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Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Demonstrate your love, compassion, and care while walking them through their challenges.

Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.

As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…

  • Spending a lot more time alone
  • Sleeping a lot more or less
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Not interested in their favorite activities
  • Having changes in their overall mood
  • More irritated or angry
  • Stuck on negative thoughts
  • Hopeless about the future

As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.

These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

1. Be aware of your own mental health.

The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.

2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.

What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5

3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.

Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.

4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .

Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.

5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.

Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them. 

6. Get support for your child.

If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**

7. Celebrate the positives.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.

Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!

Sources:

1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.

2 Connecticut Children’s

3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus

4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment

5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others

7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute

Dear Dad,

Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?

It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know. 

Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes. 

And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.

Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.” 

So what do you do?

You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.

One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away. 

Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.

It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

How to Be a Supportive Parent

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became A Dad

Being a parent comes with great responsibility. It’s our duty and privilege to shape the next generation to be healthy and thriving. It’s not easy, but it’s doable. And there are positive parenting things we can do for our little ones now that will help prepare them to make good decisions, feel confident, and avoid creating bad habits like substance abuse in the future.

A study by the University of Otago in New Zealand has found that positive parenting can have numerous positive benefits for children. A team led by Professor Joe Boden analyzed data from the Christchurch Health and Development Study, which has followed the lives of more than 1000 people born in Canterbury, New Zealand, in 1977.

Before we go too deep here, let’s answer the question, “What is positive parenting?”

Positive parenting focuses on encouragement and support rather than punishment to teach appropriate behavior. Psychology Today links positive parenting to “higher school grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance abuse, better mental health, greater social competence, and more positive self-concepts.”

Professor Boden’s team found that adolescents living in a more positive environment:

  • Had lower alcohol and substance abuse rates.
  • Experienced fewer mental health issues and less general stress.
  • Were less likely to experience unemployment. 

The Christchurch Study provided extensive information about the participants’ lives, including: 

  • Their exposure to violence and substance issues. 
  • How they perceived their parents’ parenting style. 
  • Alcohol use and abuse scores at specific ages. 
  • The impact of parenting style on alcoholism.

The team was especially interested in the correlation between positive parenting and a lesser risk of alcoholism. The study shows that parenting style could be far more impactful in people’s tendency toward alcohol or other substances than having access to it. 

Several studies have shown that positive parenting has even more far-reaching effects. 

Here are some ways that you can be a positive parent:

Build strong bonds.

Strong emotional bonds help create a safe base for kids to learn, explore, and relate to others. Experts call this “secure attachment.” Securely attached kids are more likely to handle challenges positively and learn how to manage their feelings and behaviors, and develop self-confidence. Through positive engagement with parents, kids learn to follow the rules and regulate their emotions.

Be available.

Life is full of distractions from numerous priorities, extra work, and technology. When we’re emotionally and physically available to our kids, this helps them bond, develop language skills, and learn to interact socially. We need to communicate that our kids are valuable and important with our time. When we are stretched for time, we must take a moment and explain to our kids why we can’t spend the time with them that we’d like — and express that we don’t value them any less and will be more available to them soon.

Establish mutual respect.

Mutual respect is a cornerstone of positive parenting. Parents help kids understand why rules are made. When children understand the why for rules, they’re more willing to follow them. It can also help parents understand any misbehavior. Because of a stronger bond, parents are more likely to notice stressors impacting their children. Through this, parents and kids can learn  to be more empathetic and better understand others.

Be a positive role model.

One huge rule of parenting is, “More is caught than taught.” We’ve all heard that phrase, but it’s the essence of parenting. If we respond to our kids in frustration and negativity, they’ll do the same to others and to us. How we respond to our kids’ challenging behaviors really does teach them how to react to others. Research shows that parental modeling impacts behaviors associated with alcohol and substance abuse. 

Build higher self-esteem.

Positive parenting says there are no bad children, just good and bad behaviors. The focus is on learning for the future. Instead of yelling when a child misbehaves, a positive parent responds calmly, explaining why the behavior isn’t acceptable and what the consequences are. This process helps a child learn to make better choices down the road. Mistakes are learning opportunities for all of us.

By being positive parents, we can equip our children with the skills they need for future success. We can teach them to make wise decisions. And, we can help them avoid pitfalls along the way. If you don’t see yourself as a positive parent, it’s never too late to start.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

How To Encourage Your Child’s Strengths

Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?

How Do I Make My Child Feel Secure?

