My guest this week is Alisa Foreman. She has a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Phillips Graduate Institute. She has a strong passion for the field of psychology and supporting others on their life path through the power of therapy. She began her work at the California Counseling Center providing therapy to children, adolescents, couples, and families. She has also served as a child therapist for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she has conducted individual and group therapy at the elementary through high school level. Alisa is the clinical director at Optimum Performance Institute and has been a part of that team for the past 11 years. She is enthusiastic about the work that she does there and the opportunity to help young adults on their journey to independence. She believes in the importance of finding joy and balance in life and building a healthy repertoire of skills to manage day-to-day life.
In this episode, Alisa Foreman and I discuss young adults, particularly the struggles that some of them experience with transitioning into independent adulthood, and how we can best support them. You may have heard the term “failure to launch”, which basically means that an individual who has the ability to move into independent adulthood has not yet been able to do so, and there can be a variety of reasons for that. Alisa and I give some examples of how parents can help young adults transition into adulthood successfully. Learn more about Alisa Foreman here.
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What is OPI (Optimum Performance Institute)?
- OPI is a residential treatment program for young adults of all genders, ages 17 to about 28
- Help young adults find the balance between clinical work and the community integration
- Help them work through emotional issues that interfere with them managing the day-to-day tasks
- Help get them out in the community to explore different areas of interest
- Help them learn how to balance school, work, relationships, self-care, and independent living skills all at once.
- It’s a very phased approach where there is a lot of structure and supervision at the beginning, then as they learn and grow we back off the support so they can gain more independence
- By the time they leave, they have a sense of where they’re headed, they have a plan, they have things they enjoy, they know the skills they’re strong at, they know what their areas of challenges are
The K-12 cliff
- Often young adults get overwhelmed because k-12 is very structured then they graduate and there is no set path
- Some go off to college and really struggle because that doesn’t feel like the right fit for them
- Some are overwhelmed by the vast options of what to do once they graduate high school
- For those who relied on the support and services at school, for special needs or academic help, it is shocking because those services drop off immediately after they graduate
Other factors that make it hard for young adults to feel independent
- Parents wanting to make their kid’s lives easy, enabling
- Young adults realize “I don’t know how to do my laundry, cook meals, go grocery shopping, or budget.”
- Parents being overindulgent or overly concerned about kids staying comfortable and not having to feel negative emotions impact their mental health and resilience
- Some kids get in this mindset that “Either I am 100% successful and perfect at what I’m doing, or I’m not going to do it at all.”
Strategies for launching your child into adulthood successfully
- Address any mental health issues first
- Start teaching them life skills at a young age
- Make it fun to help with the laundry
- Give them a little budget to buy things at the grocery store and let them make the transaction
- Involve them in planning and logistics for the week or for the weekend
- Have them create an agenda for a vacation
- Involve them in the cooking and meal planning for the week
- Help them build morning routines – wake up with an alarm clock – what needs to happen to start the day off right
- Help them create evening routines – how to wind down form the day and how to prepare for the next day
- Set clear boundaries
- What are the rules for you living at home as you get older
- Pay partial rent
- Get up and out of the house by a certain time
- Need to contribute to grocery bill and cooking
- It can be extremely helpful to partner with a third partner to help your child stay motivated. Whether that be a therapist, mentor, life coach etc.
Follow Alisa Foreman
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Alisa’s background … 00:03:30
About OPI … 00:05:00
The cliff after k-12 … 00:08:00
Helicopter parenting doesn’t help … 00:14:10
Struggle for two reasons … 00:16:10
What parents can do to help … 00:26:15
Having a strong tool kit for your child … 00:39:53
Episode Wrap up …00:41:50
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking about young adults, particularly the struggles that some of them experience with transitioning into independent adulthood, and how we can best support them. You may have heard the term “failure to launch”, which basically means that an individual who has the ability to move into independent adulthood has not yet been able to do so, and there can be a variety of reasons for that. And this term kind of gets thrown around with humor sometimes, but the reality is I am seeing more and more young adults in my practice who struggle to make this important life transition, and then also more and more parents and families who are really stuck and don’t know what to do to be helpful and to move their adult child along in life. So whether you are currently in this situation with a young adult child or you have younger kids and would like to prevent these issues later on, this episode is for you.
