6 Helpful Tips for the Parents of Troubled Teens


Editor’s note: In this busy world with all its pressures it is easy to lose sight of how we interact with our teens. Sadly, sitting still and focusing on what they have to say, just for the sake of being with them, can seem like one more stressor. 

This article was contributed by Kate Maleski, LCSW and EWN psychotherapist. Here Kate provides some practical, do-able tips for any parent who wants to be closer to their teen. 


Sometimes you have tried in EVERY possible way to help your adolescent and you still see them and your relationship suffering. You feel mentally, emotionally, physically exhausted and don’t know where to turn. Here are a few steps you can try to increase communication and your adolescent’s self-esteem. When nothing seems to be working…..

1. Be involved. This means being present. Turn off your phone, close your book, be close to them with no distractions and be with them. When you give half of yourself then you are telling your adolescent that they are only worthy of half of you. Let them talk. Don’t just be involved when it’s convenient for you.

2. Listen more than talk. If you don’t listen to your adolescent you will never understand them. Ask open-ended questions to help allow for more communication. “I would feel terrible if that happened to me. Is that how you felt?” Try not to react or judge. Nod as they talk to show that you hear what they are saying. Hearing is different than agreeing.

3. Be Realistic. If your adolescent comes to you with a problem be realistic. Encourage them with positive yet realistic words of encouragement. Don’t try to turn them or the situation into something other than what they are presenting to you.

4. Use a sense of humor. Nothing in life is that bad that you can’t make it better with a laugh. Being an adolescent isn’t easy. There are a lot of moments when crying or yelling seems to be the only possible solution. Help them to learn to laugh at life. There is nothing better than a good laugh to make you feel better.

5. Love. Say it. Show it. Love and accept your adolescent whoever they are. Recognize their strengths and weaknesses. Encourage them to pursue their talents and enjoy success on their terms rather than yours. Don’t point out faults. They already know them. This world is challenging and they need to hear, feel, and sense unconditional LOVE from you.

6. NEVER give up! Repeat steps 1 through 5 as many times as needed. Your teen may not be convinced at first. It can take a while for your genuine focus to get through. Then they will know that you are there for them and won’t judge.

I also encourage the adolescent girl in your life to join my group this fall: Girls In Charge. It is designed to help teenaged girls feel empowered and learn to feel good about “ME”!

Photo courtesy of Steven Shorrok, highersights, via Flickr

A Bouquet of Posts for Mother’s Day

Whether you gave birth to your children, adopted or married into them, just became a mom an hour ago or have great-grandchildren, whether you are a mommy to animals instead of humans– even if you are a single dad who operates as an all around parent extraordinaire, on this day and everyday, celebrate the great adventure of Motherhood.

Here is a bouquet of Mom articles from this blog and others to help the festivities along. Enjoy!

A Happy Mothers’ Day to All

A Bittersweet Mothers’ Day

Postcard to My Mom: Wish You Were Here

Whatever happens, please have a Happy Mothers’ Day!

The Awesome Role Models in My Mother’s Sewing Circle

Bad Mommy! Baby Blues and Post-Partum Depression

What I Didn’t Know ABout Mothers’ Day

A Caregiver’s Life: Like Water from a Stone

A few weeks ago I ran into a friend at the barn where I keep Annie, my mare. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so we caught up. I told her about my slow, but good, recovery from  illness and she told me about caring for her ninety-three year old mother who lives in a nursing home. I said I hoped she, my friend, was taking care of herself as well and she responded that all her friends tell her that but she doesn’t see how that’s possible in some situations.

Even when my friend is dead tired, she works outside the home, still visits her mother, plays cards or bingo with her, makes sure she has what she needs, drives her to appointments. My friend says, the interesting thing is, she IS dead tired after work but when she sits with her mom she doesn’t feel tired. Afterwards, she’s tired again, but there, in that moment, she’s fine. NOT caring for her mother would be more stressful. In visiting her she does what she feels she needs to do for them both and from some unknown place, the energy appears.


