A Parent's Guide to Nurturing Resilience in Highly Sensitive Teens

In this episode, Tiffany Herlin, LCSW, and Discovery Ranch’s executive director, Clint Dorny, discuss nurturing resilience in highly sensitive teens, providing valuable guidance and practical strategies for parents. They emphasize the importance of avoiding over-involvement and over-protection, and instead fostering independence and resilience in highly sensitive teens.


How to Build Resilience in Highly Sensitive Kids

In today's complex and fast-paced world, nurturing resilience in children is more critical than ever, particularly for those who are highly sensitive. These children often experience the world with heightened emotions and can be more deeply affected by stressors and challenges. Building resilience in highly sensitive kids is essential for equipping them with the tools to navigate life's ups and downs with confidence and adaptability.

In this episode, therapist Tiffany Silva Herlin, LCSW, and Clinton Dorny, Executive Director at Discovery Ranch, discuss:

  • Helping your child overcome the victim mentality
  • Experiencing growth through struggle and discomfort
  • Overcoming trauma and feelings of abandonment
  • Giving your child the skills needed to adapt to adversity
  • Reestablishing family relationships and connections

If you’re a parent grappling with how to support your highly sensitive child, we can help. Discovery Ranch provides personalized mental health treatment aimed at empowering teenagers to lead meaningful, independent lives. Our therapeutic program helps in creating life-changing experiences and building strong relationships. Start healing today. To learn more about our services, call us at 855-662-9318.

Resilience Podcast Transcript

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    Tiffany: Welcome back to our podcast. I'm Tiffany Herlin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and today I'm interviewing Clinton Dorny. He's the Executive Director of Discovery Ranch, which is a residential treatment program for teenage boys.

    Please remember that this podcast is not a replacement for therapy and always seek a mental health professional for your situation.

    All right, Clint, tell us a little bit about yourself and what your role is at Discovery Ranch.

    Clint: So I'm the Executive Director at Discovery Ranch. I have been there from day one. I was our first hire initially to do admissions and three weeks into it, they said, “We want you to be the Executive Director.” And I asked them, “What's my job description?” And they literally patted me on the back and said, “You'll figure it out.” And so almost 19 years later, I'm still here and figuring it out and still learning and still growing.

    So I started in this industry almost 25 years ago working in residential treatment, doing admissions and I helped start some programs for other groups. I moved to California, back to Utah and Idaho, then eventually landed here and I love Discovery Ranch.

    Tiffany: Yeah. You're rocking it. I love your program. I've always loved working with you.

    Clint: Likewise.

    Tiffany: Yeah, you're dynamite for sure. So I'm excited to have you and your expertise, and to talk about this topic.

    In this episode, we're going to be talking about how to build resilience in highly sensitive kids: what parents need to know about this.

    Strength Is in the Struggle

    Tiffany: So why is it especially important for parents to avoid the trap of being a lawnmower, helicopter, or bulldozer parent when their child is highly sensitive?

    Clint: Well, what we see is we have a lot of anxious parents and we had a lot of anxious kids. Our motto is "strength is in the struggle."

    Tiffany: Which I love! Such a cool motto.

    Clint: It was formulated by an experience we had early on. I wish we could say we started with that in mind, but it came from an experience. We had a boy who had found his dad who had committed suicide and everybody's reaction was strong. And so we have our calf program. We work with baby cows. They bottle feed them three times a day, 365 days a year, rain, snow or shine. It provides a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice and service for somebody else besides themselves. But, then the boy’s calf died.

    Tiffany: Really?

    Clint: Yes, and the first reaction we all had was like, you gotta be kidding me. Of all the kids, this is the last thing this kid needs, right? That was our first thought. And so we met for hours trying to figure out what we can do to mitigate this experience for this kid. How can we save him from this experience? And after a couple of days, we finally looked at each other and decided we just needed to walk them through it. He's in a safe place. We can process all the emotions.

