How to Manage an ‘Unmanageable’ Child

By Eryn Mann, MST Therapist - 27th September 2016

For many years, Lara felt that she had no voice in her own home. Even though she was the mum, Lara was overwhelmed by her son Harry’s aggressive outbursts, using drugs and alcohol, and not going to school. Lara often felt she couldn't manage her 'unmanageable' child and had no choice but to call the police on Harry. This left her feeling ashamed, embarrassed and she couldn’t see her way out.

Then came MST

After being referred to Multisystemic Therapy (MST), the work began. As a first step, Lara set goals regarding changes she wanted. They included a calm and peaceful home, and being able to spend family time with Harry. 

Week by week, Lara’s strength grew. She became hopeful as she realised she had the strengths and skills needed to help Harry change. 

To address outbursts, Lara created positive links with the local police. This was different from before, as now the police empowered her to be the one who took control of her son. Lara also had regular weekly phone calls with Harry’s teachers, resulting in her being more consistent with how she managed Harry at home, in the community and at school.

Support from others is critical to overcoming hurdles

Throughout treatment, Lara and her family experienced advances and setbacks. During one particular hurdle, I remember Lara telling me she was feeling ashamed and embarrassed again. As we worked through that together, she was able to reframe her thinking. She came to the realisation that everyone experiences setbacks in life, and there is no shame in reaching out for help. She became more assertive when it came to expressing her need for support. 

Through the success of these interventions it was clear to Lara and me that the best results for her family could only be achieved by collaborating with other professionals; the social worker, school staff and the youth offending service. Lara learned that by letting others (family, friends, and professionals) help it is easier to overcome setbacks and that there is no need to feel ashamed. Lara leaned that the proverb is true; it does take a village to raise a child.

Achieving the goals of a calm and peaceful home

Toward the end of MST, Lara was able to get Harry to comply with her rules. He had to tell her where he was going, what he was doing, whom he was with and when he would return home. Lara verified the information, contacting his friends’ parents, to make sure he was safe. This was in contrast to when Harry would go missing for more than a week. Lara also found that creating a warm environment at home, by having family meals and setting time for Harry to do what he enjoyed—cooking for his family—made him feel welcome, trusted and loved. 

Lara felt that she was rebuilding a relationship with her son that hadn’t existed for years. She set clear expectations for Harry and used the support from her mum (Harry’s grandmother) to communicate these to Harry. He did not bring substances into the home and went out less during the week. By the end of MST, Harry would rarely leave home during the evenings, instead choosing to watch TV with his mum.

Lara and Harry also found that by working with the school, they could develop a plan to support Harry, including helping Harry to keep calm and setting clear goals for Harry to work towards. This encouraged him to behave more positively. He is now very committed to completing his exams. Teachers are helping Harry stay on track to achieving his aspiration of becoming a chef.

Harry still lives at home, attends college every day and has had no other arrests. Lara now feels that her home is warm and significantly calmer than it had been prior to MST. She is more confident in managing challenging situations and is not afraid to ask for help.

Eryn Mann is an MST therapist on the MST-UK Coventry Team