Wipe the slate clean
Before leaving for treatment, your child likely broke rules. Aside from substance use, there may have been issues with family interactions, school or job attendance, household chores, and issues of privacy and respect, among other things.
It’s helpful to start with a clean slate. Think of this time as a new beginning — an opportunity to forgive past mistakes and problems and start fresh.
Creating your recovery plan
Some families choose to put together detailed recovery plans in writing, where others have more casual conversations about it. Regardless of your approach, being clear about your expectations and areas of support as well as listening to what your child is willing to sign on for can go a long way toward improving your family’s well-being.
Here are five items to discuss and consider including in the plan you develop together.
1. On-Going Treatment
Will your child be attending an outpatient program or individual counseling? What about psychiatric/medication management, participating in support group meetings and/or compliance with probation?
It’s a good idea to have your child sign a release so that you can talk with the professionals they are working with, even if the release is only for attendance.
It’s also worthwhile to talk about people, places and things that may be triggers for your child and how they plan to address them.
In this section of the plan, you may also consider how you are willing to help — whether it’s with transportation, financing co-pays and deductibles, attending family counseling sessions and/or going to support group meetings for yourself.
2. Relapse Contingencies
While relapses don’t always occur, it’s best to discuss what the plans are in the event that one does.
It may mean that your child needs to go to counseling more often, step up participation in support group meetings or needs a medication adjustment. This is typically the case if there has been a slip. If there has been a binge or a longer relapse, a higher level of care may be needed (and may include detox), such as returning to an intensive outpatient program or residential care.
3. Household/Academic/Employment Responsibilities
Structure and spelling out a routine can be very helpful for recovery success. This section is an opportunity to determine exactly what the expectations are with respect to chores and other ways to help out around the house; school attendance/performance; finding a job or work schedules; addressing financial issues such as allowances, bills and fines, cell phone and internet privileges; transportation provisions, etc.
4. Family Interactions
This part of the recovery plan details how family members expect to interact with each other. For example, there may be an expectation that phone calls and text messages from family will be returned promptly, family dinners will be attended and curfew is honored.
It’s also helpful to discuss how frequently you will communicate with each other about your child’s progress in recovery. You may want a daily report while your child may feel like every time you ask a question, it’s an interrogation. Some families find that a weekly check-in works well.
5. Rewards/Reinforcers and Consequences
A recovery plan should have both positive reinforcements for when goals are met — and consequences for when they are not met. Decide ahead of time what they will be and then be consistent with both rewards and consequences each and every time, without fail.
For example, you may choose to encourage your child to attend “90 meetings in 90 days” (i.e., attending 12-step meetings for ninety days in a row in early recovery, to get support and help create new habits). And if they accomplish this, you could have a celebratory dinner together at a restaurant of your child’s choosing. Or when they get a job or bring home a strong report card, you can give something they have been wanting, such as a gift card or a gym membership. This is true with smaller efforts too — when they attend appointments, make new friends, try a new, healthy activity — which you can acknowledge and reward with a simple gesture like a text message, a kind word or a hug.
In some cases, you may want to say “If you do (fill in the recovery-related behavior), I will (provide some reward important to your child).”
On the other hand, it’s important to spell out consequences so that your teen or young adult knows ahead of time what is going to happen if boundaries are violated or agreements are not kept. The consequences should be specific to a behavior, not for a bundle of transgressions, and be something that you are willing to follow through with as opposed to a threat. For example, a consequence for being more than 15 minutes late could be the loss of weekend car privileges or phone or laptop use. Or if he or she doesn’t respond to text messages from family members within an hour, another chore will be assigned. These are just examples — you’ll want to think of consequences that work best for your child and family.
Creating a recovery plan may sound like a lot of work — and it is. Recovery takes effort. But by sitting down together and discussing your expectations ahead of time, you will build upon your child’s progress and help set the course for continued growth, well-being and good health for your whole family.