The thing that your kids (and teens) need the most right now is you. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, or trusted adult relative or friend to a child or teen, you are more valuable and needed than you may realize.
The pandemic has caused significant changes in most of our kids’ and teens’ lives. For many, this began on Friday, March 13, 2020, when schools announced that classes the following week would be held virtually. Fast forward to where we are now, and things are still topsy-turvy. Many schools remain virtual. Others have gone hybrid, and a few are closer to how they were before except for new mask requirements and social distancing rules. Many kids haven’t seen their friends in nearly six months
Even children who seem ok may be suffering from loneliness, anxiety, fear, or depression. In one way or another, most kids have been affected by the “new normal.” And as much as many kids may miss how things were before, there will be several kids who have a hard time adjusting when things do start to return to the “old normal.” Whether your child seems to be doing fine or not, he or she needs you.
Parents Should Use Empowerment, Empathy, and Engagement
The framework that I use in my therapy practice is one that I recommend for all parents to use now. I call it The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement). While this framework helps kids and teens who are struggling with bullying and other issues, it’s also very effective in helping parents and their kids reconnect, grow stronger bonds, develop open communication, and gain more understanding and respect for one another.
Empathy – The Three E’s foundation is always empathy, which is understanding your child’s perspective from their viewpoint. Even if you think you know how your child is feeling or what they are thinking, you should give them the chance to tell you. It’s not uncommon for a child to put on a facade to hide how their feelings because they want their parents to believe they are happy or that nothing is wrong. If you don’t understand your child’s viewpoint, it’s important to ask open-ended questions. For example, if your child keeps in touch with friends over their phone, you might ask, “Which of your friends have you heard from recently? What have they been doing?”
Empowerment – Once you understand your child’s perspective from their viewpoint, you can empower them to share their thoughts and opinions and develop game plans to resolve any issues such as maintaining social connections during the pandemic, cyberbullying, and low self-esteem. If there is an issue that your child is facing, it can be helpful to have them practice proposed steps for resolution by role-playing with you.
The world’s current state can cause feelings of anxiety if you focus on the things that you cannot control. It’s important to remind kids of the things that they CAN control. Each of us can control our thoughts, actions, and how we take care of ourselves. Journaling our feelings can be very beneficial. We can release our worries on paper, but then counter them with positive thoughts.
If the pandemic is causing your child to feel distressed, remind your child how they got through other hard times in their life. You can then discuss how your child can use similar coping strategies to get through this current situation or anything else that may be causing distress in their life right now.
Engagement – I’ve had parents tell me, “I try to engage with my teen, but she doesn’t want to talk to me.” Or, “All I get from my teen is an attitude and one-word response.” What often happens after these scenarios is that parents begin to give up. They go from trying to engage to no engagement at all – causing more tension and less communication.
Some teenagers appear too busy or preoccupied to sit down for a conversation. The best way to engage with your child is to meet them where they’re at, which may mean doing an activity with them that they enjoy. It may then feel less threatening to check-in and ask an open-ended question such as, “What do you like best about school being virtual right now?” Engagement is listed last in the Three E’s because it’s most effective when used along with Empathy and Empowerment. You’ll better engage if you empathize with your child. And, your child will respond more positively if you’ve empowered them to share their thoughts and opinions.
Putting the Three E’s Together
The Three E’s should not be a one-time exercise. Parents should consistently use empathy, empowerment, and engagement with their children. It can help if you reserve a time each day, or even a day each week to practice using the Three E’s.
Make Sure Your Child Knows That You Care and Understand
Your child also needs to know that you care and understand and that they’re not alone. Along with the Three E’s, you can help guide your child by showing kindness, teaching them to be flexible, and not being too hard on themselves or others.
Finally, parents and their kids should make self-care a priority.
During this time, parents and their kids should practice self-care. Try to stay balanced and not overly stressed. When you feel yourself getting stressed, take a moment to try to relax. Kids mimic what they see and hear. If you practice self-compassion, your kids are likely also to start practicing self-compassion. For example, if you make a mistake, don’t beat yourself up over it. Practice and demonstrate the same self-compassion skills that you teach your kids.
About the Author:
Danielle Matthew is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who helps adolescents, adults, couples, and families who are in pain due to issues such as anxiety, severe stress, low self-esteem, or depression. With over 20 years of experience, Danielle authored Amazon Parenting Best-Seller, The Empowered Child: How to Help Your Child Cope, Communicate, and Conquer Bullying, and is the Director of The Empowerment Space Bullying Therapy Program in Los Angeles. Featured in Huffington Post and TODAY.com, Danielle has appeared on Fox, ABC, and CBS Morning Shows and Mom Talk Radio, and is the expert contributor to Washington Post’s article: “Kids love to ‘roast’ each other. But when does good-natured teasing become bullying?