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Back to Normal?

I’m willing to bet, the topic of conversation in most families and homes right now is, “What is this year going to be like?  What is our new normal?  How will sports, carpool, new schools, transitions, extracurricular’s, etc. change our day to day routine?”  Or maybe for some, it’s “How are we even going to survive this year!?!”

No doubt the start of a new school year brings many different, exciting (and anxiety producing!) opportunities.  So my question to you is –

What will your rhythm/schedule be?

Is it possible to create a rhythm that feels more meaningful than just merely surviving?  If you already feel like you’re giving your all and barely keeping your head above water, I’m hopeful these simple ideas can help you move past survival mode and feel confident in your rhythm for this year.

TELL IT WHERE TO GO

You may have heard the quote that “a budget is telling money where to go, instead of wondering where it went.”  The idea is that money is going to go somewhere and you’ve got to be intentional about telling it where to go.  I think the same is true with our time.  Time is always on the move.  We all feel time starved and we wonder where the time has gone.

My invitation to you, as you start off a new year, is to think through how you can tell time where it will go and how it will be spent.  My friends over at Parent Cue have provided some great resources to help us as parent think through how we can leverage our naturally busy lives, but also find ways to bring meaning into the chaos!  (You can find out more this idea and their app here)

The idea is simple.  Since parents can’t cram anything else into their busy schedules, they help parents use the time they already have.  There are natural times during the daily routine where you, as parents, have opportunity to connect with the heart of your child.  What if we take these times and tell them how they will be used and leverage the natural opportunity they present?

It’s highly likely that if you are a parent of young kids up to middle school, you have these natural parts of your day already in your schedule:

Morning Time
Drive Time
Meal Time
Bed Time

What would it look like for you to start to think about these time as opportunities to connect with the heart of your child?

I imagine those parents with high school students would tell us these times go fast.  That drive time, meal time, and bed time are rhythms that only last so long.  I imagine they would invite us to take advantage of the time while we have it.
(Don’t worry high school parents, Parent Cue has ideas for you as well!)

DON’T LET THEM RIDE THE BUS

Personally, after thinking through this, I realized that I had a great opportunity to spend 15-20 minutes with my child on the way to elementary school each day.  I decided to commit to driving my kids to school (aka not letting them ride the bus everyday, even though they want to!) and using that time intentionally.

Do I plan each morning?  Nope.
Do I know what I’m going to say before I say it?  Sometimes.

I do occasionally make a plan, but more importantly I’ve made the decision to be present and open to connecting with my child.  No phone calls, no worrying about traffic, no radio, sports talk, or podcasts.

The reality is I don’t do much.  My child often recognizes my being present and offers up the topic of conversation that day.  It’s actually fairly easy.    I also believe it’s meaningful.  I recognize that these fleeting moments are building a foundation for a relationship that will hopefully survive adolescence and last into adulthood.  At least that’s the end game!

I know of another middle school family who realized the only chance they had to have a meal together was breakfast, so they carved out some time to eat together in the morning.  It’s a cherished time for them of pep talks for the day, connecting, and being together.

So, as you start this year, what will your rhythm be?  What are some natural times in your day that you can begin to leverage to connect with your child?

I would love to hear your thoughts or ideas!

 

This post may be helpful as you think through this topic – http://www.parentingthoughts.com/2017/03/just-talk-about-it-how-to-have-spiritual-conversations/

See more about the Parent Cue App here:

Just Talk About It: How to Have Spiritual Conversations

 

Why do we find it so hard to talk about spiritual things in our families?

Maybe you don’t have this problem, but I’ve often found that these conversations are best described as rigid, whereas conversations about other parts of life are free-flowing.

It’s the difference between a family meal around fine china vs. a meal using everyday dishes.  As soon as the fine china comes out, there are certain expectations and unspoken rules that accompany them.  Everybody’s slightly on edge and doesn’t want to be the one to break something.  Spiritual conversations can feel the same way.

Frankly, I think we make this way too hard and it’s actually a lot easier than we think.

(Explore the Fine China analogy further here:  http://www.parentingthoughts.com/2014/04/fine-china-vs-everyday-dishes/)

Awhile back, we lost a family member.  We gathered our kids in the kitchen to let them know – their first experience with death.  We carefully explained to them what happened and gave our best attempt to be honest and help them understand.  Their reaction – nothing!  A simple “ok!” and on to the next thing.

I’ll be honest, I thought they missed it. However, in the weeks and even months following, little conversations and comments began coming out.  In the car driving to school, during a conversation before bed – our kids would process that conversation over and over again.  They would make statements or ask questions that showed they were processing what they heard and making connections to God and hope and loss.

There was more going on than I realized that day in the kitchen.

JUST TALK ABOUT IT

It doesn’t have to be profound.  It doesn’t have to be something you don’t understand.  Just talk about it.  Spiritual conversations can be as natural as any other conversation.  If I’m honest, I think spiritually more than I talk spiritually.  Now I’m trying to say aloud what I’m already thinking. 

