Can A Crisis Make Our Family Better?


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 141 · Duration: 00:13:57

Can A Crisis Make Our Family Better?

What do you do when your very difficult to manage, video addicted son, is now home from school possibly for the rest of the year?

Can A Crisis Make Our Family Better?Gillian of Los Angeles writes:

Our 11 year old son has been challenging for a long time and now with him and his older sister at home, due to the school closing, he’s driving us all crazy. He’s angry almost all the time and the only thing that settles him are video games, which he craves. If we set limits on games, he’s hostile till he gets them again. When we require him to get off the games, his attitude is worse than before. He’s been diagnosed with ADHD but I think there must be other issues. He was adopted and has been a handful since he was born. His school has been flexible and found teachers that could work with him. Some teachers were really strict and that just set him off. Now that we’re together 24-7 he objects to everything we plan: movies, exercise outings, time without electronics. He’s sapping all our energy. Any ideas would be welcome.

Thanks for your question Gillian. It’s an important one. Yes, the new COVID-19 reality is creating a challenge to all families with children and teenagers. Teens want to be with their friends and where there are “shelter in place” rules, they need to stay home and meet with friends using social media and video platforms. Siblings used to get a break from each other during school. In the summer, scheduled out of the home activities gave a break and now, families have lots of time together.

Couples who have strains in their relationship, now with the extra stress of finances, managing kids, and the need to bring out their best, might instead go to their negative default positions and act out. I don’t have data to support it, but I’m hearing lots of anecdotal information about increases in domestic violence, depression, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. So this is a time to take our situations very seriously and my hope is that we can bring a healthy mindset, if not an inspired mindset, to our fight against this pandemic.

Thinking Like A Teacher

Gillian, I don’t know what you’ve tried to do in the past, and I don’t know what your son’s other interests might be. But here are a few ideas that can help and perhaps help a lot of other families out there as well.

You, like a lot of parents out there have just become teachers and maybe the hardest part of the job, and the most important skill a teacher has, is classroom management. Teachers who have consistently well managed classrooms do certain things. They connect with each kid and meet them at their level. Research shows that when teachers spend as little as one minute connecting with a problem student, asking about what they do and are interested in, student cooperation and performance improves dramatically.

Research shows that when teachers spend as little as one minute connecting with a problem student, asking about what they do and are interested in, student cooperation and performance improves dramatically.Click To Tweet

It’s very common in families like yours with one challenging child and another sibling, or more, that aren’t as challenging, that the challenging child develops a negative identity in the family. This dynamic often includes them using power tactics to get what they want; fighting, arguing, threatening rather than listening to and following the plan that adults lay out and finding out in the end that when they do, they get much of what they wanted and everyone is happy with the result.
So let’s think of how to use this challenging moment, to change the paradigm and help your 11-year-old be seen as an important and valued member of the family.

A Paradigm Shift

First and most importantly, is change the tone in the house. Yes, everyone is on edge, parents are expecting a fight, your challenging son is expecting a fight, his older sister is once again wondering how to avoid the usual family struggle and keep herself happy. So step one is for parents to set a tone of calm, warmth, acceptance, and positivity. When we communicate with a stressed or angry or demanding tone, it activates your children and teenagers’ nervous systems and once activated, no learning takes place, just fight, flight, or freeze reactions. Once there is a pattern of angry communication, it’s hard to change it. But it's critical that it does.

So for instance, when your son asks, “When can I play my video games?," you say, “That’s a great question. I know you are going to want some time to play your games, so let’s make our schedule together so we know when we’re doing all the things we need to do and all the things we want to do.”

Then you might go on to talk about how different things are and why, and then talk about how we can make being together fun and interesting. Now Gillian, let’s say your son get’s negative and talks negatively saying, “Nothing around here is ever interesting. I’m the only one who likes to play games and the rest of you all like watching movies I hate." That would be a time to warmly respond with, “That’s a good point and I can see where it makes you feel different from everyone. But millions of people; kids, teens, and adults like to play games. You’re just the only one in our house who’s good at it. Since we have more time together, I’d like you to teach us about games and how to play them, at least at a beginning level. Would you do that?”

And then you could go on with, “Let’s see, we have school/work, exercise and physical recreation, cooking, cleaning, and then lots of activities we can do, and I know your favorite one will be gaming on your computer. Dad and I have done all the cooking for the family, now would be a good time for you and your sister to help us out and be more a part of deciding what to make and making it together. I’d enjoy making dinner a lot more if you and I did it together. That way it would be more fun and less lonely.”

Make Everyone Feel Valued

See what I’m getting at here Gillian? Let’s change your thinking away from “How am I going to get him to do his work and limit his video gaming time, and manage his anger?,” and lets let him know he matters, that he’s a valued member of the family and it’s okay for him to be who he is, and share who he is with us.

Now let’s say he stays true to his negative angry self. Well, the gaming computer doesn’t come out, not as punishment and not as a bribe. Your message to your son should be honest and transparent. You could simply explain that gaming can have a negative impact in kids’ moods, particularly if they aren’t good at managing their moods. As soon as you have a positive version of your son back, a son you love and want to enjoy, and we can work together, then of course, video gaming will be part of that. It all depends on how long the negative cycle has been going on before he shifts out to join you in fun and positive connection.

So parents and therapists and folks who work with kids and parents, negative cycles virtually always include a negative tone that activates everyone’s nervous system. With an activated nervous system kids don’t learn or grow, they don’t share or listen, or cooperate and comply. They react with fight, flight, or freeze and parents are human too and they easily react to their overactive nervous systems and respond with a tone that isn’t warm and disarming. Their tone can be angry, anxious, or demanding, none of which are warm safe tones and if kids are going to change out of old negative patterns and bring their best, a warm, safe tone is the critical first step.

If kids are going to change out of old negative patterns and bring their best, a warm, safe tone is the critical first step.Click To Tweet

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to you Gillian for sharing your situation with us. It is courageous to be vulnerable and when you share your personal challenges, even though we protect your identity, it still takes courage.

During this very challenging time for our respective countries, and in our communities and families, many folks will experience feelings and situations that are overwhelming and I want to encourage you all to reach out to your mental health community. Many individual therapists and community mental health centers are providing services by phone and video platforms. If you’d like a consultation with me, give me a call or email and we can set up a meeting in a Zoom meeting room.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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