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As the end of the year finally comes to a close, I can’t help but look back at all the time my family and I have spent together this year. In a world that’s trying to reopen, we’ve all been caught in this suspended reality. But Bobby and I have tried to make everything as normal as possible for our children while still trying to navigate the unknown. We want our kids to handle this new world in the best way possible through adaptability, healing, flexibility, and emotional management.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not perfect at managing things emotionally. I’ve written in the past how I can sugar coat all those bad times with toxic positivity. And while I definitely want my kids to face the world with positivity, I want them to have the maturity to handle anxiety, stress, and uncertainty. So once again, I partnered with Responsibility.org in my commitment to cultivating a lifetime of conversations between parents and their kids.
Through Responsibility.org, I connected with Lynn Lyons, anxiety expert, therapist, and co-host of Fluster Clux podcast, a podcast for parents who worry with helpful tips on managing your family’s mental health. And to make sure my littles grow up with the kind of emotional management skills they need to tackle this pandemic (or anything else that pops up in their lives), she laid out the four skills of emotional management. And, of course, I took tons of notes!
As much as I want to prepare my kids for the real world, they need to be flexible, especially for what they don’t see coming. Pandemic included. I know I wasn’t. Lyons notes that this doesn’t mean we get rid of planning and preparing completely, but it allows us to manage when things don’t go the way we plan.
In the Schaffer household, we’re planners—we have to be! With two businesses, four kids, and two dogs, it can get crazy! But I understand that life gets in the way of those plans, especially during a pandemic. It’s important that my kids can adapt and go with the flow as new issues arise. Lyons suggests taking some time at the dinner table to talk about something unexpected that happened that day and how you or your kids managed it.
Independent Problem Solving
I know every mom would solve all of their kids’ problems for them if they could. But they need those independent problem-solving skills to tackle what life throws at them. Over the past two years, with the kids at home more, they don’t necessarily have the space to tackle those issues on their own. Bobby and I have been right there with them trying to help them out.
I know it’ll be hard (it’s almost impossible for me!) but take a step back and let kids figure things out on their own. If they’re struggling with an issue, help them out, but try not to solve the problem for them. Whether it’s trouble with a friend or they’re anxious over a new class, offer help if they need it, but give them the space to solve it alone. This is how they learn those problem-solving skills to help with emotional management as they grow.
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Development of Autonomy
It’s almost impossible to develop autonomy when a family of six is quarantined in one house! While we’re definitely outside more than we were at the beginning of the pandemic, we’re not totally back to normal. That time that my kids were supposed to be gaining a little independence was taken away from them. And now we have to try to give them a little of that freedom at home.
Lyons notes that the pandemic hampered that skillset for adolescents who are supposed to be doing things “behind their parents’ backs.” And while I don’t think my kids would do anything they shouldn’t while I’m not looking, things like birthday parties, sleepovers, and graduations were just gone. So they don’t get to experience that independence—that feeling of being out of their house and away from their parents. So at home, I try to give my older kids some more space and privacy when they need it. (Besides, mom needs alone time too!)
With all of the anxiety and stress of the last two years, it’s understandable that kids will perceive the world as a more dangerous place. And in some ways, it is. But I don’t want my kids to feel that home is the only safe place. Instead, I want them to logically access what is or isn’t okay. A birthday party with a few close friends? That’s fine. Coachella? Probably not.
With the anxiety kids have been experiencing since the start of the pandemic, it’s important that they can adapt to these changes in a healthy way. I don’t want them to see the outside world as a place of threat or danger. Do I want my kids to be safe? Of course. But I don’t want fear from anxiety to stop them from doing the things they love. Finding that balance is one of the keys to emotional management.
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A Challenge for Parents
Lyons suggests that parents today are somewhat over-reactive to normal ups and downs, especially with tweens and teens. She adds we need to normalize discomfort, uncertainty, problem-solving, autonomy, and reasonable risk. To do this, we need to make sure we are building back up the strength of our kids. The pandemic has taken a lot out of all of us. But especially our children.
I want my kids to learn to handle problems in a healthy way—whether that’s as big as a pandemic or as small as failing a test. They need the right tools and skillsets to let them experience these things and move through them rather than panic or give in to stress and anxiety. Talking with my kids and helping them become independent, adaptable adults is key in giving my kids the social and emotional management skills they need to get through this. And maybe it’ll help parents too!