How to Celebrate Mother’s Day With a Difficult Mom

These tips may make it a little easier.

Whether your relationship with your mom is a tad problematic or off-the-charts unhealthy, celebrating your mom on Mother’s Day can be difficult.

She might get on your nerves or make you feel like she’s constantly judging you. 

Maybe you think your mom is a horrible parent, or you had a misunderstanding that seems impossible to overcome — and nobody wants to make the first move toward reconciliation. 

Perhaps the pain is so deep that you can’t forgive or move forward. Or maybe you feel your mom is toxic, and cutting her out of your life seems like the safest thing to do emotionally. [Read 4 Things to Know About Emotional Safety.]

It’s a tough road to walk. And it makes Mother’s Day tricky to celebrate.

But whether you choose to visit your mom or stay far away for the holiday, chances are you’ll be thinking of each other in some way.

Whatever your situation, thinking about these six things may make it a bit easier to find some way to celebrate a difficult mom on Mother’s Day. 

(Notice I said “may” and “easier” — not “definitely” OR “easy.” And there’s no excuse for abusive behavior. If that has happened to you, I’m so sorry!)

1. If you’re expecting perfection, you’ll be disappointed.

Here’s the thing: Nobody has a perfect mother. And nobody can be the perfect mother. But we all probably have an idea of what the perfect mother would look like. Unfortunately, our ideals often cause us to have unrealistic expectations that no one can meet. (Unless you’re married and your mother-in-law is perfect. That’s a whole other issue.)

2. Appreciate what you can.

There’s always something to be thankful for (at least according to Pollyanna). So, dig deep and think of what those things could be. Celebrate them, no matter how small. I recently went through some memorabilia my mom collected throughout the years. I found little love notes and cards I wrote my mom as a child. It reminded me that at one time, I thought she hung the moon. 

3. Celebrate your mom for who you want her to be.

She might surprise you and rise to meet the challenge. You may need to use your imagination. Maybe you can’t honestly tell your mom how great she is, but you might be able to write her a letter, or send a card or text to say you’re thinking of her on Mother’s Day. (Even if your thoughts aren’t that great, it’s a start.)

4. Time changes people and perceptions.

As a child, did you ever think your mom didn’t know anything? Did your perspective change when you realized being an adult was a little more… complicated? I can tell you from experience that I see things differently as an adult. I learned some things I didn’t know. My perspective has shifted over the years.

5. You may know your mom as a parent, but do you know her as a person?

Understand the things that shaped her life? Did a loss profoundly impact her? What were her parents like? Parents are people who have stuff they need to deal with, just like we do. Life throws all kinds of things at us, and sometimes we aren’t equipped to handle it. But trying to understand what makes your mom tick can be helpful, especially if she isn’t the parent you wanted or needed.

6. You’re not alone, and you don’t have to do this alone.

Many people have a rocky relationship with their mom, but not everyone feels safe enough to discuss it with their mom or a friend. If you need to talk, but you don’t want everyone knowing your business, pain, or struggles, a good counselor can help you take the space you need to stay positive and move away from bitterness and resentment. Forgiveness can bring emotional and physical benefits that are healing for the person who chooses to forgive, regardless of what another does. If possible, forgive your mom, whether she asks you to or not.

Things may not get better today or ever, but there’s hope that your situation will change. You may learn to navigate through the conflict or at least improve the relationship. One of you might take a step toward a healthy conversation and forgiveness. That may be all it takes. And one day, it might be easier for you to celebrate more things about your mom on Mother’s Day. I hope it is.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Help Your Child Deal With Grief

Your child can grow through healthy grief.

There’s nothing easy about seeing your child experience grief. It’s hard enough for adults to process losing someone we love. So we often wonder how their little minds are handling something so hard to understand. How can you help our child out? 

First, you need to know a few things about grief and children. 

Grief is usually brought on by losing something valuable, a source of support, security, or endearment. Kids can grieve over all kinds of losses, from the death of a family member to a pet that runs away, a friend who moves, a missing stuffed animal, or parents separating. If it’s a significant loss for them, it’s a big cause of grief. 

We usually associate grief with pain. If that’s all it was, it’d be a terrible thing we’d want to avoid. 

But these feelings are only a part of grief. As a whole, grief is the process of working through the loss. Some call this moving toward “acceptance” or “back to normal.” However, healthy grief moves us beyond acceptance, and things never quite go back to normal. Grief done well causes us to be different than before the loss, perhaps more resilient or having a greater perspective on life. 

