April Showers Bring May…Emotional Rollercoasters!
I have found over the years that May is a BIG worry month, which surprises a lot of adults. Here comes summer, after all.
What’s to worry about?
As kids are finishing the school year and we celebrate with all the “end of the school year” rituals, there’s almost constant planning for what’s next. Often, these plans remain more abstract than concrete. Kids know they’re moving on, but right now it’s all just talk and anticipation.
They are experiencing strong emotions as they leave something they know and say goodbyes. As parents, it’s the way we mark the passage of time and we feel emotional, too. Can it really be going by so quickly?
As each of my sons were preparing to graduate from high school, I was a mess. Any hint at anything connected to a goodbye made me cry. It felt so big and so meaningful. Because it was. It is.
Accept that. As the school year comes to end—whether your child is finishing high school or kindergarten–these are emotional waters we’re all entering. But know that as you wade in, there are things that make it better…and worse. As an anxiety expert and as a mom, here’s what I want you to know.
When things come to an end, even in happy ways, kids feel torn by what’s done and what’s ahead, especially kids prone to worry.
Many can’t really articulate all that they’re feeling, and we as adults should be able to relate to the internal conflict. Children and parents are celebrating, saying goodbye, feeling proud and heading toward uncertainty, all at once. That combination of excitement, loss, achievement and a bit of dread can make for some messy reactions.
In particular, teens are developmentally primed to reject adult input as they strive to be independent and find their own answers, but they also need and want your help. At the very time when they are faced with huge changes– graduating from high school, waiting to hear from colleges, moving away from home or deciding on a career path—your advice is met with both resistance and demands for more. No degree of reassurance or encouragement seems to be enough!
Because you can’t give your children, your teens or yourself what everyone’s looking for: a guarantee that all will turn out perfectly.
So, instead of offering your children reassurance and certainty in the face of all these emotions, help them understand and normalize the challenges of saying goodbye and starting new relationships, the practice of problem solving, and the universality of disappointment and uncertainty.
Kids—and especially teens—understand that life can be unpredictable. But during this time of flux, they sometimes lose their ability to tolerate such big uncertainties. You can help by normalizing all the BIG FEELS.
MAY’S ANXIETY-INDUCING THOUGHT TRAPS
With change on the horizon, pay particular attention to these anxiety-inducing thought traps which are enhanced during times of stress and uncertainty:
- Perfectionism: “Everything must—and can– be done perfectly” (also known as all or nothing thinking)
- Catastrophic thinking: “If one thing goes wrong, everything will fall apart and I won’t be successful in life.”
- The One Path Myth: “There is ONE PATH to a successful life. I have to find it or stay on it, no matter what!”
- Fear of feelings: “Why am I feeling this way? Does this mean I’m not ready to move on?”
All children need to hear that they are neither expected to know everything, nor can they see into the future.
And perhaps most importantly, they are supposed to be anxious!
Expecting to be totally calm and relaxed during such a time of change is unrealistic. (This goes for you, too.) I couldn’t do my job without these two words: “OF COURSE.”
Of course, you’re nervous about all that’s to come!
Of course, you’re excited and sad at the same time. (Me, too!)
And for your graduating seniors heading off to the next stage:
Of course you’re going to feel lonely at times as you’re making new connections.
Of course you’ll stumble as you figure this out.
In fact, accepting, acknowledging, and moving toward the anxiety while learning how to manage it is the skill I most strongly promote.
When children believe that staying calm is the goal, they avoid taking risks, stay where they’re most comfortable, and never build up their own sense of confidence.
So make room for the feelings, but then support taking action and courageously moving into uncertainty. Although your first instinct may be to step in and make it okay, know that you are equipping your child with valuable skills when you model and encourage a more flexible—and independent– path into the future.
And have your tissues (and your friends) nearby. It’s going to be a bit bumpy.
If you have teens, here’s my webinar, a parent’s roadmap of teen anxiety and depression.
If you have younger children, you can watch this video together.