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How to Support and Keep Your Tween Engaged During a Pandemic

This year, I have had the pleasure of being a Responsibility.org ambassador. I was compensated to write this post, but all opinions of course, are my own.

During this whole Covid/sheltering in place experience, the focus is always been on how we as parents, or more specifically moms are dealing with this crisis. This massive change in our way of life.

But what about our kids?

Let me be honest: I have been worried about Pookah.

Normally, he is the ultimate bounce back kid. But lately, I notice that he bounces back more slowly. He is quieter. And the ultimate: He stays in his room…A LOT.

Now some of this, is basically tween/hormonal behavior I think.

But then I rememebr that kids are under a lot of pressure right now. Just like us adults.

I am continuing to partner with Responsibility.org this year on empowering parents to cultivate a lifetime of conversations with their kids, including about alcohol responsibility.

Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in a Zoom call with Responsibility and Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure . We talked about how social isolation and depression are, unfortunately, all too real for kids at higher rates right now.

According to Jessica, kids are experiencing learned helplessness which which equates to the feeling that no matter what they do, it won’t have an impact or change anything, so why bother engaging?

So what can we do for our kids? How can we support them and keep them engaged in this pandemic?

3 Ways to Help Keep Your Tween Engaged Right Now

1. Help them put a name their emotions.

As parents, remember that everything takes a back seat to the social-emotional health of our children. Jessica said that as humans, our natural inclination under strain is to go helpless. What we need to do to intercept that default circuit by giving kids back more control.

One way to do this is through “inoculation messaging” – which essentially means role-playing certain scenarios with your kids to help them rehearse answers. Allowing them to consider how to respond to friends in certain situations will strengthen their resolve and give them control.

( This is a Key Pillar of Responsibility.org: using role playing to help kids say NO to Risky Behaviors)

Jessica also recommended saying things like “When things go back to normal,” and naming those things, to give the kids the ability to imagine the possibility of it happening.

2.Give them back some control

Another one of Jessica’s suggestions was to give kids some control back at home.

A lot of us( raises hand), since we can’t direct our attention to the things we usually so, are now giving our children ALL of our attention. Because WE have nothing to focus on, we direct all of that focus to our kids. And we overwhelm them.

Think about ways to give your kids more autonomy. Ways that they can have control over some aspects of their lives since they have control over so little.

I gave Pookah control over his room.

( yes, this is sometimes the result of that! And YES his tree is still up!)

It’s his space. So I try not to notice too often if the clothes pile up, or if he decides to move things around. I didn’t say anything about those lights that make it look like his room is an underground club or the fact that his Christmas tree remains up!

Because it’s his space. His to clean, his to manage, his to control.

But that doesn’t mean I let him run wild! I don’t want him carried away by the ants!

So he still has chores. Because chores make him a productive member of our household. And it’s his duty to keep his part of our household…liveable. .

3. Love the kid you have, not the one you WISH you had

Another thing I’ve noticed, its Pookah’s lack of interest in school. Jessica outlined how kids aren’t feeling engaged or connected to teachers or what they are learning due to the pandemic.

As an overachiever, I’m trying to understand that and respect it.

Jessica shared how the most consistent thing that she hears from middle and high school aged kids( like Pookah) is a variation of “I am not you at this age, I am not your do-over, I am not my sister.”

WOW.

She recommends emphasizing the process of learning, not the grades, while also role modeling how you, too, do something outside of your comfort zone to continue learning.

It’s hard, but I’m trying to model that behavior for him with my own work. Letting him see ME make mistakes and learn from them. Show him that it’s about the process,not always the results.

I really enjoyed our summit with Jessica, and as soon as it was over, I ordered her book The Gift of Failure . The chapter on middle school was PARTICULARLY helpful for me!

I plan to keep putting all of this in action, because Pookah’s mental health matters. This is hard on all of us, and I don’t want him to feel like his thoughts and feelings don’t matter.

If you would like to follow Jessica on social, you can find her on Instagram here, on Twitter here @jesslahey.

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