Grody Family Counseling - No Judgment, No Labels, Just Positive Change -- (614) 477-5565
Here’s a scenario that I see again and again — a parent walks into my office dragging a child who doesn’t want to be there, looks at me with a grimace, and says, “Here’s my kid! Fix ‘em!”
There are cases where children and adolescents have legitimate mental health disorders. But often, children and teens are simply playing out their parts in a system of behaviors that makes up your family. Put another way, everyone in a family reacts to everyone else, and your kid’s job is to act out.
That’s why family therapy is so important. It’s not enough to sit a child down and try to convince him why he’s wrong and why he has to change. We need to discover the function of the behavior in the family — or more simply, how does the family benefit from the behavior? If you figure that out, you can make changes so that the behavior isn’t needed anymore.
Now, when I say that to parents, they often look at me like I’m crazy. How could I say that a child’s negative behaviors are helpful to the family?
Let’s look at one example. Let’s say that Johnny’s mother is depressed about a loss. She might have lost a loved one, or a beloved pet, or it might even be as simple as she noticed crow’s feet in the mirror and is mourning her lost youth. Johnny’s like most kids – he’s used to his mother getting mad, but he’s confused by her sadness. He doesn’t know how to handle that. So Johnny does the only thing he can to “help” his mother. He breaks a rule in such a way that he’s sure to get caught. His mother gets mad, anger gives her energy to deal with Johnny, and what do you know — Johnny just “fixed” his mother.
That’s one simple example of how a negative behavior serves a purpose in the family. There are countless others. That’s why it’s important to consider the situation from everyone’s point of view and then come up with ideas together to help make positive changes. When those changes happen, the negative behavior is no longer needed.
Individual counseling can be a valuable piece of making positive change, and it does seem easier to just drop off your child and tell the therapist to, “Fix ‘em!” But even if your child responds well to individual counseling, he’s likely to return to his old behaviors because the family system is the same, and thus his role in the family system is status quo as well. Positive change is much easier to create and maintain by working with the entire family.
Call (614) 477-5565 today for an appointment to see if Grody Family Counseling is the right fit for you.
Carl's Latest Blogs
Grandparents and Divorce: How to Stay Involved
Q: I love my daughter-in-law like my own child, but she and my son are getting divorced. How can I keep her in my life after the divorce?
A: Divorce is tough on everyone, but you’ve asked the question that might get the least attention during a divorce. All too often, families feel like they have to stand behind their own blood relative, and someone who was part of the family one minute suddenly is shut out the next.
The toughest part about staying in touch with your ex-daughter-in law may be dealing with the feelings of mixed loyalties — those of your son, those of your ex-daughter-in-law, and even your own feelings. In a perfect world, the divorce would be amiable and you wouldn’t have to choose, but with the way divorces are contested, that’s often not the case.  So how do you balance keeping a positive relationship with your ex-daughter-in-law when you son expects you to be loyal to him?
Here are a few tips:
– First, hard as it is, don’t take sides. Except in the case of abuse or the most egregious circumstances, both parties contribute to a marriage falling apart. We’re human; bad things sometimes happen. So avoid the temptation to say anything that might imply that you blame one person more than the other (even if you do).
– Have a thick skin. Even if you don’t pick sides, someone’s going to think you did, if for no other reason than they’re looking to project their own stresses onto you. Your son may say things that hurt your feelings, such as you’re not loyal, or you’ve always been against him, or you should support him no matter what he may have done because you’re family. A good response might be, “I know you feel that way now, but I love you as much as I always did, and I always will.”
– Set firm boundaries. Don’t allow your son or your ex-daughter-in-law to tell you what the other one did “wrong.” They will try to put you in the middle of their problems; it’s human nature. When they try, simply say, “I know you’re hurt by the divorce, but I don’t want to hear bad things about either of you. I love you both, and you’re both still family to me.”
– Attention increases behavior. When you give attention to a behavior, it happens more often, so don’t engage in conversations that you don’t want to be in. Simply say, “You know I don’t want to talk about this,” and change the subject. When they try again — and they probably will — stay consistent with your response. Eventually, the lack of attention to the behavior will make them stop trying.
– Do it for the children. It’s good for kids to have both sets of grandparents in their lives. If you need a trump card, use this one: “I’m sorry things didn’t work out for the two of you, but it’s better for the kids if they keep all of their grandparents in their lives. They need as much routine and love as they can get. I think that’s easier to do if I stay involved with both of you.”
– Be patient. Your son and ex-daughter-in-law are going through an emotional grinder (along with everyone around them). Be patient while they process what’s happening and eventually work their way to acceptance.