A Divorced Parent’s Job Description

Editor’s note: Before I ever met her I was a fan of Dr. Delisle, our guest blogger today. A while ago she sent out a newsletter that included a list of points children wanted their divorced parents to know. It rang so true I kept it on my desk for months and shared it with many of the divorced parents I worked with. When I had the opportunity to meet Dr Delisle I thanked her for the list and asked if she would allow me to republish it here. She graciously agreed. Here is Dr Delisle’s article in it’s entirety. 

Most children prefer to have their parents together, but when parents end their relationship through divorce or separation children must learn how to adjust to growing up between two homes. Parents who make the well-being of their children their first priority pay attention to their children’s needs. One of the children who helped to create this list of do’s and don’ts thought it should be titled “A Parent’s Job Description Following Divorce (If they love their kids).”

• They want both of their parents to be happy. This means that parents must move on and let go of hostility.

• They want their parents to get along with one another.

• They want parents to really listen to them and consider their point of view and preferences.

• They do not want to be exposed to their parents’ arguments, disputes or legal actions.

• They don’t want to be pressured to take sides.

• They don’t want to carry messages between parents or act as spies or peacemakers.

• They want to have the best possible relationship with both parents without interference.

• When spending time with one parent, they want to be able to talk to the other parent by phone, e-mail, text or skype.

• They want their parents to assume the best about one another and act in good faith.

• They want individual time with a parent without a new mate.

• They want to be treated as children and not have to take care of a parent emotionally.

• They do not want either parent to say negative things about one another.

• They want parents to be happy for them when they spend time with the other parent and not feel they are hurting the “away” parent.

• They do not want to be “grilled” about their time with the other parent.

• They want each parent to spend time with them and encourage and praise them.

• They want their parents to be able to attend the same events without tension.

• They want to be able to love both their parents freely.

Dr. Delisle is a seasoned mental health professional who has been in private practice since 1991 in WNY and San Diego. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a busy practice where she specializes in co-parenting counseling, couples and individual therapy. She will be offering a psycho-educational program “Cooperative Parenting” beginning in March 2013. She has graduated thousands of parents from her San Diego course and is eager for parents in our area to learn better ways to cooperate and communicate for the sake of their children during and after divorce.

You may contact Dr Delisle at  716-866-8228.

5 Tips If You Love Someone Who Has a Mental Illness

The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in every four adults – approximately 57.7 million Americans – experience a mental health disorder in a given year. One in four, and that’s just the US! And for every person in the world diagnosed with a mental disorder there is at least one, probably more, trying to help, cope and support that person any way they know how.

Mental illness is often a family issue. Parents, siblings, spouses and extended family provide housing, care and support, emotional and financial, sometimes to the point of  becoming proverbial case managers. It’s hard enough when the chronic illness is something everyone recognizes, like diabetes. It’s a whole other thing when the disease is a mental illness which is ripe for misunderstanding, misinformation and stigma.

By helping yourself you will help your loved one better. Care givers often have a hard time with this concept. Here are a few tips:

1) Be informed.  Go to the library or do a Google search to learn more about whatever diagnosis your loved one has. Be judicious, however. Go to reliable websites like Psych Central, the Mayo Clinic, National Institutes of Mental Health or WebMD. Remember that mental illness falls along a continuum of severity. One person’s depression, bipolar or borderline personality disorder may be quite different from another’s.

2) Join supportive organizations. Before you reject the idea of support groups because you are “not a joiner” or you “can’t relate to those people” go to at least two meetings. I’d bet my favorite pair of shoes that you will be surprised who is there and what you get from them. Mental illness and addictions touch people everywhere from all walks of life.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness: NAMI, provides thousands of families with much needed support. NAMI’s mission statement says: From its inception in 1979, NAMI has been dedicated to improving the lives of individuals and families affected by mental illness. They have a terrific website and local meetings.

Al-Anon also has a great tradition of fellowship and comfort. Al-Anon and Alateen are a fellowship of relatives and friends of alcoholics who share their experience, strength, and hope in order to solve their common problems. There are meetings everywhere, at all times of the day and night, all around the world.

