Becoming an adult is a challenge these days. It’s even more challenging if you have chronic physical or mental illness, pain and/or disability. And it is equally challenging when parenting one of those kiddos. Here are some suggestions about what tends to work, and what tends not to work – although, of course, every child is different, and every parent-child relationship is different – so, take these as suggestions only and use what works for you.
By separation anxiety, I mean yours! It is normal for young adults to become more and more autonomous as they separate from their family of upbringing and learn to stand on their own feet. This can be very anxiety-provoking when you are acutely aware of their struggles. Maybe you know that they have extreme anxiety around dealing with paperwork or making telephone calls. You may wonder, “how are they going to manage in their own place?” But hovering and fussing around isn’t helping them or you. Take a breath, do a guided meditation, and learn to be more patient than you ever thought possible.
If you have a young adult who sometimes goes ‘quiet’ and you have concerns about self-harm, it can be a good idea to have the name and number of a partner, friend or coworker who you can contact to check on how they’re doing. However, this must only be on rare occasions. Don’t use them as a way to deal with your anxieties.
They’re Still Here!
If your young adult is still living at home because of their health, and you are both happy about that, then there is no problem. If either of you are less than enthusiastic about it, then it’s time to give them their own space as much as possible, set boundaries and ground rules that work for everyone, and negotiate for shared time rather than assuming that they want to be around you 24/7. It may also be time for them to assume some of the household duties (to the extent that their health allows) so that they are building transferrable skills, and learning that being an adult comes with responsibilities.
Mind Your Own Business!
Privacy is something which everyone deserves. Our children get less privacy when they are young because that is tempered by the need to have some level of control over their lives to ensure that they are healthy and safe. However, adults have the right to privacy, period. Your kid’s computer, cellphone, finances, diary … all off-limits. If you have concerns, talk to them – it’s the grown-up thing to do and they should be able to expect you to model what being an adult means. They don’t need your permission to go out, but they may need your help with transportation. If you’re willing to do that, you’ll meet their friends and be part of their life way more than if they get grilled every time they leave the house.
What They Need versus What You Want to Do
Often we think we really know our kids and their needs – and we probably do, more than anyone in the world … except them. If we insist on helping the way we want instead of what they need, then we prevent them from growing. For example, if they tell you that they can handle taking the bus to work this week, and don’t need a lift – you may not be sure they can do it. But what’s the worst that can happen? They try it once and then need assistance. But what’s the best that can happen? Maybe they make progress and conquer a new skill! Don’t second guess them. Yes, it’s hard watching them struggle a bit. But that, as the kids say, is a you problem. Don’t make it theirs.
Work together with your kids to make contingency plans that help keep their lives on-track. If they take prescriptions, and you know they have difficulty filling them – keep a few days’ supply so that they won’t ever run out completely. If they’re travelling, and you worry that their ADHD will cause them to lose their passport – take a scanned copy backed up to the Cloud and make sure you both have a photo of it on your phones. There are creative solutions to most problems. Oh, and the occasional home-made mac and cheese never hurts, either!
Parenting Without Judgement!
Make parenting a no-judgement zone. If they get into trouble, they won’t ask for help if they know they are going to hear ‘I told you so’. Minimize issues and let them know that adult life is hard, but manageable, and most things can be fixed. Be ready to help when it’s needed, and be prepared to feel a touch neglected when they’re having a good spell and don’t really need you as much! And quit judging yourself, too. You’re navigating one of the most difficult tightrope walks of all – being there for a child who wants to be independent but who can’t quite manage it yet. You aren’t always going to get it right, and neither are they. Don’t beat yourself up about it. The best thing you can do for your kid is be there for them when they need you to be, and love them, always.
