As a parent with a child in residential treatment, you are most likely planning for the day when your son/daughter will be transitioning home after residential treatment. Many parents look forward to this day while also feeling concerned about what to expect. As a parent you need to be work to live today as you would like to live as a family in the future. Recently Ariel Rhoades, Dean of Student Life at Mountain Springs Preparatory Academy provided a parent education webinar about planning for transitioning home after residential treatment. Her helpful webinar provided parents with lessons about what to expect when their child transitions home as well as things they can be doing not only to prepare for that transition, but for the day when their child will be at home. Ariel suggests that parents should use the time while their child is in treatment to learn about their parenting philosophy and approach. Practice that while your child is in treatment.
Expect It: Regression
When your child moves from more structure to less structure, you are giving them the opportunity to make more choices. With those choices comes the option to make poor choices. While this is understandably difficult for parents to watch, it is part of the process. Ariel encourages parents to reframe the word regression to “I have met my child where they are at, rather than wish they were somewhere else”. Failure often leads to success. Mistakes and poor choices are on opportunity for growth and learning. Be willing and able to accept your child’s poor choices and guide them as a parent to better solutions. Ariel suggests the following four steps:
- To the extent possible, manage your own emotional reactivity: Let your responsibility to parent trump the emotional response that “yet another” mistake has been made.
- Praise and reward honesty: Even if your child has made a poor choice, but tells you about it, reward their attempt at letting you know a bad choice has been made.
- Use the least structure that is necessary to solve the problem
- Include your child in decision making about solutions and consequences
Internalization: A Lofty Goal as Teens Transition Home After Residential Treatment
Watch for holding too high of a standard too soon. This process of internalization will take time. External motivators are a part of life and it is OK if these are still major motivators for your child. Brain formation is not complete until a person is 25 years old with regard to strong connections in the pre-frontal lobe. This means that as parents we will need to provide support and structure for our young adult children. This doesn’t mean they have failed at residential treatment. Treatment has provided seeds towards internalization in the future.
Phases of Change: Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment
- Excitement: This happens in the weeks and months before a child comes home and for a time period soon after they come home. This phase can include both excitement and anxiety.
- Honeymoon: Initially parents and students have a great deal of hope when they first come home. Lessons and skills have been learned which students will do well at first to follow. However once a student starts to have some difficulties, they might begin to feel a loss of confidence.
- Testing: As teens make decisions (both good and bad), this phase is often filled with both confusion and optimism. Things will go well and things might be a bit bumpy. As parents it is important to provide support without getting too discouraged. Challenges and opportunities will arise. This is a time to help build trust and respect.
- Confidence: As teens grow through making decisions and using the skills they have acquired in treatment, they will begin to gain confidence. At times their confidence might be low and at others it might be high. Parents need to provide both encouragement and caution for their teen. Both you and your teen will have decision points as they gain confidence. Expect things to be a bit bumpy at times. It might be smart to prepare for challenges that might occur and how you might respond to these challenges. Learn to work together as a parenting team so you have a united front.
Develop a Support Network
While your child has been in treatment you have had a fantastic support system. You will still need that once your child comes home. Because recovery is an ongoing process, Ariel suggests that you create the following network:
- Prior Family Therapist
- Current Family Therapist
- Personal Individual Therapists
- Parenting coach or mentor
- Spouse or Partner
- Extended Family
- Support Groups
Develop a Home Contract
A Home Contract helps both teen and parent think ahead about key areas in which you and your child need limits, support and guidance. If a contract is planned ahead of time it allows for direct and active discussions. Ideally a Home Contract provides a means to practice for life outside of treatment that still integrates personal insights, improved behaviors and new values. This critical as a teen transitions from the structure of residential treatment to the structure of home.
Think and Plan Now For Transitioning Home After Residential Treatment
Planning is different than worrying, second guessing and playing out the worst case scenario. Parents need to be adaptable during the treatment process. This could mean a willingness to expand and retract on home visits while a teen is still in treatment as well as the ability to expand and retract after they return home.