Parents: What Not to Say When Your Child Suffers with a Mental Health Issue

“You’ll get over it.” “Snap out of it.””It’s not a big deal.” “Stop whining, it’s not that bad.” “Go do ___________, you’ll feel so much better.”stop “Quit complaining. When I was your age I never ___________.” “Why are you being so difficult?”

Have you said these things? They’re not bad. They make sense for the average child. But . . .then you discovered there was an explanation behind their behaviors. Mental illness.

Does your child suffer with depression, bipolar disorder, or some other mental health issue? Do you struggle to know what to say on their rough days? Most parents weren’t prepared. Like me, you’ve probably blown it many times. How could we know to do it differently? We never expected this to happen. We did the best we could, but sadly, sometimes we’ve wounded our beloved child.

I didn’t realize my daughter’s moodiness was more than a case of the blues. She wasn’t just in a bad mood or being ornery for no reason – which is common behavior for teens. I had no idea what was really going on. So how could I not end up saying all the wrong things?

As parents of children living with mental illness here’s a good goal:

Avoid using belittling or dismissive language.

It’s demeaning and sends a message we never intended. It says, “Your feelings don’t matter.”

Your daughter or son will shut down and quit talking to you so fast your head will spin. When they repress their feelings, bigger problems tend to develop: Self-injury (including eating disorders), self-medicating with alcohol or drugs (or pornography), and more.

Instead, we could say: “I’m so sorry you’re having a rough day.” “I have time to listen, if you want to talk about what your feeling.” (don’t try to fix them) “Is there anything I can do to help?” “I’ll be here for you if you need me.” “I want you to know you’re not alone. I’m always here for you.” (Be sure and use “I” statements.)

Here’s a practical tip: Plan ahead. What would you be comfortable saying when you’re likely to make a dismissive comment? What feels natural? Get comfortable speaking those statements out loud. Try to memorize a few. Write them down or save them as a note in your iphone you can refer to quickly and easily when needed.

Of course you can’t be your child’s counselor. Don’t try. It would be a turn off. Meeting with their counselor for ideas to improve communication would be worth every penny. But you CAN be an understanding, approachable, nonjudgmental parent. I promise you, it makes a huge difference.

Please don’t be too hard on yourself. No one’s perfect. If you realize you’ve blown it – or when – admit it, ask them to forgive you, ask God, too – then  forgive yourself and move on.  And don’t try to be your child’s friend. That’s not what they need, either. They need you to be a supportive parent.

truthThe way you respond to your child’s mental health challenges today lays a foundation for the kind of relationship you’ll have with them in the future. So remember – words have the power to wound, but also to heal. Today’s a new day. There’s hope for all of us to learn and grow and do better.

When I asked God for help doing hard things this Bible verse encouraged me:

“Summon your power, O God, show us your strength…as you have done before.” (Psalm 68:28)

Yes, Lord, with your power and strength we can speak words of encouragement, empathy, and support to our children – even when we don’t feel like it.

In Your Son’s Name.  Amen.



Help for Parents of Drug and Alcohol Addicted Children

A Resource for You

“I can’t think straight.”

“I don’t know which way to go.”

“I haven’t got a clue where to find help.”

“I feel so lost.”

Have you said any of these things due to the choices and behaviors of your child? I have. As parentsdepression20 of drug or alcohol addicted sons and daughters we’re shaken. These thoughts and feelings are normal. And when we’re in the midst of the chaos, trying to find what we need feels exponentially more difficult.

Across the board we have no idea where to look for help. We’re doing good to remember the basics to get through the day: Get up. Shower. Get dressed. Eat breakfast – after a strong cup of Joe for many of you.  Go to work. Try to hold it together all day. Try to concentrate and not offend co-workers by unpredictable responses. Go home. Try not to lash out at loved ones from built up stress. Distract worrisome thoughts until bedtime. Attempt to give spouse or other children attention. Try to sleep and pray not to have another nightmare. Repeat.

One of the goals for my blog is to share resources because I know they’re so hard to find when you’re a wreck. This is another great resource we discovered recently. A fellow journey-er (did I just make up a word?) gave it two thumbs up.

