How do we know if our kids are feeling stressed or uncertain? Are they struggling emotionally, socially, academically, or in some other way? What are the signs we should look out for? Well, there's no one sure sign, but it's always a good idea to make some time each day to talk—and listen—to your child about something other than just 'what's for dinner' or 'have you done your homework?'. Talk about ideas and life in general, and how they're feeling. Be observant and if you think they're acting differently, try to choose a relaxed time to ask about it.
A positive relationship with your child, and showing them you value the time you spend with them, helps set the scene for open discussions. It's easy to fall into the trap of only paying attention to your child when they're doing something that's bothering you! Try to let your kids know you are always there to listen. If they want to talk to you about something, stop and pay attention. If it's not possible immediately (for example, if you're working), make a time to talk as soon as you can.
Children need to be able to openly discuss concerns with parents and have their questions answered. If your child is stressed about something, how do you usually react? Sometimes, kids may be very concerned about something that seems minor to adults. They may think you'll brush off their feelings. Or maybe they're worried you'll overreact and become very angry. Sometimes, kids don't want to express feelings like sadness or worry, because their parents may become very distressed at the thought of their child having such emotions.
Sometimes, it's easy for our kids to think we've never been kids ourselves. Getting the balance right can be tricky. You can't be your child's best friend because you still have to set boundaries, but do you want them to think they can't tell you anything because you won't understand? Consider ways to let them know they can talk to you about uncomfortable topics. If they tell you something that surprises or shocks you, it's a good idea to take your time, focus on staying calm, and consider different options. You may want to agree to talk more later.
When your child wants to talk, listen. If you tell your child how they should feel, or dismiss their feelings, such as by saying "don't worry about that" or "I can't believe you think that's a problem", they may be less likely to talk to you about feelings.
As parents, we sometimes have the urge to just take over and fix our children's problems for them. Instead, we can help them learn strategies for solving problems for themselves. There are Triple P programs that help parents learn ways to teach children and teenagers problem-solving skills. This strategy involves trying to get your child to come up with some possible solutions, then helping them see which ones they could try.
Supporting your children to solve problems involves helping them be independent while giving them just-enough support when they need it.
For more tips on supporting your children's coping skills, especially during COVID, visit the Triple P parent website. Programs are free in some regions.