July 10, 2023

Kathryn Part 3 of 5: When Your Teen Breaks The Rules

Children breaking rules is nothing new in the world of parenting. Teens breaking rules is almost a given. In this third part of the five part series, Kathryn is eager to learn how to set limits with her 17 year old daughter Bridgette.

Trying to set limits with a child who seems like they have no limits may feel like an impossible task. But there are ways to do it. Even though the terminology of a dialectic perspective is not used in this episode, it is very much employed in the conversation. Leslie takes a dialectic approach with Kathryn in two ways during this episode. First, she begins by balancing the parent’s limits and the teen’s limits. Leslie also differentiates between limits and boundaries. Second, Leslie counterbalances the fear that parents often have when dealing with the problematic behaviors of their children. Children often feel “my parents don’t understand me”, or “my parents only focus on what I’m doing wrong and they don’t see what I’m doing well”. This schism can be the root of conflict and potentially damaging to your child’s mental health. As parents, holding the dialectic perspective means embracing both your child’s skills and strengths as well as their problematic behaviors.

As in Kathryn’s first two sessions, this episode has a lot of mature themes and contains adult language that may not be suitable for all audiences.

6:04 Assessing skills of your child before setting limits

10:13 Having a balanced view of your child: their strengths and weaknesses

14:18 Generational shame and how it impacts you and your child

15:58 Defining limits vs boundaries and personal limits vs child’s limits

28:08 How to have tough conversations with your kids.

LESLIE-ISM:Take the time to notice your child’s strengths, not just their problematic behavior.


If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, sexual assaults  or other mental health issues there are resources available for you. 

  • National Sexual assault hotline 800-656-HOPE (4763)
  • National Substance Abuse Hotline 866-210-1303
  • Substance abuse and mental health administration 1-800-662-HELP  (4357)
  • National Alliance of Mental Illness 212-684-3264

Show Note Links:

Credits: Is My Child a Monster is produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Theme music is by L-Ray Music. Public relations is handled by Tink Media. Graphics and Website Design by Brien O’Reilly. by Eric Rubury. A special thanks to everyone who contributes their wisdom and support to make this possible.


[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

0:02  Kathryn: And so she’s in a milieu of teenagers whose parents may not have the same set of limits that we’re wanting to set. And so she’s like, “Oh, well, so-and-so gets to do it,” or, “so-and-so’s parents don’t do this, blah, blah, blah.” And we’re like, “Yeah, but we’re not their parents–we’re your parents.

0:19  Leslie Cohen-Rubury:  This is, Is My Child A Monster?, a parenting therapy podcast where you get to listen in, as real parents and caregivers share their trials and tribulations in therapy sessions recorded live. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury, your host. I’m a parent and a therapist with 37 years of experience helping families navigate this question. This is part three of a five part series with Kathryn, who’s struggling with the risky behaviors of her 17-year-old daughter, Bridget. The issues we’ve been talking about in the past two episodes include drug use, sexual behavior, and a breach of trust on both sides of the parent-child relationship. 

Today, we focus a lot on limits. Trying to set limits with a child who seems like they have no limits may feel like an impossible task. But there are ways to do it. And it starts with knowing your own limits, and recognizing that your child may have very different limits than you. In this episode, we differentiate between limits and boundaries. One is flexible, one is not. And when dealing with your child, flexibility is so very important. And something to note for context, the family splits their time between a rural town where Bridget has grown up, and a large city where she is now in an arts-focused high school. 

As in Kathryn’s first two sessions, this episode has a lot of mature themes and contains adult language that may not be suitable for all audiences. And as a reminder, all names and identifying information have been changed. Finally, this show is for informational purposes only, and not a substitute for therapeutic intervention. So let’s get started.

Leslie:  All right, here we go, again. I think we really want to focus a little bit on setting limits. That’s what I would call it, because the holidays are over, and she’s back at school, and I think it’s a scary thing for you. And it’s confusing, hard to hard to know how to do this. So tell me where you are with that.