3) Keep healthy boundaries. Boundaries are hard to maintain when you love someone with a mental illness, but it is crucial. Take time out for yourself. Nurture yourself by exercising, keeping involved in activities that bring you pleasure, getting respite and taking a trip. Such actions are not self-indulgent; they are your prescription for good health and resiliency like food, water and air.

4) Do not work harder than your loved one. It is their job to do what they can to get well. You cannot make them well. You cannot do their therapy homework. You cannot force them to go to sessions, groups or meetings. As much as you wish you could, you cannot take their medication for them.

Two good books to help you let go, even as you maintain a relationship with the person with mental illness, are Co-dependent No More by Melody Beattie and Stop Walking On Eggshells by Mason and Kreger.  It doesn’t matter whether or not your mentally ill loved is an addict or a borderline personality disorder. The insight and advice in these books is reassuring and practical and transcends diagnosis.

5) Find a therapist for yourself. Caregivers often get depressed themselves and could use a professional’s eyes and ears to help them gain perspective again. Please do not wait until you are down for the count before you give yourself this valuable gift.

Please share any other tips you have found helpful below in the comments.

Photo courtesy of Theoro via Flickr

What Makes a Family Functional vs Dysfunctional?


The other day I was responding to someone who was dreading the holidays with her ‘dysfunctional family’ (her words). It got me thinking about that word, dysfunctional, and how it implies that there is an opposite, functional, family somewhere. What does that look like? Is it a Perfect Family? Some Stepford-like pod of people who never fight, are always neat and smiling? Yeesh! That sounds horrible. In fact it sounds downright dysfunctional!

So what is a functional family? How do we know if we have one? How would you define a functional family?

I don’t have all the answers. Family dynamics and treatment are complex and a whole field of study of psychology all by itself. These impressions come as much from my experience as from education and training. No family is perfect, even the functioning ones. My family of origin was what I’d call dysfunctionally functional. From them I learned as much what not to do in creating my own family as the opposite, what to emulate as I rear my kids and forge my marriage. In my work with couples and counseling parents I’ve also seen what works and what doesn’t.

So here’s my personal brain dump of qualities that make up a family that functions. It’s unscientific, but it’s as good a place to start the discussion as any:

R-E-S-P-E-C-T  Respect is the Holy Grail of functional families. All people in the family, brothers to sisters, mothers to fathers, parents to kids must be respectful as consistently as possible. Being considerate of each other is the tie that binds, even more than love. I think too much emphasis is put on love in general. I’ve heard of many atrocities done within families in the name of love but never in the name of respect. Just about all the things on the list come out of respect first.

An Emotionally Safe Environment. All members of the family can state their opinions, thoughts, wants, dreams, desires and feelings without fear of being slammed, shamed, belittled or dismissed.

A Resilient Foundation. When relationships between and amongst people in a family are healthy they can withstand stress, even trauma, and, if not bounce back, at least recover. Resilience starts with encouraging sound health, eating and sleeping well, and physical activity.

Allow privacy. Privacy of space, of body and of thought. Knock and ask permission to enter before going through a closed door. All family members are sensitive regarding personal space and aren’t insulted if someone needs a wide berth.

Accountable. Being accountable is not the same as planting a homing device on your kid or abusing the cell phone to track her whereabouts 24/7. That’s not much better than stalking. No, being accountable is (again with the respect thing) respectfully and reasonably informing people in the family where you are and what you are doing so they can grow trust and not worry.

Apologize. It’s sad when people hold out for an apology on a point of pride, never acknowledging their part in a dispute. How many times have you heard of rifts in families that last for years because someone feels they are ‘owed an apology’?

A functional family has conflict. It’s very cool when we can have an argument and get to the other side of it still friendly and satisfied with the outcome. But let’s face it, that’s not always the case. Sometimes we say things that we regret. If we can feel and show remorse for our part, quickly apologize, ask for and receive forgiveness, no harm is done. You may even become closer for it.

