We are in uncharted territory. Yes, our world has faced widespread disease before, but our modern society has not had to deal with the fear and disruption the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. There is not a group left untouched by job loss or disruption, financial concerns, or illness in some way.
But you are here to learn how to help your teen, college student, or someone you know whose life has been disrupted by the cancellation of school and social events. Here are a few ways to help them cope with these sudden changes (and hopefully a few you can use for youself!):
- Listen to and validate their feelings and experiences.
We often think that “naming” something makes it worse, when in fact the opposite is true – talk about the sadness, anger, isolation, and general unfairness of their current situation.
This especially includes major milestones they may be missing – the end of middle school, high school graduation, college internships.
- Encourage healthy habits.
Work together to create a schedule that works for your family, including schoolwork, your job(s), and family needs such as work breaks, healthy meals, physical activity, and adequate sleep.
- Teach (and practice!) mindfulness and relaxation skills.
Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment – whatever the moment holds. This means accepting our thoughts and emotions about our circumstances without fighting them. It is ok for our us and our teens to declare how much something stinks! That allows us to come to a calm enough space to figure out how to move forward.
Breathing exercises, physical activity (including yoga, exercise, etc.), journaling, and creative activities may also help them deal with the stress they are experiencing.
- Allow for alone time.
Too much togetherness is possible. Plan for all of you to have enough time alone to prevent unnecessary conflict.
- Encourage (distant) socializing.
Encourage your teens to engage with people through safe electronic means – video chat, video games, and other methods of connecting with friends and family. But – make sure they aren’t spending unhealthy amounts of time on their devices.
- Prepare for the effects of stress.
That said, stress, togetherness, and any number of factors might contribute to tension within individuals and your family. Have a plan that includes calming techniques and communication skills to improve situations.
- Make a point to connect.
Spend time together as a whole family and in smaller pairs or groups. Take advantage of the forced slowness to get to know each other better – play games, share hobbies, read together… Be creative!
- Encourage them to help others.
Find age-appropriate, safe distancing ways to help others in your community. Maybe pick up groceries for a neighbor, clean up your street, or send cards to those in isolation.
- Watch for signs that there is more going on.
Finally, watch their emotional state. They may be unable to express some of their emotions, and need you to either help them, or connect them to others who can.
If you see that they need something more, reach out. I can provide more resources or clarification on anything you’ve seen above.
I’m praying for you and your teens to come through this healthier and more connected.