Five Skills Parents Can Learn to Help Their Children Cope

(Bianca Jelezniac/For The Washington Post)
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The coronavirus pandemic has affected the mental health of children and adolescents, and therapists are in demand and reserved. But this does not mean that treatment is impossible. In fact, caregivers can learn therapeutic strategies to support, reinforce, and teach our children healthy coping skills.

Experts point to five key skills you can develop to support your child through a crisis, complement therapy once it’s underway, and continue to improve your family’s mental health for years to come.

“Our job is to be a proactive parent and take initiative,” said Mary Alvord, a Rockville, Md.-based psychologist and co-author of “Conquer negative thinking.“Even with suicidal children, a little intervention can go a long way. Avoidance and ignorance will get you nowhere.

Alvord and others have suggested learning these pillars of therapeutic practice.

In our busy lives, it’s easy to absentmindedly listen to our children or bark orders. Attunement helps us notice when children need a deeper level of attention. It strengthens our relationship with our children and helps them better understand themselves and their feelings.

To pay attention. When kids’ routines change or they walk into the room angry, that’s a signal for you to dig deeper. Describe what you see and invite them to share. You might say, “I’ve noticed that you’re spending more time in your room. I wonder if you’re upset about something. Offering a guess can help them get started, both in processing their emotions and in sharing them, said Meag-gan O’Reilly, a psychologist and senior lecturer at Stanford University.

Reflective listening. One of the most powerful tools, reflective listening, can also be the hardest to deploy. It has three steps: listen carefully, paraphrase what you hear, and invite your child to correct your understanding. It’s important to be sincere, use eye contact, get on her level, and shut out distractions. Do not offer opinions or advice; just trying to understand. Phrases such as “I hear you say” and “Let me see if I understood correctly” can help you. For example, when a child is upset with low grades, parents can listen thoughtfully instead of telling the child to study more. This leaves children the opportunity to process their emotions, consider how their choices led to the outcome, and decide how to move forward.

Validation. Know that you may hear responses that worry or upset you. This is when it is crucial to validate your child’s point of view. If you ignore their feelings or try to talk them out of it, they will shut up or argue. “Parents are determined to fix things and give the answer to the kids,” Alvord said. “That’s not how you learn.”

That doesn’t mean you have to agree. Maybe your daughter says she looks ugly in her yearbook photo, said Rockville-based clinical social worker and author Pat Harvey. If you insist on her being beautiful, she may feel invalidated. Instead, you might say, “I understand that you’re disappointed with the way your photos look. I happen to like them; I can understand not.

“You have to touch your child’s pain and disappointment, and none of us want to do that,” Harvey said. When you acknowledge your child’s pain, it actually lessens their struggle and sets the stage for behavior change. “We only listen when we feel heard,” she noted.

Competency 2: Emotional Literacy

When parents develop emotional literacy, they help their children understand their own feelings. Part of that is connecting bodily sensations to emotions, Alvord said. Your fourth year’s stomach aches could be related to swimming trials. Teen headaches can stem from the school stress they feel on their shoulders. “We know the mind and body are connected,” Alvord said, explaining that cognitive behavioral therapy connects feelings, physiology and thoughts to modify behavior.

Know that all emotions are acceptable, even the most unpleasant ones. Naming the emotion helps to tame it, a strategy invented by the authors Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson. As children learn to listen to their emotions, they get better at managing them and predicting how they will feel.

A study from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence involved high school students who tracked their emotions and behavior, with a surprising finding regarding the posting of Photoshopped photos to social media. “The anticipation was, ‘I’m going to feel prettier and more attractive,’ but in the end, they felt worse,” said Marc Brackett, author of “permission to feel” and director of the center, who helped create a free emotion tracking app called How We Feel. “We all need to become emotion scientists, and that includes being self-aware and giving ourselves permission to feel all emotions.”

One of the hardest parenting skills to develop is self-regulation, especially when dealing with your child’s anger or anger. One key is to breathe intentionally. “Take a deep breath and hold your breath for a count of 10,” Alvord said. “It’s amazing how effective it can be.”

Harvey encourages his parent clients to text him when they feel overwhelmed in a difficult time with their children. Sometimes she coaches them via text on what to say, but even when she’s not available, pausing to text helps them respond more skillfully. “By texting me, they got emotional out of each other,” she said. “They thought about it differently.”

You should model self-regulation for your children. Maybe you had a rough day and went for a walk. Explain what you’re doing, says O’Reilly. “They’ll hear that walking is a way to deal with stress,” she said. “Telegraphing your internal process to the outside really gives them clues.”

Self-compassion involves more than cutting yourself a break. There are three defined steps: Acknowledge that you are in pain and be kind to yourself; recognize that you are not alone; and relativize your experiences to moderate your own negative reactivity.

Studies have shown that self-compassion increases well-being, reduces anxiety and depression, and can cushion many health issues, including substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation.

Self-compassion “is like portable therapy. Any time that’s a tough time can be transformed,” said Kristin Neff, author of “fierce self-compassionand researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. “It’s a way of being with negative emotions or negative experiences. Are we with mindfulness, connection, kindness, warmth and support? Or are we just blaming ourselves, blaming others, or denouncing reality? »

Emotions are contagious. People are such social creatures that if someone vibrates with anxiety, we’ll probably feel nervous. Parents and children pick up on each other’s emotions – and broadcast them – more easily because of our close relationships.

This is why self-compassion can be so powerful. Parents can exercise self-compassion at any high-intensity time with children. Show self-compassion by speaking out loud, or use it in silence to calm yourself down. Either way, your child benefits.

If children are hard on themselves, telling them to calm down is likely to elicit resistance. Instead, tell them about the steps to self-compassion.

“It’s not just about being soft or complacent or forgiving,” Neff said. “Sometimes it’s about gathering your things and saying, ‘What I need to take care of myself is something uncomfortable that’s going to be good for me in the long run. ”

When you’re frustrated, it’s easy to start labeling your child, even silently. Therapists recommend reframing to open yourself up to other ways of looking at the situation, which helps you see positive paths to follow. Avoid guessing or judging, and instead observe and be open to possibilities.

For example, if your child suddenly gets up to leave the table, you may interpret this as rude. Instead, ask yourself if your child needs quiet time, Harvey said. “We can do a lot about behaviors. We can’t do anything when we put labels on,” she said. “When you make assumptions, we act as if those assumptions are true, so we make all kinds of contracts and negotiations around what we think is the problem.”

Similarly, you can help children reframe by challenging assumptions. If they’re worried you’ll crash and die, talk to them about more realistic possibilities, Alvord said. Help them find their way to optimistic thinking, which sees bad things as temporary and specific. When you’re depressed, you tend to generalize and view bad situations as unchanging.

Ask questions like, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Is it always? Is it everyone? Will it last forever or is it temporary? suggested Alvord.

Practicing these five skills will build your child’s resilience. “As parents learn the skills of more effective parenting and really listen to their children, they can nurture their children emotionally, so they can be happy, motivated, and empowered teenagers,” Alvord said.

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