What do you do if your child is exhibiting unsafe behaviors?

What do you do if your child is exhibiting unsafe behaviors?

Is your child running away, becoming physically aggressive when asked to complete a task, threatening to harm themselves or others?

First, understand that, despite the social stigma associated with behavioral health, this does not indicate bad parenting!

My name is Rebecca Stoddard, LMSW, and I am a behavioral health therapist, part of the Home Based Crisis Intervention team with Rochester Regional Health. These are the cases my team and I face on a daily basis. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, one in five school-age children and teens experiences a mental health problem; an estimated 60% of them do not receive the care they need.

Parents and caregivers of children experiencing behavioral health concerns often ask, “What do I do?” Unsafe behaviors in the home can be stressful, frustrating and outright scary. As a caregiver, you want the best for your child. When mental health and/or behavioral health are involved, it can be hard to know the best steps to take.

In appreciation of Mental Health Awareness Month, here are some tips for understanding behavioral and mental health concerns in children:

Primarily, understand that your child is a child
With their brains still developing, they are not able to regulate their emotions like an adult typically would. This is important to understand because it can be easy for an adult to grow frustrated when a child cannot regulate their emotions. Remaining calm and giving your child the tools to regulate is key. Co-regulation can be helpful too! That is when both the child and the caregiver(s) apply the skills they have learned to regulate their emotions. This approach gives the caregiver an opportunity to calm their own frustration, and will help the child regulate as well – it’s a win-win!

Take a break when you or your child needs one
This is a big step toward de-escalation. Respite can give the caregiver an opportunity to decompress, prevent burnout, and avoid dysregulation (inability to control one’s emotional responses). It gives the child a break too. This is extremely important, as continued care for high-risk behaviors can be challenging and tiring for both caregivers and children.

Several agencies in the Rochester region offer respite care, both at home and out in the community. This is something you can speak about with an outpatient therapist, physician, or other provider to see if it would help your unique situation.

Don’t try to reason with a dysregulated child
When dysregulated, children are not thinking logically (2+2 does not equal 4), so trying to reason with them at this time is not effective. Learning how and when to take breaks will help increase positive communication and avoid escalating behaviors. The child will be better able to access the logical part of their brain once calm.

Remember, all behavior is a form of communication!
Children do not always have the skills or tools to communicate effectively, which means that sometimes their needs/wants are communicated through verbal aggression, physical aggression, and emotional dysregulation. Take a deep breath, ask yourself “What are they trying to tell me in this moment?” And remember: Children depend on us to teach them how to navigate the world and solve problems. Providing them with tools and opportunities to do so will help set them up for long-term social and emotional success.

Resources in the community

  • Crisis Care and Intervention: First things first: If a child or teen is experiencing a mental health crisis—and health and safety are an immediate concern—contact 911 or 211 Lifeline immediately.
    Beyond that, my organization, Rochester Regional Health, provides a wide range of home, school, and community services. By meeting children where they are, we reduce access barriers. By working with the entire family unit, we enable true healing.
  • Monroe and Ontario Counties: Rochester Regional’s Home Based Crisis Intervention provides 24-hour crisis intervention for families with a child at imminent risk of psychiatric hospitalization. The services are free, with enrolled families receiving short-term (4-8 weeks), intensive, in-home crisis intervention that includes teaching new coping and parenting skills.
  • Ontario, Wayne, Seneca, or Yates Counties: Rochester Regional’s Finger Lakes Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program provides psychiatric evaluation and mobile crisis services for children and teens.
  • Individual and Family Therapy: Individual therapy focuses on one-on-one interactions between the child and their primary therapist, providing the opportunity to explore underlying causes, beliefs, and thought patterns. Family therapy, meanwhile, can help each family member build effective communication skills. Our Genesee Mental Health Center is a key community resource.
  • School-Based Health Centers: Located on several Rochester City School District campuses, School-Based Health Centers provide comprehensive medical and behavioral health care to students right at school. Services are provided by licensed professionals at no cost to students or their families.
  • Community Youth Behavioral Health: This program provides in-school mental health services in Brockport, East Rochester, Gates Chili, Geneseo, Greece, Hilton, Spencerport, Victor, Webster, and West Irondequoit.

Contact information:

Genesee Mental Health Center: (585) 922-9900

Home-Based Crisis Intervention Monroe & Ontario County: (585) 922-8040

Finger Lakes Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program: (315) 462-1080

School-Based Health Centers: (585) 922-SBHC (7242)

Community Youth Behavioral Health: (585) 922-CYBH (2924)

When a child experiences mental health or behavioral health challenges, it impacts the entire family; but no family has to go through this alone.

Rebecca Stoddard, LMSW, is a behavioral health therapist with the Home Based Crisis Intervention team at Rochester Regional Health.