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What is your teen asking you about the future? Do you have answers?

“What am I gonna do about school and soccer, Dad?” my 14-year-old son asked me. I didn’t know. I’d been asking myself the same questions for weeks and didn’t have any answers. It feels like new information comes out every day that undermines my decisions. Everything feels tentative. The future feels like a collection of shreds and patches. 

The last few months have left the foreseeable teen future uncertain. Your teen may be feeling a lot of anxiety: What will school look like? Will I be able to get a part-time job, play sports, play my favorite instrument in the band? What about prom and graduation?

And don’t forget their favorite part of school—seeing their friends. There’s so much unknown for them to process.

Don’t forget, they are old enough to wonder about your adult future and the family’s future. You may feel secure about your job situation, your finances, the health of family members—and something like divorce may be totally out of the question. This doesn’t stop your teen from worrying about those things.

All of these unknowns can easily translate into anxiety, stress, and depression for your teenager. (They can for us adults, too.)

When it comes to the important things in life, we all prefer certainty to uncertainty. But our adult brains are developmentally better suited to live with some uncertainty than our teen’s brain is. Their brain is still developing and processing so many unknowns (that they are invested in) can be particularly difficult for them. How can we help them?

[Read this blog that describes what is happening to teens developmentally.]

1. Model The Behaviors And Attitudes You Want For Your Teen

  • Self-Care: Tending to your physical health and emotional health.
  • Mindfulness: Deep breaths. Self-awareness. Focus. 
  • Critical Thinking: Decisions based on the most reliable information.
  • Optimism: “We are going to come out on the other side even stronger.”
  • Resilience: “We are going to take it one day at a time as a family.”
  • Gratitude: “We still have a lot to be thankful for…”
  • Service: “How can we help others who are struggling?” 

These are all things that your young adult needs to navigate uncertainties they will encounter as future adults.

2. Acknowledge When The Future Is Unknown & When You Just Don’t Know

We want to have answers for our teens and they often expect us to have them. It can be tempting to try to “fake it” or give the answer we think will make them feel better in the moment. Besides being disingenuous, in the long run, it will undermine their confidence in you. You don’t want to be seen as a source of false hope and misinformation.

It is totally appropriate (and honest) to admit it when we don’t know. Saying something like, “I don’t have enough information yet to confidently make a wise decision about that,” doesn’t undermine your trustworthiness and reliability; It enhances it. Your teen can relax (hopefully) and know that when you do make a decision it will be based on the best information and what’s best for the family.

3. Become A Student Of Your Teen 

Be on the lookout for the ways your teen might be struggling with anxiety and stress and depression. A very talkative teen may become quiet. A very quiet teen might become talkative. A normally social teen may become withdrawn. A teen that normally keeps to themselves might suddenly become a social butterfly. Look for any changes in their normal behavior. 

Keep in mind that sometimes teens deal with difficult emotions in unhealthy ways. Be on the lookout for outbursts, disrespect, risky, or harmful behavior. Watch their eating and sleeping habits. As you address their behavior, be sure to address what the real issue may be underneath it.

4. Be Open And Create Space For Your Teen To Express Their Anxiety

Teens will often “show” you when they are struggling before they will “tell” you they are struggling, but there are things you can do to keep the lines of communication open:

  • Make sure your teen knows you have an “open door” policy and that they can talk to you about anything, anytime.
  • Take advantage of car rides and other times you are alone with your teen that don’t feel like you are angling for a “big talk.” Teens often open up when you are doing something else, like cooking or watching television.
  • It’s okay to ask questions like, “How are you feeling about school this year?Then practice active listening skills.
  • Don’t “freak out” at what you hear. Keep that poker face.
  • Don’t ask a million questions, probe gently, empathize, and be a good listener.

5. Recognize When You Are Out Of Your Depth And Get Your Teen Help

Anxiety, stress, depression, and anger are significant and often complex problems—especially in the lives of teens. It is totally appropriate and necessary for you as a parent to recognize when you have reached the limits of how you can help your teen. Don’t stop there. Reach out for help. Contact a counselor.

