Raising kids through challenging behaviors can be tough. Kids with addiction, mental health concerns, or problematic behaviors often have underlying struggles at the root of their problems. Troubling or disruptive behaviors can mask trauma, depression, anxiety, and other issues. When kids behave in ways that deviate so much from our expectations, we might start to view them one-sided, neglecting the good things they are doing while dealing with these “big” behaviors.
Thinking Outside of the Box
When kids get into all kinds of problems due to behaviors and addiction, we can get “tunnel vision.” We might struggle to see beyond getting these behaviors to decrease in occurrence or severity. If we could just “get our kids to behave properly,” we would get our kids back from the brink of destruction and bring some normalcy to our lives.
“If only” desires can cause us to lose perspective on the bigger picture. We lose sight of our kids, creating conditional expectations built on diminishing and reducing problem behaviors. However, if we can look at the bigger picture of our child’s entire personae, we can see cracks of hopeful light seeping through the dark, seemingly endless tunnels of the present situation.
Thinking outside the box can help us in guiding our kids on the right path. We need to look at our child’s lives and personalities objectively, looking for the small things our kids are doing right.
Understanding When Things Go Right
While amid chaotic situations at home or raising kids with problematic issues, we might feel overwhelmed and burnout. These feelings can warp our perspective. When asked the question by clinicians and therapists, “How often are these behavioral episodes occurring?” we might respond, “All the time!” However, is this accurate, or this how we feel? Intense behavioral episodes might take up so much of our energy and drain us that they do feel like they occur all the time. We can get outside of the box and look for when things are going right.
We can start to understand when things are going well by asking some of the following questions and considering the context:
- When is there peace in our homes? During mealtimes? At night when everyone is winding down or asleep?
- When are our kids behaving well? When do they seem focused and happy? What are they doing during those times?
- When are things quiet? When do we have a chance to catch our breath?
- What are the chores that our kids are doing that we aren’t telling them to do? What don’t they need a reminder to do, even if it’s taking a shower, brushing their teeth, bringing plates to the sink, etc.?
- When attending appointments or therapy, are our kids behaving during these sessions?
By examining the spaces between episodes of problematic behaviors, we can get a more realistic sense of our lives. We have to look at the times where it seems like nothing is happening and notice the subtleties that occur in the brief moments of calm. Once we see more and more when things are going right, we can focus on those moments.
Reinforcing the Right Things
Parents might feel so burnout from extreme behaviors that they fail to notice the little things going right. They might also dismiss the little things, thinking, “what does this matter when we have so many bigger issues looming overhead?” However, the watered plant is the one that grows, and the “little” behaviors our kids do right can grow when we take notice with praise or other reinforcement.
Praising the little things with consistency can go a long way to reinforcing the behaviors we hope to see. When kids are depressed and barely getting out of bed, yet they get up to get a glass of water, that “small” act makes a significant statement on a child’s mental state. A small action like this shows that a depressed child does care about themselves enough to attend to a primary care need. Simple praise can help, such as, “I’m glad to see you making a healthy choice.”
Just One Right Thing Per Day
We might wish that we could wave a magic wand and alleviate our child’s issues when they are struggling. However, we might need to manage our expectations and let our kids heal one day at a time. By lowering expectations to hone in on noticing when our kids do one right thing per day, we can prime ourselves to seeing more and more of the little things they do well. Once we notice the tunnel cracks allowing the light to shine in, we can see more and more light seeping through. As the cracks widened and break apart, the tunnel vision we once had dissipates, and we notice the bigger picture, seeing things for what they are and not as we believe them to be.
When kids are engaging in problematic behaviors, we might only notice when things are going wrong. We might even feel that our lives are consumed with chaos, barely catching our breaths, as we leap from one crisis to the next. We might need to think outside the box and look at the bigger picture to help our kids. Looking for the small things, the behaviors that seem so mundane, they often slip by without our attention. When we notice and praise the little things our kids are doing right, we can reinforce the positive behaviors that we most want to see. Our kids are unlikely to engage in problematic behaviors all day long, though we might feel this way. Look for those times when things are going right and notice the things that occur. As you seek these moments, you find them happening more and more, making the problems seem less significant in comparison. Hope is possible, one small act at a time. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center of Estes Park, Colorado, is here for kids and parents. Call (303) 443-3343.