Saturday, April 26, 2014

Coping Strategies for Teens and Tweens

Kids killing each other because they got turned down for prom. . .kids shooting up a school because they have been bullied. . .kids killing themselves because they feel isolated and alone. . .where do these strong feelings come from and how do we as parents see the warning signs or help create an environment where our children can cope with life's disappointments and discouragements without the sudden and devastating lashing out?

I have one child who tends to react quickly to emotion. She might explode when angry or frustrated but then five minutes later is over it and happy. My other child is the opposite. I can only usually get to her emotions and feelings after prying and questioning and she tends to hold onto her feelings longer.  We have taught them the basic, immediate coping skills of stopping and thinking before reacting, of counting to 10, of hitting a pillow instead of someone else, and breathing in the good energy and out the bad. Sometimes they work, but I find some of these other global coping strategies we use on a daily basis to get our kids to appreciate and interact positively with the world around them are just as useful. 

1. Talking with an older adult (other than your parents). It is such an important skill to be able to carry on a conversation with someone in a different generation. I work with the elderly on a daily basis and have learned something from just about each and every one of them. I hear their joys, their regrets, their life lessons they like to share. I see them in all aspects. From the well-loved and happy retired couple who spends time with their grandchildren and has their son in law mowing their lawn for them, to the isolated and alone widower who has no one to even give her a ride to a doctor's appointment. I hear how they got to where they are in life. I hear why they might be lost and forgotten. They give amazing perspective to the different ways we lead our lives and the attitudes that go into getting us where we want to go. Teaching our kids to reach out to them whether it be through church, through the neighborhood, or even in our own families is an important skill. Have them sit and have a conversation. A conversation where they are not just answering their questions, but also asking their own. "What was your favorite age? Where was the best place you ever traveled? What is the best book you ever read?" They will be enthralled with all the information they can learn with just a few simple questions. And then have them do something for them. . .offer to rake their lawn, bring them a meal, brighten their day with flowers for their kitchen table. 

2. Have a positive attitude. This seems so simple. Just don't let those negative thoughts permeate and ruin your day. I see how attitude affects people so strongly in their recovery from illness or injury. Those patients of mine who think positively and greet therapy with enthusiasm recover much quicker than those who let the negativity and anxiety take over. I once had a patient whose blood pressure was extremely high that day and found out that he was still reeling from spilling his coffee earlier that day. Another patient would spend 20-30 minutes of each therapy session venting about one irritation or another she had encountered that day from a phone call from a telemarketer to not hearing back from a doctor about her hundredth question that week. Redirecting her to what was important.  . .her therapy was nearly impossible. These types of patients take twice as long to accomplish their goals because we just simply can't get to them when they have difficulty dealing with the little things that overwhelm them. How we deal with these little hiccups truly does affect our overall health and ability to accomplish any other things in life. Another patient's wife was complaining how last year on her birthday her husband was near death in the hospital and this year he spent the day at doctor's appointments and with therapists. I told her that it certainly is a step in the right direction. She looked at me with contempt and said, "Do they teach you to put a positive spin on everything?" No one taught me. . .I just choose to, I told her. I can't change the way people think. But I can change myself and I can pass on lessons to my kids. When they get off the bus with the day's difficulties spilling from their mouths we try to find the good parts of the day as well but also try to sort out the problems one by one and turn them into learning moments. Look at why you got that bad grade. Look at how others did. Maybe it wasn't a valid measure of your knowledge. Maybe you messed up and studied the wrong information. Maybe you forgot to study. What can you learn from it and how can you improve for next time? So many kids just think that string of bad grades means they are a failure and start to give up. We can learn from each and every failure. What if a boy/girl you like doesn't like you back? It's only a brief moment in your long life. Soon you will like someone else. You are at an age where you are learning what type of person you fit with and that includes what type of person meshes with you as well as you mesh with them. A crush might just be based on a cute face or they way someone is liked by everyone else but might not be a right fit for you once you get to know them. Remembering that this is just one learning experience in a lifetime is a way to keep perspective and stay positive. The best is yet to come. 