The unknown is, well, unknown. It is normal to experience fear and anxiety concerning the unknown. There are lots of things that your teen cares deeply about that are just flat out up in the air at the moment. Don’t feel bad that you can’t make the unknown “knowable” for your teen. Model how to face the unknown, be there for your teen, and keep putting one foot in front of the other until the unknown becomes known.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made things very uncertain right now, and your kids can sense it. The good news is, you can help your child navigate through the unknown.

As we approach the school year, many parents, perhaps like you, must make the choice of whether to have their children attend school in a face-to-face format, online, or a combination. And even if your kids do grace the halls of their school this year, things will be different, with teachers (and possibly students) wearing masks, social distancing measures, and a heavier concentration on sanitizing (to say the least). 

Schools are planning the best way they know how to provide both safety and a quality education this year for kids, but let’s face it: we’ve never been in this situation before, and there’s no standard operating procedure in place for this. 

All this adds up to the fact that you and your kids face a great unknown in a few short weeks. Just what will this school year be like? It’s a question of uncertainty

As adults, we know what it is to go through those seasons where you don’t know what’s going to happen, and many of us still feel a sense of anxiety during times like these. 

But for children, the uncertainty of what their school year will be like can be especially distressing. And though they may feel an extra measure of anxiety and stress from facing that unknown, you can help your child through it. 

So what can you do to help your child work through this season of uncertainty? 

1. Acknowledge the unknown to your child.

Open up the conversation with your child about not knowing exactly how the school year is going to go. Explain to them whether there’s a decision to be made, and what that may look like in terms they can understand. 

Avoid having decision-making conversations with your child present or asking them what they would choose. Chances are, they will tell you what they would prefer; however, there are factors they cannot understand, and to them, their decision-making is permanent. They need to know that the final decision comes from you, the parent. As a parent, you have to educate yourself and decide what is right for your family. Keep in mind the decision you ultimately make could change based on new information, and you’ll want to let your child know that. 

★ Depending on their age, express the idea of the unknown in language that says, “Because COVID-19 is still a concern, school is going to look different this year. This is the decision I/we have made as your parent(s), because, right now, we think it’s best for our whole family. We hope things won’t change with our decision, but if they do, then we have to figure out the next best thing. But even if we don’t know what it’s going to be like, we are going to be okay, and we are going to get through this together. I’m here to help you through all of it. We aren’t just going to survive—we are going to thrive!” 

2. Don’t “pre-purchase” anxiety.

After reading the first bullet point, you may be nervous that you are injecting a huge dose of shock and anxiety in your child. And of course, they might be at least somewhat apprehensive; that’s to be expected. But don’t let this shake you. Talking about it helps your child process the idea of not knowing what to expect and builds resilience to the stress of unknown situations as they grow.

The important thing to remember is to check your own anxiety at the door. Children follow the cues for anxiety, stress, and depression from their parents (that’s you), and if you are freaking out over an uncertain school year, you are “pre-purchasing” anxiety for your child. It’s okay for you to feel a certain amount of distress for your kids; just remember they are looking to you as a model for regulating emotions and handling their fear. 

3. Normalize what they’re feeling.

Let them know that how they are feeling about the uncertainty of the school year is okay. You don’t want them to feel ashamed or abnormal because of any kind of anxiety or fear they may have. The key is not to fix their emotions, but to help them work through them. Encourage them to identify what they are feeling: Do you feel scared? Nervous? Angry? Keep in mind that they may not know how to articulate what they are feeling. Help them put some words to the emotions. When you can name something, then you can begin to work through it. 

4. Identify what your kids can control.

Anxiety and stress often come from a feeling of losing control. So, helping your kids understand what you can control in the midst of the unknown helps to alleviate those negative emotions. For example, they can ask for help anytime. They can come and talk to you if they are feeling overwhelmed. They can stay organized with their school work. And they can take care of themselves.

★ Additionally, be sure to establish a routine at home when the school year begins. Keep regular meal times and bedtime routines. Routines and structure help give kids a sense of consistency, security, and control, especially in the midst of uncertainty

5. Coach your kids in doing self-care.

Doing intentional things to care for themselves may be your child’s best tool to work through the fear of uncertainty. But this isn’t necessarily natural to them; you’ll have to guide them on a daily basis. Encourage them to get some kind of outside time each day. Help them to go to bed at a decent hour and get plenty of rest each night. (According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between the ages of 6 and 12 need 9 to 12 hours of sleep each night.) Set a limit on screen time, too. Intentional self-care helps uncertain times seem less daunting.   