My guest today is Alisa Foreman and she specializes in these issues with young adults. Let me tell you a bit about her. She has a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Phillips Graduate Institute. She has a strong passion for the field of psychology and supporting others on their life path through the power of therapy. She began her work at the California Counseling Center providing therapy to children, adolescents, couples and families. She has also served as a child therapist for the Los Angeles Unified School District, where she has conducted individual and group therapy at the elementary through high school level. Alisa is the clinical director at Optimum Performance Institute and has been a part of that team for the past 11 years. She is enthusiastic about the work that she does there and the opportunity to help young adults on their journey to independence. She believes in the importance of finding joy and balance in life and building a healthy repertoire of skills to manage day to day life, and boy can we all we more of that right now.
When Alisa is not working she is focused on her other passion which is her family. She has a husband, two daughters and two French bulldogs that she loves spending time with. Alisa, it’s great to have you today. Welcome to the show!
Thank you so much for having me, I appreciate it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So we were talking a bit before we started the episode just about how many more young adults are having challenges with these issues and how much more prevalent these things are than maybe even a decade or two decades ago. So we’re going to get into lots of things around that, but I’d love to start by just having you share a little bit about your journey, of what brought you to this specialty of really working with young adults and families who are trying to navigate this particular life transition.
Well I started as an intern and I was working at various schools with young children. I worked with elementary school, middle school and some high school, and I really enjoyed that older population because they were beginning to sort of think about “What is that next step, and where am I going?”, and there’s such a focus on the social piece and there are dynamics within the family system that were coming up, and it just became something I was really interested in, in terms of not just working with them individually, but looking at the whole system and then even the system within our society and how we as a society are helping or hindering some of these adolescents and young adults in figuring out that path. So when I had the opportunity to work at OPI, I really started to get very involved in that work. I enjoyed working with the young adults and being a part of that process and helping support and guide them, as well as really working closely with the parents too to give them a lot of support and resources in terms of how we can navigate this next stage, how we can support our young adults, how we can balance giving them their independence with also still jumping in where they need that help. And over the past 11 years I just have continued to enjoy that work and have the opportunity to work with many young adults and really see them to be able to overcome some of those challenges and find that path for themselves. So I think the successes of many of the young adults and their families that I’ve worked with has really kept me very motivated and engaged in the work that I’m doing and keeps me doing it everyday.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Fantastic. I’d love to have you share a bit for our listeners who are not familiar, probably many people have not heard of OPI, but it’s been around for a long time, it’s a great program. I’d love to have you share a little bit about what it is that you do.
OPI is a residential treatment program for young adults of all genders, ages 17 to about 28, and our goal is really to help them find that balance between the clinical work and the community integration. So we want to be helping them work through whatever emotional issues have been interfering with them being able to manage in life and day-to-day and cope with some of the stressors in life, while also getting them out in the community to try and explore different areas with the support in place to help them when they may hit a bump or struggle. And then our goal is really how do you help them find balance? How do they figure out how to balance school and work and relationship and self-care and independent living skills and really sort of keep all those balls in the air as they’re juggling life. So it’s a very phased approach where there is a lot of structure and supervision at the beginning, and then as they move through and they’re learning more skills and they’re able to take on more responsibilities, we pull back and it gives them that sense of confidence that they can do it more on their own. It also gives their parents that sense of confidence, seeing them be able to take on more.
By the time they leave us, they have a sense of where they’re headed, they have a plan, they have things they enjoy, they know the skills they’re strong at, they know what their areas of challenges are that they may need to continue working on, and we look at really supporting that family system in terms of what’s gotten in the way in the past within this system and how we can help re-establish this young child-parent relationship to an adult child-parent relationship with a lot more reciprocity, better communication and boundaries.
I think OPI has been around for 15 or 16 years and it has just continued to evolve. Because we are located in LA, there are so many resources around that that our young adults can just go out and do whatever they’re wanting to do to explore and really find their passion.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s fantastic and as I was saying to you before, I think that we would do well to have one of those types of programs in every community because there are so many young adults who are struggling with this, and I want to delve into that a bit, about the factors that play into that.