Try talking out loud about these things, you’re probably already thinking about:

A simple comment about God creating a beautiful sunset.
Saying a quick prayer out loud for someone that came up that could use some prayer.
Something you’ve learned about God recently.
Talk about someone in need of some love and brainstorm ways to show them love.  Then do it!
Confess where you’ve recently messed up and be thankful for God’s forgiveness and invitation to grow.

Here’s what might happen:

Nothing.

Most likely, this conversation will not be magical in the moment.  There might be zero reaction.  There might even be a move in the opposite direction.  Didn’t we just talk about loving others and you did that to your sister?

Don’t let that discourage you, because there is more going on than you think.  Keep talking about it.

Here’s what I’ve experienced – the more I talk about it, the more they talk about it.  The more they ask questions.  The more they take a shot at understanding God or applying his love to their world.

Again, it’s rarely in the moment.  It often comes when there is time to think – car rides, conversations before bed, family meals together.

QUICK PSA – If you are too distracted in car rides for conversation with your child, too busy for a family meal every now and then,  or too tired for conversations at bedtime, then make a change!  I would wager 75% or more of the spiritual conversations I’ve had with my kids have been in these venues. 

It takes some space and normalcy for this to happen in my experience.

DON’T BELIEVE THE EXCUSE

Many might protest, but I don’t have the faith of _______ (fill in the blank).  It doesn’t matter.  Talk about the faith you have or don’t have.  Talk about how you want to understand God better.  Talk about how you want to practice loving others better in your life.  Talk about whatever faith you have.

If you are truly willing to share the faith you have…if you are willing to engage the spiritual things of life, at whatever level you can, then you will be giving your kids a front row seat to seeing someone engage God with their life.

They get a front row seat to God’s grace and activity in someone’s life!  How great is that?!?!  I promise you this is better than trying to sound smarter than you are or sharing what you think you’re supposed to with zero authenticity attached to it.

Keep it simple – it doesn’t matter if you’re a spiritual giant or not, just talk about it.

As you do, my guess is that there will be plenty of evidence that they are engaging as well and before you know it, spiritual conversations won’t be rigid or heavy, but free-flowing and as natural as any other conversation in your home.

Some of my favorite conversations with my kids have come months later as they’ve been connecting the dots in their head all along, because I simply had the courage to talk about it.  I hope the same for you.

Something Your Teen Needs, But Doesn’t Realize It

I’ve noticed something in working with middle and high school students and I’m beginning to see it’s consequences.

It’s something they need, but they don’t know they need it.  In fact, they think they have this skill, but I would argue most don’t.

What is it?  It’s this – they need to know how to be alone and be “ok” with their own thoughts, feelings, self.

They don’t and it’s a problem.

I recently visited with a licensed counselor that works in a local high school.  She explained that she recently moved to work with high school students because of her experience working with college students.  She would meet students over and over again, who had graduated from high-achieving high schools, who kept a great appearance, who were well-liked, who were considered popular/successful in high school…

…but were visiting a counselor because they were floundering in the early stages of college.  She attributed this problem to the fact that they don’t have basic coping skills nor do they have the ability to truly confront issues/problems/hard things in their lives.  A lot of those skills come from being alone, reflecting, and working things out on our own.  Teens are not every truly alone anymore and therefore not developing basic internal resources and skills.

We need to pay attention to this.

DISTRACTIONS ABOUND

We live in a very connected world and I’m afraid students don’t know how to turn it off.  Everyone has their favorite distraction.  I can’t tell you how many times I unnecessarily check my phone.  It seems as though I’ve trained my brain that anytime I slow down…or complete a task…or need to think about what to do next… equals – I should check my phone!  “Maybe something new has happened since I last checked it”, I tell myself.

Honestly, there is nothing that productive or beneficial that comes from this.  What am I truly going to accomplish on my phone at a stoplight?  

For your teen, it may be getting lost in snapchat or instagram, it may be scrolling through spotify for new music, it may be a netflix binge, but whatever it is – it is a distraction from being alone with their own feelings, thoughts, self and it’s a problem.

The high school counselor shared she often has students do an exercise where they imagine they are on a plane for 8 hours with no entertainment.  No phone.  No wifi.  No computer.  What thoughts would come into your head?  What would you do?  She said, this often produces a lot of anxiety in the student.  That should tell us something.  It is usually during this exercise that students realize that they are never truly alone and truly have no idea what they would do.

This was the same realization those college students came to when they sought her office at the university level.  We are seeing similar things in our impressive high school students as they head off to college.

In a connected world, full of distractions, it’s easy to ignore a conflict.  It’s easy to avoid something difficult.  It’s easy to project feelings elsewhere or get a shot of dopamine from social media or a netflix binge, but when it’s all over the issue is still there.  We can’t always run from difficult things.

PARENTS, THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN

I appreciate Dr. Williams thoughts here:

 We’ve all encountered struggles that felt bigger than us. And we all develop our own ways of managing emotional pain, shame, and regret. When faced with difficult circumstances, it’s very normal to look for ways to cope.

