by Beth Laughlin of 360 Transition Services (contact at firstname.lastname@example.org)
October 2, 2018 - enewsletter
"Attunement, Boundaries, Consistency," the ABC's of parenting. When speaking with parents I find myself returning to these basic themes over and over again. When a parent says, "It's not working. He's not doing what I want him to do." In other words, "I can't control him.", this is often an opportunity for real change to begin and for family patterns to change. It's that phase when the honeymoon period of being home begins to fade, the stresses of life return and regression of behaviors tend to seep back into the family system.
As we explore this shift together I will often ask, "How are you doing in terms of holding firm boundaries, remaining consistent with follow through and staying present and connected with you child in moments of both calm and dysregulation?" More often than not parents will pause a bit and then begin to share, "I've let the boundaries slip a bit. He's so good at wearing me down at the end of a long day at work." Or, "He's been doing so well at school so I thought it would be okay to loosen the reigns." Or, "I didn't want World War III so I appeased him by letting him use the computer, go out with his friends, have his phone, play the video game..." and the list goes on. "I'm also so tired when I get home at the end of a long day that, truthfully, I struggle to be present with myself, let alone my child." As the parents share how things are going, they often begin to answer their own question about why it "isn't working."
Although this is often a scary, stressful time for parents, I see this as the backdrop and starting point for change to happen. Everyone enjoys the honeymoon phase of a child's return home. Though I prepare the parents for regression and tell them that it's an important step in the transition process, they agree and understand in the moment, but often panic when it happens. I gently remind them that this is why we're here and we roll up our sleeves and get to work.
The conversation then shifts to reviewing the ABC's of parenting... attunement, boundaries and consistency. I remind them that their "job" as parents is not to control their child but to create a home environment that allows their child to remain focused on their own personal work with their mentor rather than having them shift to managing their external world, in this case "home." The child is typically not capable to doing both. Both require enormous energy and focus. If their external world (home structure) is not clear and consistent, they work to gain control and create their own sense of order. A healthy home environment is not replicating the treatment environment but applying the basic components that consist of attunement, boundaries and consistency. This is why treatment is so effective across the board for any young person no matter what the struggle. The order and connection provide safety and the consistency and clarity allows the young person emotional space to turn towards their internal struggle because there is no longer a need to "control" their external world.
The real challenge for parents is to strike a balance between connection and presence, "attunement", and boundaries and consistency. Without attunement, boundaries can come across as harsh and disconnected from relationship. Attunement without boundaries is the definition of enmeshment. "Enmeshment is when you not only get in touch with your child's emotions, mood and feelings, but take them on as your own; when you feel you are responsible for their emotions, moods and feelings. It is when you become so entangled with your child you do not know where he or she ends and you begin"
The good news is that parents always have the opportunity to return to the ABCs of parenting even if they have found themselves far off the path. A pause, regroup, restart can happen at any time. Will the child react, be upset, push harder to the test the parents' resolve? Most likely "yes" but when the parent is able to validate the feelings of frustration and anger without moving the boundary, often order is eventually restored. The home environment calms down, the relationships become healthier and both parent and child are less exhausted because the energy is appropriately placed.
Though these concepts are simple, it is often difficult for parents to implement because they are so close to the relationship and entrenched in old patterns. It takes practice. This is where having an experienced team to help the family through this gauntlet to the other side can be so valuable. 360 Transitions teams love this work. It's what we do. We are here to help preserve the hard work and the progress made in treatment. Thank you for entrusting your families with us.
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