You’ve touched on a couple of them, but one of the things that I think catches both young adults or older teens/young adults and parents by surprise is this sort of cliff that happens at the end of K-12 education where up until then, for the young person, their life has been structured externally, right?
They’ve been told “This is what you do, you go to school”. There are so many things that are guiding and directing, and when 12th grade ends, and we’re talking about individuals who get that regular diploma where school service is cut-off, whether they’ve been in special education or not, they graduate, they’re done and now it’s like “Oh. Oh wait. There’s nobody telling me exactly what I need to do. I need to figure this out.” And I think that catches a lot of parents by surprise too, especially if their child has been receiving some services through the school system or elsewhere and suddenly they go, “Oh, wait. We’re now on our own.” I think that sort of service cliff or that real shift that happens there, it’s surprising for a lot of people.
Absolutely, and I think there are sort of two different paths: You have the ones that finish high school and their expectation is you go to a four-year college where that may not be the best fit for them. Their learning style, their interest, their skillset may not allow them to be successful in a four-year college, so now they’re sitting with “I should be doing this, this is what everybody else my age is doing and yet it doesn’t work for me”, or you have the ones that have a better understanding of maybe all of the different options and they’re sitting there completely overwhelmed by how many options are out there, and “How do I possibly figure out how to narrow this down and find what works for me.” And I think either way can be incredibly overwhelming and stressful for the young adults and the parents to begin to navigate that process and figure out the next step.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So we’ve got this issue of: Okay, suddenly we’re in this phase of life where no one else — there’s no set path, no one telling me what I need to do. We’ve also got a situation where now the support and services that were in place through K-12 education are gone, so people are left hanging. What are some of the other factors that you see that play into the challenges that young adults experience at this phase?
So I think that in our society there has also been a lot of, for lack of a better word, probably enabling. We want to make our kids’ lives easy. So there’s a lot of day-to-day independent living skills that many of our young adults are not receiving until they get to adulthood and then they go “I don’t know how to do my laundry. I don’t know how to cook meals. I don’t know how to do grocery shopping. I don’t know how to budget.” Then they’re thrown into adulthood: Go live on your own with no skills to do so. So when I talk to parents with younger children, I’m always talking about “Make it fun, but teach them these skills along the way. Have them join you when you’re cooking dinner. Have them help do the laundry, separate the whites and the colors. Or have them help you make the bed or sort the socks into pairs. Things where it’s just building up their sense of confidence and they’re learning these life skills along the way so it doesn’t come and overwhelm them when they get to adulthood, and now they have to start learning them. So give them a little bit more responsibilities throughout, it really does positively impact their self-esteem and it better prepares them.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, and I think we really tend to either just not think about it or underestimate the impact that not having those skills has on kids. I mean the number of young adults that I have had just in tears in my office over the sheer overwhelm, even with going to a more structured environment like college. They’re still in a dorm or in an apartment or in some kind of living situation, and mom or dad or the housekeeper or whoever is not there to direct and manage and pick up after them, so they get into these interpersonal dynamics around that stuff then with roommates, it’s a problem. They just become overwhelmed by the magnitude of “How do I process all these things? Physically, how do I go to the laundry machine and do this?”, but then also the bigger picture issue of “How do I work that into my schedule? How often do I need to do this? When do I know when my laundry needs to be done?”, all of these things. I’ve had so many parents who say “What’s the big deal? They should just get that?” and it’s like, if they haven’t been taught that, and particularly I find, if they’ve had a history of having executive function challenges, of having neurodevelopmental issues, of having issues like anxiety or mood dysregulation or those things — Oh boy. Not being able to think through how to manage those daily life things on your own can totally snowball then for those kids.
