Childhood and adolescence, for all their innocence and happiness, can also be times of emotional struggle. Young people face many challenges, from making and sustaining friends to dealing with the perils of social media to navigating the complexities of family life.
At their young age, kids and teens are not always fully equipped to deal with all the challenges that might come their way, so it is incumbent upon us to know how to help them cope with emotionally-charged situations in the most effective way.
The aim of this post is to help equip parents and educators to be ready to intervene and help young people during challenging times. Below we’ll offer some important tips to help us advocate and support kids and adolescents.
Be empathetic: Empathy, not to be confused with sympathy, is all about putting yourself in someone’s shoes. Adults often act as outside observers of students’ lives, ready to offer unsolicited wisdom and direction. But before you judge a young person’s behavior, it is important to take their perspective. What, for instance, might be happening situationally that affects the problem behavior? Rather than labeling the student “good” or “bad” and immediately trying to offer “fixes,” put yourself in the student’s situation and cultivate an understanding of things from their perspective. Not only will they appreciate the effort, you will obtain a more accurate picture of the problem. Even better, showing empathy will teach empathy, so you’ll be laying the foundation for understanding and compassion in your youngster.
Talk less, listen more: It can be really tempting to assume that we have all the answers; after all, we’re the adults in the room and our vast life experience has helped us to come up with solutions and recommendations for problems. We should, however, be careful that we fully understand a student’s situation before we swoop in with answers and suggestions. Often, advice like “tough it out” or “try harder” does not penetrate to the actual problem. A student whose grades are slipping may not just be “lazy;” there may be more emotional issues at the heart of the problem. It is, therefore, vital that we listen to what our kids tell us in order to gain a complete understanding of what is going on.
I tutored a student who, by all accounts, should have earned impressive scores on the SAT, however, the actual results ended up being well below his ability and what his practice scores predicted. As we talked about what had happened, the student cautiously revealed to me that he had actually not been able to sleep the night before and had felt completely overwhelmed by anxiety and panic during the test. By listening to this student’s story, I was able to gain an understanding of why his scores did not accurately reflect his ability. We were then able to tackle the issue effectively. Had I not really listened to his story or made my own assumptions, I may have simply thrown more practice questions at him which would undoubtedly have only led to further anxiety. Instead, we were able to work on reducing worry as well as discussing mindfulness strategies for optimal performance. Hearing him made all the difference to being able to truly help him.
Avoid “should” and “musts:” In life, it’s sometimes easy to form expectations and “shoulds:” I should be happy or I should get a good grade. The reality, though, is that our best laid plans don’t always come to fruition, and therefore we must be ready for the unexpected. Though sometimes difficult to talk about, things happen, even to young people: family members face illnesses, parents get divorced, finances get complicated, and so on. This is not to say that disaster portends all young people, but rather, that sometimes unexpectedly complex and emotional problems arise. It’s vital that we model coping skills to our children rather than overreacting or turning to unhealthy and problematic coping strategies. Preparing students for the ups and downs of life can go a long way toward helping them ride the emotional waves that undoubtedly come with being young.
Bring in the pros: Sometimes, even though parents and teachers want to help, it’s necessary to turn to those whose life work has to do with helping people cope with tough times. This may mean therapists, school psychologists, and other professionals who are trained in intervening during times of stress and emotional turmoil. By now, the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues is hopefully gone: our communities abound with people in the field who are ready to answer the call to advocate for our young people as they navigate the inevitable challenges of life.
At iAchieve Learning, we have on our staff professionals to help young people through the many challenges of youth, and beyond the solely academic. Contact us today for full-service and compassionate help for your youngster.
Written by Phil Lane
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