We have an out-of-control 14-year-old girl – avoiding school, disappearing at night, smoking, lying, with some big anxiety and depression issues too. We are doing everything we can to try and help get her back on ‘the right track’ – counselling, medication, love. My question is about our three younger children – 12, 8 and 5. How can I minimise the impact of her behaviour on them? My worry is that she is gradually destroying the relationship between us all. I get upset, short-tempered, teary … and I don’t want this to impact badly on the other kids.
It sounds as though your family is going through a rough patch at the moment, but also that as a parent despite this being a hard time you are doing a great job of staying on top of it as best you can and enlisting help from others. You should be congratulated for making such a great effort.
It is true that your 14-year-old’s behavior will be impacting your younger children – however you won’t really know what sort of an impact unless you have a conversation with them. This would be my first recommendation – sit down with your younger children (either all together or separately – whichever you think is best for your family) and discuss their concerns (which may be different to your own). Try to step back and allow them to take the lead while you listen to what they have to say about what is worrying or troubling them about the situation. The next step is then to see if they have any ideas on what would help them with these worries. It may be something simple that you haven’t thought of (I once had a young patient in a similar circumstance who just wanted her mum to read her a story before bed because that calmed her down if other things in the family were a bit tumultuous). If the solution isn’t that easy then the next step is to reassure your younger children as much as possible that you are getting assistance for your 14-year-old and that her problems will be addressed, although it may take time. It is also important for your younger children to know that they can come to you if they’re feeling overwhelmed by the situation at any point.
The final suggestion I have is that many Clinical Psychologists are experienced in Family Therapy, and it may be helpful to have a meeting with a family therapist. This is different to the individual therapy your 14-year-old will be receiving as you would attend as a family and be able to discuss family concerns and thus family solutions to these problems. Family Therapy is often more short-term than individual therapy, is usually goal-focused and families often find this route very helpful in addressing the dilemmas of all family members.
Stefanie Schwartz, Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist, www.groupworx.com.au
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