The unfolding coronavirus (COVID-19) situation has impacted all of our lives and, in many cases, our wellbeing. This is a particularly difficult time for teenagers, due to changes in their usual schooling and social routines. They may be experiencing disappointment about missing important experiences such as school formals, sporting competitions, drama productions, etc. It can also be a tough time for parents, as it’s often hard to look after yourself while also supporting your family.
Here are some strategies that will help you and your teenager to cope with study stress during this unusual time.
You can't pour from an empty cup
It’s easy to forget about your own needs while you’re trying to support your teenager through the current situation. You will be more in control and better able to support those around you if you’re feeling well.
- Self-compassion. Go easy on yourself – you’re doing the best you can during an extremely difficult time.
- The basics. It’s important to pay attention to the foundations of wellbeing during this time: getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, moving your body, and having some time to yourself – even if it’s only a few minutes a day.
- Model healthy coping. Check in with yourself: Are you feeling frustrated? Calm? Angry? Okay? Sad? Happy? All of these feelings are normal, and it’s very common at a time like this to fluctuate among them. Taking notice of your emotions will help you to determine if you’re okay to keep going, or whether you need a time out or more support.
Lower your expectations
When assisting your teen with online studies, it would be very difficult for you to cover the same ground as their teacher, and for your teen to perform the same way they do in the classroom. It may be useful, therefore, to lower your expectations around what can be achieved. Both schools and universities are working to provide solutions for the disruption in learning, especially for students in Years 11 and 12.
Side note: It may also be useful to lower your expectations in terms of your own work performance during this time.
Work with your teenager's school
Both schools and universities are working to provide solutions for the disruption in learning, especially for students in Years 11 and 12. Contact your teen’s school with any questions you might have, and support your teen to do the same with their teachers and wellbeing officers.
If your teen needs academic support, encourage them to reach out for it. Ask if they can talk to their peers to get help with study. Your teen's school might also have study support for these periods where things are a bit rough. Utilise your support networks and the resources available. We’re all in this together.
Encourage your teen to keep going
Some teenagers may feel a sense of relief that schools are closed or assignments are postponed. It’s important to have conversations with your teen about their academic and future goals, and to encourage them to keep working towards them. Putting off tasks now could just mean more pressure later on.
Set goals and break them down
It’s hard to maintain motivation without having goals in sight. Together with your teenager, look at the syllabus or material set by teachers, and work out how much they can realistically complete each week. Break this down into days, and set goals that tie in with the syllabus. You can create a daily priority list with concrete SMART goals that can be ticked off.
Help your teen to create a realistic schedule for getting work done in defined periods. Include breaks and times for meals, socialising, exercising and entertainment. The key to this is to do a block of work first, then have a relaxing reward. You can help your teen create a colour-coded timetable, similar to their school timetable. See our article on helping your teen to stick to a routine here.
Procrastinate the right way
Everyone procrastinates on the internet sometimes, and teens switching to online learning are particularly vulnerable to this. Together with your teen, come up with a plan. You could block common procrastination sites or ask them to put away their phone during school hours, or use the Pomodoro Technique and 'procrastinate' for a set time once a block of work is done.
Help your teenager to stay in control with some anti-stress techniques:
- Controlled breathing - for example, using the ReachOut Breathe app.
- Grounding, using all of the senses – for example, name five things you can see, four that you can hear, three that you can touch, two that you can smell, one that you can taste.
- Create a ‘self-care box’ with soothing or interesting objects such as stress balls, essential oils, herbal tea, fidget toys, etc.
- Introduce family ‘no COVID-19 talk time’ periods.
- Encourage your teen to do activities that they enjoy around the home, such as baking, reading books, watching a movie, exercising, listening to or playing music, colouring in, or taking up a new hobby.
Teenagers pick up on the concerns and worries of those around them, and they may have their own worries about the situation. It’s possible that your teen may experience extra stress, and be more moody or irritable, during this time. Keep the lines of communication open so that your teen feels they can reach out to you about any concerns they may have. For more tips on how to talk to your teen about coronavirus, check out our article here.
Maintain a routine
Maintaining a daily schedule is beneficial for physical and mental health, but without school and other external commitments, it’s easy to let schedules slip. We have created a routine planner template to help your teen stick to a routine here.
Increase their sense of control
All of us are feeling some uncertainty right now, and this is very difficult for teenagers, who are still developing their sense of self and independence. Your teenager will benefit from feeling in control of some areas of their life, especially when certain elements, such as studying, will feel out of their control.
- Give them some space and privacy, even though this may be harder now if everyone is at home together. Help them create their own private study space, either in their room or by dividing up a common area.
- Let them make age-appropriate decisions (or give them support with decisions) regarding their space, and how to structure their time, social activities and household responsibilities.
- Establish clear and fair family rules around home activities, behaviour, communication and socialising, involving your teen in developing the rules.
- Help them to set limits for media/news exposure, and try to be with them at those times to provide reassurance and answer any questions they may have.
Get extra support
As we’ve never dealt with something like this before, it may feel overwhelming, even if you’ve been practising your parenting skills. As most people will be physically distancing or self-isolating, telephone and online services are great options.
Jump on to the ReachOut Parents Forums to connect safely with other parents and learn from them how they’re managing the stress of parenting teens through this challenging time.
You can also access our ReachOut Parents free One-on-One Support program over the phone and online. You’ll be able to connect with an experienced family professional who will listen, guide you through identifying your specific challenges, suggest practical strategies you can try and provide evidence-based resources.
Lifeline (13 11 14) and Parentline can be accessed for phone and online counselling, with Lifeline phone counsellors on call from 7 pm to midnight, and Kids Helpline available 24/7. If it’s available to you, you could consider seeing your GP or mental health professional for extra help (but make sure to follow the advice of Healthdirect if you’re showing symptoms of the virus or are in self-isolation). You could also ask your mental health professional if they could chat over Skype/FaceTime if you’re in self-isolation.
This article was written by Andreea Heriseanu, Psychologist.