The resource is Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You by Charles Rubin. In his book Rubin interviews parents and draws from his own experience. He’s one of us! Here a few comments from the front and back cover:

“This book defies the myth that parents must sacrifice themselves. Instead, it shows them how to reclaim their power, balance, happiness…and lives!” That’s exactly what we need, right?

“When kids turn to substance abuse, parents also become victims as they watch their children transform into irrational and antisocial individuals. This harrowing scenario finds parents buckling beneath the stress–often with catastrophic consequences: Divorce, career upsets, breakdowns…and worse.

Don’t Let Your Kids Kill You is a landmark work that dares focus on the plight of the confused, distressed parent and not the erring child. It sets aside preconceived ideas that parents are to blame for what is essentially a full-blown global crisis.”

“These are a few quotes I liked from the pages of the book:

Trying to negotiate with an addict never works. The effect of substances on the human brain render it useless in terms of keeping agreements.” (p. 8)

“The first thing you must realize is that the relationship between you and the addict, as strong as it may seem, has in actuality been terminated by whatever substance is in your child’s body.” (p. 9)

“If only I had looked at the series of events leading up to our family tragedy with even a semblance of rational thought or detachment, I could have seen that my perspective was based upon what I wanted for my children, rather than what they were willing to do for themselves.” (p. 46)

“The ultimate goal: learning to support yourself

By joining a support group, the wheels of progress go into motion immediately toward changing destructive patterns in the parent/addict relationship. The main aim…is to help the parent support themselves mentally and emotionally. This isn’t something that happens overnight. Some parents have to sit in support groups for years before bringing any major changes in their lives, while other parents take charge right away.” (p. 134)

support groupRemember this: You are not alone. God is with you and there are many other parents who have gone before you who can help you along the way.

I hope you’ll get a copy of this great book. If it helps you, tell someone else about it you think could benefit from reading it, too.

Next Sunday I’ll share another resource with you.

What resources have you found? Please share them in comments so we can help each other. I want to learn all I can from others who understand, don’t you?



10 Insights for Parents From a Former Lesbian

golden sunset“Mom, dad, there’s something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time”, you shudder with dread over what you’re about to hear, “but, I didn’t know how. I was afraid of how you might react.” Oh, no. “This may be hard for you, and I’m so sorry, but – I’m gay.”

You felt like the wind was knocked out of you. Life as you knew it ended. Hopes and dreams were shattered at your feet. Desperate to find answers and help for what to do next, you didn’t know where to turn. It’s a difficult, isolating, and painful path. Many mystified parents are walking it today.

If this has happened to you – or you suspect your child has some tendencies in this direction – you’ll want to read this blog. These insights were shared by a dear friend and sister in Christ, a former Lesbian for 23 years, who God brought out of the gay lifestyle. She shared these things with our parent support group to encourage bewildered, grieving moms and dads who are facing this situation with their son or daughter.


10 Insights From a Former Lesbian:

1)      THERE IS HOPE!

When Hurting Parents Feel Crazy

Today’s blog is a re-post, updated, from September 2013.

If you’re a parent who’s hurting due to the self-destructivedespair choices your child has made, or if your child suffers from a mental illness, you know these things can turn your life upside down. You begin to feel like you’re going crazy. If this is you, then you need this blog post.

Does your daughter have an eating disorder but refuses help?

Is your son abusing alcohol or drugs?

Do they keep getting in trouble with the law for DUIs, shoplifting, possession/selling drugs, or other offenses?

Do they expect you to bail them out and pay for a lawyer?

Do they refuse to take medication for depression or a mood disorder (i.e. bipolar, schizophrenia, etc.)? Have they struggled with suicidal thoughts or made attempts?

You may feel like you need medication yourself, that you can’t take it one more day or you’ll lose your sanity.

I want you to know you’re normal. You’re not going crazy. You’re not a bad parent. And it isn’t your fault. But there’s something else you need to hear.

