A Rock or a Hard Place?: Finding the Third Option

It’s a warm, sunny afternoon outside, but inside an upset mother is recounting her young daughter’s latest week. “I just don’t know what to do with her anymore. I don’t let her have play dates and all her activities have been cancelled, but she keeps screaming at her brother. How do I make her stop?” Ironically we’ve been working on adding more activities into Sonya’s life. When I met Sonya all she did was listen to music alone in her room, rarely interacting with her family and never playing with friends. Her mother is between a rock and a hard spot: is Sonya allowed to continue fun activities (critical to her emotional health) when she’s hurting those around her?

To me this is a perfect example of an effective parenting technique being completely ineffective. Unlike counselors who espouse one discipline method for all, I like to examine what is best for the family’s individual circumstances. We began exploring the specifics of Sonya’s outbursts. When do they happen? First thing in the morning and right before bedtime. What is her relationship with her brother outside of her outbursts? She looks up to him. Any big changes at home recently? Her dad has been traveling more for work. Next I meet with Sonya, including in our session a conversation with her about these outbursts. It turns out Sonya’s having bad dreams, which scares her when she goes to bed at night and upsets her when she wakes up in the morning. Sonya and her dad used to have a special nighttime ritual and without it she’s having “scary” dreams more often. For the end of the session I met with Sonya and her mother. As soon as Mom learned what was going on her anger dissipated and she and Sonya were able to commit to a new bedtime and morning ritual which included cuddle time and conversations about her dreams and her feelings.

Often we get stuck between a rock and a hard place and waste time debating the two options instead of taking a minute to look for a third. Take some time this week to search for it; I’d love to hear what you find!