Thursday, June 10, 2010

Surviving End-of-School Angst

Through experience we all know that the big transitions in life can be extremely stressful. Less discussed is the anxiety caused by seasonal transitions. Families with children of all ages often find the weeks around the end of the school year to be very challenging, and parenting teens through this time can be particularly trying. While May and June may bring us beautiful weather, baseball, and the beginning of beach season, it can also bring our children and ourselves major angst. Academic, social, or extracurricular commitments, as well as nerves about upcoming final exams, the lack of a Summer job, or serving too much bench time in a beloved sport can overwhelm teens at the end of the school year. Teachers can understandably get stressed (and sometimes cranky) as they try to instill the last bits of the curriculum to students under the spell of Spring fever. These myriad stressors can cause major tension and upset in a family. Ask any school psychologist or social worker, and they will tell you that many children are in distress at this time of year, and are in need of extra support.
Is your teen feeling like this?

How can parents offer this support and meet our other responsibilities? A seasoned, caring parent once shared her strategy for helping children and maintaining sanity during challenging times:

"Do not ride the roller-coaster".

This wonderful metaphor can help keep us on track when our teens feel out of control. So the question is, how do us parents stay off the roller coaster while keeping our kids safe and stable as they ride it?
  • Do not rush in to fix problems. Wait 12 hours, and if the problem still seems serious, re-evaluate.
  • Encourage teens to use an electronic or paper calendar, and work backwards, allowing time for upcoming priorities. Looking at a calendar together on paper can be helpful. An activity may have to "go" to allow for adequate time for the basics such as studying for exams and sleep.
  • Help kids refine tools that are already in their toolbox: they all have playlists, but do they have a relaxation playlist?
  • Model good coping skills. What do they see us do when the going gets tough? The driving range or pulling weeds can often cure what ails us, and prepare us for their next dip.
  • Be the enforcer. Parties and events abound at the end of the school year. Despite what your child says, "everybody" is not going, and you are not the only "horrible parent who is ruining my life and will never understand".
  • Do not pretend you are coasting along and everything is "FINE" when it is not. Although no one wants to be, or listen to, a "Doug or Wendy Whiner", admitting that you are facing challenges models honesty to your children and your peers. It may even help you make a more meaningful connection with an acquaintance.
  • Be present, but do not engage. A friend shared that her 17 year-old daughter recently tried to get her on the roller coaster by complaining incessantly about having to participate in an important family celebration. Mom's wise response? "I am going on a walk, would you like to join me?" Of course, the result was some much needed alone time for Mom.
  • Ask for help. Who cast you as superhero? Your partner, friend or relative will likely pleasantly surprise you when you tell them you are going through a tough time.
  • When all else fails, go to your room or a quiet place and take a 10 minute "vacation". Put on your headphones, close your eyes and pretend you are on your favorite beach or mountaintop.

 Be well,

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