Your child did something unimaginable. Now, you’re shocked, angry, confused, and sad. You’re a good parent, you taught your kid right from wrong. But they still made a bad choice.
Their poor decisions throw you for a loop. After all, you likely didn’t see it coming. You feel hurt and blindsided. But when the shock wears off, you’re left worrying about what this means for the future. You’re left with thoughts like “what do I do now?” “Are they going down a bad path?” “How do I help them?”
You may have…
- Caught your 11-year-old watching porn
- Found out your 16-year-old is having sex
- Learned that you’re 15-year-old skipped school
- Discovered that your 13-year-old lied about something major
- Caught your 14-year-old drinking
- Were told that your tween came out to someone without telling you first.
Coping with Your Child’s Choice
These situations can feel like a nightmare for parents. Yet, they’re so common. When your first find out that your precious child has done something this serious, it’s natural to freak out. You may even feel tempted to throw the book at them in an attempt to scare them from doing it again. But acting upon your impulses when you’re freaking out may cause more harm than good. Not being in the right mind to make major decisions can cause mayhem. In fact, it may push your tween or teen away or make them rebel even more.
I bet you’re now wondering how SHOULD you respond when you’re asking out about your child’s behavior, well let me tell you.
Woah. I bet you weren’t expecting me to say this, right? But it’s true, be thankful that you have more information than you did before. Knowledge is power and it can help you keep your kiddo safe. Now, you’re clued into what’s going on and have a chance to respond and help your child shift their behavior.
Get your emotions in check
If you come at your kid guns blazing, what do you think they’ll do? They’ll protect themselves.
It will not do either of you any good to approach this situation when you’re very emotional. Unless your child is in imminent danger, you should wait. Give yourself a chance to process the information you’ve learned. Get your big emotions out in a safe way. Consider talking to others about what you’re feeling. This may include:
- Your child’s other parent
- Your parents
- Close friends and family members
- Your therapist
Reflect on the thoughts and emotions that their actions are bringing up with you. This trauma may originate from your past or anxiety about the future. As parents when something big happens we often get caught up in our reactions. It’s easy to see your child as a reflection of yourself and your parenting. When this happens, you’re likely to come down harder on them due to your emotional distress.
You must remember that your child is their own person. This means you have the privilege of guiding them on their journey. You can protect them to the best of your ability for at least eighteen years. But, after, they have to carve out their unique path in life. It’s our job as parents and child therapists to provide them with the support and info to make the best choices.
Be Strategic and Come Up With a Solid Plan
Step 1: Consider the source.
Your child will want to know how you found out. So, you must plan and think about the best way to talk about the source of your knowledge. For example, say your child has a cell phone that you went through one day. Even if they know you do this for their safety (and you should), they may feel violated and upset with you. So you must prepare for this the best you can. Furthermore, it’s important to know that what you read on their phones, tablets, or computers can end up misconstrued. Allow your child to tell you more and listen to what they have to say.
Step 2: Figure out what the need is behind their actions.
It’s important to think about what needs your child is trying to meet through this behavior. For example, say their browser history revealed that they were searching for information about sex. At first, you may feel very alarmed and upset. But, try reframing it. If your child is searching the internet for this info, then it means they have questions. This allows you to step up and provide knowledge in a safe way and in a controlled environment. It also allows you to open the doors for further communication. Use this as a chance to discuss internet safety. The internet is not a good place to learn about things like this, but you are. Talking to your child in a rational way opens the door for further communication. This allows your child to know that you’re a safe person to talk to about things that may be uncomfortable.
Step 3: Figure out what questions you want to ask.
You’ve likely got questions about your child’s behavior. For, example, say you’ve found out that your teen had sex. Your head is now spinning with questions. Did they use protection? Were they pressured into doing something they didn’t want to do? Do they know the potential repercussions of their actions?
Or, your child may have looked at pornography. You may wonder: who showed it to them? What kind of images did they see? Did they show anyone else? Narrow your questions down. Think about what’s actually important to ask. Then make a mental note of these questions or write them down.
Step 4: Have the conversation.
It’s time. You have your emotions in check. You’ve got the facts as they were presented to you. You know what questions you want to ask. Now comes the hard part. You have to talk to your child.
Remember, your child’s first instinct may be to get emotional or protect themselves. They may not want to talk about what happened at first. This is especially true if they’re worried about what your response will be. You’ve got a head start here, so you must approach this with an even keel. Let your child know that you want to talk and will do your best not to judge them or get angry.
Allow your child to talk about what happened and what they’re going through. Allow them to tell their side of the story. You never know it may change things. They deserve this chance and it will show them that you care.
Step 5: Figure out a plan moving forward.
Now that you’ve opened the doors for communication, you can figure out what kind of information or support your child needs from you moving forward. This likely will not be an issue you can address in one sitting. Instead, it takes many conversations to actually foster change.
For example, does your child need education on pornography what it is and how to handle it? Do they need to talk through relationship issues and decision-making around sexuality? Is your relationship with them something that needs to be strengthened so they feel safe asking questions? Do they feel comfortable sharing info with you that may be considered “taboo?” Parenting counseling can also help you develop a plan.
Step 6: Assess the need for APPROPRIATE consequences.
You’ve talked with your child about the issue at hand and determined the best way to meet their needs. Now, it’s time to issue an appropriate consequence. Here’s the most important thing to remember, this has to be a NATURAL CONSEQUENCE. In other words, the consequence needs to fit the crime.
For example, say your child skipped school. The natural consequence may be staying home for a few Saturdays to make up all the work they missed.
Or, if you learned that you gave them some freedoms they weren’t ready for, they may need to lose these privileges. For example, you allowed your child to have a tablet in their room unsupervised. But, you found out they were watching porn. In this case, take away their tablet or only allow them to use it in family spaces.
Remember kids are going to make mistakes. It’s a part of growing up. They’re supposed to confide in their friends, try new things, and even take risks. It’s how they learn. Your job is to support them through this time of growth and self-development. You can create boundaries so they don’t get themselves into too much trouble.
If your family or your teen is struggling, the therapists at Brave Minds Psychological Services would be honored to support you with parenting counseling in Scotch Plains, NJ. Our skilled child, teen, and family therapists can handle situations such as these. We take pride in helping everyone be successful and safe as they navigate their way through tough times. Parenting counseling can help your family thrive!
In addition to parenting counseling, we also offer:
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Meet With A Therapist for Parenting Counseling in Scotch Plains, NJ
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Other Services Offered at Brave Minds Psychological Services
Parenting counseling isn’t the only service we offerer from our Scotch Plains, NJ-based practice. We are also happy to offer therapy for children, teens, and adults. This includes trauma therapy, EMDR, online therapy, and CBT. In addition, we also support children and teens with online therapy for children, child anxiety treatment, child sexual abuse therapy, teenage therapy, and social phobia therapy. Contact us to learn more about OCD, equestrian anxiety, and food allergies. For adults, we also provide adult anxiety counseling, couples counseling, postpartum counseling, birth trauma therapy, and sexual assault counseling. Feel free to visit our blog or about page to learn more info about our practice!