More Encouragement for Hurting Parents

Does your son or daughter have an addiction or are they a habitual party-er? Do they struggle with a mental illness new beginnings1or self-harm? Do they have an eating disorder; anorexia or bulimia? Have they been arrested and are now in jail or prison? Are they living a gay lifestyle? If so, then you’re probably worn out. Exhausted. Discouraged beyond words. If you’re like me, I did’t know who to talk to. I was too ashamed to be honest with hardly anyone. How could I? It was a lonely, disheartening journey. At times I wished I had died – I just wanted relief.

I’m in a good place now. My daughter is in recovery and doing so much better, too. I continue to take one day at a time, knowing things could change in a moment. Addiction and mental illness can be a deadly combination. Parents whose children suffer with these issues are some of the saddest, loneliest, anxious, and depressed people I know.

My husband and I needed a lot of emotional and spiritual support. Tons of it. You, too?

Because this kind of encouragement was difficult to find, when I achieved a fair amount of inner healing and recovery myself, I decided to reach out to offer help to other moms and dads. I began writing emails to those I’d met along my path. Words of hope, courage, Scripture, sometimes recommending a book.  I’ve been doing this for over six years.

You can sign up to receive these emails through our website (here). Do you see the blue box to the right of this blog? It says: “Encouraging Emails” – “Encouragement in Your Inbox”. You choose the frequency: Six days a week, three days a week, or once.

Here’s a sample of an email I sent a few days ago:

“Hope is available to us right now,

Square in the middle of tragedy,

Because God has promised to walk with us

Through any disaster that might overtake us.”

– Luis Palau

Need a fresh does of hope today? The above quote comforts me. God, the Maker of the universe, who made the sun, moon and stars, who raised Jesus from the dead, promises to walk with you and me through ANYTHING we will ever face in our lives!

If this is really true (and I believe it is), then I can have hope that I’m going to survive. What about you? But I must force myself to stay in the moment, in the right now. I can’t let myself wander off into the unknown future.

Something else that helps me is making a gratitude list (even if I don’t feel like it) and add to it every day. Then I need to keep my grateful list handy so I can refer back to it on my extra rough days, on the days I can’t even remember what’s on my list because I’ve become so bogged down in the agonizing present.

How quickly we forget, yes?

Take heart my friends, our present trial won’t last forever . . . really! Here are a few reassuring words from God:

John 16:33  “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble, but TAKE HEART! I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:17  “ . . .in all these things we are MORE than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Isaiah 41:10   “Fear NOT for I am with you . . .”

If you were in need of some hope today, I pray this gave you a little more.



Helping Hurting Parents Cope – Part 2

On Thursday I posted the first part of my list of things that help me cope with the stress of being the mother of a deeply

Photo cred. Ravish Kumnar

Photo cred. Ravish Kumnar

troubled daughter. Her substance abuse, cutting, mental health issues, hospitalizations, and suicide attempts caused huge amounts of worry and anxiety. At times, the stress felt like more than I could handle. Does this sound like your story?

Over the last ten years I’ve discovered a wide variety of activities that helped me cope better. This past Thursday, July 9, fifteen ideas were shared. Today is part 2. I hope there’s a helpful idea here for you.
16) Clean or organize something – it keeps your mind focused on something other than your troubled child; men, you might wash and wax the car or work in the garage.

17) Enjoy a hobby – try something new.

Ideas to Help Hurting Parents Cope – 2 Part Series

copeMy daughter is an addict–in recovery. She struggles with self-injury, mainly cutting. She also lives with mental health issues and has been suicidal many times. We’re not strangers to emergency rooms, psych wards or rehabs. I’ve experienced a lot of stress. How can a parent cope?

Over the last ten years I’ve discovered a number of things that help me relax; activities to distract when I’m overwhelmed with worry; to uplift when stress, fear, and anxiety push me to the edge of my emotional capacity.

If you’re reading this blog you probably understand. You may be doing your best to cope

9 Things Parents Should Never Say to Their Children

*Today’s blog is a re-post from Mark Merrill (, originally posted on April 20, 2015. I believe they are cactus flower budsrelevant no matter how old your son or daughter is, and no matter how much trouble there’s been. The focus of Mark’s blogs are to help families love well. He has a lot of good points.

