We are all moving from one coping strategy to another as we settle into the long grind of dealing with the implications of COVID-19. One minute we’re laughing at dark humor, the next we’re crying, or snapping at our spouse. Our teens are doing the same thing, but they’re teens, so we may not recognize their process. Instead of watching hours on end of news coverage about the virus, they may seem bored or indifferent to the coverage. Instead of taking more precautions, they may seems to be acting with reckless disregard for infection risk. Rather than crying, they might be treating us with hash words, condescension, irritability, or flying off the handle at the smallest thing. They are less likely to be kept awake at night with worries, and more likely to sleep away half the day. They’re less likely to be wanting to shelter in place and more likely to find any excuse possible to be out of the house (if allowed). 

Keep in mind that your child or teen is in a very differ place from you developmentally. His or her coping strategies may not only be unfamiliar to you, they may very well be offensive and hurtful. Here are five strategies from our Adolescent Therapists team that can help: 

1.) Before reacting, take a breath. Remember that although our adolescents may seem like they’re “almost” adults, emotionally they still have a long way to go. This pandemic moment challenges us all. To keep things de-escalated, try not to take their behavior personally – even when its directed at you. Let it roll off you, grey rock it, and respond with love, dispassionate, and respectful neutrality. Don’t be sarcastic, tit-for-tat, or punishing in your response. 

2.) Then vent and get support from another adult; out of earshot of the child. Consider a virtual happy hour with your best friend, or another parent you know with a teen close to your child’s age, or call your mom (she’ll likely match you with stories of what a bugger you were at times.) Then put it in the vault, don’t throw anything that comes from those private talks back in your child’s face. 

3.) Keep inviting connection with your adolescent, even if you’re rejected 90% of the time. A simple “I’m going on a walk, want to come?” Or “I’m thinking about renting a movie tonight, any interest in joining me?” Again, don’t take it personally if they so “no.” Just respond with “OK” and keep pitching offers periodically. 

4.) Don’t be a punching bag. If someone is snippy just walk away.  If someone goes over the line, let them know when something hurts your feelings. Don’t be shaming, just be clear and keep healthy boundaries.

5.) Finally, if you’ve had your own not-your-best-moments remember we’re all human and we’re all stressed. Apologize, but don’t over apologize. This is your opportunity to demonstrate appropriate contrition, as well as grace and forgiveness, during these repair cycles. Show your kids through your own actions that we all mess up and that there’s room in healthy relationships for repair and forgiveness.

Your long-term relationship with your teen can be protected by using these strategy. Try them, and keep trying them. You don’t have to be perfect. Just keep it up and hold the right intention in your heart. You’ve got this!

Posted with permission pending publication in the upcoming May 2020 addition of the Kentlands Crier