Over the years, parents have verbalized their uncertainty regarding how best to assist their teen as they navigate the ups and downs of life. Being a teen today is tough. Teens face increasing expectations.  All of these expectations can and do cause internal pressure. Some teens are able to successfully navigate these waters. Others may flail or buckle under the pressure. It’s a normal human experience to want to escape reality.

When any of these behaviors become a way to DISTRACT, NUMB, or AVOID facing hard circumstances or prevent others from seeing our real selves, it can lead to feeling stuck and disconnected, which can cause us to spiral into more destructive behavior.

What’s the remedy when our teens feel stuck or disconnected?
Engagement.

The more we can teach our children to deal with (and not run away from) life’s challenges, the better they will realize their own unique capabilities, which fosters resilience and a sense of autonomy.

A parent’s task in helping avoidant teens is further complicated by the contradictory impulses of teens. They want us around, and at the same time, want us to go far away. The research is, however, clear. Parents are powerful pillars of influence in their teens’ lives!

Below are five ways that will help you recognize when your teen may be feeling stuck, as well as ways you can help them get unstuck.

1. Watch for warning signs. Some “stuck” teens will display difficulty concentrating and low motivation. They may be irritable, negative, easily frustrated, or prone to outbursts. Some overachieving “stuck” teens may be highly sensitive to criticism and begin to withdraw from family and friends. Since some of these signs are a part of normal adolescent development, it’s important to note what appears to be a departure from your teen’s typical pattern of behavior.

2. Initiate the conversation. Demonstrate casual interest by asking questions and reflecting on what you’ve heard. Teens can tell the difference between questions that show interest and ones that simply appear nosy. Be present but not intrusive. One conversation starter could be: “It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. I know that you want to do well (in school/sports/making friends), so I’m sure that you might feel some pressure at times. You’re not alone. I’m here if you ever want to talk about it.” Your teen may not open up initially. The key, though, is making yourself available for when they’re ready.

3. Be open. Sharing your own struggles with distractions and avoidance may help your teen better cope with their own situations (See below for an idea of how to do this this week!). For many parents the thought of disclosing their own teenage antics is a nightmarish proposition. However, research suggests that parents who have an open, warm, and nurturing relationship with their children can help them buffer stresses that can otherwise be destructive. Your teen may not show deep interest or ask many questions. Don’t worry . . . they are listening.

4. Stay tuned in. As a therapist, I can’t emphasize how important it is to plug in to your teen. What does that mean? Get to know their musical tastes, favorite artists, and even purchases. Know the names of their friends and their enemies. Regarding social media, I’m an advocate of intermittent parental monitoring. This one is tricky—teens also need some degree of privacy—but it’s a parent’s responsibility to know what’s going on. The content you discover may clue you in to ways to better connect with your child, or it may alert you to signs of stress. As parents, we must plug in to this important aspect of teen social life. Don’t tell my teens I said that.

5. Seek Professional help. Part of our job as parents is to help our children find resources to be successful. Those could include a school counselor, therapist, or trusted church leader. Remember that there are many avoidant behaviors that are simply a part of adolescence. It’s helpful to consult with a professional who can assess the severity and offer assistance. One technique that I like to teach is “mindfulness”—it’s is ideal for decreasing distressful thoughts. The ability to disrupt a cycle of negative thinking is crucial for optimal mental health and can help teens to plug in, to get “unstuck.”

Whether or not they tell you or show you, your teen values your engagement. What are some ways that you can engage with your teen this week?

Dr. Chinwé Williams is a licensed counselor in Roswell, GA. For more from Dr. Williams and other resources for parents of teenagers, visit TheParentCue.org.

TRY THIS

Whether your teenager is facing a challenge right now or whether you just know they will in the future, one thing we can all do to help our students cope with challenges is to model the way.

We can show them what it looks like to face a challenge instead of avoiding it.

Think about one area where you’re tempted to avoid or escape instead of “dealing” with it. Maybe you’d rather shop online than think about work. Or maybe work is the escape for a complicated situation at home. Maybe it’s easier to scroll through the news than to look at your budget. It doesn’t have to be something serious or dangerous—just one way you are personally tempted to put off dealing with real life.

This week, share that with your teenager. Maybe in the car you say . . .
• Hey, you’re not going to believe this, but I just deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I would catch myself scrolling every time I was mad just to avoid having a conversation.
• Hey, I know this probably sounds crazy to you, but I just realized I’ve been staying late at work because it means I won’t have time to go to the gym. Today I’m setting an alarm to leave on time so I can work out.
• Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have a bad habit of _______ to avoid dealing with _______. So I’ve decided to start working on that by setting up an appointment with a mentor/counselor/ doctor/coach.

It may feel a little awkward to admit feeling stuck in front of your teenager, but when you do, you’re giving them the tools and the courage to move forward in whatever they’re facing.

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