    So what happened was, had we done anything different than just walk them through it, we would have robbed him from the catalyst that actually brought about all the emotion that he'd been stuffing and using drugs to stuff because of the trauma that he had. We would have robbed him from that catalyst that totally changed his life.

    And so we had this experience with him and just said, “You know what, strength is in the struggle.” And it was Jerry, our equine guy, who coined that phrase for us and it's been around ever since. It's on our walls. It's on our shirts.

    Tiffany: Yeah, I think I have one.

    Clint: Yeah. And so life is tough. Life sucks. Life is hard. Life isn't fair. I'm a twin and I'm the fat twin. So life isn't fair.

    Tiffany: No, you're not.

    Clint: I am. I've got him by 30 pounds. So you look at life and my brother and I realized that life wasn't fair when we were teenagers, right? He got better grades. He was a half inch taller. I was older, you know, all the comparisons that twins do. And so I think that that's an underlying thing that we parents do. We try to make life fair all the time and the reality is life isn't fair. We're not equal. Even my twin brother and I aren't equal. He has different strengths and weaknesses from me. So it's learning to look at ourselves and be okay with who we are, and look at our strengths and weaknesses. That's what builds strength.

    Tiffany: Well, I always like to say that, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place like where nothing grows,” and really the challenge is when you're out of your comfort zone. That's when you really actually grow. That's when your character is built.

    Clint: People don't change because of ease. In fact, they come to us because of ease, not because of struggle. You can only gain muscle by tearing the muscle and ripping it and letting it grow bigger. The same thing is with our emotions, right? Not that we have to create tears in our emotional states but we have to push. We have to let kids figure out how to swim, but it's scary at first. We can't take fear away from life. We have to teach kids to walk through it.

    Tiffany: We can't go around putting them in a bubble, protecting them from everything because eventually, they're going to experience something hard. We won't be around all the time to protect them from that and we're really just doing them a disservice.

    Clint: Exactly.

    Tiffany: I mean, what you're talking about is, I have a note later on, but we'll jump to it now, like the growth zone, which is where you get out of your comfort zone and you're forced to grow, like the strength is in the struggle. Like that's exactly what you're talking about.

    Clint: Right. So I use an analogy that I learned from a master teacher. He was a professor at UC Davis who taught animal science and plant life. So, he was teaching a master's class here locally for free about growing stuff and he talked about partitioning. So let's say you have a tomato plant and you want it to grow, right? Well, instead of watering it all the time, he waits till his wilts and then he waters it again. So he might only water it every two weeks. And what he said was if you water it too much, you get a very big plant and you get little to no fruit.

    Tiffany: So what I'm doing with my own plants is perfect.

    Clint: So the only way to actually create fruit is to starve the plant, right? And so this it's called partitioning, where if you water it all the time, it just grows and you get really big, but you produce nothing. Do you see the analogy with kids? But you have to starve the plant or let it struggle and then they go into fruit production mode. That’s when they actually produce a lot of fruit.

    And so it's this balance, right? A balance of how much do you give them and then how much do you let them struggle on their own and figure it out, and then you actually gain fruit right from the plant.

    And so I listen to that and that's really what we do. There's a support network. There's all these things that we do to support and keep kids safe but we're also providing challenges for them. We're providing something that's hard, but guess who wins when they do things that are hard? They do.

    Tiffany: Well, I've talked about this in other podcasts. There are a lot of times at a residential treatment program or with experiential therapy, you're providing a perceived threat or perceived risk. In reality, they're safe with what we're setting them up for. But in their minds, because they're hyper aroused, they have some PTSD trauma triggers. They're thinking they're not safe and this is a really challenging task and it's really scary and they're going to be hurt when in reality we know they're safe.

    Clint: Well we do that with our horses.

    Tiffany: Yeah, exactly.

    Clint: They're next to a 1200 pound animal that could kill you if it wanted to, right? It could do that but it chooses to have a relationship with you. But it's kids overcoming themselves, that growth, right, that you're talking about. If they can learn to overcome their own fears, you've taught them a life skill.