Allow reasonable expression of emotions. When I was growing up I wasn’t allowed to be angry at my parents. I was determined to not do that to my kids. It hasn’t been easy. The main thing for me was to teach them to state their anger in a managed manner and to teach myself not to fly off the handle when they did. I had to learn that their telling me they weren’t happy with something I did or said could be done with respect. And, very importantly, vice versa.

Gentle on teasing and sarcasm. Teasing can be OK as long as the teased is in on the joke. Same with sarcasm. A functional family won’t use either as a poorly masked put down.


12 Tips for When Adult Children Come Back Home

They are called boomerang kids. Just when we are beginning to enjoy the empty nest instead of dreading the silence, there is a knock at the door. Many factors contribute to the reasons why adult kids come back to their parental homestead after being away for a while. There are just as many reasons why parents say, “Of course you can stay with us while you get back on your feet!” The trouble is your kids can’t go back home and assume it is going to be the same as when they were 14 or even 18. They need something different from you and it isn’t free room and board.
The situation can be uncomfortable for all parties, the kids and the parents. Sue Atkins, parenting expert and author of “Raising Happy Children for Dummies” helps give parents guidance. She wrote this terrific article for Fab After Fifty, a website I discovered on Twitter and well worth a look. Anyway, Sue Atkins writes:
There’s a new word out on the street called the “boomerang kids” – children who return to their parents’ home in adulthood and remain there into their 20s or even 30s !!!

According to a leading charity Parentline Plus they are putting enormous strain on family relations.
Student debt, the housing shortage and a general lengthening of adolescence (itself a result of growing life expectancy), are all contributing to the well-documented phenomenon of boomerang kids.

Young adults still living with their parents are frequently said to be suffering from the “failure to launch” syndrome but now with the credit crunch really taking hold of family life throughout the world, young adults are returning home as they can’t afford to buy or rent their own home.
Here are Sue’s tips for parents:
  1. Remember It’s your house – and your rules
  2. Insist that your kids make a financial contribution – as this teaches them to respect you, as well as themselves and puts the relationship on a much better footing so resentment doesn’t build up.
  3. Draw up an agreement on chores around the house and the basic house rules, then stick to them
  4. Don’t wait upon them hand and foot! Just ask yourself what are they learning if you do?
  5. Don’t treat them like teenagers and don’t try to control them
  6. Accept that you have to go through a transition in what to except in behavior with adult children.
  7. Ensure that both of you as parents are on the same side. If your partner expects a woman to do all the chores, the adult child will too, as you are still being a role model to your kids no matter how old they are.
  8. If their behavior upsets you, speak to them – work out compromises, solutions and ways forward. Don’t let resentment, anger and arguments build up
  9. Insist that they tell you if they are not coming home at night and explain why you need to know. (Peace of mind, security so you can lock the door etc). Asking for accountability is reasonable.
  10. Be prepared to say: “I love you, but not your behavior” just as you did when they were younger kids
  11. Remind them that this is your house. If they don’t like your rules, they must leave
  12. Set boundaries – be firm, fair, consistent and respectful and of course, helpful and look at ways to move this situation forward long term.

AND another article on the same topic with similar ideas but from another angle which you may find helpful:

Rules For When the Chicks Returns to the Nest

Let us know what you think, what your situation is and how you are making it work, or if you still could use some help. 

What to Do if Your Teen is Cutting

Depressed girl

Editor’s Note: This article was written by Dylan Broggio, LCSW, EWN therapist.

Finding out that someone you love is cutting themselves is very painful, shocking, information to hear. Being armed with information and a game plan can make all the difference in getting your loved one help.

What is cutting? Cutting is when someone purposefully injures themselves, but is not trying to committing suicide. Essentially, cutting is a way to deal with pain. Teens and young adults report they cut in order to cope with or relieve emotional pain, or to “feel something” when all they feel is numb. Marks or cuts are typically kept well hidden so that they can continue this way of coping with their emotions.