In another blog, I addressed the power of the tongue by noting that your tongue is a wild animal: you need to chain it, tame it, and train it. Chain it by being silent when you know nothing good will come out of your mouth. Tame it by vowing each day that you will harness and control your tongue. And train it to breathe life-giving words into those you love.

When it comes to your kids, your tongue can do a whole lot of damage, if you’re not careful. Never underestimate the defeating power of a few careless words. So here are 9 things that you should never say to your kids:

  1. “Why can’t you be more like _________________?”

Comparisons are toxic and they serve no positive purpose. Comparing your child to their brother, sister or friend only tears down your child and makes them feel like they’re not good enough or don’t measure up. Treat each child of yours as an individual. Never say, “Why can’t you do well in school like your sister?” Do say, “What can we do to help you do your very best in school?” Each of your children is unique. It’s important to treat them uniquely.

  1. “I don’t have time right now.”

One Saturday morning ,when my son, Marky, was a little boy, he showed me his ball and glove and said, “Dad, let’s play baseball.” Of course, since I’m Mr. Family Guy, I said, “Sure, son.” Right? Wrong. No, I said “I don’t have time right now. I’m fixing the toilet. Just give me a few minutes.” Well, the minutes turned into hours and when I was ready that afternoon to play ball, my son said, “No thanks, Dad.” When we say, “I don’t have time,” what we’re really saying is, “What I’m doing is more important than what you need.” or “There’s something else I’d rather be doing.” Is there anything more important for us to do than to spend time with our children and family?

  1. “I don’t think you can do it.”

What your child hears is, “I don’t believe in you.” Knowing you believe in them gives your kids strength, courage, motivation, tenacity, and more. Take that belief away and the damage will be huge. When you’re tempted to say something like this, instead say, “You’ve got some big obstacles, but I’m here for you, cheering you on and ready to help you to do your very best.” While you don’t want to fill your kids with false hope or inflated pride, you do want to encourage them in their goals.

  1. “You’re such a disappointment.”

Your kids can mess up, and they will. We all do. But if you want your children to learn from their mistakes, address their mess and how it can be fixed without hanging it on them. The label of failure is a heavy load to carry, and most kids won’t hold up. Try saying, “Your [bad grade, bad choice, etc.] is disappointing, but I love you no matter what. What can you learn from this?” Separate who your child is from the mess they’ve made. [Tweet This]

  1. “Don’t be such a wimp.”

This should never be said to a boy or a girl. But, for a boy, it’s basically saying, “You don’t have what it takes to be a man” and can damage him to the core for quite some time. Saying, “You throw like a girl” to your son can have the same effect.

  1. “You’re such a bonehead.”

Telling your child they’re stupid is implanted in the hard drive of their mind and is difficult to delete. It’s certainly no way to motivate them.

  1. “Can’t you do anything right?”

When a parent says this to a child in the heat of the moment, it’s not only saying that the child messed this one thing up, but also that they mess up everything. It’s always dangerous to use broad brush words like always, never, everything or anything.

  1. Why didn’t you make the starting team?

Your daughter or son probably tried really hard to make the starting team, but landed on the B squad. They probably already are disappointed about it and don’t need anyone to pour vinegar into their wound. Instead, they need to be praised for doing their best and for even making the team.

  1. “So you made a B+, why didn’t you get an A?”

When something like this is said, here is what a child hears, “Nothing I do is good enough for my mom or dad.” If they did their best, we should praise them. If they didn’t, we should challenge them to give it everything they’ve got the next time.

By the way, the 5 Toxins of the Tongue that Can Poison Your Marriage also apply to your relationship with your children. It might provide you with further insight on this topic as well. And these 5 Types of Powerful Words for Your Marriage are likewise applicable to your children and will help you to build them up.

What other hurtful things have you said to your kids? How did you remedy the situation? Share your experiences below.


** The following prayer is from me, Dena:

Lord, help us tame our tongue and use greater care when we speak to our kids, especially when we’re tired, disappointed, hurt, disillusioned, or angry. We know we’ve blown it in the past. Where we realize we’ve done harm, give us the courage to apologize. Teach us to be quiet, if necessary, to avoid saying something we’ll only regret later. We’re determined to improve. Help us!