I could use some advice. My daughter will be 12 this month, just about to finish 7th grade. This has been the first year she’s really had any real homework, and combined with other activities she’s been super stressed about not having any downtime. To tears, sometimes.
Part exhausted, part overwhelmed, not to mention she’s months, or maybe weeks, from full-on puberty. So I get it. And I hold her while she cries. But I also want to help her get through it while still meeting her commitments, homework, etc. So really, my question is, how can I best support her?
Downtime Seeking Dad
Dear Downtime Seeking Dad,
Thanks for your question! I think it represents the classic parental conundrum: how to cradle and launch simultaneously? First I want to assure you that your already doing the most important thing you can be doing which is to sit with her while she cries. You are creating and protecting a place for her to be exactly who she is, overwhelmed, dripping nose, puffy eyes and all.
Everything beyond that is icing.
I know you also want to help her figure out how to still meet her deadlines. That *may* come as a secondary skill. Hard to say. There is so much brain flux at this stage and your girl is learning how to level out. Some things you can try: 1) Creating work schedules. 2) Evaluating her time management skills. 3) Checking in nightly on deadlines. 4) Assessing whether she may be legitimately over-involved given her age and disposition. Does she have time to feel bored? To veg out, staring blankly at a wall? It’s important to have that, especially at her age.
If you think you’re on top of all that, here is another strategy:
During a time when she’s not stressed ask her to describe how it feels when she’s overloaded. Tell her to describe where it hits in her body. What it feels like in her body. In her brain. In her heart. In her neck. In her gut.
Then, ask her to think about stuff she does that makes her feel really good. Snuggling with a pet? Baking? Push ups? Music? She needs to make a “feel better” list in a journal or as a cute sign for her room. When she feels the physical or emotional signs of overload, she needs to go to her list. This teaches her to take small steps towards managing her emotions and not getting derailed. It’s a good skill to learn how to take care of yourself this way. You’ll still be there for her. But this way she’s got a two-pronged approach to self care.
Finally, if she spirals during her breakdowns and loses a whole night to feeling overwhelmed and/or if she’s worrying and getting worked up about things that are just irrational, you may want to take her to a therapist for some help with anxiety. CBT, cognitive behavioral therapy, can be effective fairly quickly at curbing irrational anxiety. A book that may help is What To Do When You Worry Too Much. It’s written for much younger kids but I find it makes a nice bedtime story (and middle schoolers still love bedtime stories). The best thing about it, it provides a common language for managing anxiety as a family. We used it at my house and I liked that it gave me an out. “The book says not to talk about worries all the time or we will grow more, so lets put this in the worry box until tomorrow morning.”
If you think its less anxiety and more disorganization, try That Crumpled Paper was Due Last Week by Ana Homayoun.
Also, meditation works wonders. For both of you 🙂
Let me know your thoughts and what works/doesn’t. Thanks!
Follow Up: I heard back from Downtime Seeking Dad and he added this additional bit of advice that I think is terrific:
I had some luck this weekend just by identifying a specific block of time that we designated as totally free. One of the main issues was that she felt like she had no time to just chill and do nothing, but in reality that time was still there (just not quite as much as it used to be). So by stating out loud, “OK, for the next two hours you have absolutely nothing to accomplish” that helped her actively decompress. And then we went for a walk and got an ice-cream cone, which is never a bad idea.