mode.”  On the other hand, if our child chooses the kicking and fighting route to surviving childhood and achieving independence, it is either going to remind us of the pain of our own teenage kicking and fighting, or it will activate our childhood fear that if you kick and fight you are breaking the family rules.  We will likely be triggered into “control-mode.”

Both “rescue-mode” and “control-mode” are reactionary and firmly lodged in our sub-conscious experience of the survival rules we learned as a child in our own family.  And unfortunately, both reactionary responses will lead us down a parenting path that will not be helpful to our child.  This is why parenting is so difficult, especially in the teen years.  Rescue-mode will lead us to increase our people-pleasing child’s dependence on us and delay them from achieving the autonomy they so passionately desire.  Control-mode will increase the teen’s need to kick and fight for freedom.  And if you have one parent doing control-mode and one doing rescue-mode – yikes!!  Fortunately, there is something you can do!  You can take responsibility for your reaction and mobilize it to find a more effective way to influence your teen.

When you notice your reactions as a parent you can seize this important information to become more conscious.  Your “reaction” can be a signal for you to stop and ask yourself some important questions.  What feeling is causing this reaction?  What is my worry, fear, feeling of guilt, shame, or anger?  Why is my child’s behavior triggering this particular feeling in me?  What information is this giving me about my own internalized “survival rules”?  What is being challenged here?  What does my child really need from me right now?

When we understand and use our “triggers” as information, we are better able to separate our reaction to our child from their behavior, focus the spotlight on us, and manage our own emotional reaction.  This puts us in a much better position to respond rather than react to those strings that our teen is tugging on.  And in turn, we will be better able to influence our teen to make good choices and grow up, rather than just “survive” their childhood to a greater or lesser degree.

Easier said than done?  Interested in more parenting advice and guidance.  Join Liz van Ryn and Tara McGee for Parenting the Extreme Teen starting April 25th, 2019.  Sign up here:

https://app.acuityscheduling.com/schedule.php?owner=16676566

Why do I Have Such a Big Reaction to my Teen?

four men sitting on platform
Photo by kat wilcox on Pexels.com

Teens seem to pull at our heart strings as well as other strings that we wish we didn’t have.  Like the string that makes us scream in frustration, or the one that makes us say nasty things we wish we hadn’t.  When I think of the parents that I have worked with in therapy I am always surprised by how such level-headed people can be pushed to such extremes by the behavior or attitude of their teen.  Why is this?

The answer to that one is long and complicated.  Those who have been blessed with more than one child know that they don’t come in the same packaging and that there is a separate manual for each child.  What they fail to mention in the manual is that each child has the capacity to “trigger” us in unique ways.  This “trigger” is a sub-conscious, and usually painful reminder of something from our own childhood. Some of you had a good childhood, some less good, and some terrible.  But no matter which, all of us survived it to a greater or lesser degree either by suppressing ourselves in order to keep the peace, to not rock the boat, or by kicking and fighting our way to independence.  We can all identify what the rules for survival were in our families, and which of our siblings succeeded and failed at following them.  We can also identify which of our siblings’ strategies helped them grow up, and which siblings still have some work to do.

Now we have brought our own child into the world and they are also choosing strategies to survive their childhood.   Their choices will “trigger” us differentially based on the choices we made as a child.  For  example, if we survived our childhood by pleasing mom and dad, our own little people-pleaser will seem to be a relatively easy child to parent.  Until he or she reaches the teen years and can’t tolerate the people-pleasing any more and breaks loose in a flurry of self-destructive behavior.  Our people-pleasing selves will have great difficulty understanding the source of our child’s pain. We’ll be triggered into “rescue-mode.”  On the other hand, if our child chooses the kicking and fighting route to surviving childhood and achieving independence, it is either going to remind us of the pain of our own teenage kicking and fighting, or it will activate our childhood fear that if you kick and fight you are breaking the family rules.  We will likely be triggered into “control-mode.”

