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Mental Health In A Time of Social Distancing: 5 Tips for Talking To Your Teen or Young Adult

At a time when social distancing and absence in school-time may put you closer to your teen than ever before, parents may become the primary confidante. The below tips can support you in navigating conversations that can sometimes be challenging, and provide you with some techniques for promoting positive and thoughtful dialogue about the topic of mental health during COVID-19 and beyond.

We are living in unprecedented times. And parents, in particular, are feeling the stress. You may be working remotely, trying to parent, educate, and keep the household running. You may be in a career where you are an essential employee, needing to navigate childcare, educational needs, and work. Or, you may be in an industry that has been deeply impacted by current events. As parents and caregivers work to take care of themselves and their loved ones, there are also important considerations to be had for how to support the teens and young adults in our lives during these difficult times.

Next to friends, parents have been identified by students as the person that they are most likely to reach out to should they experience stress or emotional challenges. And, at a time when social distancing and absence in school-time may put you closer to your teen than ever before, parents may become the primary confidante. The below tips can support you in navigating conversations that can sometimes be challenging, and provide you with some techniques for promoting positive and thoughtful dialogue about the topic of mental health during COVID-19 and beyond. 

1. Be Authentic

Sometimes, as parents or caregivers, we may struggle to find a balance between healthy vulnerability and too much self-disclosure, which can lead us to show only certain parts of ourselves to our offspring. During times like this especially, it is important to be authentic. Your loved one is likely experiencing uncertainty, anxiety, sadness or disappointment: fears for their health, sadness about missing school, longing for physical proximity to their friends, and feeling overwhelmed by the weight of negative news. Now, more than ever, it is important to positively reflect how you are coping, and give them an opportunity to see that you are human as well. Things right now are hard– and it’s okay to bond about that.

Strategy:  Demonstrate that you are human. Reference how you are feeling, how you are handling things, or weave into the conversation a tactic that you use to manage your own well-being. By demonstrating that you are also experiencing challenging emotions and identifying resources to support them, you’re modeling some of the healthy behaviors that you hope your child will engage in.

2. Engage In Active Listening

Very often, when having a conversation about a sensitive topic, we may feel compelled to offer our own perspective or immediately interject with advice. One of the most powerful gifts that you can give when your loved one opens up to you is the gift of active listening. By making it a practice to listen intently before offering any kind of advice, you allow them to feel truly heard.  Spend time considering what they actually need– do they need advice, do they need resources, or do they just need to vent? It can be tempting to immediately want to “fix” whatever it is that they bring up, but sometimes they simply need to feel heard. 

Rather than this…Try saying this…
“You should do XYZ…”“I can see why that would be challenging for you”
“Why didn’t you…(say something, say no, do this)?”“That must have been a really hard thing to experience. It sounds like you were doing what you felt was best in the moment”
“I’m going to do this for you…”“There are some things that I can do to help. I could just listen, I could offer some advice, I could connect you to a resource. What do you think would be most helpful right now?”

3. Refrain From Judgement

It is natural that as a parent or loved one, a temptation may exist to want to control or manage how your child handles challenging situations, but it is important to support teens and young adults in finding their own way. This is an important part of personal growth and resilience.

If your loved one comes to you with concerns, rather than immediately jumping in with advice try encouraging them to come up with a solution on their own. For example, ask “what resources do you think you have to help you solve this problem,” or “what would you tell a friend who was in the same situation.” By letting them know that you are there and listening without immediately offering advice, you may help to inspire their self-confidence and send the message that you are confident in them as well. You can always keep the advice in your back pocket should you feel that they really need it, but again, see point #2 to make sure.

4. (Help Them) Find The Right Resources

Just as you may have spent time developing a plan to maintain academics during this time, it can be worthwhile to also look at resources for maintaining positive mental health. Each day, new resources emerge to support the mental health of people impacted by COVID-19, and we’ve shared a few of them below. During any time of transition, it is natural to feel a range of emotions, and it is important to know what resources are available should they become hard to manage or overwhelming. Having candid conversations with your loved one, or regular “mental health” check-in’s can be a helpful way of knowing if additional support may be needed– whether coping skills, self-care practices, or speaking to a professional via tele-therapy.

5. Be Kind To Yourself

You are probably balancing far more than you ever have, and it is likely that any stressors that your child is feeling you are feeling as well. At this time, especially,  it is important to recognize that self-compassion is one of the most critical skills that you can learn. By prioritizing your own mental health and fostering self-compassion, you can nurture your own well-being and also set an important example. Applying the tips above to your own wellness, as well as making sure that you have the resources that you need, can be one of the most powerful teaching moments of all.

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