If you find that you are struggling with parenting, don’t be afraid to seek help. It can be a relief to realize that many other people struggle with the same issues. I know it’s hard, but try to let other people in. It can be easy to assume that you are the only one who can help your kid. But even if that’s so, maybe other people can help YOU. Maybe your partner can do the laundry or the supermarket run this week. Don’t get so blinkered that you exhaust yourself completely, because then you won’t be able to help your kid. I am not suggesting that you always put yourself first – no parent of a chronically-ill child I have ever met is able to do that. But I am suggesting that you don’t put yourself last.
Look How Far They’ve Come
It can be hard, when you have a kiddo with chronic health issues, to get bogged down in doctor visits, prescriptions, rough nights, trips to the ER, sensory overloads, etc, etc. But looking back a couple of years usually lets us see the progress which has been made. Maybe things don’t look like you expected them to. But maybe your journey, and your young adult’s, will end up being more meaningful than you ever expected. Celebrate the wins!
We’d love to hear what works for you and your young adult. And if you could use support in your parenting journey, contact us to see how we can help.
First things first, it is normal and expected for children to have some worries with regards to going back to school! School anxiety may include worries like:
Who will be my new teacher?
Will my friends be in my class this year?
How will I do in math/language/etc. this year?
Will this year be harder than last year?
These are social and academic concerns that all children can experience from time to time. In these cases, it is important for parents to recognize these concerns and talk openly with their child about them. At the same time, it is critical that parents listen and empathize, never dismissing or minimizing the child’s feelings. Children need to be heard, like all people.
Parents’ Reactions to School Anxiety:
On the other hand, if parents react with anxiety to their child’s worries, the child will pick up on this and it will only heighten their worries. The calmer a parent can be, the more likely they will be able to really listen to their child and offer support, rather than react based on their own worries. As a parent, I know it can be incredibly tempting to jump in and fix it, to make it all better for our children. When we do this however, we are not really helping our children. We are not allowing them to learn and grow from these experiences. Ultimately, our goal as parents should be to help foster resilience in our children, rather than to promote dependency. Life will always present us with challenges and struggles, among other things. As parents, we play an important role in helping our children build resilience during times of hardship, walking alongside them and supporting them.
One of the questions I am often asked by parents with regards to back-to-school anxiety is, “How do I know if it’s normal worrying or anxiety?” There are signs for which parents can be on the lookout including:
shutting down in school and/or refusing to participate
changes in sleep and/or nightmares
changes in appetite
low frustration tolerance with behaviours like anger outbursts or crying.
How to Help Your Child
When parents see these signs in their child, it is important for them to step in and help their child. The key steps to helping our kid in these situations are:
Acknowledge what the child is experiencing.
Let them (if they are old enough) describe what they are feeling.
Most importantly parents: listen to, and acknowledge what your child says, so that they feel seen, and heard.
Once you understand what your child is feeling and experiencing, the next step can be a conversation with your child about coping strategies. My experience has shown me that children often come up with the best strategies for themselves!
There are times, however, in which parents see that their child is overwhelmed and really struggling and they themselves feel they do not know how to handle the situation. At times like this, professional assistance may be warranted and helpful. I know I’ve been there, and I’d love to be there for you too!
As parents, we try to support and guide our children in every way possible. Unfortunately, what parents tend to think is supportive can sometimes emanate significant amounts of pressure. Parents often want their child to be the best and inherit the mindset that their child will be the next Wayne Gretzky. When a sports parent thinks this way, it can affect their parent-child relationship. As an athlete, you want your parents to be proud and express their validation towards you. If a child feels like their sports parents aren’t proud, their words and actions are frequently perceived with pressure. This is why it is crucial to understand what may hurt your child instead of what may benefit your child’s involvement in sports.
Three things that hurt your child’s confidence
1. Expressing appraisal ONLY when they are doing well
It is essential that you are constantly being supportive no matter the outcome of your child’s performance. Regardless of whether they make a good play or make a mistake, your support should remain constant. Giving your child support no matter the circumstances will show them that you are proud of them despite the outcome. When they look over at you and see you cheering for them, it displays direct approval and encouragement. What if they look over and see you are unhappy or distracted by your phone? It may make them feel like you are disappointed in them. You may not think that your child notices your presence in the stands, but really, they are.
