Kids are sleeping too much, showing less motivation, not following through on tasks. Socially, we see them isolating from peers and not cooperating at home (moreso than normal for a teenager). Their mental health is becoming one more thing that is worrying us in our battle against COVID and our struggle with the quarantine.
Imagine Going Through This Quarantine When You Were a Teenager
I want you to think about how you’ve been feeling with during the quarantine. You may be frustrated, tired, discouraged, pessimistic, and/or lonely. As you think about the future, you wonder when it’s going to end and feel helpless in the moment. You are tired of all the effort and beyond annoyed that everything has been cancelled. Imagine having all of those feelings and thoughts but being as you were when you were a teenager.
When you were that age, you weren’t as skilled at describing your emotions as you are now. Maybe then, you didn’t know how to navigate complicated emotions or you didn’t know how to use your friends and family for support. As a teenager, you didn’t have the vision to know that things change…that things get better. At that age, what was happening in the moment was your reality and it was hard to see past that.
Your Kids are Going Through the Covid Quarantine, Like You Are
Your kids are going through much of what you are going through. Unfortunately, they don’t know how to express it and they don’t know what to do with it. So it’s manifesting in them differently than how it is in you, but it’s the same thing.
We are all lost in this endless ongoing quarantine and wondering about the future. Yet, as adults, we are able to have perspective. We are able to access resources and handle our emotions differently.
With my couples and families, I look for patterns, identify solutions, and then review their effectiveness. I am sharing strategies that have appeared helpful.
Remember, your teenager is still a child
For this blog, remember that, as much as your teenager is somewhat self-sufficient, they are still a child. If your teenager was 4, 5, or 6 years old, how would you be handling them and their distress right now? What would you be doing to be helpful with them right now? Use that perspective as you read the ideas below and create additional ones for your family.
First of all, you would be giving them structure. Kids benefit from things being predictable so that they know what is happening and what’s going to happen. That’s a big thing that our teenagers have lost right now and yet they desperately need.
So make a schedule. Explain to them the reason you are doing this; that usually they have a natural schedule with school, homework, and meals but that has been lost with COVID. Reassure them that this is intended to make things a bit more ‘normal’ again and is not to limit them or how they are using their time.
In creating the schedule, include your teenager to increase success. Explore their perspective of what they do in their days and then, together, make a concrete and consistent schedule for the days of the week and the weekend. Include such things as study time, chores, social connections with others, exercise, meals, family activity, recreation, screen time, and sleep
Remember, make it clear this is something to be helpful, to make life more ‘normal’; it’s not to limit or ‘oppress’ them.
Change How You Handle Their Behaviors
Remember when your child was little, feeling tired or not well and acting grumpy. Would you be punishing them for that? No. You might tell them that they need to handle their emotions differently, give them a ‘time-out’ and help them express their emotions. You would not be punishing them.
I encourage that you reconsider punishing your teenagers for the behaviors that they are showing right now. Many of the behaviors are done in response to how they’re feeling. So if they’re sleeping in or struggling to do their homework, I encourage you NOT to penalize them. That just adds to the misery of their lives. It may also end up taking even more away from the few things they have left.
Remember, teenagers are struggling to do tasks, such as school work, when they’re not sure there’s even a reason for it. They also are used to things ‘just happening’, school schedules and connecting with friends easily. They are not practiced at having to think of activities to occupy their time or ‘initiate’ social encounters.
Rather than punishing them, help them express and talk about their lack of motivation and apathy. On a concrete level, work with them and help them so they can succeed in their homework, reach out to others, or just get up before noon.
Remember, punishing is just as one more thing that’s going to make them feel worse and helpless.
Give Them Your Time
If your teenagers were 10 years younger right now, you would know that they need your time and attention. You would instinctively understand they need more interaction with you, whether through simple conversations, doing things together, or completing tasks.
Your teenager is normally able to depend on their peers for social interaction and, appropriately, working on becoming more independent. Nonetheless, they really don’t have much support from their peers right now and they desperately need you.