Both “rescue-mode” and “control-mode” are reactionary and firmly lodged in our sub-conscious experience of the survival rules we learned as a child in our own family.  And unfortunately, both reactionary responses will lead us down a parenting path that will not be helpful to our child.  This is why parenting is so difficult, especially in the teen years.  Rescue-mode will lead us to increase our people-pleasing child’s dependence on us and delay them from achieving the autonomy they so passionately desire.  Control-mode will increase the teen’s need to kick and fight for freedom.  And if you have one parent doing control-mode and one doing rescue-mode – yikes!!  Fortunately, there is something you can do!  You can take responsibility for your reaction and mobilize it to find a more effective way to influence your teen.

When you notice your reactions as a parent you can seize this important information to become more conscious.  Your “reaction” can be a signal for you to stop and ask yourself some important questions.  What feeling is causing this reaction?  What is my worry, fear, feeling of guilt, shame, or anger?  Why is my child’s behavior triggering this particular feeling in me?  What information is this giving me about my own internalized “survival rules”?  What is being challenged here?  What does my child really need from me right now?

When we understand and use our “triggers” as information, we are better able to separate our reaction to our child from their behavior, focus the spotlight on us, and manage our own emotions.  This puts us in a much better position to respond rather than react to those strings that our teen is tugging on.  And in turn, we will be better able to influence our teen to make good choices and grow up, rather than just “survive” their childhood to a greater or lesser degree.

Easier said than done?  Join Tara McGee and Liz van Ryn for Parenting the Extreme Teen, a series of workshops and an ongoing Support and Education group for parents.  Our new session starts April 11, 2019.  Check out this link for more information:

https://www.facebook.com/476502466118073_673209876447330

 

How to have an argument with a teenager

Arguing with a teenager can feel like arguing with a lawyer at times.  The factual information is laid out in black and white, the passion and perseverance are truly astonishing, and the dedication to winning the case admirable.  But often there is something about the argument that sparks our anger and we leap to the “no” with too much vigor. Or the teenager does such a good job of presenting their case, that we cave in to the logic and accept defeat, while in the pit of our gut, something feels wrong.  And our gut is usually right — something is missing.

There are two parts to the dance we do when in conflict with a teen — your dance steps and theirs.  Young people who have not fully matured think in black and white terms, don’t take into account long term consequences of decision-making, and often fail to consider the impact of their wants and needs on those around them.  This is a normal part of the maturation process that we, as parents, need to guide them through so that they develop the capacity for abstract thought, a future orientation, the ability to delay gratification, and a social ethic (from An Unchanged Mind, by John McKinnon).  But when teenagers argue from their immature perspective it is super-annoying.  Parents feel manipulated and our responses are often closely tied to our emotional reaction to this annoyance.  Our steps in the dance comes from this emotional reaction. Depending on our personal style of dealing with conflict we may placate, become extremely rigid, avoid, or become super-rational lawyers in return.  Our reaction and the response style is hard-wired in us, and is usually not that helpful. And our teenagers find it super-annoying too!

Most parents would like their child to change and mature.  Unfortunately, when we are stuck in a particularly non-productive dance with our child, the only way to get them to change is for us to change.  We need to de-program our default reaction to requests and figure something different out. In this article I will break down how to approach an argument in a manner that allows for a calculated response rather than an emotional reaction.

Step 1 and 2 belongs to the teenager.  This is what you will eventually train your child to do before asking for something.  Don’t expect them to get this part for awhile. For now, you can expect that their requests will be emotional and wanty/needy.

Teenager — Step 1.  Think about what you want to ask your parent for.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Am I asking for a “want” or a “need”?
  • What problem/need am I trying to solve/meet with this request?
  • Is this really the solution to my problem/need?
  • Are there some alternative solutions to my need?
  • Am I willing to let go if need be, and accept a no?
  • Have I earned this privilege by meeting other obligations within the home?
  • Have I demonstrated I can handle the responsibility?
  • What is the impact of this request on my parent(s)?
  • How will I take into account my parent(s)’ needs in relation to this request?

