I was a Positive Discipline Parent Educator for 6 years before my daughter started struggling with depression. I finally had a grasp on what it meant to practice positive parenting. I was facilitating classes on Positive Discipline. I was putting it into practice in my home. I felt confident in my parenting skills…then my daughter started struggling at school…getting into fights… being bullied… couldn’t find her place in her new school.. even decided to go to a drinking party…
All of a sudden I found myself in a scary place…parenting a teen who had lost her way… suddenly I lost all confidence. What did it mean to practice kind and firm parenting when your teen seemed out of control?
My daughter was struggling with her sense of self. She had been a competitive gymnast for 10 years. Her life was gymnastics. It was all she knew. She would leave school and go directly to the gym to work out. They pushed her hard, as they all had high hopes for her. Suddenly, the sport that was her life passion became overwhelming. She didn’t feel she could give it her all. She didn’t feel it was worth sacrificing friends and family. So, she gave it up. It was a very hard decision, that I felt was hers to make. But, sometimes I wonder should I have pushed her harder.
After leaving gymnastics behind she struggled to find her identity. Who was she, if not a gymnast? We had moved to a new town, so that I could be closer to the college I was attending. She found herself without friends, without passion, struggling to make a new path.
This new path led to struggles, who was she in this new environment? Who was she without gymnastics, who was she as a biracial student. The black girls hated her, the white girls hated her. She ended up in constant conflict. Trying to prove she was a person of worth.
In the end, she decide to go to a wild party and consume too much alcohol. The night ended with me very fearful of the well-being of my daughter. I was grateful my daughter was alive and well and she felt the shame of how much she had worried those that loved her.
Out of that extreme guilt and overwhelm of how life had spinned out of control she felt she couldn’t cope and took a handful of my anxiety medication. I thank God everyday that she told me what she had done and I had rushed her to the ER.
Let me be the first to tell you that parenting classes don’t prepare you for the realities of parenting a teen with depression. I had struggled myself with depression as a teen. My own mother struggles with life with bipolar. I had done all the things…and I still found myself at loss…
What does kind and firm parenting look like when your teen is engaging in risky behaviors?
How do you hold firm boundaries when your teen tells you they want to end their life?
I get how complicated it can be. I get how difficult it can be to know the best way to support your teen.
I also know what I did to support my teen that I truly believe, helped support her through the most difficult time of her life. I believe that the tools I had learned in Positive Discipline truly helped me to support her on her journey and also in my own parenting journey.
Now, I am happy to report that my daughter is living her best life. I believe the way that I was able to support her through that journey has a big part to play. It definitely has a big part to play in the amazing relationship that we have today!
So, what are some of the key strategies I learned from Positive Discipline that helped me navigate these scary times with my daughter? From the mouths of babes straight from my daughter, the tools I used that helped me navigate my teen’ s depression:
When I asked my daughter what was it that I did that helped her through this difficult time she said;
1. “You never left my side”: When she was hospitalized for an overdose, I was right there by her side. Fortunately, she came to me and finally told me she had taken the pills. I immediately called poison control and they told me she needed an ambulance to the hospital. I was by her side telling her I was there for her and we were going to get her the help she needed. When the doctor said they did not believe she had taken all the pills she said, she said she took, I believed her. It didn’t matter, what mattered was the pain she was in. She, by the grace of God had a miraculous recovery, just as I had as a teen.
2. “You tried everything in your power”: I got her the support available; counseling, medication, alternative schools. We got her a counselor, thankfully, she connected with. We tried a few medications, that unfortunately didn’t provide absolute relief, but did help some. When school was too much of a stressor I was open to finding alternative pathways; until she decided to get her G.E.D.
3. “You believed in me”: Even though, as an educator, letting her drop out of school was very difficult. I had to believe she would find the right path for her. She did, although she needed to focus on her mental health and dropped traditional high school it was not long that she found her path to obtaining her G.E.D. She also says, I never gave up hope. Although, attending traditional school was not an option at the time I continued to find her different pathways to obtaining her education.
4. “You related to me”: I talked with her about my own personal struggles, the struggles of others and that she was not alone. I told her that I loved her unconditionally, no matter what!
5. “You worked with me”: I walked along beside her, helping her navigate life’s struggles, advocating for her best interests and needs.
6. “You empowered me”: I wrote “I am Enough” on post its and put it all over the house where she would see it. I reminded her of how beautiful and smart and strong she was. I remind her of how proud of her I was and how proud she should be of herself.
7. “You continually gave me physical touch”: Giving her hugs constantly and playing with her hair like she likes.
8. Lastly, she says “You let me make choices for myself”: As hard as it was I had to realize she was on her own life path and had to ultimately decide for herself what was in her best interest. This can be the hardest for us parents. Having faith in them to choose what is right for them.
Parenting a teen through depression… parenting a teen even through the normal ups and downs of adolescence is extremely difficult. They are fighting everything we taught in a means to find their own way. Hold space for them. Don’t judge them and lecture them. Ask them curiosity questions to explore the meaning of their own life.
We are meant to be guides…to support them on the journey of discovering their own life path.