    Tiffany: Well this is hard for parents, especially parents that I think you and I have worked with that are just so terrified at wanting to keep their kids safe. Their kids have done risky behaviors and have gone through hard things and they just really want to helicopter that because you're anxious. You have fear. And when you have that, you want to control things.

    Clint: Right.

    Tiffany: Which is just a false reality. It's a false perceived safety, right? You really can't control things, especially with kids.

    Clint: Right. But you can guide and you can help for sure.

    What Is Resilience and Why Is It Important for Teens?

    Tiffany: So that leads me to my next question. What is resilience? Why is it even important for teens who may be more sensitive?

    Clint: You know, it's interesting that you mention sensitivity. We see kids with a lot of emotion. They have a lot of things going on and it shows up in oppositionality. It shows up and they just want control of their own lives, right? But it's really that they're super sensitive. A little bit can go a long way with these kids and sometimes it's just overload.

    And so with resilience, you want kids to be okay with making mistakes and continue on. You want to stay away from black and white thinking where it's like, I'm either the best or I'm the worst and I won't even try.

    Tiffany: Which is what we get a lot of.

    Clint: We get a lot of that. And so it's helping them understand that concept. We just met with a basketball team last night. A bunch of kids are struggling. They're not very good. They're a new team. They've only played together for a month yet we're playing against kids that have played together their whole lives in the local rec leagues. We talked to them about that very thing. It's like, “Hey guys, I'm not worried about if you win or lose. I'm worried about if you give up.”

    And when I coach my own kids, I tell them, “Guys, I don't get mad at you. I'm going to yell from the sidelines but I'm coaching you, right? I'm trying to help. The only time I'll really get upset is if I see you give up.” That's just not an option and luckily I haven't had to get mad at my kids. They go, they fight, win or lose, and that's the conversation I had with the boys last night as they were heading to their game and they were struggling. It's, “Guys, you're going to go play against kids who've by all means have had an easier life than yours. But guess what? You're going to be more prepared in the long run because you've learned to do hard things, right? And if you give up now, that's not going to bode well for you.” We're more worried about that than anything you're going to go do right now.

    It's learning to do hard things, building that resiliency and that you can do it, that you understand that you can try and you can still succeed. You can fail and keep going.

    Tiffany: Yeah, which brings me to why adversity and trials are so important for these types of kids because it helps them build. It helps them realize they can be resilient. They don't have to give up and they can do hard things.

    Clint: Well, and I think there's an art of forgiveness that's a part of this as well, that forgiving yourself, forgiving others, working past stuff, those things in life that happen. You could spend your whole life being offended or playing a victim role and they feel justified. And so a lot of what we do is help them look at that differently, reframing their life for them so that they can gain control. And they realize that they're actually in control. They can actually control how long they stay.

    Overcoming the Victim Mentality

    Tiffany: How do you get them out of that victim mode to the resilient side?

    Clint: So at the ranch, we have a level system that walks them through three phases of development from dependence to independence to interdependence in our relationships. The kids go from a process where we have to create structure for them, this external locus of control because they haven't figured out the internal locus of control yet.

    Tiffany: Yeah, it's so much easier to control everything externally when you're in that state.

    Clint: Well, they have to because they can't really do it themselves. So that's why they're dependent. They think they're in control, but they're actually dependent on other people to meet their needs because they're manipulating or figuring things out to get other people to do stuff because they really can't and they've kind of maladapted behaviors around that.
    And so it's about constant feedback and about putting them in situations where they get to practice it and learn it in practice. And so they go from dependent behavior where we're providing the structure for them to independence because they really want control of themselves. They really do. And we want to give it to them, right? More than anything, parents want the kids to take control. But what they want is the final stage, which is actually interdependence, which builds trust.

    Understanding Interdependence

    Tiffany: Can you explain to our listeners what interdependence is? Cause I always like to do these podcasts as if we had someone who has no idea what the terms we're using.

