First off reassure your child that he is safe, cared for and loved. Discuss how the current healthcare precautions that are in place are for the safety of all. Keep in mind that teens begin to rely on their friends more than family, and struggle for independence. Emotions run high during this time, so coping skills are a critical tool for them to succeed. Furthermore, junior high school kids have a sophisticated ability to identify feelings, talk about their emotions, engage in adaptive coping skills, and do so independently.
The crux of the issue for a young teen is that the amount of stress is tripled, so even if they were excellent at coping with emotions in elementary school, their abilities are taxed to the limit in junior high. They are less likely to turn to parents for help, so it’s critical they have stable, healthy social support from their peers. Yet, it is important to let them know their parents and other trusted adults are there for them to turn to as well.
Coping skills at this age include a healthy mix of deep breathing and mindfulness, talking about emotions, sharing and empathizing with peers about similar experiences, and discovering new healthy ways of coping while avoiding unhealthy options such as substances, sex, and unhealthy social relationships.
An additional skill they begin to use is scaling, or appropriately matching the emotional intensity of an emotional experience to the situation that is eliciting the experience. In other words, they are going to start recognizing what types of emotional reactions are appropriate to what types of settings, based on the social feedback they get from peers.
Here are some things parents can do to help their teens cope with stress:
Model and teach appropriate emotional scaling.
Model and teach healthy self-care activities.
Limit the use of poor coping strategies such as video games, watching TV, eating to cope or sleeping to cope.
Encourage involvement in activities they love that help them feel good about themselves.
Be present and actively listen, do not problem solve, listen and empathize and show validation.
Teach relaxation skills.
Remind them to use deep breathing and mindfulness skills.
Remind them that emotions are short-;lived and are signals we need to pay attention to in order to understand our situations better.
Here are some conversation starters to help discuss intense emotions:
“What kind of things stress you out? How do you know when you’re feeling stressed?”
“It’s OK to take a break from something that is hard, emotional or frustrating. Go do something that can help you feel a little more in control and then come back and finish it.”
“What are some healthy coping skills you use that help you feel better when you are stressed?”
“Can we talk about things we can do together and things you can do by yourself that will help decrease the stress?’
Always remember to reassure them that they are safe, cared for and loved and you and other trusted adults are available to discuss emotions and help them process strong emotions.