So use this as an opportunity to give more focus and energy to your teenager. Be as you would with a younger child…hang out with them more. Relax, have conversations, and go for walks. Laugh with them, do what they want to do, and be in the same space without even talking. Just be with them, as you would when they were 6 or 7.
Remember, when you are with them, don’t make it intense by asking too many questions. For many teens, that can feel irritating and overwhelming. They are still teens, after all, and most won’t respond well to all that questioning.
Help Them Understand They are Normal
If something bad happened and your young child was sad or scared, you would help them express those feelings. If you were experiencing those emotions (or others), you would use age-appropriate language and possibly share how you were feeling, as well.
Sharing your emotional experience helps validate and normalize your child’s experience. By expressing what you are going through, it helps your child not feel so ‘alone’ in these feelings. It helps them realize that they are normal.
With our teenagers, we are not used to doing that so much. We are not used to them wanting that kind of connection with us. Your teenagers need this ‘normalization’ and validation now, though.
Many feel so completely alone and they benefit from hearing that you are lonely, bored, scared, and worried as well. Also, they benefit from hearing how you were handling those emotions. Your teenager benefits from hearing that they are not abnormal or inadequate.
Remember, even though it can feel relieving to you to share your emotional experience, worries, and concerns, keep the conversation age-appropriate. Focus on their care, not yours. You are their rock and they look to you for that, even if you are human and are sharing your vulnerabilities.
Help Them Navigate Their Friendships
Lastly, when you have a young child, you help them socially through play dates, parties, sleepovers, etc. You help them reach out to the peers by networking with other parents or by encouraging them to talk with someone in their school. You help them navigate and initiate social connections.
Our teenagers don’t generally need our interventions in their social life. They are used to just seeing one another in structured social situations, such as school or camp. As you know TOO well, there is no school or camp for your kids. This means those social structures that teenagers could depend upon are no longer available to them. Due to quarantine, teens are having to adjust and create new social structures.
Initiating and maintaining social connections is a skill many adults do not do well. Yet, our teenagers need to do this now, without the social frameworks they are used to. Some teenagers are navigating this new reality well, but others are feeling lonely, lost, and inadequate socially.
Although they understand technology, they may not be competent in many basic social skills (similar to adults). They may not understand how to reach out, set up social ‘dates’, and follow through. Maybe they may not be skilled at keeping social interactions going after the first social exchanges or what to do if friends don’t show up or respond back. Your teenager could really could benefit from your experience on this as they’re having to take a crash course right now.
Your teenager does not need for you to set up play dates. They could really benefit from your social experiences and wisdom. So discuss how you are connecting with your peers, family, and friends right now. If you have been an introvert historically, you may well understand what your teenager is experiencing; share your strategies or research new ones together.
Remember, you don’t have to have THE perfect answer. Part of the solution is helping your teen not feel so ‘alone’ in their struggle.
Your teenager is Still Your Baby
Your teenagers may look like they are almost adults, but they are still quite young. They are your children facing something that they have never gone through before. Use that perspective to change how you are handling them at this point. Rather than frustration and irritation, you and your teenager will both benefit from some compassion and strategies.
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Feeling Disconnected Even Though You have Been Stuck Together?
Strengthen Your Relationship With a Private Couples Retreat or Couples Workshop
Just because we are together doesn’t mean we know how to handle stress or communicate well. The quarantine has magnified some of our vulnerabilities. It’s all about the tools you use, though. Learn effective tools to communicate and connect at New England Hold Me Tight.
Private Couple Retreats (couples therapy intensives) and “Hold Me Tight®” Couples Workshops help you learn communication tools so you can connect more deeply. New England Hold Me Tight has skilled therapists and relationship coaches who specialize in helping couples like you who want to save a marriage or fix a relationship.
To start your path towards a healthier and more connected relationship, follow these simple steps:
1. Contact Bri McCarroll at New England Hold Me Tight.
2. Meet for a free 20-minute consultation (video).
4. Start to reconnect again.
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