How can families help their grown children in trouble. In this step we will discuss creating an action plan.
To review, here are the steps you need to follow in order to best help your adult-child in trouble. You need to be able to understand your child's condition and begin a process of taking responsibility for your part. You need to help your child find a terrific mentor/therapist who is not part of the family and can engage the child in a process of self-discovery. You need to become involved in the treatment as a family. The purpose of this is not to fix your child, but to learn how to listen to your son or daughter and to recognize what you can do is heal and change yourself. Change happens in a step-by-step process. In phase one, we don't know we have a problem. In phase two, we acknowledge we have a problem and start rehearsing change. In phase 3, we make the uncomfortable changes. In phase 4, we have integrated new habits of being.
With thus understanding, how can families move through these stages of change? How can we create an action-plan to help the adult-child?
Usually an adult-child comes into therapy in phase one. At least on a conscious level, they are unwilling to admit to having a problem. They only come into the therapy room because they have no choice. Mom, Dad, school, or the law has forced them to.
In order for the child to move into the contemplation phase, two things need to happen. The mentor/therapist has to establish a bond with the youngster where the young person recognizes that the mentor is not there to punish or judge. Second, the therapist needs to help the parents stop controlling and criticizing. This creates the space for the youngster to begin to admit they have a problem, and begin to think about change.
Once the adult-child becomes ready in this way, the family can now come up with an action plan.
There are several keys to creating an action plan that will work with your grown-up son or daughter.
The plan needs to be collaborative. This is not a plan that the parents create.It needs to be created by the family together. This child is now old enough to run her own life, and should be given the responsibility to participate in creating the plan. As everyone gets an equal vote, the parents are there to make sure that the plan meets their needs and is realistic. The mentor/therapist is there to make sure that all voices are heard and considered.
The plan needs to be consensual. Everyone must agree on the plan.If the parents dictate the plan, the child will be sure to resist and rebel. In all likelihood the child will have a difficult time following through. But if the kid helps to create the plan and signs on to the plan willingly, there is a greater chance that the child will remain engaged in the process. Even if the kid fails, Work will continue with the family collaborating on helping move through the ups and downs of the action phase.
The plan must involve change for everyone and no blame for anyone. All family members must recognize that the best thing they can do to help the kid is to work on themselves. All of us have room for improvement, and the systems that work best are the ones that are both stable and can change. If the parents work on themselves, this will model what change looks like for the child. When the child experiences the change of the parents this will motivate them to change themselves.
The plan must have realistic goals. It has to be something that can be accomplished. In order for this to work it needs to be based on the principle of 'structure and support.' Structures are the things the expectations set in the plan. For example, Paul will not take drugs. Support means providing the help that Paul needs to be able to do this. This might mean giving him money for therapy, the parents going to Al-Anon, and doing random drug testing. It is unfair to set a goal that the child cannot succeed at and then punish him for this. Our goal is to maximize the likelihood of success.
Parents need to determine boundaries. Parents need to set limits not because they think this will get their child to acquiesce, but as a way of taking care of themselves. The parent needs to say something like, "I can't have you driving the car when you are high because it makes me too anxious."
The plan must include realistic consequences. Consequences for not following through on the plan have to be developed with the inclusion of the young adult. The parents should only agree to consequences they are prepared to follow through on. Don't threaten to throw your kid on the street if you know you won't do that. This is part of the promise made by everyone in agreeing on the plan.
In the next article in this series I will discuss the need for compassion in the process.
Glenn Berger, PhD,is a psychotherapist with 15 years experience in private practice. His invention, "Shrinky" gives you virtually what any good psychotherapist offers:
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Advice- Ask Shrinky any questions about the issues of life.
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