Times are definitely uncertain. But one thing we do know: this won’t be the only time your children face the unknown. There is a bigger picture here. Life is full of unpredictability. What we teach them now about how to handle uncertain times will go with them into adulthood. And let’s be honest: the unknown of the school year ahead is survivable. You can manage it. And your child will get through it. Helping your child through this unknown will help them strengthen their resilience and grit for a lifetime. 

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Does My Husband Love Me?

Here's what to do with that thought.

Are you and your husband arguing more?

Does it seem like you are on opposite sides of EVERY issue?

Do you feel unappreciated, unheard and undervalued in your marriage?

Are you all super busy and seem to spend no time together at all?

Do you find yourself asking the question, “Does my husband love me?”

Ways We Experience Love

As individuals, we all experience love in different ways. Dr. Gary Chapman, in his best-selling book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts, discusses the 5 ways people receive love. Below is a listing of the 5 Love Languages and how you can be loved the way that you need.

  1. Words of Affirmation—Notes, cards, spoken words, text messages.
  2. Acts of Service—Actions that make your spouse’s life easier. (i.e., wash dishes, dust, vacuum, etc.)
  3. Gifts—Giving your spouse small or large tokens that have meaning to them. 
  4. Quality Time—Spending concentrated and focused time with your spouse.
  5. Physical Touch—Hand-holding, hugging, kissing, etc. 

In addition to the 5 Love Languages, understanding the definition of love can place the picture into better focus.

The dictionary definition of love is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” In other words, love is what one feels. In the article, We Are Defining Love The Wrong Way, Rabbi David Wolpe expands the definition to be “an enacted emotion.Love requires action. If you need more love from your husband, the following questions may help with a conversation. 

How can my husband best show love to me?

How do I feel cherished and valued?

What does loving me look like from my perspective?

Am I not loveable right now?

What do I need from my husband?

Am I struggling with issues of the day? (COVID-19, social unrest, etc.)

How can I talk to my husband about what I am feeling? 

How do I get him to understand what is going on inside of me?

Share your emotions with him. 

Our husbands are not mind readers. Being clear and concise about feeling lonely or disconnected is the way to go. It takes vulnerability to share your insecurities and fears with him, but it can be a bridge to a better and closer relationship.

Recognize that you each receive love differently.

Most husbands have a different love language than their wives. We most often seek to love our spouse in the language we know rather than the love language they speak. Additionally, husbands often want to make sure they provide for their wives and families. This may mean working overtime to get that special gift or go on that special trip for YOU, while you would be fine with him being at home with him. There is nothing wrong with either way. It is JUST different. 

Understand his need to fix it.

We often communicate to share details or process what we think or feel about a situation. While we are processing, he is thinking of a way to fix it in order to make your life easier. His intention is to help what he perceives as a problem, while you see him as not hearing or listening to you. When you share with him how you are feeling, try telling him you just want him to listen and when you feel like he “gets you,” then you can talk about possible solutions.

In the midst of the chaos and distractions of today’s society, it seems easy to get off-kilter in our marriages. Frustration and mixed signals can lead us down a path of feeling unloved, insecure and disconnected. Remembering that how we feel/give love looks different for each of us will allow us to ask for and receive the love that we need. 

***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 that 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.***

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Uncertainty has a way of paralyzing and controlling you, but you don’t have to let it. 

I stood at the edge. Staring down at the face of the water 30 feet below. Heart-pounding. My brain thinking a hundred different things at once as a couple of dozen other adventurers who decided to veer off the beaten path in Kauai’s forest looked on. 

What if I drown? What if I hit the water the wrong way and it knocks me out somehow? Or what if I belly-flop and everyone laughs? What if this could be the most exhilarating experience of my life? But what if this changes everything I understand about my fears? 

Only six inches from my heels to the lip of the cliff divided total uncertainty and what surely would happen if I took the next step.  

And I had a choice. I could turn around and avoid the situation altogether. I could stand there, staring, paralyzed. Or, I could take a step and move forward, perhaps in more ways than one. 

We all experience uncertainty in life. And this has never been truer than in the last three months:

COVID-19: Are things getting better or worse? 

What’s to come with this new election year? 

