Coping While Your Child Is an Inpatient

You are likely to have many intense feelings about having a child in a psychiatric hospital —including shame, guilt, fear, anger, sadness and relief — and you will be better able to help your child if you allow yourself to feel and process these emotions. Your partner’s mix of feelings will undoubtedly be different than yours. You’re both allowed to feel what you feel. Be kind to each other, for you are each hurting in your own way.

No matter what you are feeling, remind yourself over and over again: your child is safe. This, at least, is good.

Now that your child is safe, it’s time to take care of yourself. By all means, take a day or two to give vent to your feelings, then make use of this time to replenish yourself.

Phone calls, anger and distress

Kids often feel ashamed, confused and scared about being in a mental health facility. Because they are kids, they are likely to take their feelings out on the person they love the most, the person who is safest: you.

You will not be the first parent to be called the worst mother or father in the world, nor the last to be on the receiving end of a blistering “How could you do this to me?” Don’t take it personally, even if it’s addressed to you. Regardless of your fear (and your child’s assertion) that she’ll hate you for the rest of her life, she probably won’t. So when you receive that tenth venomous phone call, or hear yet another heart-wrenching plea to get her out of there, breathe.

You can try to reason with your child, but don’t expect to get far. Logic is rarely effective at defanging emotion. You’ll probably make the most progress by acknowledging and empathizing with her underlying feelings:

“It sounds like you’re really scared.”

“You must be really angry that you have to be there.”

“I’m so sorry it’s so rough. I sure wish there were a better way, but there isn’t.”

If you’re too fragile to manage this approach (or the calls simply get to be too much for you), talk to nursing staff about limiting phone access. Alternatively, don’t pick up every call. You don’t have to “be there” for your kid every single hour of the day. It’s healthy to set limits.