3. Have faith. This is so important on so many levels. Believe in something bigger than yourself. So many people have fallen out of a church life because of the stigma associated with religions. True religion teaches love, respect, humility, selflessness, kindness. Find a comfortable fit with a church. You don't need to stay at a church that makes you feel guilty or uncomfortable…or that teaches judgmental attitudes. There are so many choices out there and the rewards of a church family are immeasurable. The loving embrace of Sunday School teachers, ministers, youth group leaders will help kids to have someone to turn to and mentor them through tough times. They will share life's joys and concerns with them and help them to have strength and forbearance to get through some of the toughest years of their lives. Opportunities to give back to the community and volunteer are innumerable in church as well. . .from babysitting in the nursery to serving meals to the homeless, to traveling across the country to build houses for those who have nothing. . .all can be accomplished in almost any church. 

4. Count your blessings. When the kids do volunteer and see a glimpse of those down on their luck, they are reminded of how lucky they are. Even if they don't get the latest iPad or Xbox or Uggs, they can learn to appreciate the fact that they have a roof over their head, meals on the table, clothes to wear, a family who loves them, friends who care about them. They have what matters the most. The rest is gravy. 

5. Keep perspective. The kids think I'm cheesy because I tend to throw out these cliches. As Scarlett O'Hara says, "Tomorrow is another day." Annie says, "The sun will come out tomorrow." The Jewish adage, "This too shall pass." After I had my car accident as a teenager and was dealing with the following emotion, my grandmother hugged me and said to me, "It will all come out in the wash." When as a teenager and having a heart to heart with my father who had heard of a recent suicide he told me, "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."  The latest devastation in their lives is just a temporary set back. Live is beautiful and long. Live it with joy and abandon.

6. Others don't judge you nearly as much as you judge yourself. Do you care how big your friend's thighs are? Do you care if the girl sitting next to you is wearing the latest fashion? I hope not. . .and I guarantee you that others are not thinking about you as much as you think they are. Why? Because they are just as self-conscious and self absorbed as you are. If they see you wearing a bathing suit without a care in the world, they will respect you more than if you are hiding behind 2 or 3 layers. Because then your self-consciousness becomes obvious and they have something to focus on. Teens like to feel better about themselves by relishing in other's discomfort. Sad but true! Be confident, be self-assured and no one has any reason to look twice other than out of respect. 

7. Speak up to a bully. If someone is being intentionally mean, tell them. Simply say, "that was a mean thing to say." And walk away. Then forget about it. That person is trying to feel better about themselves. Distance yourself from these people and wait for their mean phase to pass. Don't necessarily count them out as future friends. They are growing and learning too. After they have experimented with trying to have power over others, they may mature and realize it is more isolating and lonely than just being kind to one another and you may find a good friend in them sometime in your future. Holding on to anger and negativity toward them for something they did to you in the 3rd grade serves no purpose and keeps unnecessary negativity a part of your life. 

8. Learn to take care of another living thing. Whether it be a plant, a guinea pig, fish or puppy. . .focusing your energy on making sure something else is cared for and stays alive is an important skill to have. It reduces your inner focus and makes you fall in love with something. It makes you have empathy and compassion for a living object and you are rewarded with they grow, thrive and learn in response to your care. 

9. Read an inspiring book. We can't experience the entire world and the way they live but we can understand so much more about the history of our trials and tribulations through books and movies. Whether it be about slavery, the holocaust or modern day human trafficking. there is so much going on in the world that will shock you, but inspire at the same time. It will open your eyes to how safe and secure you are in your corner and hopefully provide that sense of perspective that your life is pretty amazing and special. 

10. Smile. Every day. Just do it.

These are just some strategies I try to teach my kids and use myself to maintain a positive attitude. I'm sure there are thousands of others. Please share what coping skills you use in your family and maybe I'll make a future blog post with your ideas!