Reentry Will Be Hard

By now your child may be idealizing what being home is like and you may have forgotten how hard it was to have her in the house. Your other kids will have their own feelings about their sibling coming home, too.

You will need a lot of patience for the next week or two. Remember that your child is not cured, and no matter how much you want this ordeal to be over, you can’t expect him to behave as if he is all better, or even mostly better. The hospital has only stabilized him enough to allow him to move to outpatient care. Old behaviors have not been extinguished, merely tempered. Long-present triggers have not been deactivated. Your child’s anxiety or rage or paranoia or OCD or depression may spike a little less quickly or have a shorter duration, but it’s far from gone.

So there will be bumps. And because there will be bumps, you will need to remind yourself repeatedly that a bump is not a cliff.

The first time your child acts the way he did before hospitalization you may leap to the conclusion that you are right back where you were before. This is not true. Breathe deep. Do not allow yourself to freak out. Stay patient. Be empathetic.

Managing the Stress

Your child is going to be just as scared by bumps as you are, if not more. Although neither of you may have thought of it this way, life in the hospital was actually much simpler than life at home. The rules, behavioral expectations and consequences there were carved in stone. Everything was planned out. Staff didn’t take behavior or outbursts personally; they responded according to protocol rather than with dread or alarm. So arriving home — while definitely a good thing — is also stressful. There are far more stimuli, far more temptations. Home is a place of old habits and parental expectations. What seemed easy to manage in the hospital may feel much more complicated now. The stress level for your child will be higher.

Here’s what you can do to lower it: Tell your child something on the order of “I am so, so glad you are back. They warned me that reentry can be stressful, and I want you to know that I don’t expect everything to be perfect. I don’t expect you to be perfect, or to feel perfectly better. I know that I’m not going to be perfect, and I’m not going to handle everything perfectly. That’s okay. I know there will be bumps. And I want you to know that I love you, and we will work through the bumps together.”

Then when problems erupt, you pause, take an enormous breath, and say, “Remember how I was saying there would be bumps? That was a bump. And we will work through it.”

Your task is to step back from your expectations and emotions, and to stay as cool as you can. You will offer empathy — tons of empathy — and creature comforts: favorite meals, a cup of tea, a stuffed animal, some soothing music. This will help. Or at least it will help a lot more than screaming at your kid in frustration.

If you have to vent, do it in private to someone who can remind you that what you are seeing is a bump in the road. If you live with a partner, find ways to hand off care when one of you is weary or anxious or losing patience.