We all know what it’s like to struggle with a bad habit or be caught in a destructive cycle. Oftentimes, we don’t even realize the cycle we’re in until our world comes crashing down. It’s much easier to identify a damaging habit in other people, isn’t it? So as parents what do we do when we realize our child is getting pulled into that downward spiral?

The last thing anyone—including our kids—wants to hear is that they’re wrong or that they need to change their behavior. Maybe it feels like everything you say or do ends up pushing them further away from you. And when our kids—especially teenagers—push us away, it creates tension in the relationship, whether it is spoken or unspoken. So what are we supposed to do in these situations?

Invest in Your Relationship

The first step in helping your kid escape a negative spiral is to understand your kid better. Getting to know them by spending time with them is critical if you want to spur them on toward change.

Start with the basics: Ask your kid about their hobbies, what music they’ve been listening to lately, what the best part about their week was, or what they are most looking forward to in the next couple of months.

Talking about things that interest them allows kids to open up without conflict. It is important in these moments to resist the urge and instinct to correct your child. Instead, keep your eyes on the goal of understanding them (MUCH easier said than done). The better we understand our kid and in the context of what’s going on in their life, the more we can talk to them with more empathy and ultimately, more influence.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “This is great information, but our negative spiral is turning into a tornado and it’s about to touch ground!” It is so tough to watch our children hit rock bottom. It’s even tougher to keep our mouths shut when we really want to lay down the law or teach them a lesson. But this could be a pivotal moment in your relationship with your kid or teenager.

Instead of coming down hard on them, surprise them with comfort by asking how you can help or how you can be there for them. These acts of encouragement and support can be game changers in any relationship!

If you would consider yourself a “fixer,” this talky/feely stuff is completely out of your comfort zone; you need to DO something. Here’s an simple, practical idea that can help guide them out of their bad habit or poor decisions: Spend time with them!

If they’re always in their room or out of the house and never want to join in on what you are doing, ask them to come up with something you can do together. Go out for ice cream, go to the park, take a walk, play catch, watch a movie, or have a bonfire. You can’t force your child to talk, but you can present opportunities for them to bring things up at their own pace. Find something that your kid or teenager enjoys, and do it with them!

The goal is to create opportunities for your child to be honest with you. When your kid opens up, you’re now positioned to respond with comfort and guidance. And finally, in that moment, with the relationship rooted in honesty, empathy, understanding, you can extend consequences with grace—without losing the relationship.

Find Other People

While the number one thing you can do as a parent is to invest in your relationship with your child, it’s equally important to seek out help from other people, It’s probable, yes likely, that as much as you hope they will, your kid won’t tell you everything. And they may not  respond to you at all. Don’t consider that a failure, but instead go one step further and connect your kids to someone else who would say the same things you would say to them: a small group leader at church, a coach, a teacher, and even a counselor.

Now that you’ve done the hard work of investing in your relationship and seeking help from others, consider these ideas to foster a healthy environment to help them get unstuck from a bad habit or a downward cycle.

1. Open your home.  Invite your kid’s friends to spend time over at your house whenever possible. This allows you to get to know who they are spending time with under the house rules that you’ve established.

2. Hold them accountable. Lay some ground rules with consequences. Kids, yes even teens, want to know you care by creating boundaries.

3. Keep them busy. Require they get a job to earn their own money. They may think twice before indulging their habit. Get them involved in extra curricular activities or sports. Kids who are busy get into less trouble and can keep their focus on more productive things.

4.  Find their passion. Oftentimes, getting unstuck requires becoming passionate about something else. Help them find opportunities to serve in their community or church doing something they love to do. Making a difference in someone else’s life can be what makes a difference in their own.