Healthy grief helps us grow. We need to keep this in mind when helping our children through grief. 

Here’s another thing to know: the grief process isn’t predictable with kids. There are no steps. Every child (and person, for that matter) grieves at their own pace, in their own time, in different waves and intensities of emotions. This makes it challenging for parents like you and me, who’d love to know what we can expect. You need to walk with your child through the process of grief at their pace. 

Understand that it’s not our job to take the grief away. That’s tough, I know. We often feel what our kids are feeling. We see the pain, the hurt, the tears, the confusion — and we don’t want our child to experience that. But it is part of the process. 

So how can we help our children process grief? 

  • Let your child open up and talk about what they’re feeling or thinking. Kids often don’t have the vocabulary to describe their deep feelings, so you may have to help your child find the words. If you can help them name their feelings, they can start to process what they feel. Another way to do this is to ask them how their feelings feel. Stick with me here:
    • So how are you doing since Grandpa passed away? 
    • I’m feeling sad. 
    • I know what you mean — I feel sad, too. What does sadness feel like to you? 
    • It feels like everybody I know is going to go away. And that makes me scared. 
    • That must be scary. Let’s talk about that some more. 
  • Letting your child know that you are grieving can be reassuring to them. If they know that you also feel hurt, sad, and sometimes cry, it helps them feel normal. They may have intense feelings they’ve never felt before, and that’s hard for them to understand, too. 
  • It’s tempting to try and rationalize the loss with your child. 
    • Grandpa lived a good, long life. 
    • Friends move away sometimes, and we can make other friends. 

There’s nothing wrong with this; it can help children begin to understand the reality of loss and death. However, keep in mind that loss or death is rarely rational to anyone who is grieving. If these kinds of ideas don’t comfort your child, don’t be alarmed. 

As I said, every child grieves at their own pace. However, your child may struggle with grief for an extended time or have dramatic mood or personality changes. In that case, it might be time to get help from a professional counselor. 

All children will experience loss and grief. At the risk of sounding cliché, it’s just a part of life. But we can help our kids work through grief in a way that allows them to gain a healthier perspective of life, loss, and themselves. And walking with your child at their pace will help them grow in a healthy way through the process of grief. 

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

Here are two things your child needs from you.

I was 5 and mad at my mom. I forget why. But I do remember I was packing my bags and hitting the road. In a rockstar parenting move, my unshakable mother began packing sandwiches for me to take on my run-away trip. 

“Whhattt?” you may scream. “How could she?? That’s so… mean… insensitive… emotionally unsafe!”

Emotionally Safe. What does that even mean, anyway?

For some, it means parenting so that their kids never think badly of them and try to run away. (Spoiler alert: That’s impossible.

For others, it means they try to never be angry — even when their kid draws dinosaurs on the white couch with permanent markers. (Honestly, if you have children — why have white furniture??) 

So let me offer you a working definition: 

Emotional safety means parenting in a way that your child feels safe enough to be themselves. 

That’s it. It’s not rocket science. Kids who are safe to be themselves may be, well, quirky. They’re encouraged to explore who they are, to formulate their world. They dress themselves (sometimes weirdly). They use their imagination (again, often weird). They’re on the road to discovering their personality, likes and dislikes, sense of humor, fashion, and overall mojo.

Now, emotional safety doesn’t mean parents don’t set boundaries for their child. And it doesn’t mean kids may not experience sadness, or disappointment, or anxiety. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’ll never be angry or hurt by them, or not pack sandwiches when they want to run away. That’s just real life. 

So how can you go about helping your kids feel emotionally safe? 

Research can give us a little insight into this. (Hang with me here — I promise it won’t be a term paper.) 

Psychologist Don Catherall says a person (like your child) needs two things to feel emotionally safe with someone (like you, the parent): 

One: To feel a healthy sense of connection to the person. 

And two: To develop a healthy sense of security in themselves. 

In other words, your child needs to feel close to you and (at least to be developing the skills) to feel good about themselves

This means developing an appropriately close relationship with your child while giving them opportunities to build self-confidence. Ironically, building self-confidence often involves doing things without you. Notice the balance? 