2:55  Kathryn:  So, over the holidays, we felt like we were able to contain more of her behavior. She was with family, she was with friends who we know, we were back in the country, where we live most of the time. And now she’s back with her friends in the city, and started school this past Monday. And it feels like she’s back in the deep end again. And she was at a friend’s house the past two nights…and going to pick her up, pretty sure she’s getting high with them, and maybe tripping with them. And when my husband went to go pick her up, she was a half hour late coming out. And just as she was coming out more kids were coming in. 

And so she’s in a milieu of teenagers whose parents may not have the same set of limits that we’re wanting to set. And so she’s like, “Oh, well, so-and-so gets to do it,” or, “so-and-so’s parents don’t do this, blah, blah, blah.” And we’re like, “Yeah, but we’re not their parents–we’re your parents. Here’s some of the agreements or expectations, that we want to have you need to get to school on time, there’s just certain behaviors and expectations and limits that we want to have.” But we don’t want to make them imposed, I’d like there to be an agreement with her, when she’s in a really good place. I feel like we could have a discussion about, “What do you think is a good limit?” You know, that we have a discussion about it, rather than having it be like, “No, you have to be home by X time. And if you’re late, then you’re grounded for…”, we’ve never done that. 

And so, trying to navigate this environment, that’s much more permissive than I think we’re comfortable with. And then she’s seeing examples of much more permissive behavior, parents, or parents that aren’t really there, kids who have really different kinds of family or home lives than then she has, that just aren’t paying attention. And we pay a lot of attention. And so, how do you navigate that, when she’s seeing examples of parents who are not paying attention? And then she’s pushing up against us, calling us helicopter parents or being overly protective and…I don’t see this as being bad. And yet, maybe she’s got a point. 

So it’s trying to understand where we’re being too hard and setting too hard on limits. And, or being inconsistent with limits. It’s just, we’re, we’ve always, and my husband and I, I’m more of a, like a, you know, wanting to have more understandable boundaries. And he’s…he’ll be really strict and then he’ll forget that he was strict and then I’ll be really open. And so there’s a…just kind of not sharing where the boundary is. And so that’s our differences and how we approach it. So there’s, this feels like, there’s multiple layers. I’d like to be really clear about, before the holiday, she went beyond my limits of acceptable behavior. I mean, like, way beyond. And so it’s like, alright, how do we corral that back in? And it’s all sometimes like, you know, when you’ve gained weight, you get up to a high weight, and then that becomes…it’s hard to not get back up there again. So I feel like we’ve expanded so far now, that’s kind of where the limit is, whereas I’d like the limit to be closer in.

6:03  Leslie:  Well, the first thing I think we need to do, even though you just explained a lot, is I want to even do more assessing, I want to understand even more. So the first question I have for you, as the parent, is, you described her as being in the deep end. If I’m swimming, if I’m in the deep end of a pool, or the ocean or whatever, I better have skills. As a parent, you’re afraid your child doesn’t have the skills, but I want to assess what kind of skills does she have to be in the deep end. So can you help me…like, what do you know about her? What kind of skills does she have? I’m already hearing one skill, which is a remarkable skill, which is she’s leaving at 9:30, a party that might just be getting started. Do you know what kind of inner strength she has to have in order to say, and I don’t care what excuse she uses to get out of there. But she’s got strengths. She’s got a skill to say to her friends, “Got to go– bye.”

7:04  Kathryn:  Thanks, I would not have named that. Because it was more like, “No Dad’s out there waiting for you—better get in the car.”

7:10  Leslie:  And yet, there were kids who might not come out—the fact that she did it and saw other kids coming in. Yes, she’s going to complain that, “Oh, other people just get to start going out at 9:30. Why do you guys have to be like that?” Don’t worry about the complaint for the moment. We’ll address that in a minute. I’m looking at her action. Her action was she came out. Yeah, a half hour late. You know what? I’ll take it. It’s not four hours late. It’s not two hours late. She didn’t stand him up. She was a half hour late. “Bring a good book,” is what I recommend to parents. You’re going to wait a little bit for your kids. That’s okay. That’s what happens to the kid in the fast lane. They have a hard time saying goodbye. But she said goodbye. 

What else can you tell me about her swimming in the deep end? What are her skills to navigate this?