14% of teens report engaging in self injurious behavior

64% of those teens are girls. (Ross and Heath, 2002)

If you suspect your teen is cutting here are some warning signs:

  • Cut, scratch, or burn marks on arms, legs, abdomen, etc. They can be anywhere on the body, but are usually in places that can be well hidden.
  • Finding sharp objects (knives, razors, safety pins/needles, tacks, broken glass) in your child’s room or belongings.
  • Your child’s friends are cutting themselves is a reason to be concerned.
  • Your teen wears long pants or shirts consistently, even on warm days, as this conceals the evidence.
  • Often insists that she be left alone and private when upset or depressed.

Here is what you can do to help your teen:

  • Take your child to the hospital if injury is bleeding significantly or requires stitches. Otherwise a call or trip to their pediatrician is a good idea.
  • Connect with a mental health professional who is qualified and specifically trained in treating self-injury. If they are not experienced with this, they should have no problem referring you to someone who is.
  • Listen. Listen. And listen some more. As hard as it is, hear what your child has to say.
  • Let your child know you love them, and that you are there for them.
  • Participate in your child’s treatment. Often support from family and family counseling are necessary for a successful recovery.

Parents, it is important NOT to freak out. Despite how you’re feeling, try to keep your cool. Yelling, demanding they stop, will NOT help the situation. They are not doing this to make you mad, or to be spiteful. Your child is in pain and doesn’t know how to deal with it. Take a deep breath, and express to your child that you will do what it takes to get them help.

To learn more about self injurious behavior, visit WebMD’s Mental Health Teens and Teens’ Health. These books may be helpful as well: Cutting–Understanding Self-Mutilation and When Your Child Is Cutting: A Parent’s Guide to Helping Children Overcome Self-Injury.

If you are a teen who is cutting, you may have come across this article looking for help. Here are some tips for you:

1. Overcome your fear and ask for help. The adults in your life who love you want you to feel safe and you aren’t right now. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor; find an adult you can trust and be as truthful as you can.

2. Be picky about your therapist. Find a counselor you feel comfortable with so that you can be honest and frank with them. That way you can begin to identify the triggers that cause you to cut, and begin working toward solutions.

3. Allow your family to support you. They will help you get through this and they will benefit, too.

4. Know that there is treatment out there that can help. You may be skeptical, but give it a try, you might be surprised!

Remember, treatment is very successful. Your teen will find better ways to deal with emotional pain and your family will benefit, too. So teens, speak up, let an adult you can trust know, so they can help you begin to find relief and feel better. And parents, with your love and support, you can be a great instrument in your child’s recovery.

Are you a parent with experience that you can share? Do you have any questions? Comments? Please let us hear from you.

Dylan Broggio, LCSW is a psychotherapist with Explore What’s Next. She specializes in work with adolescents, adults, couples and families. To schedule a free consultation with Dylan call 734.474.6987 or email at dylan@explorewhatsnext.com.

10 Tips for Surviving the Family Holiday When Your Family Is Nuts!


1) Be honest with yourself! Once you’re honest with yourself and can say, “Yes, as much as I love them, my family is messed up,” you can begin to make plans to cope.

2) Ask yourself what you really want. You may be surprised by the answer. You may even decide what you want is to be with your family, warts and all. Once being with them is a choice instead of a gun-to-your-head obligation maybe you can relax.

3) Give yourself permission to have an escape route. If you want to try having dinner with the family make plans to go somewhere you can breathe easier for dessert. In extreme cases it’s a good idea to have a Plan B (i.e. leaving for good or asking the guest to leave your house) just in case.

Is asking a guest to leave rude?

“One has to do something to protect oneself if people are acting in a deregulated or unreasonable way.” ~Dr Smaller

So there you have it. Dr. Smaller and I agree. Take care of yourself first.

4) Don’t rely on alcohol to ease the pain. You do not want to be dis-inhibited when there is even one person in the room who can hit your buttons with an emotional taser.

5) See the humor wherever and whenever you can. It’s OK to roll your eyes as much as you want with your eyes closed.

6) Use the buddy system. Have a confidant close by or on speed dial; a friend, cousin, sister or niece who ‘gets it’. She may need your help to get through as much as you need hers.