    Clint: Well, so obviously in relationships, if you're dependent, you're relying on other people to meet your needs. With independence, you're separate from other people. It's like I'm independent and I can do what I want, but I really don't see how I affect other people.

    The interdependency is when you have a give and take in relationships. I talk about the will of the child where, when they're in that dependent phase, they're really just focused on themselves. And then they begin to sacrifice that will and they start to realize, “Wait, I'm actually happier when I do things for other people.”

    But sacrificing I thought was the key and it's great. And yet, it's still only halfway. It's when they actually have a change of heart where they become interdependent with their parents and they have this loving, giving, taking in relationships. That's going to go to their significant others down the road and their family, where it is give and take. It's, “We're both giving a hundred percent,” not me taking and you taking, going back and forth. But that's when love and trust becomes the motivation. So it goes from sacrifice, which is I'm giving up.

    I'm still only halfway there when I say, “Well, I want that and I'm willing to give that up for this,” but I'm still sacrificing. Half of my heart still wants to be over here in this. For example, drugs. They may say, “I want drugs, but I'm willing to give them up because I want this, but I'm still stuck fighting this battle. I'm still caught between two worlds of giving that old stuff up and going to the new stuff.”

    And then when they realize this, they get to our higher levels. Granted, if we’re thinking of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we're not going to get the self actualization by level five, right? That's not the goal but it's that they're on this path of realizing that relationships are important, that they create self imposed structure. So we go from imposing the structure at the beginning and then it goes to self imposed structure on the other side of the pyramid, which is that there's little to no relationship when a kid first comes in. It's all structure. But as time goes on, those relationships become the motivator and the structure becomes self imposed.

    And so then they're ready to go out to the world and they have trusting relationships. They're doing it right. They build that resiliency.

    Tiffany: That's awesome. So from what I'm hearing, they're becoming selfless, they're gaining empathy and compassion, and they're looking outside of themselves, really.

    Clint: Totally. I'm not just focused inward. I'm actually looking outward.

    Tiffany: Which is what we would hope for most adults in the world, which some are still working on. I'm still working on it!

    Clint: We all are. That's what I'm saying. We're not all there. As a teenager and as a young adult, I thought I was pretty patient. And then you have kids and you're like, “Oh, really, I'm not very patient.”

    Two Components of Resilience

    Tiffany: Yes, the kids are good at shining light. There's a definition related to this that I want to share which is, “Resilience is made up of two key components: adversity and positive adaptation. Without adversity, there is no challenge and therefore no need to adapt.”

    Clint: For sure. We see that with kids who struggle from going from one teacher to another, or changing classrooms, getting grades, transitions in life. They struggle and that's what we're trying to build. What I see from the ranch kids is a lot of anxiety when they first come in. A lot of depression, a lot of anxiety, a lot of different things. And when they leave, they're comfortable in their own skin. They know who they are. They know their strengths and weaknesses, right?

    And we always use the term that, “the glass is half empty or half full.” And everybody's learned to say, well, I see it as half full. In therapy, it's seeing the whole glass. Everybody wants to stay positive, but we don't know where that line actually is. It's through these experiences, right? So if we put a kid with a horse and he does X, Y, or Z and he reveals where he's at by the choices he makes with every experience we give; cross country skiing, playing basketball, all the different off and on campus activities, how he treats his calf. It is a drop in the water that shows us where the line's actually at. With every experience, we reveal who we are.

    Tiffany: I love that.

    Clint: And so we are the whole glass. What we're trying to determine is how much water is actually in it by every experience. Some kids will lie and say, “Well, I'm way up here,” and the reality is their functioning is down lower and either they are lying about it or they have a blind spot and can't see it. And so we're having these discussions with them, kind of a reality check, right? And people would probably be pretty surprised how therapeutic these discussions are and how kind of blunt they can be, but loving at the same time. It’s like, “Hey, this isn't working for you, you know. Did you realize this?”

