A friend of mine is a high school guidance counselor and though there’s never really a season her department isn’t busy, the race to the end of the school year seems to amplify everything from emotions to deadlines.
Whether it’s the high-achievers who’ve given their throughout the year and are running out of emotional energy and physical stamina or those who’ve been coasting and now realize that what they thought was the light at the end of the tunnel is the train coming straight at them, tensions can start to run high. For students with IEP’s, learning differences, attentional or behavioral issues, or social-emotional vulnerability, the end of the year can be a seemingly endless series of stressors.
As parents, there are few things more heartbreaking than watching your child struggle and knowing there are limits to how much you can help. Learning to manage schedules and stress is part of the maturing process, so it’s essential to walk beside your child, supporting them, rather than in front, snow-plow style, clearing the path for them.
If your child seems to be struggling, these strategies from family therapist, Roy Dowdy can help.
Start with a conversation. Talk to your child, his teachers, and his counselor to help identify specific triggers to stress and anxiety. “Once you’ve identified the stressor, you can implement solutions,” Dowdy says. “If it’s time management, help them create a schedule for their time outside of class. There are countless apps to help manage screen time – one of the biggest distractions – help with organization, and homework help. By incorporating your student in the process, you’re equipping them, not solving problems for them, which in turn boosts their confidence and gives them the tools necessary to face the next challenge.”
Make home a Judgement Free Zone. When you talk to your student, be careful not to pass judgment on them, even if the reasons for their distress seems insignificant to you. Anxiety distorts emotions, and that’s just as true for teens as adults. Suggesting their feelings are invalid will only exacerbate the problem and make them less likely to ask for help.
One bite at a time. There’s an old joke, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That’s how you’re going to attack this problem. Identify the stressor and come up with a short term solution. You’ve summer break and the next school year to implement long-term changes, but for now, work the problem in front of you,” Dowdy says. “Sure your son’s constant procrastination is what got him into this mess, and your daughter’s unwillingness to see that hours playing video games is why her room is a mess, and she can’t find her school uniform. But while a lecture on “If you had listened when I told you…” sure would feel good for you, it isn’t going to help your child at this moment. Put out the fire, then talk about implementing “fire drills” going forward.
Take the conversation to the school. Your child’s teachers and advisors are invested in their success too, so it’s essential to involve them in the discussion. By sharing your strategies with school staff, you’ve doubled your child’s cheerleaders and cut your burden in half.
Remember, you may not have the whole picture. Kids don’t often disclose everything that happens in any given situation. Remember, your teen is a former toddler, so the same child who was caught stealing his brother’s dessert and denying it is the one who’s telling you his teacher is out to get him and unfair. If school staff tell you something about your child’s actions, moods, or learning style – even, or especially if it surprises or upsets you — try to listen and hear them out. You tried to pull things over on your parents, and your child is capable of the same behavior.
Finally, if these strategies aren’t enough and your child still feels as though they’re drowning, it may be time to talk to a therapist. Dowdy’s practice is focused on families, and he has students in his office every week who are struggling to manage the demands of school, family, and their friends. “Think how overwhelmed you get trying to juggle that work/life balance. Now look at it from your teen’s perspective – someone who’s schedule and expectations are usually set by you, the parent, or by the school. That feeling of powerlessness can be incredibly stressful.”
To find a counselor, Dowdy suggests talking to the school guidance counselor, psychologist, or Dean of Students, your pediatrician, or other parents you know and trust for a referral to a counselor that specializes in adolescent mental health.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.