This week, two teens ran away after school and did not come home that evening. Although they were found the next day, one of the teenagers cited overwhelming stress as the reason she ran away. Like many, my heart was grateful that they were safe, but the teenagers remind us of the important role parents play in helping their children deal with stress. Stress is part of life; though it seems to be hitting kids younger and younger, there is no way to eliminate it completely. Regardless of your daughter’s age, teaching her effective coping skills will help her deal with the teenage scourge of stressors. More importantly, it will give her skills to cope with stress that will benefit her for a lifetime. Parents, please take time each day to listen and talk to your daughters about how they feel.
Listen reflectively. Ask your daughter what’s wrong. Listen calmly and nonjudgmentally, allowing your daughter to express her opinions. Ask questions like, “Then what happened?” or “How did that make you feel?” to get the whole story.
Notice out loud. Casually observe your child’s feelings and let her know you are interested in hearing more without sounding accusatory.
Comment on your daughter’s feelings. Show her that you understand and care by saying something like, “That must have been upsetting.” This will help your daughter feel more connected to you.
Provide emotional support. Don’t criticize or belittle your daughter’s stressful feelings, even if they appear trivial to you. Remember that teens don’t have an adult perspective; issues relating to relationships and body image are extremely important to them.
Provide realistic expectations. Celebrate your daughter’s successes (even if they aren’t exactly what you’d hoped for) and let her know you’re proud of her. Share with her that you, too, feel stressed sometimes and that occasionally feeling stressed is normal.
Provide structure, stability and predictability. Preparing your daughter for potentially stressful situations, like a healthcare appointment (particularly her first gynecological visit), will help ease her worries. Also, in general, make sure she understands your rules and routines and sticks to them – or will have to deal with the consequences. Don’t bend or change rules in stressful situations; it’s wiser for her to prepare herself for an upcoming stressful event. By keeping boundaries and expectations predictable, you actually help lower your daughter’s stress.
Model positive coping skills. If you practice good coping skills, such as exercising, laughing, or taking a break, your child will learn from you.
Help your child brainstorm a solution. Suggest activities that will help your daughter feel better now while also solving the problem. Encourage her to come up with creative solutions on her own; this will help build her self-esteem.
Be organized. Teach your daughter good organizational and time-management skills early on. This can make homework and other responsibilities more manageable and less overwhelming. It also helps her gain time to relax. Here are some easy starting points:
Suggest she set out her clothes and books the night before
Pack a healthy lunch
Write her to-do things down for the day or week
Just be there. Your daughter may not want to talk, but if you are available to take a walk or watch a movie together, she will know you care and appreciate your presence.
Get professional help. If your daughter’s behavior seems way out of character, if she’s having trouble functioning at school or at home, or if she’s exhibiting serious anxiety, ask your doctor to refer you to a mental health specialist.
Your children are your most precious gift. No job, task, or schedule is worth feelings of loneliness and isolation. Talk to your children and be the parent your child can always trust to be there.