8:01  Kathryn:  She stays on top of her schoolwork. Her grades are good. She goes for stuff within schools. She’s really being acknowledged for her talent. She’s in AP calculus and loving it. And that’s just like…I’m really surprised. I mean, she’s doing great. So she’s able to—even in being thrown in the middle of a whole new environment—she’s been able to get her grounding and do well in school. So I’m really, yeah, this is a great exercise. Thank you. So, I’m really proud of her for that. Not proud, because that’s about me. It’s more like, I respect, deeply respect, how she’s been able to navigate that.

8:44  Leslie:  Right, that’s skillful. That’s skillful. That says, “I’m going to play hard, and I’m going to work hard.” Sometimes the people who are the hardest workers all know how to play hard, right? 

Kathryn:  That’s true. 

Leslie:  Hard workers also know how to play hard. And so, as a parent, that might be scary. But I’m glad you’re holding that balance of seeing that she actually is…this is her first semester at the school if I understand she just finished her first semester?

Kathryn:  Yeah. Being in person.

Leslie:  Being in person, right, which is the difficult thing, because now you’ve got everyone there. So yes, so she’s in person. She’s navigating both of these: the play and the extracurricular stuff that she’s engaging in, which is the part you’re having a problem with. But don’t forget, she’s doing that; and I hear kids complain all the time, “You don’t see anything that I’m doing well, you only see the bad things.” And parents often do only see the bad things.

9:43  Kathryn:  Right. Yeah. And she also has made a ton of friends, and she’s really good at making friendships. She says she knows everybody in the school, so she’s very social. But she feels like…she’s just putting herself out there in a big way. And getting a lot of positive return on all of that. 

Leslie:  Wow, that’s another very skillful thing. 

Kathryn:  Yeah. She’s very well liked. 

10:13  Leslie:  Okay, she’s got a lot going for her. And when we forget that, as parents, and we only see the fears in front of us, that makes our parenting lopsided, that makes it very hard to feel grounded yourself. Because you’re standing on one leg and the one leg you’re standing on is all fear. But if you put your other leg down, you’re like: she’s well respected, she’s making friends, she’s, you know, people appreciate her. And she’s doing incredibly hard work.

10:44  Kathryn:  Yeah, and super confident, most of the time incredibly confident.

10:49  Leslie:  Beautiful, beautiful. Okay. So that helps—we need to assess these pieces before I talk about limits. It’s a very, very different picture–if a child is getting into fights with their friends, their friends are abandoning them and you keep hearing that she’s losing friendships, burning out relationships, and that she’s not showing up to classes, not doing the work you’re getting—it’s a very different picture. Not to say that we can just ignore her behavior and say, “You know, she’s doing fine in these other two departments, so we can ignore the other part.” It just helps us feel a little bit more grounded and seeing a more well-rounded, holistic picture. And I think it’s very important to make sure we’re seeing the picture holistically.

11:36  Kathryn:  Yeah, it helps me, too; not just in terms of not feeling like such a failure. [Laughter] Or so out of control.

11:43  Leslie:  So, hearing this already—do you feel a little different?

11:46  Kathryn:  Yeah, like that my other foot just went down.

11:50  Leslie:  Beautiful. So you can feel like you keep using the word, grounded. Well, I bet you love feeling grounded. 

Kathryn: Yes. [Laughter]

Leslie:  And that  just helps you feel grounded. Excellent. Okay. Well, you also mentioned feeling like a failure. I’m wondering in your eyes, does she feel like a failure? Does she think she’s failing you? The person she probably loves most? You and Dad?

12:18  Kathryn:  I think…not all the time; I think just this most recent thing, I think from that she does. And I think there’s a dynamic that, you know, our son is…he’s…if you have a dynamic and you know, sometimes you have an easy one and a hard one, she’s definitely a hard one. And so she knows that. There’s no mystery; I mean,you can’t not know that.

12:44  Leslie:  And something really, really interesting…because when there’s a dynamic and you have a girl and a boy, and you have the boy is the easygoing one; the girl’s the difficult one, I have found over and over again, that they add a subtitle. And the subtitle is, “He’s good. I’m bad.” 

