Lock down has intensified all our feelings and none more so than those of young people. Suddenly life is under the microscope. Not only do we feel like we have been living through a life and death scenario but for young people the last three months have felt like a life time. While it is still unclear how our lives will change when going back to the new normal this has dented the dreams and aspirations of our teens and young adults. Transitioning into adulthood is hard enough without all the ground rules changing. We as parents have had to provide perspective, support and some sort of point of reference to achieve the all important safe base, This is no easy task, especially as we ourselves may be battling to keep ourselves afloat.
So how do we provide support during this extraordinary time. What many people, particularly young people, are feeling is a sense of loss or grief. They have been pulled out of their social groups, university, school and their lives have shrunk at a time when social relationships are the most important. Their roles have shifted. No longer are they operating with people who are outside their family home where they may have constructed a slightly different persona. These roles are important to stretch, challenge and flesh out young people’s characters and personalities. They may be sports captain or run a tutor group but now they are only operating as a son or a daughter. Their fledgling identities that are independent of the family are no longer available.
We all have different coping strategies. So we may witness our young people expressing their grief in a number of different ways. This may be translated into anxiety, sleeplessness or over-sleeping. This is not a dysfunction, this is normal. All the five known stages of grief may be seen in no particular order. They may be revisited a number of times. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There is also a 6th and that is ‘anticipatory grief’ when we are grieving the loss of future experiences.
So what can we do to support the young people in our lives?
Work out some home rules that give everyone some space to be themselves.
Allow some venting. When your child is angry, frustrated, bored or agitated let them have a rant. The trick here is not to try and fix it or try and explain or make it better. Let them sound off and perhaps ask them to describe exactly what they are feeling. Let them name their feelings.You may say it sounds to me like you are really annoyed or frustrated. When we are able to name emotions our brain makes sense of them. When they are finished just say I understand.
All our needs cannot be met by our family. As much as we would like to think they can they just can’t. So now is the time to call in all the connections you have. If you have a friend who has the same interests as your young person arrange a virtual meeting. Key to resilience is connecting with others. Now is a time to join forums or on-line groups. Calling on friends to meet outdoors whilst socially distancing is vital.
Humour reduces tension and increases resilience. Having a chuckle about life is really important.
Give each other hugs if you are living under the same roof. People are touch hungry. A hug can sometimes do what a thousand words can’t.
The most important step however is hope. Hope is not a feeling it is a plan. Visions of the future are pivotal to giving us all the ability to get through this time. Start making plans within the confines of what we have been given. Start planning that hiking trip. Yes you may not get to Europe but perhaps you can do it in the Lake District. Plan that party. Yes you may not be able to have it in a way you would normally but you can have a picnic with the family or a Zoom party. Plan for university. If it not going to happen this year make some exciting plans in their place that supports what is going to be studied. Do not close your life down. Try and keep everything you love but do it within the constraint of the law. What young people need is active hope. This kind of hope comes with a good plan and the confidence to execute it. I am not calling for blind hope but what Prof. Snyder calls the Science of Hope. Hope with action is what the most resilient people do. It’s not keeping our fingers crossed and hoping for the best – it’s having specific goals, choosing to take action, then workimg out multiple pathways to reach them. This improves confidence and resilience and starts putting the locus of control back in the hands of our young people.
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Pam Custers is an experienced therapist working with individuals, couples and families. MA. BA (Psych) Hons and is RELATE trained. She founded The Relationship Practice and offers counselling on line to Young people Individuals and Couples.MBACP (accredited) Contact 07572 841 388 www.pamcusters.co.uk.