- Gina Garcia, LMFT & Clinical Therapist at Beacon Wellness Team
5 Steps to Helping Your Child Manage Uncertainty
It is no doubt that these unprecedented times come with feeling a lack of control and a need for familiarity. This is not only true for adults but sometimes more profoundly for adoles
cents learning how to navigate through the world.
Here are 5 things you can do to help increase a sense of calm amidst the storm with your children.
This can be the most important place to start when sitting with a child grappling with uncertainty.
There is a common misconception that validating means agreeing with what the other person is sharing, however, you do not need to agree with your child to validate their experience.
It can be helpful for them to learn that multiple truths can exist, especially when it comes to feelings. Validation acknowledges that their opinion is valuable and makes sense given their experiences.
How? Repeat what you heard your child say. Ask and allow space for clarification if necessary.
Ex: “What I hear is that you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the unknowns right now. Did I get that right?”
Warmth and acceptance are strong predictors of success and competence in adolescents.
Meet your child where they are with compassion and calm. Not only will this help you be with your child in these difficult moments, but your presence can also help them regulate their emotions. It can be helpful to think about how you want them to feel rather than trying to come up with the “perfect” response. Let them know that they are understood, cared for and supported.
Listen long enough to know what it feels like to be in their shoes. While well-intentioned, the rush to solve can cut off communication and is typically the result of our own worries about seeing our kids struggle.
How? Interject compassionate statements.
Ex: “I’m sorry that you’re feeling uneasy. This is difficult.”
Too tired? Too activated? Not a problem. You can model emotional responsibility by sharing that you are working on whatever problem has put you temporally out of commission and will be ready to support them once you take care of your needs.
3. Get Comfortable.
It can be helpful for both parents and kids to understand that uncertainty is OK and the feelings that come with it are normal.
Did you know there are actually benefits to uncertainty? Emily Kircher-Morris, the creator of the Mind Matters Podcast, has shared that gifted children can better overcome anxiety when they practice feeling more settled and even try embracing not knowing the answer.
In fact, uncertainty creates room for more creativity in their lives.
It is also believed that challenging the status quo requires uncertainty and it is a necessity for overcoming the fear that precedes our biggest successes. We can help children understand that there can be many options with no “right answer”. Having the right answer can in turn increase rumination and dwelling on a specific outcome.
How? Welcome the uncertainty. They may need time to process these ideas so invite them to come back to the topic later if they choose.
Ex: “What if we just sat with these uncomfortable feelings for a bit?”
When they seem ready to respond to questions, find out what they need and if they’d like your help.
When children express their fears or concerns, there tends to be a sense of urgency to begin problem-solving for them.
At this point, it would be important to slow down, validate, and understand what they need from you. Often when kids are experiencing heightened emotions, it can be challenging for them to accept, absorb and implement solutions in that moment.
You can also lose the opportunity to learn more about who your child is and how developed their skills are for approaching a difficult situation.
Start by asking if they’d be open to hearing your suggestions. If they decline, respect that and see if they can identify what they need from you next.
If its space they need, give them that in a way that is appropriate given their age and safety.
Let them know that you are available if they change their mind. If they aren’t sure, that could be an indicator that they just need a place to feel heard.
How? Let them know you are interested in learning more about what feels helpful to them.
Ex: “Do you want my help with this?” or “Can I suggest something that I think might help you feel a little better?”
5. Now What?
So, they have accepted your help…
Parents can act as “consultants” with adolescents by offering advice without force and working through different strategies as a team. Open up the floor to hear if they have any ideas and offer choices.
From there you might explore what usually helps their mood—soothing or enjoyable music, mindful breathing such as square breathing, getting exercise, writing, creating art, the list goes on!
Remind them what they can do or highlight that they have done their best in the areas they can control, such as taking care of their body today, doing school work, talking about it, or helping others. Children can also benefit from being asked questions that help them reality check the situations they are most worried about.
Practice grounding and calming the nervous system by engaging your senses. We can do this by mindfully sensing our feet on the ground and describing what we see around us, trying some gentle yoga poses, taking a bath, using a weighted blanket or breathing with some essential oils. Notice how it is to feel even the slightest bit of relaxation in any parts of your body.
Feel free to open up a discussion about other things that might help, such as creating more structure/routine in the day, keeping a gratitude journal, carving out a space in the day for downtime that is away from screens, volunteering, or seeking help from other trusted adults (i.e. teachers, coaches, counselors).
How? Follow their lead.
Ex: “What is something that has helped when you’ve felt this way before? Do you want to try doing that with me or alone?” or “I saw this video on square breathing the other day, would you be open to trying it with me?”
Stress, overwhelm and worry have become common aspects of our daily lives. By following these strategies, you can create a warm and safe space for your child to return to when they are faced with challenges again.
Final note, it can be difficult to sit and hold these emotions with your child. Please give yourself permission to incorporate some time for self-care or deep breaths afterward.
“But in the midst of all that uncertainty and lack of clarity, there lies a wild beauty. A hope. Possibility. The promise of something bigger than us happening just beneath the surface that we can’t see.” -Mandy Hale