Teenager — Step 2.  State your request and the justifications for your request.  Let your parent know how you are also taking their needs into account.

Parent — Step 1 .  Do not answer your teenager’s request yet.  Gather more information first as follows.

  • Listen to the request in its entirety
  • Validate their need or want
  • Be curious and ask questions to get more details
  • Help your teenager determine the answers to the questions listed above

Parent — Step 2.  Do not answer your teenager’s request yet!  Take a step back and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does this request align with my values, e.g do I believe that what they want is a good choice for a young person?
  • If I disagree with what my child wants am I okay with letting go, letting them make their own decisions about this, and possibly experience failure?
  • Is this a real safety issue where I need to set firm limits?
  • Does the request align with the (reasonable) limits that we already have in place?
  • Has my child earned this privilege by meeting his/her other obligations?
  • Has my child demonstrated (not just described) that he/she can handle the responsibility associated with the request?
  • Have I let my child know what the impact will be on me and asked them to take me into account too?
  • Am I willing and able to meet the request?
  • Am I giving a “gift” to my child or are there strings attached, and are these appropriate and fair strings?
  • Do I want to meet this request?
  • Is there an alternative to meeting my child’s needs/wants that fits better with what I believe in? (E.g. enrolling in an activity to build self-esteem instead of buying expensive shoes)

And finally, the biggest question of all:  Is my response being driven by fear, guilt, pity, or anger?  If the answer to this one is yes, go through the questions again with that in mind.  Be conscious of how your emotion is driving you.

Parent — Step 3 — Formulate your response to the request and check your gut to make sure you feel okay about it.  If not, go back to Step 2 and figure out what’s not working for you.

Parent — Step 4 — Communicate your decision and the reasons for it and hold your ground!  Help your child process the emotions they feel as follows:

  • Listen to their pain
  • Empathize with how they feel and validate those feelings (I can see how angry you are — it must be really hard for you to hear no)
  • Avoid justifying your decision.  You do not have to justify it provided it has integrity and is based on your values.
  • Help the teen develop another solution to their problem once they have calmed down.

Parent — Step 5 — After it is all over, maybe after a few days, have a more casual, discussion about your child’s perceived wants and needs.  Aim for a conversational style that might influence how they make choices in future. Remember to listen more than talk. Help them learn to ask themselves the questions above before asking for something next time.

But wait— you’ve missed a step!!

You probably think that I am forgetting the teenager’s emotional outburst step.  What happens when they break down and have a full-fledged tantrum in response to your “no”?  What happens when they stalk you throughout the house when you are trying to de-escalate the situation by leaving the room.  Yelling, screaming, and violence or threats of violence or self-harm are all common reactions when a parent decides that they are finally going to stick to their limit.  Unfortunately you are going to have to live through some of this and HOLD YOUR GROUND. When we have been doing a particular non-productive dance for awhile we set an expectation in the child’s mind — my parent will give in if I become violent, threaten to kill myself, beg, cry, etc.  And we have inadvertently trained the teen to persist until they wear us down. This pattern is difficult to shift and we really have to pay attention and resist the pull to respond from our emotions (fear, guilt, pity, anger). When you hold your ground, there will be more intensity for awhile, but then eventually each subsequent emotional response will be reduced in intensity as the teen discovers that it does not work.

Will your child actually harm themselves?  Possibly yes and hopefully no.  The damage that is being done by allowing things to carry on as is will grow every time we avoid the tantrum by giving in.  Eventually, the parent has to bite the bullet, set a limit, and withstand the outburst. No point in prolonging the agony.  It is critical to your child’s development to move forward.

Future blog posts will focus on how to avoid parenting from fear, guilt, pity or anger.

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