Kathryn:  Yeah… 

Leslie:  It’s so sad that, of course, that was never your intention. And it happens from a child’s perspective. So, isn’t it interesting in our last session when we were role playing and you were on the couch and being Bridget, and I was asking you about shame. And I mentioned the word. It’s the only time in the conversation you got agitated. And I said, “Okay, great: we don’t need to use that word right now.” Remember, I said that? I bet I hit a nerve. I bet there is shame. I bet she does—in only a little piece of her life, but an important piece of her life, she feels some shame. 

It’s just an emotion. She doesn’t feel that everywhere. Thank goodness, she’s out, she’s doing her work, she’s academic—she’s not feeling shame in those areas. As you said, she’s feeling confident. But shame, when it shows up, is a painful emotion. And the way she reacted, you reacted—interestingly enough, sometimes role plays are really accurate [Laughter]—they tell us a lot. It very well may be that we have to deal with some shame there.

14:08  Kathryn: Yeah. Definitely. Without a doubt, and then my own sense of shame and how that’s been passed on, in terms of how to control behavior.

14:18  Leslie:  Absolutely. And I would guess that it’s generational shame.

14:21  Kathryn:  Oh, yeah. That’s yeah, that’s what I mean. [Laughter] That’s the parenting model. Like, centuries back, And guilt.

14:30  Leslie:  Yeah, I’m gonna join that line of ancestors and parents that are on that line of shaming and guilting our children…and I try to own it when I do it. I am not perfect. I try to stop doing it. But it still comes out of my mouth faster than I can control it. It’s the runaway horse. And so I love that my children, being adult children, although they started as teenagers, would even point it out, my daughter was once telling me about a Spanish test in high school or something. And I made a comment and it was a shame or guilt comment. And she pointed out and said, “Mom, do you really mean to be judging me right now?”  “No—thank you.” 

Now, it’s not easy to hear that from your child. But if you can be grounded in that moment, I can actually hear, because there’s probably some truth in it. And so this seems like we’re not answering the question that we came here to answer about the limits. But it is, indirectly, because we need to figure out, we’re assessing what’s going on. Because in order for me to set limits, I need to understand her as a whole person. And I need to understand some factors that get in the way of our interaction. I would say the shame is a very significant piece. 

Okay, so I might leave that for a moment. And we’ll go right back to talking about limits. There are some differences in the way your husband sets limits, and you set limits—that’s okay. There is a difference between flexible limits, and permissiveness. There’s also a difference between limits and boundaries. A boundary is immovable, usually much more permanent, the boundary between my property, my neighbor’s property, and countries, those are immovable. And when we’re dealing with relationships, I like to think of it as a limit because a limit by my definition is flexible…yes, you’re waving in your head…what I would recommend is thinking of the term, observing my limits

When I observe my own limits, I then am guided by how to interact with my child. So I’m not going to…Leslie is not going to tell you, Kathryn, what your limits should be. Because I want you to respect yourself and know where your limits are, just if we’re talking about limits of how much noise I can take in a room. If we were five people in a room, we’d all have different limits, because we all can observe our own personal limits for how much noise I can take in a row. A child who grows up, and as a single child, and now has three children might have a lot of difficulty with the sibling rivalry. Because they had a personal limit that wasn’t exposed to that. We want to keep in mind that we have personal limits that help us guide setting limits with our children.

[Music: Stand in the forest by Olexy]

Leslie:  If I’m talking to my child, I might say, “I have a personal limit, and I’ve reached it. That party was my personal limit. That was actually over my limit. And let’s talk about it.” Because it may not—here’s the respect—it may not have been her limit. You know, I heard a little comment, and her limit is, “I can have sex, drugs and rock’n’roll but I’m not interested in oxycontin or heroin, all those things she thinks she thinks; and I understand that she has her own limits to what drugs you will do. That’s another conversation we’ll have. But right now we’re talking about how, for you, to set limits. 

And that idea that when you own them, as yours, you have every right—that’s the authority, that’s the authority as a parent, where you’re going to say, “I have a personal limit, and here’s what it is. And I’m going to set this limit with my child, because I have the authority to do that, I have the ability to do that, at this point in her life, to set some limits. But it allows that agreement before you even said agreement to say, “I realize that my limits are not the same as your limits. Your limit may be that you could go to bed every night at 11 or one o’clock…well, we can’t control what time kids go to bed. But we may have a limit in terms of what they’re going to do and how we express that. So when I say I want to respect her limits, and I want to respect that my limits are different, I am not giving her permission to set the limits of behavior.