– Don’t expect yourself to be perfect, either. You might slip once in awhile. If you catch yourself taking sides or find yourself in conversations that you shouldn’t be in, step back, take a deep breath, apologize if it’s appropriate, and remember your ultimate goal: for everyone you love to stay in your life.
– If the parents just can’t buy into this approach, suggest family therapy. There, the family can work on ways to do what’s best for everyone while still honoring the hurt feelings and angst that come with divorce. There’s no shame in family therapy for divorcing families; in fact, I’d recommend most families meet with someone specializing in family therapy during a divorce to help with the transition to their new lives.
When It's Hard to Let Kids Just Play the Game ...
Imagine you’re at a local high school watching a baseball game on a lovely spring afternoon. The sun is shining, birds are chirping, the smell of cheap hot dogs teases you from the snack cart run by the local boosters …
And then you hear it.
“Catch the stinking ball! I can’t believe you made such a stupid play!”
Oh. That guy. The one who screams at his kid like a drill sergeant wearing down a fresh recruit. Most parents shy away from him. On the field, the guy’s son hangs his head and wonders if there’s enough room to hide under second base.
Now, we’re not here to trash this guy. Yes, he’s over-involved, and yes, he’s making things harder for his kid and for himself. But we have to understand that he doesn’t see it that way. He’s trying to do the right thing. He cares about teaching his kid to work hard, to put forth his best effort, and to never give up. He wants his son to be a leader. And, yes, sometimes he just wants his son to be a star player because it makes Dad feel good.
I’ve seen this problem from every perspective. I started my career as a sportswriter covering high-school sports, and then I became a baseball coach as my kids got older. Eventually, I made another career change to clinical social work, where I specialize in family therapy. I know this problem coming and going, and unfortunately, this approach drives kids away from the game.
There are several reasons. First, it simply embarrasses the kid, especially if he’s already a teenager, when being embarrassed by parents is a normal part of growing up. When that goes to an extreme, the teen feels extra anxiety, which makes him less likely to want to play, and less able to succeed when he does hit the field.
These behaviors also make the kid a target of extra teasing. A teenager would rather walk across hot coals without his cell phone than be scolded by his parents in front of his friends. If he feels like he’s going to look stupid in front of everyone, he’s going to be less likely to want to play.
There also can be damage to the child’s relationship with his coach, who’s not immune to being embarrassed by the parent as well. That often leads to conflict between the parent and coach, possibly leading to less playing time for the child — sometimes because embarrassment causes the player to make more mistakes, and sometimes because the coach just wants to give the kid a break.
Sometimes these parents even contradict the coach, which means the player has to pick between two important authority figures. If he listens to his coach, he might catch grief at home. If he listens to his parent, he could lose playing time from the coach. This puts him in a classic double-bind (damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t). He feels anxious, confused, and like he can’t please anybody. Since he can’t make a “right” choice, he’ll often make no choice at all, like the proverbial deer in headlights.
I remember a high school freshman baseball game. Our pitching coach was in the bullpen with our pitcher as he warmed up. But soon, the pitcher’s father strolled to the bullpen and started coaching his child as well, openly contradicting whatever the coach said. Not knowing what to do, the pitcher didn’t last through the first inning.
You really can’t blame the kid for that. He already felt pressure to pitch well. He felt embarrassed by his father. He was stressed, anxious, and confused, and he felt like he couldn’t win no matter what he did. It’s no wonder he symbolically yakked all over the pitcher’s mound. Imagine if his dad felt that way at his job – he’d want to quit, too.
So what’s the solution? Here are a few things that can help:
First of all, leave the coaching to the coach. His job is hard enough when the players want to listen to him. If a parent really wants to have a say, he can volunteer to help; then his child (and the rest of the team) will see the parent as an appropriate authority figure on the field. When I coached, I loved when parents volunteered. I always found something for them to do, even if it was just hitting fungos to the outfielders or keeping the scorebook.
Secondly, focus on the positive. Repeated studies show that giving attention to behaviors that you like is more effective than giving attention to mistakes. If the player boots a ground ball, for example, remind him of what he does well when he catches the ball. I once had a player who dropped his hands during his swing when he was in a slump. If I told him not to drop his hands, he’d focus so much on them that he’d drop them even more. But if I reminded him to take his hands directly to the ball, his hands never dropped. That reminder during an important tournament game resulted in a game-winning double that had him smiling for a week.
Third, the parent should ask himself what his goal really is. If his goal is to help his child, he could try this approach to see if it gets better results. And if the parent realizes that he cares so much because it makes him feel better about himself . . . well, nobody’s perfect. He may count on his child to fill a void in his own life, but the first step toward changing that is to recognize it.
If it feels overwhelming to make these changes, the parent could see a clinical social worker or counselor to help him through it. Positive change is always possible. I see positive change happen every day in my office, and this situation is no different.
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