This content was created in partnership with Charlotte Country Day School.
Uncertainty has been the only certainty for parents and kids nationwide over the past year.
As schools have gone through periods of in-person and virtual learning, many students also faced question marks when it came to sports seasons, college decisions and their social lives.
So much uncertainty is tough for both parents and kids to manage, so Charlotte Country Day School hosted a conversation with highly-acclaimed author and sociologist Dr. Christine Carter to get her expert input.
According to Dr. Carter, kids facing uncertainty may find it harder to focus. On the bright side, she says, this generation is getting a head start at dealing with uncertainty – a lifelong skill.
A recording of the full conversation is available online, but here are our quick takeaways from the event.
(1) Feel what you feel
Responding appropriately to adverse situations, even if that response is “negative” (like feeling sad), is actually a sign of good mental health. Rather than fighting negative emotions, acknowledging and naming them with your kids can help them feel in control over the situation.
The first step in helping your kids name their emotions is to name yours, says Dr. Carter.
Living with other people is really hard so it’s become more important than ever to mediate conflict within the home effectively. Dr. Carter recommends teaching your kids how to apologize sincerely can go a long way.
“Make it okay to make a mistake,” says Dr. Carter. Apologize to your kids when you do something wrong, so they see you modeling that behavior.
Pro tip: If you’re feeling stressed, check out this guide from Country Day.
(2) Help your kids pursue meaning
Dr. Carter believes that “the pursuit of meaning and fulfillment is far more important than the pursuit of happiness.”
How-to: She recommends asking kids age-appropriate questions about themselves:
- What matters to you?
- What are you good at?
- What are you passionate about?
- What do you think your superpower is?
Then, help your kids think of ways they can apply those things to make a difference in the world.
Real-life application: To bring some perspective and meaning to the pandemic, Dr. Carter has told her own kids to think about how they’ll explain their role during this time to their future grandchildren.
Country Day has a helpful resource guide on caring for kids’ emotional and mental wellness during COVID.
(3) Give them autonomy
Shifting roles: As early as possible, Dr. Carter recommends switching from the role of “chief of staff” to “life coach.” Instead of doing things for your kids, help them focus on the outcomes they want and how to achieve them. “Kids need to have the freedom to fail in front of us,” she says.
Agency can help kids overcome uncertainty by giving them back some sense of control. Dr. Carter recommends avoiding controlling language (like a chief of staff) and instead motivate them to make good choices (like a life coach).
For example, Dr. Carter gave her kids control over their calendar when they were pretty young. She says it was a total disaster at first, but everyone got the hang of it quickly.
Right now, kids have less privacy than ever because they’re spending more time in the house. Try asking them where they want or need more privacy, and then honor that request as much as possible.
(4) Take care of yourself
“Your best resource as a parent is you,” says Dr. Carter. Take care of yourself and find ways to destress before you become overwhelmed – not after. In the session, Dr. Carter even gave every parent a “permission slip” for self-care.
“Preemptive comfort is essential right now and it’s great for our kids to see us taking care of ourselves,” she says.