    Tiffany: Well, that's what therapy is. It’s holding up a mirror and saying, “Are you willing to really see yourself and where you're at?”

    Clint: Okay. I like the way you say that better. Yeah, I'll use that next time. But you really are. You're reflecting those things back to them and some kids take it on and grow very quickly and other kids fight it. They don't want it. And then they leave and they blame everyone else still for their issues.

    Tiffany: They stay in victim mode.

    Clint: Oh yeah. But it's the best thing when you can see a kid grab that and just really look into it. Then you have these relationships for life. The kids we keep in touch with to this day, they're having families, they're married, they're on wall street, they're psychologists. They're all going and doing their thing and it's amazing.

    Tiffany: I just saw one of my kids on a TED Talk the other day and I was like, “No way!” And his TED Talk was powerful. So it's just so cool to see them overcome these adversities and build that resilience while growing into who they are.

    Clint: Yeah, because coming to treatment doesn't keep you from going anywhere. We have a kid who graduated from West Point. We have students going on to all different Ivy league schools and doing just amazing things.

    Concerns About Trauma and Growth

    Tiffany: A lot of parents with sensitive kids, or who've been traumatized and are highly sensitive from these traumatic incidents in their lives, they may be worried that they're going to traumatize their kid by exposing them to challenges or retraumatize them and so they're extra anxious and fearful and protective.

    How can parents challenge these sensitive kids in a way that can actually lead to growth and not to more trauma?

    Clint: What we find is that we have to do quite a bit of work with the parents to help them understand. When they come and tour the ranch, there's a lot of fear. There's a lot of anxiety that they have. Granted and a lot of it's founded in the decisions that kids have made but sometimes that helicoptering, that bulldozing actually is driving the behavior. At the same time, what kids want is control of their lives. If we're not careful, we're actually driving the students to act the way they're acting instead of bringing them closer because we might be too harsh. We might be too overprotective.

    Tiffany: Also, you might have an overly sensitive parent who's also projecting onto an overly sensitive kid and they don't even realize it.

    Clint: Yeah. What I find is that this gives the enablers a lot of anxiety as we ask them to do less.

    Tiffany: Can you explain? Because that seems so counterintuitive to our parents.

    Clint: I know. We use the analogy of a cocoon. There's a storyline about how the caterpillar goes into a cocoon and it's struggling to get out. So as someone sits there and watches it, an enabler would go, “Oh, that's struggling. I just want to help it.” And they would just cut the cocoon open a little bit to help it get out. Well what happens is it gets out and flops over and dies.

    Tiffany: Yeah. That's fascinating.

    Clint: Because what happens is the butterfly struggles and has to push itself out of the cocoon, which forces the fluid out into its wings and allows them to form. So by helping it, you're actually harming it.

    And so there's always this delicate balance, right? Because kids do need help and they don't get there out of malice, they get there because they see a need and are struggling. It's this art about understanding how much they actually need help.

    We had a kid who needed a lot of help and he was complaining to his grandparents, who happened to be there. I heard him on the phone and they asked him, “Well, show us what you need.” So his next test in school, he got a 3 percent and he's sitting out in the hallway. I walked up to him knowing the situation and I started talking to him and he's sitting on the ground, sulking. I said, “Well, I understand you got a 3 percent on your test,” and he's like, “Well, yeah, I need help!” And I said, “Statistically speaking, you would have had to have purposefully answered them wrong. You could have guessed and gotten higher than 3%.” And he looked up at me and I'm like, “Gig’s over.” I totally caught him.

    And I said, “Hey, if we help you more than you actually need, are you going to grow?” And he just looked up and he's like, “No.” And I said, “So really we need to know what's actually true. If we help you more than we're actually helping you stay where you're at and not growing at all, but where do you want to go? Where do you want to be?” And it led to a whole different discussion.

