My first reaction was amazement: why would you indulge in something that is detrimental to you when you are already feeling bad? However, the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Many of us do something to make us feel differently. The folks with poor coping skills do all sorts of strange things. My little teenagers threaten suicide, cut themselves, run away, go ballistic on social media, to name just a few. Adults with questionable problem solving skills may indulge/overindulge in the drug of their choice (obviously alcohol being the king of the hill), gulp a prescribed tranquilizer (Xanax, etc), respond with inappropriate anger, and on and on. Although a little sad, they are all fairly common responses to unwanted emotional stressors. Is there a way to alter our responses when times are bad? Sometimes not, but often times, yes.
Let’s work with Karrie The Cutter (fake name of course). At 15, she came in at the “request” of her mother. Medium student, recently quit the school band after a year, Dad’s a irresponsible divorced distant guy with a new wife who didn’t care for Karrie much. She has a younger brother and sister and lives with her Mom who works for a medium-poor wage. K was an over reactor to stresses. Unprepared for a test, boyfriend issues, criticism from her tense Mom were a few of the issues. She had recently been in inpatient treatment for a cutting incident. When I asked her what was the most important thing she learned from her very expensive inpatient treatment, she said, “Well....... that I never want to go back there! There were some really messed up kids there. And other than groups meeting all the time, there wasn’t anything to do.” In other words, she didn’t learn a damn thing while she was there about self soothing, problem solving, or alternatives to cutting.
This was not a “trick” in therapy, but rather logical: I wanted to get a bird’s eye view of home. As I’m not going home with my clients, I asked her for a pictorial essay. I gave her some specific instructions: pictures of each one of their 11 dogs (*sigh*), a shot of each family member (preferably posed), her mom doing something like cooking, and an interesting shot of their home. I gave her a couple of photographic tips like shooting little people or animals on their eye level in order to increase the challenge (and quality of the photos). One effect of such an assignment is that it tells someone that what they do or say is important. My enthusiastic reception (and critique) of her work added to the positive nature of the assignment.
Second assignment was to have her write down every issue she noticed and how she handled it. An example could be, “your mom comes home from work in a bad mood. She tells you she’s tired of picking up all your stuff and putting it away. Basically, it feels like she’s yelling at you for no reason. You go to your room, plug in your earbuds and cry. That is one example. You can also note some stuff that you have done that makes you feel better like going outside and playing with the dogs or writing in your diary. Give me a sentence about the problem and what you did. Do it every day there’s an issue and let’s review it.” The subsequent challenge will be mutual: I need to come up with a few do-able ideas for her to try, and sell her on the idea. She will need to make herself do something different when she’s in a crisis.
When I asked Karrie how her Mom handles problems, her answer was to the point: “she yells a lot”. I certainly don’t want to be overly critical of an overworked single parent, but why do so many parents indulge in certain behaviors that they do not want their kids to do? I have a bunch of teens who are experimenting with vapes (e-cigarettes). Every single one of them has a smoking parent. Same with anger issues. So, do we need to be perfect in order to properly teach our kids? Man, I sure hope not. However, if we want our kids to try to improve at anything, we should lead the way with showing we are also capable of change. Or at least trying to change.
For a few more ideas of helping your child, I refer you an essay or two. If doesn’t come up as a link, copy and paste it in your browser.
Having a parent working to improve themselves immensely increases the likelihood of a kid improving their own life .