Our 15.5 year old son has locked himself in his room for the past 6 months. He comes down to get food only if I (his mother) am not around and he only eats in his room. He locks his bedroom door and will not let anyone in. He will not talk to me, but will talk to his father and brother, but still only a little bit. He has punched holes in his walls. He has failed some of his classes. He will not talk to a therapist, though my husband has tried to get him to. What can we do?

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So, Mom, what I'm hearing you say is you have an adolescent boy who you love dearly and want to have a great relationship with but about six months ago he started locking himself upstairs, punching walls, he won't talk and he doesn't want to go to therapy.

What do you do? How do you bridge the gap?

Well, it's a complex question. We don't really know what's going on. But I have a couple of thoughts for you:

Number one, get curious. When we see quick shifts in behavior, as you did six months ago, we want to get curious about what was happening in his life, or your family's life, or at school, or on his social media six months ago that may have precipitated this. That's likely to hold some answers for you.

Number two, have the parent that he is the most connected to, which in this case sounds like it's Dad, be present with him in a consistent loving non-judgmental way. So, that may mean sitting outside of his door and saying "Son, I love you and I am not leaving you no matter what the different parts of you are feeling." Externalize the parts of him that are feeling the anger, that are feeling the isolation and that are keeping him locked in his room, so that he and you become clear that that is not who he is. It's just a part of him. And in fact that part of him has an important message for all of you. Help him to listen well. So, you could ask things like "son, I know there's a part of you that feels really angry and is pounding the walls right now. What does that anger or that angry part of you want to say to me? What does that angry part of you want me to know." Or "Son, I know there's a part of you, not all of who you are, but a part of you that's keeping you locked upstairs. What is that part of you afraid would happen if you came downstairs and engaged with the family?

So, when we get curious and we get compassionate and externalize the feelings and behaviors that are upsetting, we can get really helpful information to help our kids.

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Dr. Kevin Skinner