Three Formulas to Neutralize Negativity and Foster Motivation in Teens With Substance Use Issues, with Brenda Zane

Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Hopestream for parenting kids through drug use and addiction
Three Formulas to Neutralize Negativity and Foster Motivation in Teens With Substance Use Issues, with Brenda Zane

Parents who are baffled and frustrated by the amount of negativity in their home and resulting lack of motivation in their kids with substance use issues will get some simple, useable takeaways from this bite-sized episode.

Sometimes you just need a quick visual to help grasp and deal with a situation and that's what we'll talk about on this show. There's a companion PDF/image in the show notes (no email required!) that will be helpful to grab when listening – or afterward – to keep with you when things get hard.

I share three formulas you can remember as you work your way through difficult days and experiences with a son or daughter who's misusing drugs or alcohol. It's the perfect episode for a quick dog walk, errand running or when you want to grab a cup of coffee and get your mind off work for 18 minutes!


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Speaker: Brenda Zane
Welcome back friends, I’m excited to share today’s little snack-sized episode with you because it’s an extension of one of my weekly emails that got a lot of feedback from members in The Stream and the folks on my email list. And I also think it’s great sometimes just to have a short little nugget that you can think about and work on. I do love to have long conversations with my guests. But when I have a solo episode, sometimes I think about you just running a quick errand, or you’ve got a quick dog walk, and you only have a few minutes. And so this is one of those bite-sized episodes that you can listen to quickly and think about and also put into practice really, really easily just in your day-to-day. 

So when I have an email that gets a lot of feedback from those who receive it, I realize that something is resonating. And so I figured that I would expand a bit on this topic, because it’s a really simple concept that can help tremendously when we’re faced with a difficult situation, or just as we move through the day-to-day of life with are really challenging kids. The concept is related to motivation, because I hear from lots of parents, that they are absolutely pulling their hair out trying to figure out how to motivate their kid or kids to make changes in their behavior. And this might be related to their substance use. But it’s also around things like just getting out of bed on time to get to school or to log into school as they’re doing right now, or going out and looking for a job or one that I hear a lot and that I went through is tracking down the necessary paperwork for court cases and court dates.

There are a million things that we would really love to see our kids doing. And parents are often desperate to find ways to help motivate their kids because the nagging and negotiating and threatening just isn’t working. One thing that we do know for sure is that a person’s motivation is greatly impacted by others. And if your son or daughter lives with you, or if you interact with them regularly, their motivation is especially impacted by you as their parents. Another thing that we know through research is that confrontation hurts motivation. And there’s a really interesting research paper that I’ve put in the show notes that goes into the history of when and why the United States in particular took a turn towards this kind of punitive and confrontational treatment approach in the mid 20th century. It’s really long but if you’re a nerd like me, you will be really interested in it. You can download it from the show notes, if you’re the kind of person that likes to dig into that kind of thing. 

But for now, I’ll just say that it’s been shown that negative, confrontational approaches to change in behavior is less effective than positive client-centered and empathetic approaches. And this is true in treatment settings but this is also true in the home for anything, it doesn’t even have to be about substance use. And what researchers and therapists know, and I’m sure that you have experienced is that motivation can happen when the cost of what someone is doing outweighs the benefits. And so we might look at our kids and say, well, it looks to me like the costs definitely are outweighing the benefits. But our perspective doesn’t necessarily take into account things like the excruciating physical pain of withdrawal, or having to face emotional trauma, or even just finding a new group of friends to hang out with if they change their behavior. So there’s stuff going on behind the scenes that we don’t see, it can be really clear to us that there are negative consequences going on. But they haven’t quite gotten to the point where they are outweighing the benefits. So your son or daughter is definitely getting something out of their use out of their substance use, it’s solving a problem for them, it’s actually a very effective strategy at managing whatever it is that they’re trying to manage. So just remember, you’re not seeing everything that’s going on. 

The other thing about motivation that can be very frustrating is that it usually happens slowly, especially when someone is misusing substances. They aren’t functioning from a clear, healthy brain. So they’re not starting from the level that anybody else would be starting from. And so we really have to recognize that things might move slower than they would with someone else. If you have two kids in the home, or three or five, whatever it is. This one who is potentially using substances is going to react and respond in a different way than kids who aren’t. So just recognize that. 

And what might look like progress and motivation today, can completely disappear within an hour and not show up again for weeks. And so it can be credibly tempting to just throw up your hands and resort to the nagging lecturing, which really doesn’t work. So then we end up in this really frustrating cycle of going nowhere. Luckily, there are some things you can do that, at the very least, will neutralize some of the negativity and the downward spiral. And they can actually move things in a positive direction, if you’re persistent. And if you have the tenacity to hang in there, even when your son or daughter is making you crazy. And the tenacity is really important, because this is a long process and things generally, if you’re dealing with a child with substance use issues, things generally don’t just kind of spontaneously correct themselves. And so you just need to make sure that you’ve kind of fortified yourself to have that tenacity to hang in. 

I like simplicity because I know that you have a lot on your plate already. And that life is probably fairly chaotic if you’re listening to this. So I will talk through what I think is a simple way of looking at how we can influence motivation to change. In the show notes, there is a downloadable PDF document that will make this very easy and clear to understand. So it’s a little trickier to do in a podcast because I don’t have anything visual to show you. But I’m going to talk you through it. So if you want to grab that just go to, you’ll see this episode and you can download it from those notes. 