Kathryn:  Right, because I have the authority. 

Leslie:  That’s correct. And you want to use your authority. But by respecting her, you’re actually giving her what I call personal power, and you’re not going to try to power over her. But you’re going to respect and you’re going to use your personal power to step into your authority without having to power over someone; which is the demanding authoritarian kind of parent. So we’re going to respect that she might have her own ideas. “I get that this is not what you think is in your best interest right now. And I’m going to let you know that this is as far as I can go. This is my personal limit.” So then, establishing that personal limit: are you going to do it in a contract? Yes, and no. Do promises work with kids?

20:19  Kathryn:  She likes to do, and apologize later. And then she, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” And then she doesn’t change behavior at all.

20:25  Leslie:  Then don’t set yourself up for failure. Don’t make promises. Parents do this over and over again. “Promise me, you kids, that when I go out to the store, you’re going to get your homework done.” Oh, my God, I am setting myself up for failure like you can’t believe. Right? “Promise me that you’re not going to turn on the TV while Dad and I go to have dinner.” First thing I’m going to do is turn on the TV, right? So I don’t like to make children make promises. It only sets them up to break a promise. And it sets them up for a lie. And like you said, the apology feels… “That’s just fine. I’ll apologize after.” 

So we want to break that pattern. So we don’t necessarily want to make a contract that sounds like a promise. We can have a discussion, which I would set up, “Hey, why don’t we set up an experiment and try to set these limits and see how it works. And we’ll revisit it at the end of the month. Let’s try this for a month and see how it works.” Now I’m letting her know that my limit may be flexible, that I’m willing to work with her. And she’s got a stake in it. She’s got a reason why she might want that experiment to go well, because she wants to keep more freedom. And so at the end of the month, if she has not shown the behaviors that respect the limit, then you say, “Okay, that wasn’t working. What do we do now?” And we engage them in the idea of brainstorming.” I love—you said yourself—you would ask her, “So what limits you think you can live by?” And so when kids get in trouble, and I ask them, “So what do you think the consequences should be, or what do you think the next step should be here?,” I either hear kids who are totally like, that was no big deal—they’re very dismissive of it, they take no responsibility for it. I take kids who are way, way too hard on themselves. Like, “Okay, I shouldn’t go out. I shouldn’t have friends. I’m a terrible person.” Like, “Whoa, hold on, all you did was forget your homework.” And then you know the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. And then you have those kids right in the middle; who are, “You know, what, Mom? I realized that that was not fair to you guys. I said, I was coming home at 9:30, I came home at 11:30. I will work really hard to come home at 9:30. Or maybe I’ll even try to get home at 9:15 if you ask me to come home early or something like that, or I’m going to call you if I can’t get home on time.” So you’re going to do some more problem solving and some more discussing of what those limits are. So we can hear: how is she going to live by those? What does she have in place to be able to tolerate the limit that you’re putting on? And I like to set it up as an experiment. “Let’s see how this goes for a month.” 

What are you hearing me say? And how are you taking all this? Because I want to hear your response. I want to hear if this is helping you at all.

23:32  Kathryn:  Yeah, I feel like we’ve done a lot of that, you know, like, “What do you think the consequence should be?” And it seems to work a little bit and then it gets out of hand. And because we’ve had a completely big shift in our living arrangement, it’s been harder to come up with what that is. And yeah, so all of us are navigating a completely new situation. And so what held before feels different now. And so I think one of the limits is that she needs to be to school on time. And we live five minutes from her school, five minute walk from her school, two minute walk from her school. And she’s late, all the time. She’s a late person, and I’m a super-on-time person. So that’s one of those fit things, and she’s always late, drives me crazy. And she always thinks she has plenty of time to do it. And I’m just like, “Ahhh!,” because I get stressed around time. And so I want her to be to school on time.

