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At school, home school or somewhere in between, Canberra’s teens have found themselves right in the thick of it when it comes to the knock-on impacts of COVID.
If you’ve got young people at home, you might be noticing that there are some seriously big emotions going on. The usual uncertainty, exams and social pressures have been compounded by changes in environment and health anxiety that have left many feeling a little uneasy.
As a parent or carer, it can be difficult to know how best to help the young people in your life, so MIEACT (Mental Illness Education ACT) has put together five tips that you can draw from to help you and your teens cope with big emotions.
When emotions are starting to heat up at home, make time and space to regulate yourself first. Staying calm can help to diffuse situations where big emotions are at play.
Where possible, avoid communicating with your teen when you are feeling angry, exhausted, or impatient – these are times where you may find it tricky to remain present and guide your young person through their immediate feelings.
Think about verbalising the emotion you are seeing, and validating it, to show your child that you are present and connected, and that you support them despite “negative” feelings.
Remaining calm could look like setting boundaries for the way you are spoken to, or enforcing for a timeout so that you can communicate more effectively when everyone has had a chance to cool off.
Build your family’s emotional vocabulary
The more specifically we can pinpoint an emotion, the more we can understand how best to regulate it and the values that the emotion is trying to tell us.
Teens who use more granular terms such as ‘I feel annoyed,’ or ‘I feel frustrated,’ or ‘I feel ashamed’, instead of simply saying ‘I feel bad’, are better protected against developing increased depressive symptoms after experiencing a stressful life event.
Practice ‘Naming the Emotion’ in your family to build greater awareness, empathy, and support. A visual aid like an emotions wheel can be especially helpful, as can practice through fun activities when your young person is feeling safe and least distressed.
Focus on the elements you CAN Control
A return to work, school, exams and social pressures may be overwhelming for everyone in the household, and that stress can be contagious, whether we are 9 or 99!
If you or your children find yourselves becoming overwhelmed by the transition back to COVID-normal, take a leaf from Steven Covey and identify the thing you can control about the situation.
How are you able to keep yourselves safe (can you control the distance you keep, the mask you choose to wear, the way you wash your hands)?
How can you prepare for exams, when can you structure time for family connection to check in? Taking charge of our situation even in the most minor way can help to increase efficacy and confidence.
Provide an outlet for big emotional energy
Supporting your children to find healthy ways to release stress, burn anxious energy and reconnect can be especially helpful.
Not only will this help to address the immediate build up or ‘explosion’ of emotions, but it can also assist in building long-term wellbeing strategies that your young people can continue to engage in independently.
Some effective ways of blowing off steam include exercise (running, hiking, martial arts, basketball, etc.) writing in a journal, cooking, doing artwork or playing an instrument.
Trying a new hobby can also help clear the mind and relieve stress. It’s hard to focus on problems and worries when you’re tackling a new challenge!
Encourage Help Seeking!
It is never too early or too late to seek help from others when it feels like a problem is too hard to navigate alone.
Normalise conversations about asking for, offering, or receiving help at home and aim for open and judgement-free conversions about wellbeing with your children.
If you find yourself concerned about your child’s wellbeing or mental health, reaching out to school supports or local mental health services is a great place to begin.