This time of year can bring a lot of change – new class, new school, going to college or university, different friendships groups. There’s so much to learn socially, emotionally and practically.
Throw in physical changes to young brains and bodies, progressive increases in risk taking and autonomy and there is potential for the tower which once seemed so steady, to wobble. Negotiating challenges in an expanding world can be difficult, and each one adds an extra brick. Some are smooth, sturdy and supportive, others are rough and rocky. It is often only when the tower collapses that we realise someone needs help.
To be effective, we need to understand the foundations. Traumatic experiences such as illness, abuse and neglect, or exposure to difficult conditions in the home can mean the basis of the tower is unsteady. Or we may have a steady base, but a great big boulder that got added later on. Each addition is subjective – one child may appear to manage well with changing school, for example, whereas another may struggle – not just because of past experience but naturally because of who they are. The stability of each one has an impact on the next.
Regardless of age, there are a few ways you can help:
Encourage emotional awareness – young people being aware of when they are feeling anxious, sad, angry or happy, and the effect it has on them, is the first step to addressing a problem. If they struggle to explain it, can they draw it?
Supportive relationships – encourage them to talk – whether it is to you or someone else.
Think about what you appreciate from others – just having someone who understands can help massively. Ask what you can do to help.
Develop healthy coping strategies – ask what has worked for them before in difficult situations? What is one thing they can do, no matter how small, to take one step forward?
Confidence building – recognise when they show they are trying to do something, even little amounts of praise can go a long way to encouraging self-belief.
Clear vision – having something to aim for is a great motivator. How do they see themselves next month, next year? What do they need to do to work towards it? What can they do more of or do differently? How will they know when they have achieved their aim?
Most importantly, resist the temptation to take away their power and make your own decisions about what would work best. With the right scaffolding, when the tower starts to wobble, it can soon be steadied at any point in life. Your role is to encourage them to put it together, not do it for them.
The key is for young people to be self-aware and implement positive strategies at an early stage. Role modelling, open discussion and empathy can help them to manage situations; understanding that there is always a way to deal with difficulties gives hope and motivation. Sometimes you or they may feel the need for additional support, never be ashamed to ask for it. There is no doubt that developing these skills in early life, prepares them for the challenges of adulthood.