As a psychotherapist I witness many parents and their children have heated arguments where hurtful things are said. Many parents, especially single mothers, struggle with managing their child’s behavior and they go to desperate measures to try to get their kids to listen to them and obey their rules. One method that parents use to scare their kids straight is threatening them, but not with a belt. Defiant and depressed children are often threatened with medication and inpatient hospitalizations, being sent into foster care or to their parent’s native country. Not only are these threats mean spirited, but they are not effective.
Saying” I’m gonna put you on meds so you can be like a zombie all day” or “If you wanna go to the hospital with all those crazy people then fine” are not the best things to say to a child who is struggling behaviorally or emotionally. Plus, ignorant comments like these make it seem as if psychotropic medication or inpatient hospitalizations are a bad, undesirable thing. If your child expresses to you that they are suicidal or have intent to hurt themselves, seeing a psychiatrist or going to the nearest emergency room is not a punishment. It’s actually the appropriate route to take. Making hurtful comments to someone who is already hurting will not make their pain go away. If anything, you’re pushing your child closer to the edge.
Children with disruptive, hostile behaviors are often threatened with being sent away or being “doped up” with medication. In fact, medication can help children learn to gain more control of their behaviors. It can also help to stabilize and/or improve their mood so they are able to learn and implement new behaviors and decrease defiance and aggression at home and school. In combination with individual and family therapy, medication can be more of a support than a penalty.
Hospitalizations can also keep children (or adults) from being a danger to themselves or others. It also helps with stabilization while hospital social workers teach patients skills to use to prevent the behaviors that led to the hospitalization from happening again. Different evaluations are conducted including psychiatric evaluations and sometimes neurological evaluations to assess the patient’s presenting problems further. With discharge planning, the patient will be referred to the appropriate long-term supports, like psychotherapy.
The remedy to children’s poor behaviors or depression symptoms often involves improved familial relationships. Unbeknownst to many parents for example, children’s oppositional behaviors are related to their parenting style. Instead of making threats to a child, it is most helpful for parents to look inward and ask what can be changed about their parenting. It’s also helpful to be more of an open-minded, non-judgmental engaged participant in family therapy.
When I speak to parents of depressed children, I sometimes hear “what do they have to be depressed about?” and then they go down the list of the material and basic things they provide for the child in a way to challenge and deny that depression could be possible in a child that is taken care of. Being depressed is not voluntary. Many biological, social and psychological factors play a role, including genetic makeup, past trauma, inconsistent discipline, having a parent with a mental illness and many more.
Parents, instead of criticizing or being in denial about something you don’t understand, try being empathetic and comforting. Speak with your child’s therapist to gain insight into what your child is experiencing and learn what you can do to help. Look at it this way, if you are frustrated and feel helpless, imagine how your child (the person who goes through it on a daily basis) feels.