How Do You Know When It’s Time For Residential Treatment?

3 Key Questions To Ask Yourself Before Taking This Step.

It’s a question our team receives quite often from parents all over the world: “How do I know when it’s time to consider residential treatment for my child?” Our answer has changed over the years…

I’ll admit it openly. If you would have asked me this question just 6 or 7 years ago I would have told you a very different answer than I would today. No doubt would I have said something to the effect of, “You’re exhausted, you shouldn’t have to keep dealing with the mind games, the manipulation, the stress of parenting this child. If you’ve tried everything to get them to stop, but to no avail, then it’s time to consider treatment outside of the home.” Maybe not verbatim, but this is what I used to believe.

I was wrong. I admit it here to all of you. I used to answer that way because I, myself, was exhausted. We were exhausted. We were stuck in a trench of constant mind games, constant manipulation, and constant stress with our oldest son. Our other children were continually being talked over, interrupted, pestered, and stolen from. It was unending. Nothing violent…but everything psychological.

Now, years into research and study of trauma (particularly prenatal drug and alcohol exposure) my heart breaks for my child. He didn’t mean most of what he did back then. He’s one of the most compassionate, kindest kids on planet earth. He loves his brothers and sisters. He loves us. He would tell you that he would never do anything to hurt any of us. But out of his trauma, he behaved. A fact that we did not understand, at all, back then. He was moderatley aggressive at times, but it wasn’t dangerous. It was just a mind-game. All…the…time! So our response was, residential treatment. He entered the first time when he was 8 years old. Looking back on that time, if we had it to do over again, we would not have chosen that path…at least not yet. Here’s why I say that…

What we know now in our trauma understanding and knowledge, is that his behavior was a result of prenatal drug and alcohol exposure. The way he interacted with siblings, with us, and the world around him, was entirely survival based (even if he didn’t realize it). What we didn’t know back then, but we do now, is that we, as the parents, have a responsibility to build a healthy attachment with our child. That’s priority #1. And it’s top priority even when we are exhausted (because we’re going to be). If I could go back to when my son was 8 years old (and even before that) I would tell myself to work harder at connecting with him, responding patiently to him, not escalating a situation because I couldn’t maintain control of my own emotions, and applying the connection skills I know now. It’s up to us to maintain control of us, and the environment of our home. Our reaction, our tone, the structure we have in place, the routine we follow….it all plays a part in the regulation of our children and our home.

But…and there’s a BIG “but” here. Let’s go back to what I said a few paragraphs previously. “At least not yet.” The reason I said this is that eventually, our son’s behavior became overly aggressive, violent, and hazardous to his safety, and the safety of our home. And that, my friends, is the tipping point. That’s where you cross into a different realm with your child. That’s where you must take action. That’s when residential treatment comes into the picture.

We began to ask ourselves 3 questions in our decision making…

  1. Is this child able to keep himself, or herself, safe? 
  2. Am I able to keep this child safe?
  3. Am I able to keep my other children, and my home, safe?

If we answered no to 2 out of the 3, we knew it was time to take that step. After his first stay in RT, he came home for a little over 2 years. For the first year, it was rough emotionally and psychologically, but not unsafe. Then, after year 1, his behavior and choices became dangerous. Very dangerous, in fact. Multiple trips to the ER with our other children, multiple visits from our local police department, you name it. This became our new normal until a therapist looked at us and said, “You’ve normalized his dangerous behavior. It’s not normal. It’s time for you to seek outside help.” That was a wake-up call for us.

It was like our son was walking around pulling the pins on grenades, dropping them on the floor, and we were following behind picking them up and letting them explode in our hands. That’s not normal. We had to choose a place that could keep him safe. And that’s what we finally did.

Is this child able to keep himself or herself safe? Am I able to keep the child safe? Am I able to keep my other children, and my home safe?

There are certainly some exceptions to this, but this is a blog post, not a book. Another topic for another time…. :-).

The choice to send your child to residential treatment is not a decision to be taken lightly. It’s not the solution for a child who’s been through significant trauma, and struggles emotionally, psychologically, or mentally, but doesn’t compromise the safety of your home. I shudder to think that I used to think it was. However, it is to be considered if the child cannot keep himself safe, you can’t keep him safe, or the rest of your family is unsafe. If you answer No to any two out of the 3 of those questions, you have your indicator.

Question: Are you in a place with your child where residential treatment is a reality? Are you struggling to know whether you should consider it? Share with us in the comment section below. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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