Absolutely. Yeah, we feel a lot of our young adults, they’ve been woken up every morning living at home, and so waking up with an alarm — and we focus a lot on the morning and the evening routines: How do you start yourself off on the right foot and how do you sort of wrap the day up and prepare the next day? Things like that. Time management. How do you manage your day? Like you were saying, what’s your routine? What’s the structure that you’re going to know: “I go grocery shopping and do my laundry on Sundays and then Tuesday nights I do this,” and there’s a sense of routine that just becomes habitual so that it doesn’t become something that all of a sudden everything is thrown at you at once. You start building it into your routine. And I think the more parents are including their children into those routines, the more prepared they are.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. You are talking about how the term that we use, “helicopter parenting”, not wanting to make things uncomfortable for our kids can lead to us not teaching them how to do these life skills and then lacking those. I think the other place where that shows up, that sort of helicoptering or feeling like our job as a parent is to make sure our kids are never uncomfortable, where that shows up then is a real lack of resilience, of being able to navigate challenges. We’ve had Julie Lythcott-Haims on the show a couple of times, she’s written books about these issues and these transitions, and I think that’s a big factor too, and I’m curious about your sense of that. How parents being sort of overindulgent or overly concerned about kids staying comfortable throughout their childhoods impacts the mental health or the resilience piece of that.
Absolutely. I think there’s a piece to it that almost appears like perfectionism in terms of “I’m so used to being told I’m so great at everything, I’m so used to things going well that I hit a bump in the road and I just compensate. I can’t tolerate the discomfort of “I made a mistake, I got feedback that wasn’t positive, I didn’t get the job that I applied for, I didn’t get an A on that test”, and they drop the class, they quit the job, they can’t tolerate the discomfort of imperfection. So we get this very rigid black and white thinking of “Either I am 100% successful and perfect at what I’m doing, or I’m not going to do it at all.” And I think some of that is due to mental health issues and the way that their brain sort of operates in that very rigid way, and the other bit is more of an environmental — how they were brought up. I think back to even when I was in elementary school. It was a private school. Everybody won. Everybody got a trophy and everybody won.
And while it was lovely and it felt great as a kid, not everybody wins. How do you tolerate losing? How do you be a good sport? How do you continue and push through and continue building your skills? That’s where that resilience comes in. So I think sometimes we do them a disservice by trying to protect them from the upset or the downfall of rejection or failure. But in the long run, we’re not preparing them to be able to push through when life gets hard or things don’t go our way.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s interesting. As you’re talking about that, I’m sort of thinking about my own experience in the clinic with young people and sort of mentally sorting into two categories as you’re saying that. And I want to speak to that for a minute. I think we have parents listening who are maybe in one or the other of those categories: There are the kids who struggle at this life transition because they have a long history of challenges, right? Maybe they got through high school, maybe they got the diploma, but they really struggle with a lot of non-academic things, like time-management, like awareness, like social interaction, communication, regulating their emotions and behaviors — all of that. But then there’s this other category of kids who really seem to be sort of on the ball and the perfect student, the athlete, with no identified issues, on the honor roll, all of these things. Probably some hints of some anxiety or stress-management issues along the way, but really, by and large, people would go “Wow! Great student!”, solid in all areas of their life. And then they get to college and completely fall apart for exactly the reasons you’re saying. And it is sort of these two groups.
And yes, a lot of the ways we handle that are similar. The underlying things of what needs to happen there are similar, but I just do want to spotlight that for parents listening because I think it’s the parents of kids who didn’t have any struggles or didn’t seem to have any issues all the way through, that this is the most traumatic for for those kids and for those parents who are like “Wait a second. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me!/This wasn’t supposed to happen to my kid! What’s going on here?”
Right. And you also have some family systems where there are very rigid rules and boundaries, so the young adult goes off to college, all of a sudden they have this newfound freedom and they run with it. So they get into substances or they may really struggle with balancing life because they’re really pushing up against these rigid boundaries that have been around them, or you have the other extreme which is there really haven’t been clear boundaries. So when they go to college, they don’t know how to set their own goals.
And it’s very easy to sort of lose any type of structured routine and hold themselves accountable to some of the things that they aren’t responsible for now. So the biggest take-away is just that balance. That balance in parenting, that balance in reinforcing the successes and allowing them to fail sometimes or make mistakes, and supporting that process as well and really just finding the balance in there so that when they launch, they are prepared mentally and emotionally to deal with both, to sort of sit in the middle and tolerate the discomfort of not doing well and also be able to acknowledge and celebrate their successes along the way.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, doing both of those things is so hard for so many kids. You touched on something else that I think is worth spotlighting before we get into some strategies, and that is how our culture has evolved, or where we’re at in broader, at least American, or I would even say globally more western culture, with our expectations of what it means for a young person to be successful post-high school.
