Young people riding the “coronacoaster”
Are you noticing your child’s moods changing more rapidly than usual? Then maybe they are riding the ‘Corona Coaster’
By Charlie Green, Senior Emotional Needs and Resources Trainer
We are hearing from many parents who are concerned about their children’s rapid mood changes and poor sleep while in lockdown so I was moved to bring together some information and ideas that I hope will reassure and help you.
Here are some of the concerns we have heard:
“We are all exhausted because my daughter can’t sleep in her own room anymore and wakes in the night.”
“I’m worried because my child gets really angry over really small things.”
“My son doesn’t want to talk to his friends online anymore.”
“I can see there is something wrong with my son, but he won’t talk about it.”
“It’s my daughter’s birthday coming up and whenever we talk about it, she cries.”
“I keep reassuring my son that this won’t affect his chances of passing future exams, but it doesn’t make a difference.”
“I can’t keep up with her mood changes. I feel like I am walking on egg shells every day.”
We know that mood changes are a natural part of a young person’s development and experience, but it seems that the ‘roller coaster’ of emotions has been much more dramatic during lockdown. This has made communication within families much more challenging, putting a strain on relationships and causing parents and carers to worry about the wellbeing of their young person(s).
First of all, please don’t assume the worst if you see more extreme moods and mood changes at home – you may well be experiencing the same yourself! This ‘corona-coaster’ is a normal response as we navigate a very different world from the one we were all used to.
Understanding the adolescent brain
Young people have the same needs as adults but the skills needed to be able to meet those needs are still developing, particularly the ability to calm strong emotions and be able to reflect and learn from experiences.
The adolescent brain is constantly evolving and learning while driving for autonomy. It is a time of immense growth, self-discovery as well as physical, moral and intellectual development.
As adults and carers it is important to remember how intelligent and capable they can be, and help them develop the skills they need for life. This will continue through lockdown and beyond.
So, what is happening for our young people right now?
Their lives as they knew them ended abruptly and they are now living with a great deal of uncertainty and loss of control. They are likely to feel socially isolated from their peers, who are a vital part of their lives as they grow in independence.
Not only can ‘now’ feel unfamiliar to them, which is unsettling it itself, but there is also no clear path back to ‘normal’ nor a certain ‘new normal’ to work towards.
Parents and significant adults who previously provided clear boundaries also do not have the answers. Added to this, news reports blast through all forms of media, announcing death rates, political conflict, uncertainty and fear, generating more unrest.
Most people’s daily routines have been turned upside down. Just consider how different your days are now, compared to how they were in February. Our brains are no longer able to glide along in autopilot, understanding the rules and rhythms of the day. Instead we are faced with decisions and new ways of doing things. It is tiring for the brain.
There is a limit to how much uncertainty we can tolerate without it having an impact on our emotional wellbeing. Then just as we are adjusting, everything changes and we have to discover another ‘new normal’ as lockdown begins to ease.
We are all riding the ‘corona coaster’ of emotions, adults and young people alike and
lockdown has made it more challenging for us to meet our emotional needs in order to feel mentally and emotionally well and free from worry.
So, what can we do to support and talk to our young people?
- Be mindful of their exposure to news and information
– It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the news, which tends to focus on the extreme and scary.
– It’s not that we should completely cut them off from what is happening. Instead we need to limit what they hear and have conversations with them about what they have heard and how they feel about it.
- Find a common activity you can do together and allow the conversations to start naturally
– Have conversations while doing something else – like walking, or a game, or cooking together. This sets up a more casual and relaxing atmosphere. Let them steer the conversation, build rapport and where appropriate ask the questions you need to.
- Accept their model of the world – go along with what they want to talk about to build rapport and trust. Rather than trying to tell or teach them, listen and seek understanding. You will be amazed at what you learn about them and how interesting young brains are.
- Avoid starting conversations with “when I was your age …”. it is a conversation killer!
- Lower your expectations while increasing your desire to connect and accept
– Focus on being together rather than needing it/them to do it ‘right’.
– As long as they hit their non-negotiable markers for the day, then let the rest slide. For example, in our house there is far more screen time for our 16 year old than I would like, but as long as he is up by midday, does 1 household chore each day, plays a game with his younger sister and eats dinner with us round the table and clears up after the meal, we let the rest go. The reality is, if he wasn’t in lockdown he would be out with his friends having finished his GCSE’s so being online is his place to be with them socialising.
- Become a master of “letting go” so you can hold the boundaries that really matter
– Choose your battles carefully. The most important thing right now is for them to feel connected and safe and to maintain a healthy relationship
– That doesn’t mean letting them do as they please – clear boundaries are good for them and you – but within the restrictions of lockdown, letting some things go can be helpful
- Create certainty within the home using gentle but reassuring routines
– By creating a predictable daily routine that includes encouraging online time with friends, relaxation time, movement, time to chill as well as school work, you are helping everyone meet the need for certainty. It is good to get them involved in creating the routine and review it regularly to check it’s working for everyone, especially as the government guidelines change
- Encourage them to get involved with food for the family – preparing, sharing or clearing up.
– This will help them feel valued and also gives a structure to their day and a focused opportunity to come together as a family.
- Find ways to have fun – get creative and find activities where you can relax and have a laugh. It will be as good for you as it is for them!
- Allow them privacy – everyone needs time to digest what they are learning and daydream, including our children. Help them find space each day to let the brain rest. Colouring, playing music, kicking a ball around in the garden on their own and writing in a notebook are some examples of how they can get privacy.
- Accept ‘I don’t know’ as a valid answer – it’s sometimes hard to name the emotions we are experiencing, we just know we don’t feel OK, and its good for them to be able to tell you how they feel without needing to articulate why. The most important thing is to acknowledge they don’t feel OK and reassure them that you are there for them and that the feelings will pass.
There is lots we can do to support ourselves and our young people. In fact, it’s not all bad news and lockdown can also provide us with opportunities. Many parents and carers are sharing stories of how lockdown has unexpectedly helped young people meet needs better, so there are lots of reasons to feel hopeful.
“My son has started making me a cup of tea each morning which I am so grateful for.”
(meeting his need for achievement, status and meaning & purpose)
“I came home to a meal on my birthday cooked by my 16 year old.”
(meeting his need for control, achievement, status)
“My daughter has started reading to herself at bedtimes for the first time.”
(meeting her need for control, achievement and privacy)
“At the start of lockdown, we all went for our one hour walk together as a family.”
(meeting our need for movement, community, achievement and meaning & purpose)
“My kids created a daily timetable themselves that included some school work, lots of breaks and screen-time and they have used a timer to stick to it … mostly!”
(meeting their need for security, control, status, community, achievement and meaning & purpose)
“We started playing a card game together a few times a week as we have been home so much more.”
(meeting our need for attention, emotional connection, community and achievement)
Visit our website for more information on how to support yourself and your family.
Listen to the recording below from BBC Radio Suffolk from May 20th of Charlie Green talking with presenter Georgy Jamieson (@Georgy Jamieson) all about ‘Riding the Corona Coaster’ and ‘coming out of the corona bubble’.
(with acknowledgements to Sue Saunders author of Navigating The Teenage Years, MSC Cognitive Science, MA Human Givens Psychotherapy)
Author: Ellie Winch