24:34  Leslie:  Okay. Sometimes just because someone has a transgression, we don’t have to throw the book at them. We don’t have to take everything away. And all of a sudden, “Because you’re doing this, now you need to be on time and now you need to do this and now you need to…” it’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, let’s stick to what happened.” You guys gave her a chance to spend a weekend by herself. That didn’t work. That’s all you have to change. And it sounds like you guys are going to change it and you’re going to say, okay, one parent will be with her on the weekend as well or she’ll come home, or we’ll be together. But that didn’t work right now. It’s going to happen sometime when she goes off to college or at some point, but right now, that’s just beyond your limit, your personal limit. And so right now, to me, that’s the only limit I need to set. I don’t think in that same conversation, I’m going to talk about being on time. Those are two separate conversations, really separate conversations. And I would find that in terms of setting a limit about being on time, is it having any negative effect? Because it’s interesting. Sometimes being late is not getting in someone’s way. It’s just the way they are. But if it is getting in her way, teachers are commenting, or she has less time to get organized…Let’s find out again, assess whether or not that’s a problem for her. But when it is seriously a problem, like she crossed those lines, spending that weekend by herself and inviting people over and doing things in your apartment. That’s when it’s like, “Okay, we can set that limit.” Doesn’t even have to be a discussion. We’re spending the…

26:10  Kathryn:  Yeah. And the consequence for her, on her side, is like, “Well, you do this, I’m never going to tell you anything again.”

26:17  Leslie:  I bet that’s not true. Because remember, as someone whose…she’s very close to you. She’s very connected to you. She’s going to have the dilemma like most kids do: “I want to share and I don’t want to share.” So I hear that. And I just hear she’s flinging whatever she can at me. And I’m like, “Okay, I get it. I get you’re upset right now. Like, I forget the words, and I realize I get that you’re upset. Period, the end, it makes sense that you would be upset in this moment.”

26:45  Kathryn:  Yeah. And then now, I don’t know what our limits are around drinking, and drugs, and sex. I feel like we don’t we don’t know what those limits are. My husband was a total pothead in high school, and so he’s kind of like, “A ha ha ha, look, she loves pot.”  And I’m like, “Ha ha ha— no.” [Laughter]

27:12  Leslie:  Because of your experience or because you don’t think it’s good for her?

27:15  Kathryn:  I don’t think it’s good for her. I mean, I smoked a little bit of pot in high school, I don’t really like it. I mean, it’s just like, my personal experience with pot; I was more drink alcohol, like in ways that are not healthy, either. And she’s also doing that. And so I feel like, both of us know, my husband and I, we both know, kind of like, what can happen. And, we also know it’s not that good for her. And so it’s like, where does the line get drawn? And because she’s so experimental, and learns…likes to try things—she can’t tell her not to do stuff, she wants to try it herself. That’s where it’s like, is she going to tip over into something that’s far more addictive and dangerous? Like OxyContin, fentanyl, heroin—you know, those types of drugs. That there’s kind of like a line; almost between…

28:08  Leslie:  Absolutely. And you talked about, we talked about shame being passed on. But we also need to talk about fear being passed on. 

Kathryn: Yeah, definitely for me.

Leslie:  And so I would have a conversation with her about, you know, she says, “No, Mom I am never going to try those drugs.” And I’m going to say, “Great, that’s music to my ears, because those, we know, are very, very, very dangerous and have very sad outcomes. We know what’s going on right now in our country with the opioid addictions. How do you know you won’t be curious? What’s going to happen when you’re curious? What happens if it shows up? Is it easy for you to say ‘no’?” I would want to understand is, part of probably being who she is, someone who’s late, someone who’s very social, very fast line, sometimes saying no is difficult. So she might have difficulty saying no, that would be a concerning factor. You know, that would be my concern. So having difficulty saying ‘no’; so instead of saying, “Oh, great, you’ll never do those things.” Instead of being fearful, “Oh, my God, she’s going to do it, she’s going to do it,” I just say, “What happens if it’s presented to you?”

Kathryn: Yeah. I love that. 

Leslie:  I remember, my kids did that, too, when they were in eighth grade and their friends…there were kids in the seventh and eighth grade who were already smoking cigarettes, which I knew and I said, “Okay, they’re smoking cigarettes,” and made a statement; they said, “Yeah, but I’m never going to do that.” And I said, “Wow, that’s great. That’s music to my ears. I don’t ever want you to start smoking cigarettes. And you might get curious. Because you might be around your friend who you like so much, and they’re smoking. And you might end up getting curious, there may be a curiosity, they may be asking you; what would happen if you’re curious?”