Will there ever be a solution to racism? 

Will we ever experience life as we knew it, once (or if) the pandemic ends? 

Are protests leading to peace or more violence? 

How do we protect our kids? 

Why are we getting hit with disasters like the Australian wildfires and murder hornets and tornadoes that kill and destroy? 

Will any of these things put me or my family in real danger?

We continue to be inundated with a life that grows more and more uncertain by the day. And that festering uncertainty is like pouring gasoline on an already-burning woodpile of anxiety. 

What exactly is the relation of uncertainty to our feelings of anxiety? 

Dr. Michael Stein, founder and owner of the private therapy practice Anxiety Solutions, says that facing uncertainty isn’t like confronting tangible fears such as snakes, dogs, or heights. These are the kinds of anxiety-inducers that you can avoid by walking (or running!) away. 

Uncertainty is much more elusive. You can’t literally run away from uncertainty. So, your brain pulls a fast one on you by telling you the way to deal with uncertainty is to overanalyze it. It makes sense; if you can logic out the uncertainty until it’s no longer uncertain, then problem solved! 

This is why it’s so easy to run stressful scenarios over and over in your head—what we call “ruminating.” You repetitively work scenarios through your head to come up with the most likely outcome. Because, if the sky falls, at least you’ll know it’s coming.

The only problem with this is, it doesn’t work. Uncertainty is, well, uncertain. No matter how much we try to rationalize or reason, we just don’t know what the outcome is going to be. And so you just go through this process of uncertainty, overanalyzing, uncertainty, overanalyzing… which opens the door wide for anxiety to come barging through. 

But if uncertainty is so uncertain, what’s there to do other than worry? 

When you have no crystal ball to see into an uncertain future, it’s easy to overvalue worry, fear, and anxiety. You feel like that’s the only thing you can do to survive. But this does us much more harm than good. 

Not only does the anxiety fueled by uncertainty have a negative impact on our sense of well-being and emotional adjustment, but it also wreaks havoc on our relationships. Once we get caught up in overstressing about something uncertain, it’s easy to slip into becoming anxious about anything uncertain. And this drives a wedge between the connection and intimacy we feel with our family members and those close to us. 

So what is there to do other than have anxiety? 

Dr. Stein says one thing you must do is change your thinking about uncertainty altogether—

If you tolerate uncertainty rather than trying to eliminate it, your brain eventually learns all of the following:

  • Uncertainty is not dangerous. It’s tolerable. 
  • There is no point to worry; it doesn’t stop bad things from happening. 
  • What worry does is cause you suffering right now, but it does not save you from suffering later on. 
  • Uncertainty does not require your attention. 

Training your brain to hold on to these truths is akin to, as Stein says, operating a spotlight. You change the focus of the spotlight from the uncertainty and worry to whatever you are doing in the present moment. 

All this boils down to a healthy understanding of what you can control and what you cannot control, and resolutely accepting that.

A helpful exercise I have found with uncertain situations is to make two columns on a sheet of paper titled Things I Cannot Control and Things I Can Control. Then write as many thoughts under each column as you can. 

For example, if you are facing the uncertainty of a possible job loss due to cutbacks from COVID-19, you may write under Things I Cannot Control:

  • If the company downsizes. 
  • When final decisions are made. 
  • How the company determines who they’ll let go.

And then, under Things I Can Control:

  • How I prepare to seek employment somewhere else, like updating my resumé or reaching out to business contacts. 
  • The level of job performance I continue to display, in case that is a determining factor for the company. 
  • Where I focus the spotlight (whether on the worry or on the present moment), especially when I am around my family. 
  • How I take care of myself, physically and emotionally, so that I have the healthiest approach to uncertainty. 

Uncertainty happens, all the time. We are all at the brink of the ledge, looking down into an unclear pool of water. Remember: this water isn’t something to worry and stress over and fear; it’s tolerable. You might not be in control of how cold it is or how high the ledge is. But you don’t have to let the uncertainty of what you can’t control paralyze you, and anxiety doesn’t have to be something that controls you. You are in control of the first step.

For other great reads on how to handle anxiety, take a look at these:

5 Ways to Handle Anxiety About Loved Ones Getting COVID-19

How I Overcome My Anxiety About COVID-19

How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

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