3 Ways To Support Your Teen Through The Pandemic

3 Ways To Support Your Teen Through The Pandemic

 
 

This pandemic is a challenge to people in all stages of life, but it is also uniquely affecting adolescents. In a period of time where their developmental task is to extend their social connections to include peers, they are being asked to do this in very constricted ways (virtually, or in small groups at school). The adolescents I see in my office are leaning on their parents and families in ways they never expected to have to do. If you parent an adolescent, your role in their life is significant. Here are 3 ways to support your teen through the pandemic.

 

Listen with openness, empathy, and curiosity

 

I am continually amazed by the resilience that adolescents demonstrate. Only they will ever know what it’s like to be a teen in the 21st century, about to launch themselves into the world but then asked to “stay put” (so to speak) for an additional year or so. It is important that they do so (for the safety and sake of the world they will grow up to live in and lead in the future) but right now, it’s hard. They need to be heard, and to feel understood in their experience.

Questions you can ask your teen include:

  • “What are the challenges you’re experiencing, socially, as a result of the pandemic?”
  • “What do you miss? What losses have you experienced?”
  • “What did you do today that made you feel good? What are you looking forward to this week?”
  • “What are you grateful for?”
  • “What could I be doing to support you in school right now?”

What is really important is how you ask these questions. Try to come to the conversation with openness to whatever they have to say. Reserve judgement, empathize with their unique experience, and remain curious about what this is like for them. Responses such as, “Is that right,” “Can you tell me more about that,” or “That’s interesting, I didn’t know that…” go a long way. Avoid the trap of “looking on the bright side,” dismissing what they share, or trying to compare what they’re experiencing to your own hardship. It may be tempting to downplay their concerns, but it’s essential that they have a place to speak openly. This really is as bad as they feel it is, even if it doesn’t feel the same way for you.

 

Spend meaningful time together

 

I speak with a lot of teens who tell me how they’re secretly enjoying getting more time with their parents. I have been surprised to hear of how a lunch date with Dad, or a cozy movie night with Mom made an adolescent’s week. They still need you, more than they let on. Your role is important in their life, even well into adolescence. So, don’t discredit yourself – connection with you counts as socialization too!

Why stop at 3 ways to support your teen through the pandemic? If you’re running out of things to do together, consider how you might provide opportunities to do something new. Here are a few ideas on how to create meaningful connection together:

  • Try a new hiking or biking trail.
  • Drive to a new city nearby that you haven’t explored together (even if it’s not an alluring destination, perhaps there’s a new cafe you can stumble upon together).
  • Sign up for an online art class/project (I’ve heard these are fairly accessible in many areas). Buy supplies together, and make snacks to enjoy.
  • Dress up (or design and make clothes?!) for a fashion show, and do a photo shoot. You can include things like hair, make up, accessories, and make it a production they work toward.
  • Create a family recipe book. Invent new recipes to include.
  • Cooking competitions (take turns being the judge, or give limited ingredients and see what they come up with, or make it an online competition with them and their friends.
  • Help your teen reorganize, redesign, or redecorate their room.
  • Do exercise or yoga videos together.
  • Rent a karaoke machine! See if their friends want to do the same at their house and create a virtual karaoke night.
  • Start a small business together.
  • Have your teen teach you something they know a lot about.

Even if your time together is less elaborate, be present with them. Most teens are figuring out who they are, what they stand for, and what they want out of life, and you have the privilege of unfolding and exploring their inner world with them. Enjoy!

 

Check in on their mental health

 

See item #1: listening with openness, empathy and curiosity. Ask them questions about how they’re doing and really listen. See if you notice they’re exhibiting some of these signs:

  • Increased irritability or tearfulness
  • Changes in sleep or eating habits
  • Increased isolation (especially over time)
  • Lack of motivation, or not enjoying activities they normally would

If you do notice these things, seek mental health support, if they’re open to it. Remember that inquiring into their mental health does not intensify the problem, it only provides an opportunity to address what’s already happening.

I hope this has been helpful for you as you parent your teen in the middle of a very challenging situation. I know I said I’d give you 3 ways to support your teen through the pandemic and I may have overshot that a bit!

If you, or your teen, would like to talk to somebody about their mental health, we’re here for you. Contact us at Alongside You, and we’d be honoured to join you and your family as we journey through this pandemic together. You’ve got this!

Parenting With Positive Discipline

Parenting With Positive Discipline

The Importance of Connection Before Correction

 

The words punishment and discipline seem to have become synonyms these days, but it wasn’t always this way. The word discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina which means to teach or instruct. However, nowadays, most people associate punishment or consequences with the word discipline. Let’s take a minute to differentiate discipline from punishment.

 

punishment & discipline

 

When your child misbehaves, what do you want to accomplish? Are consequences your ultimate goal? Is your objective to punish? Of course not. But, as parents, we’re still human! When we’re frustrated or angry, we may feel like we want to punish our child. When we are stressed, overwhelmed, frustrated or feeling at our wits end, we can feel like punishing. It’s totally understandable – even common.

Let’s face it, it’s what our parents likely would have done, so it’s what we know. But once we’ve calmed down, we know that punishing doesn’t feel good for either of us (parent or child) nor is it our ultimate goal. What we really want is for the behaviour that got us into this situation to stop.

Our children need to learn skills like inhibiting impulses, managing big feelings and considering the impact of their behaviour on others. Learning these essentials of life and relationships helps them, helps us, and helps their larger community. We know these are the basis for emotional intelligence and the foundation for being happy and successful adults. What a gift! But how do we teach our children these life skills without punishment?