    And so we're comfortable having those discussions, right? We'll have highly sensitive kids and they're going to struggle but they're going to be okay. Why it works is because we're not emotionally tied to the outcome yet, because they'll blow up. They'll cry. They'll do whatever they did at home to get what they wanted and we look at our watches and go, “Are you done?” Because we're not going to respond. They're used to pressing A and B and C and having mom or dad go A, B, or C and we don't respond the same way. And so they go, “Oh, that doesn't work. I got to try something different.”

    Tiffany: Well, it's learned helplessness, right?

    Clint: And it's unintentional.

    Tiffany: Yeah. It’s subconscious at times but they learn that they get the help that they need when they are more helpless.

    Clint: Right. So in the past, we’ve had parents who would be like, “Well, I did this and I did this and I did this.” And so we're going to say, “You know what? Your kid needs to learn how to swim. You can't stand in the pool. You can't hold them in the water. You've got to watch them.” So we're actually asking them to do less. And you see the anxiety and the fear in their faces just kind of go away and it's like, “Okay, you can do it. You can do it. Your kid can struggle. He's going to be okay. He's going to be in a safe place. We're going to take care of his needs. We have nurses. We got doctors. We have all this help and support so that your kid can succeed.”

    Tiffany: You've got the medical team waiting outside the pool area.

    Clint: Right, and so we've seen thousands of kids come through our system and they can do it. Some fight it a little bit longer than others but that's okay. It's getting them to trust the process. Granted it's got to be scary to hand your child over. You're not giving us their car, right? We're not fixing your car. We're given your most prized possession and it's a sacred responsibility for us. We take it very seriously. These kids become our lifelong kids. We're going to stay in touch with them the rest of their lives.

    Addressing the Fear of Abandonment

    Tiffany: Talk to the parents who maybe have adopted kids who are highly sensitive or who have gone through trauma. That's even scarier for those parents because they know this kid they’ve adopted from birth, or later on in their life, has struggles from day one.

    Clint: And the kids are testing that all the time. They want to know. We've heard them say, “Well, you’re just throwing me away,” and all those things.

    Tiffany: They're worried about being abandoned or not feeling loved enough compared to their own biological kid. These parents come in with so many more fears. So how do you address that?

    Clint: Part of the process we learned early on is we really don't work with reactive attachment because our kids, they're a little different.

    Tiffany: To our listeners, give a brief description.

    Clint: So reactive attachment is, “I don't want to have a relationship with you. You just take care of me and thank you and see ya.” They kind of push away. Our kids typically jump into relationships very quickly. They're more of an anxious attachment style. They jump in there, fall in love in 10 minutes, and they smother. So they inadvertently push people away because they just come on too strong. They don't have that balance in their relationship.

    And so they're kind of opposite from the students at Discovery Ranch. Our kids would get ostracized in a reactive attachment program because those kids don't want to have relationships. Our kids desperately do. They just don't know how to find that balance and jump in. So typically our kids are highly attached. There's some gray area in here as well. But our kids generally want to have relationships. They love hellos. They don't like the goodbyes.

    And so our calf program actually exposes them to that, where they take care of a baby cow and three times a day they bottle feed it. They name it. And at about the two month mark, that calf goes through a maturation process just like the kids are going to go through. It mirrors them but they do it in two months.

    So they go from being very needy and relying on you to being independent and interdependent in a span of two months. And so they go from that and then they can live independently in the herd and then the kid will get exposed to it again by doing it a second time or a third time or a fourth time with another calf. But they're the surrogate parents. They're not the ones receiving all this, they're the ones giving it. So, we've had kids say, “Now I know how my parents feel now that I love this calf.”

    Tiffany: That's powerful.

    Clint: They see it from a different perspective. So a lot of those things get addressed throughout that process. They know and change within their calf is coming because it might happen two months, four months, six months down the road. This is exposure type therapy, working with those adoption issues. We have an adoption group, and it's powerful. The kids talk about all those issues and work things through. They understand how each other have done, how they've worked through those various issues.
    Our goal is to reunite families.