Here’s another way to look at it: 

Some researchers say the healthiest families strike a balance with a couple of tensions: 

1. Constant over-attachment versus total disconnection.

The need to feel overly-involved in every single aspect of their child’s life can quickly become what researchers call “enmeshment.” Parents can’t separate their child’s emotions from their own. Boundaries are unclear. It’s a false sense of emotional safety which, in reality, focuses on the parent’s unhealthy need to be connected or overprotective. Disconnection is the polar opposite, of course. Neither extreme fosters real emotional safety. 

2. A rigid, overly-structured family environment versus one that is absolutely chaotic without rules or boundaries. 

Too many parents buckle under the need for their kids to like them. As a result, they compromise rules and structure in an attempt to offer emotional safety. On the flip side, others go overboard with stringent rules, consequences, and schedules. Unfortunately, either extreme tends to have the opposite outcome. 

The main point: Emotionally safe kids thrive when there’s a balance. 

Want to be an emotionally safe parent? 

Be the parent, not the friend. Stay connected, but don’t smother. Build confidence in your child. Challenge them to go beyond what they think they’re able to do. Set boundaries. Own your emotions and let them experience theirs

Fortunately, my 5-year-old self didn’t make it past the mailbox with my bologna sandwiches. And my mom never faltered with her parenting techniques, even if I wasn’t happy about it. She was savvy enough to understand that it was okay for me to be upset. She didn’t need to overreact, and I would eventually make my way back, knowing a little more about my weird self, emotionally safe and all. 

Other helpful blogs:

What to Do When Your Child’s Marriage is Falling Apart

These tips can help you navigate this trying time.

Every parent wants to see their children grow to live happy and successful lives. This is why it can be difficult to watch from the sidelines as their marriage is falling apart. Many parents have stayed up at night trying to think of how they can best help their adult children, or even if they should help at all.

Determining what you should and shouldn’t do can be tricky. A lot depends on the nature of your relationship with your adult child and their spouse. What permission have they given you to speak into their marriage?

In matters that may involve abuse, violence, or anything that threatens personal safety, take swift action to ensure everyone is safe. *The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1−800−799−SAFE(7233) 

However, if, by “falling apart” you mean issues such as an inability to communicate or connect in any meaningful way, growing distant, despising each other, constant arguing, or pure self-centeredness by one or both people, then this is for you.

What can you do about it?

  • Know your limits. You will always be a parent to your child. Pam Johnson, marriage therapist, says, “You know them as a child, but not as a spouse.” Without being married to that individual, you can’t know the fullness of their experience. 
  • Encourage them to work on their relationship. Give your adult child some things to think about when selecting a marriage counselor. Suggesting a marriage counselor you have a strong relationship with may not be the best move, especially if you’re concerned the counselor won’t be objective because of the familiarity. 
  • Set boundaries… Particularly for what you will and won’t listen to. Johnson encourages parents to avoid conversations that would make it difficult to forgive their child’s spouse. Often the adult child is sharing their perspective because they want you to take sides. It would be helpful to say, “You need to share that, but it’s best for you and your marriage for you to share with an objective third party.” As much as you want to be unbiased, the emotional closeness between you and your child can drive a bigger wedge in the marriage.
  • Support their relationship and them getting help. You might babysit to give your child and their spouse time alone, help pay for marriage counseling or do other things that strengthen their relationship. Tell them about Maximize Your Marriage.
  • Encourage them to be adults about their situation. In other words, encourage them to give all they can to work it out, hear and understand one another, and learn to be a team.

A few don’ts:

  • Avoid deciding you know best. Should they stay together? Should they divorce? That’s not the question you need to answer for them. And likely, they won’t let you answer it for them anyway.
  • Don’t make it easy for them to give up. As I mentioned earlier, with safety and health issues, help them get into a safe situation. But for many other instances, Johnson notes that making it easy for your child to leave their marriage and come home and stay with you isn’t helpful.
  • Don’t counsel. Expert counselors often won’t even give advice about their child’s marriage. It’s so easy for emotions to get involved. 
  • Don’t take sides. There are always two sides. Encourage them to do all they can to clearly understand each other’s perspectives.
  • Don’t try to control. You can’t control their thoughts, actions, or intentions. Even when we see the mistakes they may be making, we have to allow them to be adults and make their own decisions. 

Our children will inevitably make decisions that we disagree with and mistakes that could’ve been avoided. Ultimately, just like the coach has to allow their players to make the plays on the field, our kids have to make their plays in life. To love, accept, encourage, and give them space (even if you disagree with them) may be the secret to having the positive impact you desire. 

Other helpful resources (to help you help them):

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***