The correct approach would be to exude positive energy and cheering, even when nothing is happening. Do not make your supportive habits dependent on your child’s performance.
2. Telling your child how they could have done better on the car ride home
The car ride home is always a challenging situation. As an athlete who pressured themselves, I was already upset with myself if I had a bad performance. I definitely didn’t need to hear my parents say to me, “you should have done this.” Or “what happened on that one play where you made a mistake?” It would make me even more disappointed in myself than I already was. As sports parents, it is crucial to support and encourage your child without interfering. It is essential to focus on the positive attributes of their game instead of constantly reminding your child of what they did wrong.
3. Stop delivering clichés
Parents often believe that speaking in clichés is suitable for their child, but it does the opposite for kids. For example, if your child is getting worked up in games because of a mistake they made, it probably is best to avoid making certain remarks. Avoid statements such as “stop overthinking’ or “when you are out there, you have to be focused.” Most likely, the child is already trying to accomplish these things. Still, it’s not something that will immediately help them after you tell them to. Telling your child these clichés can develop into pressurization. It might make them believe that they are not doing a good job. Instead of saying these clichés, it would be more beneficial to say something like, “nice effort, you will get the next one!”
Here are some ways you as a sports parent can support your child when playing sports.
1. Provide emotional support
No matter the outcome of your child’s performance, it is vital to prioritize and provide unconditional love. Whether it is giving your child a hug or a high five after the game or telling them how proud of them you are, a little goes a long way. This is crucial after a game where the player may feel like they had a bad performance. Hearing how proud their parent is will make your child feel better. This will give your child the affirmation that being proud of them is not wholly dependent on their play.
2. Emphasize the importance of effort over outcome
Often, we think of the end result as the ultimate achievement instead of understanding the progress made. There is a lot of hard work that has to be done to reach an end result. If children constantly think about the outcome instead of thinking in the moment, it can become detrimental to their performance. When you put too much emphasis on a final product or winning, it can cause the child to feel pressure or anxiety because of you. This is why it’s more productive for a sports parent to focus more on the child’s efforts and relate their efforts to success. For example, after a game, tell your child, “I really liked how you hustled in and out of the dugout” or “you made a great effort on that one play. ”
3. Encourage independence
It is crucial for you as a sports parent to be involved in your child’s sports. Still, it is also important that your child is allowed to pursue their own independence. It’s okay for you to have boundaries and set rules. Still, when your child is involved in sports, it is beneficial for your child to gain independence within these boundaries you set. This is how your child learns to hold themselves accountable and grow in their independence. For example, you may tell your child that “you must always be prepared for practices.” Instead, tell your child, “I will be home to drive you to your game, but you must be ready to go when I get home.” This compels your child to get themselves prepared for their practice or game without your assistance. Altering how you give your child direction may fuel the desire for them to embrace independence.
4. Communicate and share goals
Open communication is vital when guiding your child through sports. Developing the habit of solid communication between you and your child will provide an understanding of how you can better support your child. This will also allow the child to express what they want from you as a sports parent. Ensure you are regularly checking in with your child by asking them how they are doing with their sports. Allow your child to make goals for themselves instead of you making them for them. This encourages children to be independent and control what they want out of the sports they play.
5. Behave in a way that your children want you to before, during, and after a game/practice
Strong communication between you and your child will help strengthen your relationship. This allows your child to express what they want from you before, during, and after a game. Every child is different, so it is important to understand the likes and dislikes of your child and how you can better support them through that. For example, your child may be nervous before a game and want your help with relaxing. During a game, your child may not like it when you approach the dugout and tell them something they need to do. Because of this action, your child may not want to talk about the game or express openness regarding the game’s events.
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!
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.
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 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 thathumiliationis especially damaging when inflicted by anattachmentfigure, such as a parent or primarycaregiver.
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.
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.