Most kids grow up hearing the message that four-year college is what you need to do, this is what everybody needs to do.
There’s a certain path, and I think that has really done a tremendous disservice to a lot of kids, a lot of families, and even to our society for a lot of reasons. I was listening to something yesterday from our local intermediate school district, begging kids, trying to get kids into the trades programs because we have such a shortage of those things. So we’ve really created some societal problems for ourselves with moving in that direction, but I see young people push up against that piece so often, of “I know that’s not right for me” or parents going “I know that four-year college and that type of thing is not the path for my kid”, but the embarrassment, the shame, the worry, all of the stuff that goes around choosing something different is really profound.
Absolutely, especially the time, developmentally, where they are trying to solidify their identity. So they’re comparing themselves to their peers. They don’t want to fall behind and they don’t want to take the path less travelled by when everyone else is doing. But I absolutely agree with you. There are so many phenomenal programs out there: Certification programs, vocation, trade school. Even we as young adults that are going to art school, they’re going to culinary school, they’re becoming auto mechanics, they’re being computer techs and they’re finding something that works for them, it fits with their learning style, it fits with their lifestyle, it fits with their personality, it fits with their interpersonal styles of who they’re going to be around everyday.
And that’s where you really see them start to come into their own because they finally have found something that they feel good about, they feel successful, they’re passionate about it, they’re feeling joy, and it is a very different path.
So we do a lot of work on the clinical end of “What would it be like for you to go in this direction, if this is really what you’re wanting to do and you feel good about it? And how will you deal with that inner dialogue of ‘But it’s different than everybody else/I should be’”, you know all these shoulds of what you should be doing at this age.
Years ago when I was starting in OPI, even the idea of a gap year was like tabou. It’s not okay to take a gap year. And now it’s become a very accepted thing because sometimes young adults need some time to get out there and explore. Maybe they need to get a job to really figure out “Do I want to go back to school? What would I go back to school for?” And if I don’t, can I move up in this career and make a career for myself. So sometimes they need that time to really figure things out without feeling like “I finished high school, I’ve got to go to college” and the rigidity of that process.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So as we get into thinking about what parents can be doing to support kids in this situation, both proactively but also reactively if they find themselves there, it sounds like this is a big piece of it: Parents needing to be aware of our own internal dialogue, expectations, programming, and then really embrace being more flexible and focused on the path of success for this kid and not necessarily the “norm” that’s out there, right?
Yes. And I think it’s a family process. The parents really have to look at: What are my expectations? Is that reasonable for my child? Who is my child and what are their skills? What are they good at, and what’s going to lead them to a happy, successful life? And it may be a very different path than they themselves took, or that their other few children have taken, right?
We see a lot of families where “Well three of our kids went to college and he’s just not going to!”, and how they tolerate that. Well, he’s a very talented musician and could go pursue music and get the educational background and pursue that and make a career for himself, and it would make him happy and he could be successful but it’s a very different path than the rest of the family have taken.
So supporting them, and sometimes it’s even grieving the loss of what they thought would be for their young adult, and then really providing the space for their young adult to say “This is what I want to do, this is what I think is going to work for me” and finding the best way to support them down that path.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
What else do you think is important as you talk to parents and families about how they can help kids in this situation? Because I think certainly, and you’ve touched on it many times in this discussion already, it’s a family affair, it’s a family issue. When you have a young adult, whether it’s an 18 year-old or a 26 year-old or whatever it might be, still living in your home that you’re supporting and really struggling to move them forward on a path for themselves, and there can be varying degrees within there of how much the young adult is contributing to the functioning of the household, how engaged they are in life in general, we see everything from parents who come in and say “My 25 year-old pretty much refuses to get out of bed and do anything, makes messes all the time, eats our food, disrespects our rules and does whatever he wants and we don’t know what to do about it” all the way to young people who are living in their parents’ homes who are really trying, really engaged in day-to-day life but just can’t figure it out, and everything in between, right? So what are some of the things that are important for parents to be thinking about or implementing on their side of things, recognizing that there’s nothing they can do to control their kid?