Positive Discipline helps us teach our children how to control themselves, respect others, participate in deep relationships, and live moral and ethical lives. It teaches important social and life skills in a manner that is deeply respectful and encouraging for both children and adults.

connection before correction

Connection Before Correction is one of my all-time favourite Parenting with Positive Discipline mantras. I believe that these are words to live by both in the moment of dissatisfying behaviour and in the long run as a foundation for any relationship.

Brain science tells us that when we are emotionally overwhelmed we cannot access the parts of our brains that allow us to think logistically or learn. So, there is really no point in trying to teach a lesson or talk through a problem when a child (or adult) is in a state of being emotionally overwhelmed.

Emotional overwhelm often triggers unacceptable behaviour. We do and say things that we wouldn’t normally because the parts of our brain in charge of impulse control, reasoning, problem solving and language are off-line.

 

Connecting is one of the fastest ways to reduce emotional overwhelm and to get those off-line parts of the brain back online.

 

Connection before correction also helps us parents stay calm and not say or do things that don’t align with our parenting goals. We get emotionally overwhelmed too! The most common parenting techniques used during parental emotional overwhelm are yelling, threats, punishment and spanking. When we move into emotional overwhelm we often forget our kind and firm tools, utilizing anything we can to make those feelings stop.

Research has clearly shown that physical punishment and shaming are detrimental to relationships, mental health and self-concept. Recent research has suggested that the ability to experience shame develops as early as the age of 3. Children develop an image of self by using evaluative feedback from others, especially authority figures and those they love. Particularly important are findings that high levels of shame were related to the onset of depression. Research has suggested that humiliation is especially damaging when inflicted by an attachment figure, such as a parent or primary caregiver.

By connecting before correcting we have a chance to build stronger relationships, focus on solving the problem, and correcting behaviour all while building resilience, self-reflection and strengthening self-image and mental health.

Along with my colleagues at Alongside You, I truly believe learning the principles of Positive Discipline can radically change our interactions with our kids and our relationships, and achieve the outcomes we’re looking for. If you’re looking for ways to connect with your kids, help them manage their emotions and behaviour, and set them up for success in their relationships with their friends and family, and their lives at school and beyond, I hope you’ll join us at our training in May! Click here for more information.

 

Click here to register for our Parenting With Positive Discipline workshops!

Kids Anxiety: What Can Parents Learn From Them

Kids Anxiety: What Can Parents Learn From Them

An interesting piece about “The big myth about teenage anxiety” ran in the New York Times this week, authored by a fairly prominent psychiatrist – which you can find here.

 

The essence of Dr. Friedman’s editorial is that much of the research showing a rise in teen anxiety is not conclusive, which from a scientific perspective is unsurprising. Many of these studies rely on self-reports, which, though scientifically imperfect, offer an important window into human experience – something we as mental health professionals consider of paramount importance. A better understanding of what we deal with internally and externally on a daily basis (and the meaning we make of it) is essential to better understanding ourselves. Dr. Friedman also encourages readers to remember that phones are not necessarily to blame for anxiety, as much as it may seem that way. He points out that anxiety is normal, and that our brains are quite well-equipped to handle it.

 

The article is nuanced, and while I would hesitate to back up many of the things Dr. Friedman says, one important distinction he makes is between actual anxiety disorders and day-to-day anxiety and worry – something most teens are virtually guaranteed to experience. Social media and the internet have indeed made the social world more complex for teens to navigate – as many have noted, there is no “escape” from the reach of the internet anymore, and it is more than understandable that teens are often glued to their phones. Teens are under a lot of stress developmentally, socially and physically, and Dr. Friedman is careful to point out that there will and should be plenty of anxiety in teenage life.

 

The crux of the matter then is not eliminating or avoiding anxiety (avoidance, of course, will actually make the anxiety seem stronger than it is), but focusing on what we can learn to do in the face of anxiety. Teens can learn that anxiety is normal, learn to notice bodily sensations that arise, learn to stay grounded, and even learn to appreciate their anxiety for protecting them.

 

Many parents are highly distressed when they learn their teen or child is struggling with anxiety, and I would encourage those parents to remember how normal that is. Your job is not to eliminate or protect from that anxiety, but rather to be with your child as far as they will let you, and creating as best you can a space of rest from it. There are many anxiety management techniques that can be learned to reduce day-to-day anxiety, but one of the best things to have is a secure relationship within which you do not need to be anxious. I can’t stress enough the impact of having someone with whom you feel safe to just be you, warts and all.

 

It’s no secret that I (along with many others here at Alongside You) am a big fan of attachment parenting, an idea propagated by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and brain researcher Daniel Siegel, among many others. I am also a big fan of parents taking care of themselves before they worry too much about taking care of their children, for several reasons. So I should mention that your anxiety about your kids’ anxiety is incredibly valuable: it tells you how important it is to you that your kids are safe and happy. This is wonderful, and you also should get to know that perfectly normal anxiety really well within your own safe relationships, because your kids will use you as a compass point to manage their own anxiety. If you have a good relationship with your anxieties, you will be very much ahead of the game in helping your child or teen with theirs. Normalizing our own experience of anxiety reduces it in our kids, and also shows them that they’re not alone.

 

Parenting is a tough job, and if you’re reading this, one that I imagine you take seriously. Best of luck, and as always, feel free to ask lots of questions and seek lots of support. If we can be a support to you, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’re all in this together.

 

 

 

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