By Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC
For parents with children who are suffering from a mental illness, it can be very difficult to know when their child’s problems are typical and manageable, and when those problems begin to endanger other people.
There are warning signs you can watch for if you are concerned that there may be something going on with your child that might endanger themselves or others. Here are four tips parents can use in these difficult situations.
1. When Something Feels Off, Pay Attention
As parents, we know our children better than anyone and the most important thing you can do is to trust your instincts. If something feels off, check it out. If your child’s behavior seems to change overnight or they suddenly stop participating in things they used to enjoy, talk to them and don’t stop talking and listening until you find out what is going on.
2. Challenges with Peers
Often times, the peers of teens who act out in dangerous ways or harmed their families also sensed something was off or strange about them. If your child is having difficulty interacting with their peers, getting bullied, or having trouble fitting in with others in their age group, seek a second opinion. Often, as parents, we are too close to form an objective opinion about whether our child is struggling to fit in because they have some social anxiety, a few extra pounds, or braces and when their peers avoid them because they sense they are anti-social, odd, or dangerous. Someone outside the situation can provide valuable insight into what is normal and what needs immediate attention.
3. Keep Lines of Communication Open
One of the biggest challenges every parent faces is keeping communication going when times get tough. Often, the times when our children need us the most are also the times they are least likely to seek our counsel or ask for our help. Create safe spaces for your child to open up about things you don’t approve of so that they don’t let small problems become life-altering situations simply because they didn’t want to get in trouble. Remember that communicating is a two way street and that you need to listen at least as much as you talk.
4. No Such Thing as Perfect Parents
Remind yourself that there is no such thing as perfect parents or perfect children. Be the best parent you can and provide your children with a solid foundation, room to learn to make mistakes, and opportunities to make decisions, even bad ones. Be there for them in whatever ways you can when they falter but remember that they have free will and they are going to make their own choices. Even amazing parents can have children who make very bad choices. But, the opposite is also true, even when parents seem to do everything wrong, most adolescents turn out to be amazing, wonderful adults!
Jan Hamilton, MS, PMHNP-BC
Jan is a nationally Board Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner who specializes in adolescent treatment. She earned her Master’s of Science and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner certification through the University of Arizona. She then worked for over eight years at Remuda Ranch providing inpatient services for adolescents and adults suffering from eating disorders. Jan has been a registered nurse for 31 years and worked in a wide variety of medical settings, including 30 years of serving young people through her work with Young Life, an interdenominational outreach program. Her desire to provide quality psychological and psychiatric care for adolescents and young adults in an outpatient, faith based setting has led to the opening of Doorways in 2008.