Well, I think first and foremost, we want to really look to address any mental health issues. If your young adult is at home because their anxiety is intolerable, their depression is intolerable, they cannot get themselves out of bed, they cannot face the world because of the anxiety, they are struggling with something that really is interfering, we want to address that piece first, because we want to make sure they are in a place where they can handle the next steps and that they will be able to tolerate and push through that. So that’s a really important piece to start off with. And from there, making sure they have a sense of responsibility, making sure they have a sense of accountability, making sure that there are very clear boundaries within the family’s system. What will the parents and the family tolerate? What’s okay within this house and what’s not okay? And where is that line? Because I think sometimes it’s really hard, you don’t want to upset your kid or you feel bad, they’re struggling to get up. And yet, how do you make it clear that they need to be out of the house during the day, and they need to be up at 10AM and they need to be applying to this many jobs a day, or they need to be going to the grocery store or doing the laundry for the family? I talk a lot about having the young adults do those independent living skills whether it’s for themselves or for the family while they’re living at home. So you can live here, but maybe you need to pay us some rent, and so you may need to get a job to pay some rent. It won’t be as if you’re renting your own apartment, but you need to contribute because you’re staying here and you’re an adult. You need to do your laundry, you need to do grocery shopping. Maybe you’re responsible for cooking dinner one or two nights a week. So how do we build in some structure, some boundaries, some responsibilities while they are at home so that it’s not just a free pass to do nothing? Because we’re not setting them up to take the steps to launch. We’re just sort of allowing them to wallow in it or stay stuck, and through giving them these steps, they’re getting unstuck, they’re moving forward, they’re taking certain steps along the day that are setting them up to take that next step. So I feel like it’s the baby steps building up to the bigger steps outside of the home.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I think the piece there that’s so critical too, that you touched on, is the development of a sense of competence. One of the things that I see in so many of these young adults is they lack any sense of personal competence, of being able to handle anything or being able to be good at or do anything. So I have parents who will say “Well it feels mean to me, he’s struggling. I’m not going to tell him he has to do the laundry for the family”, it’s like no, you need to flip that around and look at the fact that he needs an opportunity to feel competent. No human being ever felt competent and good about themselves lying around doing nothing all day. That’s just not how it works and so I think that reframing for families as you’re talking about, really that no, these boundaries, these expectations, these discussions around what you are going to be doing, are really important because that’s what’s going to move you through this. You need to have opportunities to feel capable.
Right. It also creates this sense of safety and security. “I know what to expect, I know what’s expected of me, and I know where those lines are so that I don’t cross them.” It really provides some structure and some comfort around them to know where those lines are versus not having it at all, and “I don’t know what’s coming my way and I don’t know what to expect.” You know it’s more unpredictable, and that creates a lot of anxiety. So I find that the families that have those boundaries, the young adults respond well. They need structure. That’s one of the biggest pieces that we see within our program when they get to us, the parents say that they’ve been laying around all day, they don’t get up and out of bed. They come to our programs, they’re up in the morning, they’re at the office at 9 o’clock. There’s structure. There’s someone counting on them to show up. There’s someone saying “Hey, let’s go!”. There is that piece of encouragement and just — this is what the expectation is. There are the boundaries of the programs: You need to get up and show up, and they respond well to that because they crave that structure.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. And I think for parents who are listening who are saying “Well, that’s great. If I can send my child to a residential program to have somebody else do that”, but I do want to spotlight that that is the benefit of having a skilled professional involved, it doesn’t have to be a residential program.
Residential programs are wonderful and very necessary for some individuals, but the reality is you just need to partner with somebody who is a third party outside of your family system who can help you communicate about this together and create the structure and have some accountability. In the families that I work with, that’s me as the therapist, as the psychologist. But we have done that in different ways with families. It could be a community mentor, it can be just the value of having someone who is not mom or dad who can come into that mix, somebody that they are accountable to or somebody who is helping them with that. So I don’t want people to get discouraged and think “Well, if I can’t send my kid to a residential program…”, no, there are ways to do this and it can be very successful.
And we always want to take the lesser approach. Residential treatment is not necessary for everybody. So we always want to start within the family: Who can support the family and the young adults? Who can help lay out that structure that everybody can follow? Who is everyone going to be accountable to in terms of “Did you follow what we talked about?”? So I think it puts a little responsibility on everybody because we also don’t want the young adults to feel like they are the problem, they are the issue. This is a system.