    Tiffany: And heal relationships.

    Clint: Heal relationships, right. And so there's all these people out there that are like, “Oh, you're taking 'em out of the home. How does that work?” It’s like, “Well no, it's not working there. We're gonna reset it and then work them way back.” Parents come three times a year for parent seminars. They come and visit often.

    Tiffany: You're not just working with their child, you're working with the whole family system.

    Clint: The whole family, for sure.

    Getting Comfortable With Discomfort

    Tiffany: I wanted to ask you, how can parents be more comfortable with their son being uncomfortable?

    Clint: That is the key and a lot of it is ripping off the bandaid in some cases, helping them understand. I have a term called the "hell-a-days". It's when Christmas comes and you just hope your kid pulls their head out and acts differently because somehow it's a holiday. They wait to send them to treatment. It gets up to that time during Thanksgiving and Christmas, and they hope things are going to be different somehow, and they always call after and say, “You were right. It was the ‘hell-a-days’ and we should have sent them earlier.”

    We had a boy who went home for Christmas and he acted out. His parents sent him back and that kid today will tell you that was the most important thing they did for him. They set a limit. He missed Christmas with his family but it was a huge growth time, right? And so it's not that you have to be mean, it's not that you have to cause pain, but change is uncomfortable.
    And so you're going to have to understand that with being a parent, you’re not cool.

    Tiffany: I'm constantly out of my comfort zone as a parent.

    Clint: We work with the parents to help them understand, like, “Hey, it's not popular to be a parent, but it's worth it.” You do get there. It's when your child comes back to you and, you know, my son, my oldest son works with me right now as he's going through school and when he came back to work, he finally came back and said, “Dad, I get it.” I'm like, “What do you mean?” And he's like, “All the things you were trying to do for me, like now that I'm here and see what you do and I'm immersed in it, I get it.” And that's what you wait for. The relationship, it's always been there and it's awesome. We now have our first grandchild and all that. It’s where it's at. So the payoff comes later and you've got to play the long game.

    Tiffany: That's the thing I think I learned when I started as a staff at a residential treatment program and then even now as a therapist. Some of the hardest students I've worked with and the ones where I've been called the worst names, had the biggest blowouts, were with the ones that, after I was uncomfortable and they're uncomfortable, we went through the struggle, now I'm the closest to.

    And so when I see my own kids struggling now as a parent, I'm okay with it. Like if they're crying, I'm not like, “Here, here, here's a candy. Here's an iPhone. Anything to just make it stop,” because I'm comfortable with it. I'm like, “It's okay. We're struggling. We're gonna get through this.”

    Clint: You've seen the process so you can trust the process. You know it's powerful.

    Tiffany: So powerful and I often tell parents that I've worked that, yes, you are missing this holiday with your child but they've done A, B and C to show that they can't be home and they're not safe. So they've not specifically chosen to miss these holidays, but they've done things to miss out. The goal is to get your child back for future holidays because at the direction they're going, they may not have future holidays with their family that are pleasant and healing.

    Clint: Most of our kids do not see that far in the future. It's getting them to see farther in the future and how their decisions affect that. Some of our parents do the same thing. I've done it. We all do it. I teach this stuff and I still make mistakes with my own kids.

    Tiffany: Same.

    Clint: And so, luckily kids are resilient. Parents are hopefully resilient. A lot of these lessons are life lessons that I've learned along the way from my parents and other things too. So it works.

    Learning Skills for Building Resilience

    Tiffany: It does. So we've talked a lot about adversity and the struggle and why that's important. Let's talk about positive adaptation. How do we equip the parents and the kids with the skills to build up the resilience to get through these hard things? What specific things do you help parents and their kids learn?

    Clint: There's a lot of things we teach them. We do a lot of parent seminars and individual work with families and parents. The thing that I get to teach is really about balance. It's Eric Berne’s transactional analysis. It’s rooted in interpersonal communication, but it lends itself really well to therapy where you have a critical parent, which is pretty easy to see. They're pretty obvious. But there's also what we call “the enabling parent.” And so it starts off in a great place but it's just that they're too extreme.