7) Resist the urge to confront those who hurt you in the past. Now is not the time no matter how provoked you are. Trust me.

8) Having said that, if you are directly disrespected, or abused in any way, think ‘strategic retreat’.  This is like a time-out for grown ups. You could quietly, firmly say, “Please don’t speak to me that way,” excuse yourself and leave. Take the dog for a walk, go to a cafe for a decaf latte, listen to soothing music on your iPod, feed the ducks in the park and have a good cry. Give yourself 10-30 minutes to find your balance then rejoin the group. If the abuse persists go to Plan B (see above).

9) Breathe. 

10) Take responsibility for your own happiness. This is what the three ghosts taught Scrooge. No one was going to save him, not Marley, not his sister or his sweet fiancee, not even Tiny Tim. He had to do it himself.

Why do so many of us dread the holiday family gathering? Joyce Wadler, writer for the New York Times, tackled this question in Duck! It’s the Holidays. She put together a bunch of stories from the field, an oral history of holiday family horror stories. But before we get to the fun stuff, let’s hear from an expert:

Mark Smaller, who heads the public information committee of the American Psychoanalytic Association, said he believes that holidays can provoke “temporary regressions,” in which parents, adult children and siblings, once reunited, revert to decades-old patterns of behavior.

“The worst I’ve heard is when a parent says to an adult child, ‘See, when you come you spoil the whole holiday,’ ” Dr. Smaller said. “These kinds of remarks actually keep me and people like me in business.”

That’s the worst he’s ever heard? I’d like to meet Dr. Smaller; he sounds like a shrink with a sense of humor, my kind of guy. But I think he’s also trying to be nice. Temporary regression suggests that the people involved were “-gressed” to begin with. Or at least evolved. We can’t always count on that. However, if we’ve worked hard to grow up despite dysfunction in the family, holiday gatherings can be like a bad trip in Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine.

Above all things remember: Take care of yourself!

“Mom, Dad, I’m scared…” 6 Things We Can Do When Our Children Are Bullied.

Ever since the news broke that a local child, Jamey Rodemeyer committed suicide, I have been reading and viewing videos about what happened. It is all a horrible, tragic mess and frankly overwhelming. The stories related to Jamey’s death are endless. Everyone has question upon question about the bullying and harassment he endured, about what the school was doing about it, the difference between cyber-bullying and any other kind, how does this reflect on our culture, as a nation and more.

All I want do with this little article is provide a bit of guidance for parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, teachers, anyone who has a kid they are responsible for in any way.

If you suspect your child may be dealing with bullies, here are a few action tips you can take:

1) One of the most important things we can do as parents is listen seriously to our children. It is awful to be dismissed or made to feel like we are just “imagining things” when the cruelty is all too terrifying.

2) Give each of your children one on one time. This can be hard when we have more than one kid, but you can figure out a way to do it. Find a baby sitter, swap time with grandparents, trusted friends or your spouse.

3) Make that time without agenda. Just “hanging out” in a way that invites conversation provides an environment to share.

4) Trust your gut. If you suspect something is going on, gently ask your kid about it.

5) Do not be tempted to jump in with the solution. Ask your child what ideas they have to stop the bullying; what would they like you to do. Share your thoughts. Suggest a consultation with another adult, the school counselor, for instance. You want your child to be on board, however, if he or she refuses to talk to any authorities at school, and the bullying is chronic, go ahead and do it yourself. Just be sure to explain that you doing so, against their wishes, not to be disrespectful but because it is in your job description to protect them any way you can.

6) Empower your child without expecting him or her to “tough it out”. As Cruel’s Not Cool says:

“We want to teach our kids to be assertive, sure, but some social battles have gotten too big for kids to deal with on their own. If you have a hunch something’s going on between your kid and a peer please DIG DEEPER and be there to help get to the bottom of it.”

Related articles:

Jamey Rodemeyer Suicide: What Parents Should Tell A Suicidal Teen

 Stop Cyberbullying: What Is A Parent’s Role?

Parenting Quiz: Is My Child A Bully?

I Think My Child is a Bully: What Should I Do?

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