This is a systemic issue and everyone needs support and everyone may need to shift the way that they are approaching this family, in order to create a healthier family, a healthier dynamic. I also think really working on communication — can you communicate with your young adult when they’re struggling? Will they let you in and tell you? Can you be direct in terms of how hard it is to see them not be able to get up in the morning, and “I’d like you up by 9 o’clock, and let’s go for a walk every morning.
We can talk, we can connect in the morning, we’ll get a little exercise, it will be time for us.” So using the relationship to really help motivate as well. Investing in that time with them, that connection. But that open communication, I think, is so important too. You see a lot of parents that are afraid to say something, or the young adult shuts the parents out and doesn’t want to communicate. So I’m always talking about how we can open the lines of communication. You don’t have to share everything with your parents or with your child, but how can we be able to express ourselves, what we’re feeling, what’s working and what’s not working so that we as a system can shift when necessary?
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love what you’re saying there too about relationship as the foundation for that, and sometimes, especially with kids now in that adult age range, there’s just a lot of “Ugh — Just do this, just do the things you need to do” and it’s like backing up and saying: Okay, let’s start with relationship first, let’s focus on — “You know what? The goal isn’t going to be to get a job today. The goal is going to be “Let’s just put our tennis shoes together and go out and sit on the patio together for 10 minutes or go for a walk.” There often needs to be a recalibrating of what the focus should be, at least initially, especially if you have a young adult who literally is not engaged in life. To say to them, “Well, in order to stay here, you’re going to need to go find a job in the next two days,” that’s not going to happen.
No. And I think to have that action partner — “I’m not just saying you go do this. Let’s do this together! I’ll be with you, it will be a shared time together. I’ll support you, we’ll both benefit from it. You’re not alone in this. I’m not going to do it for you, but I will be there with you while we’re doing this.” And I think that that can really help, not only the relationship, but really get some of that motivation in terms of “I have this support. It’s not being forced onto me, it’s not just an expectation, but someone who is willing to participate in it with me.” And that always seems to feel a lot better.” And sometimes it’s a parent and sometimes it’s a life-coach or a mentor or somebody else where it’s just the joining in that process versus feeling like “I’m alone in this, trying to navigate”.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s a great point because feeling lonely or isolated or whatever word we want to use for that compounds the whole issue, right? Whenever we feel totally out there, hanging out there on our own like we’re all alone, that makes everything worse.
So I love that focus on “We”. “We can do this.” You know, I was thinking as you were talking about that, you said “I’m not going to do it for you, but I’ll do it with you”, right?
So I’m thinking, even on a very tangible level, whether we’re talking to parents of younger kids who want to be proactive about trying to prevent this, or we’re talking about parents who are currently in this situation, I think that’s an important concept of not continuing to do for your child what they can do for themselves.
You can be a partner in that. And I’m thinking particularly about things like phone calls or — my mind is going back to years ago, to the mom of a 24 year-old, totally cognitively intact, regular diploma, all of that.
He wanted pizza all the time. She wanted him to eat healthy. She would call the delivery people to order the pizza to have it delivered, because he was like “I’m anxious, I can’t make the phone call.” And this was just a pattern that had gone on, and I pointed out, well, okay. You want him to eat healthy. He wants pizza. You’re making the phone call to do it because he’s — What could we shift here? “Okay, you want to order pizza and use your own money, I’m not going to stop you, but you’re going to have to make that call. And I can stay here, I can help you, I can encourage you” But things like that, like not doing for kids what they can either learn to do for themselves or are capable of doing for themselves.
Absolutely. And you also bring up that point of making phone calls. With technology nowadays, some of these young adults, they text and they email and they play video games and socialize through the computer — they really don’t have the skill to go on a face-to-face interview. They don’t know how to make a phone call to schedule an appointment. They don’t know how to do some of those things. So modeling it for them, supporting them through it, roleplaying ahead of time: “Okay, let’s role play. You’re about to call and make a doctor’s appointment. What are you going to ask? What’s your availability? What are you going to tell them the symptoms are?”, and walking them through and pressing them so that they can build the skills to do that. We do a lot of roleplaying for job interviews. What are you going to say when they say “Why do you want this job?” How are you going to present yourself? What are your strengths? So modeling and roleplaying a lot of those experiences.
