Coping With Stress
One of the best ways we can promote the health and well-being of our children, now and throughout their adult lives, is to equip them with healthy coping strategies.
We wish we could protect people we care about from pain. No matter what we do, however, life is going to send all of us some curveballs. These stressors cause discomfort. What we do to minimize that discomfort is called coping. Some worrisome coping strategies serve as immediate fixes. They may take away our discomfort, but they are harmful and increase the stress in our lives. These negative coping strategies create a cycle of bad habits, even addictions, and can damage families and communities.
A critical approach to preventing some risky behaviors is to ensure that our tweens and teens possess healthy ways to manage stress. These positive strategies help lessen pain while enhancing health and strengthening relationships. When our tweens and teens have practiced skill-sets, we breathe easier knowing they’ll be less likely to reach for risky, quick fixes. It is never too early, nor too late, to teach, reinforce, and model these strategies. Although how you do so might differ by the age of your child.
When teens are already engaged in destructive decisions, part of the strategy to “bring them back” is to build their healthy coping strategies. Telling kids what not to do is not enough. Chastising or shaming them for their mistakes increases their stress and can backfire by making them reach for whatever strategies make them feel better quickest. If they draw comfort from dangerous behaviors, the lure of feeling better may win over their desire to be healthy or to please us.
It is hard to take away something that works without replacing it with something that is equally as effective. Rather than condemn our teens for engaging in negative behaviors, we should invite them to consider strategies that will also make them feel better while keeping them healthy. In parallel, we need to teach them that rather than avoiding issues, we can confront them and come up with long-lasting solutions.
What to Say (and Not to Say) to Support Teens Through Tough Times
The words we choose impact how effectively teens handle hardships and recover. Read these suggestions to build your “Language of Resilience.”
Validate Their Feelings, Don’t Minimize Them
Say This: This must feel awful. In time, it will hurt less. You’ll be stronger for it. Not That: It’s not that bad.
Empower Them, Don’t Overprotect
Say This: You’ll get through this. How can I support you? Not That: Don’t worry, I’ll protect you.
Help Them be Realistic, Don’t Blow Things Out of Proportion
Say This: Can this really hurt you? Will it feel so bad a week or month from now? Not That: This is horrible. It could ruin your life.
Point Out Strengths, Not Limitations
Say This: It’s great how much you care. Your challenge is caring without letting it hurt you too much. Not That: You are too sensitive.
A Comprehensive Strategy
If your tween or teen is engaged in worrisome behaviors, consider this comprehensive strategy:
- Let them know that your love for them is unwavering and reliable. You’ll confidently stand alongside them as they get through this.
- Tell them that no pattern of behavior is set in stone and that you know they are capable of being healthy again.
- Introduce them to our comprehensive stress management plan so they can learn a full host of healthy coping strategies.
- Recognize that their mistakes were not made to hurt you or with a desire to hurt themselves.
- Without delving into the sources of their pain, let them know you “get” that they may have been stressed and looking for a way to feel better. Be open to discussing and addressing the source of stress.
- Support them to seek professional help. And help them understand that doing so is an act of great personal strength.
Prepare and Protect
While you cannot protect your adolescent from all of life’s bumps and bruises, that does not mean you are powerless. Preparation is protection. And preparing your adolescent with healthy coping strategies is key to effective parenting. But managing life’s stressors does not mean that we always just deal with the hand we’re dealt. There are challenges in life that we can fight to eliminate from our lives. So, as you think about stress management, always remain open to learning about what’s troubling your teens and then commit to partnering with them to eliminate those things you can.
We can only address problems if we know they exist, and we only know what our adolescents choose to tell us. Therefore, a first step to preventing risk is to parent with a style that encourages adolescents to share what is going on in their lives.