Adolescents have less life experience and coping skills than adults, so the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may be more pronounced for them. The pandemic is still affecting all of us, everywhere, and it will take time for our children to heal.
So how can you support your child?
1. Have realistic expectations.
School counselors are seeing widespread stress in students and skill regression in academics and beyond. Just as teachers have adjusted their classroom expectations in response to rusty executive functioning and loss in learning, conflict resolution, and social skills, parents can help their children by lowering their level of expectation for academic performance, extracurriculars, and even social engagement. Children are still building and rebuilding skills in these areas and need patience and support while doing so.
2. Talk to your child regularly.
You know your child better than anyone. Talking to them can help you detect if they need support at home, at school, or in other areas of their life. Paying attention to big changes in behavior and functioning is also important, especially if professional help may be needed to support their mental health. Keeping conversations light on a daily basis will make way for heavier conversations when you need to have them.
3. Listen and validate.
When we talk to our kids, we often jump into “fix-it” mode, reaching into our toolkit of life experience to dissect their problems. The trouble is, by doing so we can inadvertently magnify them. Taking on our child’s stress often makes it larger than it needs to be. What kids need most from conversations with their parents is validation of what they are going through, empathetic listening, and space for processing. It is also helpful to make sure your child knows the various resources they have available to them at school and elsewhere. Do they know who to go to if they have a problem? You can help them destigmatize asking for support.
4. Take time for yourself.
Between focusing on their kids, their jobs, and daily news from a weighty world, parents today are wrung out. If you are facing financial challenges, work overload, or other stressors, you may not be emotionally available for your child. It’s important – and completely appropriate – for you to take time to de-stress and refuel. Consistently getting good sleep, taking a walk around the neighborhood, or talking to a close friend can have positive effects on your mental health. By taking care of yourself, and thereby modeling good self-care and positive coping skills, you can better support your child.
While we are all focused on “getting through” the pandemic, our response to it can influence how we will fare when it is no longer a primary force in our lives. Making positive, mindful adjustments in our family routines will benefit our children and ourselves, no matter what the future holds.
By Erika Pike, Director of Student Support, Pacific Ridge School