And I also encourage parents to share their own experiences. Everyone had some ups and downs when it came to launching, when it came to getting your first job or dating or doing laundry for the first time. So any stories that you can share that normalizes the process of it, I think it just alleviates some of that stress and anxiety, and again, allows them to connect. “My mom had a hard time launching too, she couldn’t figure out what school to go to”, or “My dad threw a red shirt in a white load of laundry when he was in college, and everything turned pink!” This stuff happens. It normalizes mistakes, it’s permission to be human.
I think so many of these young adults just need to also feel like “Hey, this is a normal process and you’re going through it right now, so it feels really intense, but everyone has their challenges along the way.” And I think those are also fun moments to think of their parents in terms of them making mistakes too. That’s a big thing for some of our young adults. “You mean you weren’t always a successful doctor?” “No, I couldn’t do laundry. That was something that I really had to work towards.” It helps the process a little bit, adds a little levity too.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s great. Love that. So powerful. Simple but powerful, right? One of those things that we don’t necessarily think about, like sharing my own feelings or my own experience at that age. But that does, it has such a positive impact on them. As we wrap up here, any other words of wisdom, advice, tips, things that you feel like whether it’s the parent of a young kid now who is going, “Oh man, I really want to try to avoid this issue”. Any last pieces of advice or wisdom.
The last piece that I would speak to is: Regardless of how old your child is or what phase of life — having a strong, what I call, tool belt of coping skills is really important. How do you manage the stressors of day-to-day life? How do you keep yourself regulated in a stressful situation? How do you tolerate and push through challenges? How do you deal interpersonally? How do you decompress at the end of the day and self-soothe and make sure you’re taking care of yourself? When is it important to just distract and totally do something to take your mind off what you’re doing? So really helping teach those, modeling them, doing them together. Again, “You know what? You seem like you’re getting really anxious.
Let’s take some deep breaths together/Let’s go splash some cold water on our face/Let’s go for a walk/Let’s put on a comedy and just sort of distract ourselves for a little while.” So how are they building skills that are going to get through some of the emotional stuff that’s coming up, and again, who is modeling it for them and who is helping teach those skills? Again, it can be anybody, right?
There are a lot of different forms of treatments or theories that just have nice ways of packaging them, but coping skills have been around forever, and so it really doesn’t matter what you call it or where it came from, who created it, but everyone needs to have skills that they can turn to in a moment to be able to sort of manage and keep themselves at a level that’s tolerable in order to deal with the trials and tribulations of life. That’s a really important piece that we want to arm them with the skills to be able to do that before they are sent out into the world. We want to make sure they’re prepared.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. So right on, so important and something that no matter what the age of your child right now, you can be having an eye towards that. Whether it’s the challenges with a 3 year-old or the challenges with a 30 year-old — how can we build that tool belt, as you said, of coping skills. So, so valuable. I want to make sure that people know where they can find out more about you and OPI and the work that you’re doing?
OPI is in Woodland Hills, California. So it’s www.optimumperfomanceinstitute.com and all of our information is on there. I’d be happy to speak to anybody further. We have visits all the time for families and young adults, and we have residential and outpatient services. So depending on what the needs are, I also have a private practice on the side where I work with young adults and their families if residential treatment is not appropriate. So I would love to be a support to anybody who is going through this process and would like more information or just to consult a little bit.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Fantastic. We will make sure that we put the link in the show notes. And what I will say also is that the OPI website has a lot of great resources. Even if you’re thinking “I don’t like in California, I’m not going to send my child to residential treatment”, there are wonderful audios, videos, articles, all kinds of things there that can just provide some good insights and strategies and things, so I definitely encourage people to check that out. Alisa, this was such a great conversation, such an important topic, and I really appreciate you taking the time to spend with us today. Alisa Foreman:
Thank you so much! It was so nice and I love talking about this topic. I’m super-passionate about it, so it was just a pleasure to do this and be a part of it.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Awesome. Thank you so much, and thanks as always to all of you for listening. We will catch you back here for our next episode of The Better Behavior show.