    So what happens is parents and kids get caught in the middle. You have one parent who's a little bit more critical so the other one counteracts it by being a little more nurturing. So then all of a sudden, they're going further apart to the point where they're so polarized, but they're both right.

    Tiffany: Yeah. That's when you get the Disneyland parent.

    Clint: Yeah. You get the Disneyland parent and then you get the, just the Nazi, right?

    Tiffany: Yeah. The tyrant.

    Clint: Yeah. But they're both right because they're counteracting each other instead of focusing on the kid. And it's not that you can't be a little bit critical or give feedback and can’t be loving and nurturing. It's this kind of wave that goes in between the two. You have to adjust a little bit for each child. None of our kids are the same. And so it's finding that middle ground and balance of setting boundaries and limits, but still being loving.

    And so we're trying to get them away from those extremes. I get to teach that class and you'll see the light go on for the parents when they're just like, “That's me!” And so they'll talk in their groups about what they do and how they do it and come together and work through it. And so it's getting them to come back into the middle. Not that they have to abandon who they are, but it's tempering it. It's becoming more balanced.

    Tiffany: Just self awareness. The more we can become self aware, the more we can do conscientious parenting or proactive parenting, versus just reactive.

    Clint: At the ranch, something we discuss is that the critical parent tells you you're incapable and the enabling parent teaches you you're incapable. So they both lead to low self esteem because they're at these dichotomous ends. So either one can drive them to be where they're at. Wwe talk about that and the Adult Ego State. There's all these pieces.

    Tiffany: I love the Adult Ego State. We could do a whole podcast on that one.

    Clint: Yeah, we really could. So that's “the why,” right. And then “the how” is actually through motivational interviewing, where we get into how you honor and accept that people have the right to choose. But that doesn't mean they don't get the consequence. There's a whole process that we do with that to help them understand and look farther down the road and how your decisions affect you. But you've earned it. Whatever it is, you've earned it. You've made the choice.

    Values Learned From Resilience

    Tiffany: Yeah. So what about skills for the students you're working with? What do you teach them?

    Clint: Oh, I mean, there's so many. Honesty, respect, responsibility, grit, kindness. We call it “principles, virtues and values” and there are six or seven of them that we work through. Most of those I just named.

    And again, we teach that resiliency, learning to make mistakes and being okay and getting up the next day and doing it again. We provide all the academics and all that stuff too. We work through.

    But what we find is that success breeds success. If you'll have success with the calves or with the horses, then that bleeds over to academics and other parts of their lives. We teach them structure. We teach them how to make their beds. Believe it or not, we have had kids who don't know how to do that.

    Tiffany: Or even do their laundry.

    Clint: Yeah, they do their own laundry. They help with a variety of different things. They help do chores around the ranch. We teach them to work. We teach them that work is important.

    Tiffany: I want to end with this last question. If you had a parent who has a child who is highly sensitive and been through a lot and they called you tomorrow, what message would you want them to hear?

    Clint: A message of hope, that there are answers. There is a way to heal, that you can come out the other side and there's light at the end of the tunnel. And you're not alone, that there are so many other parents that are going through the same thing as you. And to trust the process. It's gonna be hard, but you can do it and you're gonna work alongside your kid and you're gonna be a family again.

    Tiffany: That's awesome. To our parents listening, know that there is hope and that's why we wanted to talk about this on our podcast so that you can help in building strength and resilience like Clint said.


    Tiffany: It was so awesome talking to you about this. Thank you so much. We appreciate you and look forward to talking to you in an episode coming up.

    In our next episode, we're going to be talking about building resilience and a secure attachment in teens with an anxious attachment style, with your clinical director, Matt Child. So we are looking forward to talking with him.

    Clint: He's awesome.

    Tiffany: Yeah. Thanks!