Pandemics, natural disasters, trauma…these can all turn family life upside-down. Learn more on how to parent during times of stress with this whole series from Dr. Kate Green: Introduction, Infants and Toddlers, Ages 3-5, Ages 6-12, and Ages 13+.
Adolescents are fully able to comprehend the trauma and what is happening with the virus but that does not mean they are as equipped as adults to understand how to cope with it and to organize their emotions. As parents we need to openly discuss what is happening but still limit exposure to media (obviously easier at age 13 than 18) or help guide them to information that is helpful and clarifying rather than hype and fear mongering. It can be a good chance to increase critical thinking skills and how to search for appropriate information. This is a great time to really pull together as a team and to enlist their help in the entire family’s learning about the situation and what actions to take. They can help teach younger children how to more intensely wash hands, model not touching their face (and remind you about this), be the keeper of hand sanitizer when you go out, and generally be part of the family safety team. Younger children of course should do this as well but by giving more responsibility to your adolescents you let them know you trust them in both their knowledge and competence. This helps grow their self-confidence during traumatic times and allows them to take on a leadership role which can help draw them out of any negative internalizing behaviors that can be manifesting. Sometimes we also have to prompt them to engage such as asking them privately to help you with family game night. Explaining why this is good for their younger siblings and that you need them to help you gives them another chance to take on a leadership role and that responsibility. Of course, we need to model this and be part of the experiences and not hand them off to our teen!
But while we are helping our adolescents take on more adult, leadership roles, we also need to give them time to still be children. Making their favorite early childhood foods for them, giving them back or foot rubs, reading aloud together, coloring together, painting their room, clearing out a closet and having a silly fashion show, watching shows or cartoons enjoyed in childhood, are all ways to let them still be a child and let off stress. Follow their lead on this though as some may want it more than others and again the differences in ages 13 to 18 can change their response.
Behaviors we may see –
- Physical symptoms such as stomach or headaches or even rashes.
- Sleep disturbances (increased or decreased).
- Changes in diet (increased or decreased).
- Inability to concentrate or focus on a task.
- Agitation and short fuse/anger.
- Withdrawal from friends or siblings.
What we can do—
- Encourage them to speak about their worries but don’t force (natural times to chat are during an activity such as baking, chores, or doing art together).
- Art activities together.
- Board games or family game night.
- Prompt them to play video games online with friends or video chat.
- Household chores with you.
- Routines are helpful and will differ for each family but having some semblance of schedule helps everyone expectations; even if it’s just a general time for family dinner.
- Ask for their help with younger siblings (such as reading or playing with them).
- Giving responsibility and purposefully seeking them out to help you.
- Monitor social media and television viewing not in a punitive way but by discussing how it can increase our stress or have incorrect information. Then MODEL this; lead by your actions and engage them in a plan of how to be a thoughtful consumer of media.
- Share clarifying media and discuss it with them. Show them how to find sensible sources.
- Read aloud together as a family.
- Listen to audio books together.
- Watch shows/movies they would like (be brave and know it’s a short stage) with them and even engage extended family by video. Is there a comedy that you can all start on the TV at the same time with skype going on via computer? This way grandparents or extended family time can be part of the fun. You can even arrange to make the same snacks to eat or all be in pajamas etc. Use video streaming to your advantage.