The first phase of transition after out-of-home treatment is one of excitement for both teen and parents. There is a sense of “completion,” of accomplishment felt by all involved. It is a time of high hopes.
It is a phase and unfortunately it will pass.
This phase is not monochromatic. Teens and parents alike may feel a full range of emotions, from anxiety about the unknown, to hope of permanent change, to fear of failure.
There are 7 things you can do to increase the odds that everyone survives the Excitement Phase and begins the journey to success.
- Share feelings with someone.
It is important to have someone who is safe in whom you can confide, whether a professional or a trusted friend. These are difficult times often accompanied by complex feelings. Giving voice to them helps begin working through them.
- Avoid creating unreasonable expectations.
Try not to get caught up in the enthusiasm of the moment by making promises you can’t keep. This will only set you up for failure later. Instead, just show them that you love and support them. Expect that there will be challenges as well as successes.
- Create an ABC list of friends.
Friends are part of the support team post-treatment. Creating a list of three types of friends can help maintain a positive influence on your teen.
A-list friends are positive influencers whom you would love to see consorting with your child again. Encourage their involvement in your child’s life.
B-listers are those you’re not sure about one way or another.
C-list friends are the bad apples whose influence helped lead your child into trouble in the first place. It is imperative that your child be kept away from C-listers or they could revert to bad old habits. This is one of the many areas in which you will have to lay down the law and hold firm.
- Celebrate victories without sounding like an idiot.
Recognize the progress your child has made, but be careful not to infantilize them. If they do their own laundry, that’s something to note and share appreciation for. Congratulating them for tying their own shoes will sound condescending or clownish. Positive feedback tends to encourage more of the good behavior.
- Plan for backsliding.
Prepare for possible challenges and create a plan for dealing with them. Rehearse how you will implement that plan and line up in advance any resources – like other people – you might need.
- Dispense with any lingering guilt.
The sooner you let go of ways you have been blaming yourself for your child’s problems or for the need to send them off for treatment, the sooner you will be in a position to help them recover.
Don’t try to “make up for” sending them away; that was your job as a parent.
Instead, communicate to your child your love for them, that that was the reason for helping them in treatment and that you have confidence in the plan going forward.
- Establish “Red Light” issues.
Your child must know that you love and support them, but there are lines they may not cross under any circumstances. Establish three or four well-communicated, non-negotiable rules and the consequences for violating them. Be careful to choose only really important issues, not trivial things that don’t ultimately matter.
The excitement phase is a time of hope and fear. Following these guidelines can increase the chances of success and prepare you for the unavoidable bumps that will surely come down the road.