There are three visuals that I want you to create in your head or to jot them down or draw them out on a piece of paper if you can. And you’re going to be drawing some faces. So you can kind of think of those as the emoji faces that are on your phone if that’s helpful. That’s sort of the imagery I want you to have in your mind. And for the first equation, think about that red angry, angry face emoji. I think there’s also one that has some swear words coming out of it or something like that. So you can imagine either one that you like, and that’s likely representative of you and your son or daughter at least some of the time. There’s usually some of this going on in the home. If that face represents your child, negative and angry, and then they are met with the same red angry emoji face. So whatever you chose for your child, same one for you, the effect on their behavior will be even greater negativity and anger. So that’s the equivalent of a giant red angry emoji face. 

This happens when we react out of anger or frustration or aspiration, or exhaustion, when our kids either do something that we don’t want them to do, or they don’t do something that we would like them to do. It’s those yelling matches that go nowhere, or it’s the door slamming episodes, that usually end up with somebody leaving the house saying really ugly things. So in your mind picture, the red face, plus the red face equals an even bigger red face. And you can even add on some decorations there. If you’d like a flame or an exclamation point, whatever it is, the gist of it is, it’s bad. 

Now the second image that I want you to think of is that same red angry emoji face that you had for your child, and a yellow emoji face with a straight mouth for you. It’s neutral. So it’s not angry, it’s not happy, it’s just neutral. So now if you have your son or daughter with the red angry emoji face, plus, you with a neutral yellow face, this will equal a smaller, red angry face without any of the decorations, exclamation points or flames or anything that you put on it. 
The way that you get your face to not be the angry red emoji face. But instead, the neutral yellow face is by working on your own stuff. So working on your own emotions, your self-care, setting healthy boundaries, allowing those natural consequences to take place, leaning into a support network, whatever that is for you. Working on your own substance use issues if those exist. So in other words, you are taking care of yourself and your issues so that when you get hit with the red angry emoji face of your child, you can meet it with a more calm, healthy and controlled response. That will decrease their anger and negativity.
So the end result might still be negative behavior, but it will be less magnified. So instead of you amplifying it and ending up with that giant red angry emoji face, it’s going to be lessened. So you can draw or visualize the red angry emoji face, plus your yellow one equaling a smaller red angry emoji. And you can take out the flames if you want.
Then finally, if you practice these neutralizing skills long enough, you’ll often start to see more neutral behavior from your son or daughter at least some of the time. And often they will start to notice that you’re doing something different and be kind of curious about it, they’ll say, my mom or my dad is responding in a different way than they used to. And sometimes they’ll just be curious about it. And then once you’re feeling more in control with those neutral neutralizing behaviors, you can start moving from neutral to positive. And positive things that you can do would be things like reinforcing any positive behavior that you see from them, being genuinely curious about their emotions and their substance use, and approaching them with open-ended questions so that you actually are starting to have a dialogue and a conversation, versus a lot of talking at each other or yelling at each other. 
And if you can do this over time, and consistently, their behavior can become less angry and negative. And remember, I talked a few minutes ago about tenacity. I know that this is not easy, and it sounds like it might be too simple. But that’s partly why I like this visualization. And again, if you grab the PDF, it’s going to be a lot easier to see. That’s why I think it’s really important to have something like this an image that can come to your mind really quickly. When you’re tempted to revert to negative reactions or responses. If you’ve got this in your mind, you can see how what you’re going to say or what you’re going to do will impact their response and their motivation to make changes in their life. 
So the final equation, the third equation looks like your son or daughter as that yellow curious emoji where they kind of have the scrunched up face and like they’re thinking about something, and you have a smiley emoji face. And if you want and you feel extra generous, you can even throw in some of the heart eyes. And if you add those two together, after the equal sign is a large, neutral, emoji face. Now I know what you would like, you would like me to say that there’s going to be this big, smiley giant face with heart, eyes and sparkles and rainbows and unicorns. But if you have a teenager or young adult who’s misusing drugs or alcohol, I am guessing that a giant happy face might not be a reality right now. 
And it’s just important to know that it can take a while to get there. It’s definitely not impossible. I think though, that using some of these tools, to get to a big neutral face is probably a welcome step in the right direction, you’ll take that right. It doesn’t have to be all sunshine and rainbows and unicorns. So the bottom line is that motivation can be encouraged, but it can also be extinguished. And so being conscious of how we’re reacting to our kids, and I like this visual of a formula is a way that we can be sure that we aren’t discouraging their positive behavior and their potential for motivation and change. Now, I know again, that this might be a little tricky to envision. So if you just go to, you’ll see this episode, you can get the PDF, you can download it onto your phone might be helpful just to have you there. And it’ll just give you those equations in picture format.
 Also, if you want to get on my email list, so you can get the email every Wednesday that I send out just as a way to support you and what you’re going through you can go to and just drop your email there and I’ll send you a short kind of one-pager email on Wednesdays, and I would love to be able to do that for you.
You might also want to download my free ebook called “HINDSIGHT, Three Things I Wish I Knew When My Son Was Addicted To Drugs.” It is packed with information that I truly wish I had known back in the darker years with my son. And so I share it now in case it might be helpful to you in your journey. You can get that at, and I will put a link to both of these resources in the show notes as well. 

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