And that got them thinking. And in order to be a responsible child, you need to be a thinking individual. So if you have these conversations with her about, “What are you going to do if you’re curious? Or what are you going to do if one of the people you love, and you’re really friendly with, invites you to have this drug, says, ‘Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.’ So you trust the person because you hang out with that person all the time; what are you going to do when you trust the person? And they’re offering you something that in the past, you would have said no to? But now you trust the person and you’re like, ‘Oh, but it’ll be okay. They said, it’s going to be okay.’ Those are really hard situations to be in. Boy, I’m glad I’m not a teenager, because those are hard situations to be in.” And you may not have any conclusive conversations, I’m not looking for an answer—I’m just putting this information to her to sort of ponder it. So that when that situation happens, she might actually be able to say, “Oh, there’s that situation, we had that conversation about…”

Kathryn:  Planting of the seed.

Leslie:  …it’s planting of the seed again, and it gives her an opportunity to…you might say, “Do you want to role play it?” Or, “I know you are confident in so many ways. Do you think your confidence will show up in that moment to be able to say ‘no’, do you think you can fish deep down inside of you to find the confidence to say ‘no’, in moments like that?” We want to build on who she is, because I’m not making any of that up–you’ve told me that about her. And I don’t want my fear to say, “Oh, my God, but there’s drugs out there that you’ll get addicted to, and you’ll die and you’ll overdose.” It’s like, “Mom, really? Either go get a therapist and calm down. Because…

Kathryn:  Here I am. [Laughter]

Leslie:  There you are. Good—you’re doing perfect. So let’s wrap up. I want you to think about this stuff. A lot of material again, so take time to digest it. I saw you taking notes, give it a chance to process.

31:54  Kathryn:  Great, thank you.

[Music: Live in the moment by Oleksii Kaplunskyi]

32:06  Leslie:  I want to thank Kathryn so much for being open to examining her own fears and thought patterns, and how they’re getting in the way of effective parenting. I really admire the way she is open to hearing other perspectives. Before I get to my wrap up, I want to let you know that if you or someone you love is facing a substance use or mental health crisis, there is help. Call the free and confidential hotline: at 1-800-662-H-E-L-P. That’s 4357. I’ve also got more information and resources in the show notes. 

Okay, so now back to the wrap up. Often parents focus solely on what they deemed to be problematic behaviors. This leads to a lopsided view of our children. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, as a therapist, “My parents don’t understand me,” or, “My parents only focus on what I’m doing wrong and they don’t see what I’m doing well.” This schism is often the root of conflict and potentially damaging your child’s mental health. I felt it in this session when Kathryn shared her fears about her daughter’s behavior. When I asked some clarifying questions, it was a real ‘aha’ moment for both of us. Bridget has a ton of strengths that have been overshadowed by her mother’s focus only on her risky behaviors. Helping Kathryn understand her fears is part of figuring out how to establish respectful limits with her child. It’s just as important to understand what’s happening within yourself as it is to understand the facts of the situation your child is in. 

We as parents are programmed to focus on the risky behaviors, because correcting those is what we think will keep our children safe. But with this mindset, parents often miss opportunities to see what the child is doing well, and miss out on connecting and building a positive and respectful parent child relationship. Challenge yourself to embrace both your child’s skills and strengths, as well as their problematic behaviors. Join us next week in Part Four where we finally get to the long-awaited apology and repair of Kathryn’s and Bridget’s ruptured relationship. I teach Kathryn the three-step apology, a skill that can be used in so many relationships. Subscribe to iIs My Child A Monster? wherever you get your podcasts, so you don’t miss any episodes.

[Music: The Wilds Beyond by L-Ray Music]

This episode of Is My Child A Monster? was produced by Alletta Cooper, Dale Rubury, and me. Our theme music is by L-Ray Music. You can find a full transcript of this episode, resources, and sign up for my newsletter by visiting ismychildamonster.com. I’m Leslie Cohen-Rubury. Thanks so much for listening. And this week I leave you with this call to action: Take the time to notice your child’s strengths, not just their problematic behavior.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai edited by Eric Rubury

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