When One Child’s Mental Health Condition Threatens the Family’s Wellbeing
Every parent envisions a peaceful home with well-behaved children who get along one hundred percent of the time. Unfortunately, that is an unrealistic view of parenthood, as it tends to be somewhat messy and chaotic. However, if you have a children with a mental health condition, learning to navigate home life can be tricky. Even after you’ve set up mental health care plans with professionals to help your children, sometimes one child’s mental health condition can threaten your family’s wellbeing.
When should you seek help when your child’s behavior turns dangerous? What if it is your grown adult child who is endangering the family? Making decisions regarding your children can feel as if the world might stop spinning at any moment, but with the right support, you can help your child while protecting your family.
Does Your Family Need Help?
Asking for help when you’re the parent of a child with a mental health condition can be difficult. You might be afraid that people will blame you for your child’s behavior or accuse you of neglect or abuse which resulted in the child’s condition. This belief can be compounded if the child’s mental health condition causes them to fabricate events.
However, when the child’s behavior places the family in jeopardy, then the parents have no choice but to act in the best interest of themselves and the other children. If your child’s behavior results in you or another member of the family getting hurt regardless of the child’s past behavior, then you should seek help. If you notice your child’s outbursts increasing in volatility or they begin threatening you with weapons, then it is time to find professional help.
Sometimes parents do not recognize the danger that the family may be in with a child. Perhaps your child has been having angry outbursts since they were three years old and weighed 30 pounds. However, now the child is 16 years old and weighs close to 200 pounds. Even if your child doesn’t intentionally want to hurt you, their behavior may result in you or others getting seriously injured.
You may hope that your child will never have another outburst that leaves you and others feeling frightened, but it is highly likely that your child will repeat the behavior at some point in the future. The best thing you can do is to stay proactive and seek support between episodes.
How Parents Can Respond to a Mental Health Condition
Try to remain calm during your child’s outburst. If possible, move the child into another room with less danger. For example, if the child’s behavior is escalating in the kitchen, try to persuade them to move into a bedroom. If you can, send your other children into their bedrooms or to a neighbor’s home and away from the confrontation.
Your child’s therapist can provide you with verbiage that may work in deescalating the situation. Try to keep your voice calm but stand a distance away so that if your child lashes out or kicks at you, his leg will not make contact. Some people find standing at an angle from their child instead of directly in front of them reads as non-confrontational body language.
Pay close attention to what words seem to calm your child and make a mental note to record them later. You will want to create a plan in the future to handle these emergencies, so keep track of words and actions that seem to work.
When the outburst ends, your child may want to take a nap or lie down. They will quite possibly feel emotionally and physically drained. Instead of disciplining them for the behavior the way you might with another child without mental health concerns, allow your child to rest or engage in calming activities. They could listen to music, read a book, or play a game.
Once the outburst ends and your child is calm enough to be left alone, give yourself time and grace to gather your thoughts. You may need to spend a little bit of time alone in your bedroom or the bathroom to decompress from the stressful conflict.
If your child becomes too much to handle or you feel like your life might be in danger, call 9-1-1 immediately. Be sure to explain to the dispatcher that your child has a mental health disorder. The responders sent to your home may include someone trained to work with individuals with a mental health condition or disability.
When possible, notify your child’s therapist or pediatrician about the outburst and how you felt. If your child is in school, they may suggest that you also bring the school counselor into the mental health care plan as children often exhibit outbursts in more than one setting.
Depending on the conflict and the danger, the doctor may recommend hospitalization for a short time. During this time, you can seek support from state and county agencies to prepare yourself and your other children for your child’s return.
What If It Is Your Adult Child Displaying Dangerous Behavior?
Unfortunately, so many mental health conditions do not begin to show symptoms until the child is in their late teens to early twenties. This may come as a shock to families who have never dealt with children’s mental health disorders or behavioral issues from their children. Due to their age and size, these grown adult children can cause harm (intentionally or unintentionally) to their parents or siblings.
However, unlike with minor children, your adult child is no longer legally under your influence. If they refuse to seek help, there is little that you can do. This is a fragile time where you may want to sit down with your child and explain to them that you’ve observed some behaviors that have you concerned. Your child is more likely to hear you share your worries about their actions than if you approach them and demand that they see a doctor.
Remember that just like with you, they may choose not to make a hasty decision. They might be concerned about the stigma surrounding mental health and are afraid word will spread back to their workplace or to a potential partner. It may take several conversations between you and your child before they agree to seek help.
Not every grown child is going to heed their parent’s advice and seek professional help. Your child may not believe that they have a problem or feel you are exaggerating. The problem is if the grown child still lives at home and is endangering the family’s health with their behavior.
If your child’s behavior places you in immediate danger, you may be able to seek help from the court to have the child admitted for outpatient care under the supervision of a mental health professional. You will need an affidavit from the doctor to present to the judge.
As a last resort, you may need to have your adult child leave your home in order to protect your younger children. If possible, seek the help of agencies that can assist your child both health-wise and with housing. You still love your child, but you must also think of the other children and the present danger.
If your child lives on their own, keep communication open to them. Let them know that you are willing to listen to them and find help when they are ready, but you cannot allow them to hurt themselves or others.
Finding Support with Christian Family Counseling
Family counseling is a great way to address your concerns and listen to your children’s fears in a safe environment. The sessions are supervised by a professional who can steer the discussion or encourage openness about a topic. Working with a family therapist, you will learn how to put together an emergency plan for any future outbursts. The therapist can also recommend additional resources and support for your situation.
Christian family counseling combines the science of psychology with faith through Jesus Christ to strengthen families going through a heartbreaking season. The counselor can point you in the right direction and offer guidance and suggestions that can potentially bring your family closer to God. Just like with the prodigal son from the Bible, your child is still a part of you and help is available.
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