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Opinion & Essays - May, 2000 Issue #69 

How Long is Long Enough?
By Kristie Vollar
(208) 267-5550

[The author is the daughter of Woodbury Reports publisher Lon Woodbury and his wife Denise. Kristie graduated from the Explorations Wilderness Assessment Course in 1993, and Mission Mountain School in 1994. Both schools are in Montana. She was inspired to write this article after participating in conversations with other parents while working at her father’s office. Her presence there is a demonstration of the positive relationship that has evolved since she has returned from the above-mentioned programs.]

Is there a time limit parents should set on how long a program should take to affect the changes they hope to see in their child? I talked to a parent, who told me how angry her daughter was. She wanted to find a short-term program for her daughter because she was already dealing with enough abandonment issues. If that didn’t work, she would send her daughter to another short term one and if that didn’t work, another. Why? Why set the stage for failure?

Short-term programs tend to serve two purposes. For kids who only need to work through lesser issues to get them back on track, a wilderness or short-term program might be appropriate. For kids with deeper issues, short-term programs offer a way to “break the ice” and begin the healing process. These kids usually need a follow up (long-term) program. Short-term can often be a way to give parents time to assess the situation before making a decision about what kind of longer program they might need.

A program will only work for those who work with it. If a parent pulls their child out before they are ready, the program will not work. Even if the child is showing progress, not completing the program may in fact cause them to revert back to old patterns and behaviors. The purpose of completing the program is to reinforce the tools that the child has gained, as well as giving them confidence that they can finish something they start.

There is no such thing as a “quick fix.” You can’t just wave a wand and say, “Ok, you’re better now. You can come home.” It takes time for habits to be created and it takes time for those same habits to be broken or changed.

All too often I hear parents say, “I just want a short term program so my kid doesn’t get mad at me.” That is a manipulation from the child. I know because I used to “play” my mom with that. And it worked because she let it. Sometimes I hear a parent say they need a program “to get them back on track.” Maybe that is the case, however, the parent might not be sure just how deep the issues are, and may pull their child before they can deal with their issues.

Parents need to know that sometimes the issues are deep enough that a short-term program may not be enough to help. Because parents may not know how deep the issues are, they may pull their child too soon, trying to “rescue” them, causing deeper issues to take over. The child may then “act out” more or in different ways.

All I really know, though, is my experience. I know that if I had only had a short-term experience, I wouldn’t have come home. I would have run away again, angry, and who knows what I might have done to survive. Who knows, maybe I wouldn’t have survived. The path that I was living wasn’t a healthy one, but I was old enough to be so set in stubbornness that I just didn’t care.

A short-term program alone wouldn’t have helped me. However, a short-term program gave my parents instant relief that I was safe and gave them time to figure out what it was that I needed. The effects of the short-term program I attended, followed with a long-term program, proved to be a success.

So is there a time limit on how long or short a program needs to be? I believe that parents need so assess their situation before they can decide the length of a program to which they are willing to commit. If they feel they can’t make that decision immediately, they should look into a shorter program but keep their minds open. It may take longer. Once a short term program helps them gain insight about the depth of their child’s issues, they can get a better idea of just how long their child may need to be in a program. Parents may need to tolerate temporary emotional and financial hardships in order to help their child gain life-saving insights and skills that will also improve their relationship with their child for the rest of their lives.

Copyright © 2000, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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