When You Send Your Child to Residential Treatment

Handing the care and nurture of your child over to a residential facility is not easy. When the reason for placement is because the child has become too difficult for you to parent, more factors come into play. Depending on the individual and the situation, parents of a child in a residential treatment program can experience any or all of a wide range of emotions.

What Parents Might Experience Personally

Parents may experience confusion. How did it come to this? Or anger–why couldn’t it have worked? If only the child had cooperated with the plan!

When the constant contentions are gone from the home they may feel relief. They don’t have to be perpetually on alert for trouble or grappling with manipulations all day long. Peace has returned to the home. Or if the child had been succeeding in dividing the parents, they find that now they are able to think through issues again and restore peace and unity in their marriage.

They can feel happiness that the child has new opportunities and sadness at the realization of the child losing out on many blessings he could enjoy that his parents wanted to supply. Greater sadness is felt over the fact that his behavior indicates that he is probably not saved and definitely not right with God.

They might have doubts, wondering where they went wrong. How did they fail? Doubts lead easily to guilt feelings and regrets, such as if they perceive themselves to have “failed” the child or the siblings. They were too strict. They were too permissive. Maybe they didn’t believe the siblings’ complaints when they should have. Maybe they poured so many resources into the one child that the siblings lost out on opportunities. They are wrong to enjoy relief now. Reasons for feeling guilt and regrets can be many, some legitimate and others not.

There may be grief. Parents who move a beloved child out of the home and into residential care experience losses. They lose the daily contact with the child. They lose a sense of relational closeness. The child’s bedroom is uninhabited and eerily quiet. His place at the table is empty, his seat in the car vacant. They lose a part of their family. They also lose a dream. This isn’t how family is supposed to work. It becomes undeniable that they will never experience the particular joys they’d anticipated from “family” or this particular relationship. Missing their beloved child, parents endure a constant if fluctuating longing for his return or for connection with him.

New uncertainties lead to wondering, prudent concern, or even worry. How do we love the child from a distance? What does that look like? What plan do we have if the child is sent back home prematurely?

In relation to others, parents might be hypervigilant. They may be processing what to tell those who ask where the child is. Will someone ask a question too awkward to answer? In the past, family or friends questioned their parenting, “You’re too strict.” “You don’t understand how sweet your child is.” They may be wary of telling much to others for risk of criticism.

What Siblings Might Experience

If there are siblings, parents have to address their concerns wisely with grace. Sibling responses will vary according to many factors like age, emotional closeness to the rebellious child, and intensity of either the positive interactions or the anger- or fear-inducing provocations received. There may be relief. As one sibling said, “The black cloud is gone.” No longer are there daily, hourly, conflicts raging in the home. They no longer have the worry of watching or hearing a parent be verbally attacked by the rebellious child. Finally, Dad and Mom have time for them. Finally they are free of tension, provocations, and fear. They are also free to tell Dad and Mom about maltreatment by the offending sibling that they had kept secret; they disclose more.

There may be anxiety and/or confusion. What will Dad and Mom do if told the secret offenses of the absent sibling? What do I do with the offenses I am now free to expose and face? What was wrong in the family? Why would Dad and Mom send a sibling away? Was I part of the problem? Will Dad and Mom bring the provocateur back or can I relax?

Anger feelings rise to the surface because they can now express it without threat of the bully’s retaliation, so they release pent-up frustrations over unresolved perceived injustices. There may be brooding from a desire for revenge for the many injustices and sins the sibling endured at the hands of the absent child, leading to bitterness. If the children want to never have that sibling return to the family, they resist reconciliation. They want to cut him out of their lives. These responses will have to be evaluated biblically as to whether they are prudent or sinful.

What You Can Do

Hope. It is inevitable that relationships have difficulties. God is both in control and loving. This situation is under His supervision and He will use it for your welfare. By the power of His Spirit, you can trust Him. – 1 Cor. 10:13

Pray. God has chosen to work out His sovereign plan in part through the prayers of His people. Pray for repentance and subsequent growth in love for Christ, for salvation and subsequent sanctification. Pray for the staff and the child and your family. – 1 Thess. 5:17

Determine. Hopefully, you have no problem dealing with the situation. But if find it difficult and emotions threaten to overwhelm you, don’t live by feelings. Evaluate what emotions are based in truth, find out what God says to do about them, and then do what He says no matter how you feel. – Gal. 6:16

Restrain. I’ve been asked what a parent can say when someone asks about such as delightful charming child being sent to residential treatment. There isn’t much you can say without gossiping about the child and that would be sin. Develop a one-sentence, discreet answer. Better to be misunderstood than to sin with gossip. – Prov. 10:19

Confide. Choose a trusted person as a confidante who will counsel wisely for comfort and solutions. – Prov. 17:17

Assess. Did you parent like the Bible says regarding instruction, discipline, grace, communication, and gentleness? Where you obeyed God, give thanks for the work of His Spirit in you. Where you disobeyed, plan how to change and implement the plan. – Prov. 28:13

Change. Take this opportunity to make needed changes in your marriage and parenting. Use this time to grow in Christ, including your heart desires and attitudes and your ways of communicating. – Eph. 4

Love. Plan and carry out ways to love the child now. Depending on what is allowed and in the best interest of the child, ideas include phone calls, letters, cards, visits, and gifts. Ponder ways to speak words of blessing, like Paul did with the wayward Corinthians. Speak well of the child to others. Commit to continued love for the difficult child. – 1 Cor. 13; 2 Cor. 11:11

Restore. Work with the other children in the home to help them take a biblical view of their absent sibling and the situation. Help them assess their own hearts, put off sinful responses and put on godly desires, thoughts, words, and actions. – Matt. 22:39; Luke 6:20-37

Support. Be supportive of the staff at the facility where your child is. If you don’t understand or think you disagree, be slow to criticize and quick to ask questions for more understanding. Give benefit of the doubt. Thank them. – Prov. 18:13

Prepare. Prepare for your child’s return or for future interactions. – Prov. 20:18


About Linda

Wifing, Singing, Studying, Counseling M.A. in Biblical Counseling Certified by Association of Certified Biblical Counselors
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