Expert insight for hacking your child's COVID-19 anxiety
By Greg Bach
Many young athletes nationwide are grappling with heavy doses of disappointment and anxiety as sports have been swiped from them – and no timeline exists for their return.
“This is such a disappointment for the kids who really love their sports, and not to mention the structure it gives to families,” says Dr. Alicia Clark, a Washington, D.C.-based licensed psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety. “There is a tremendous amount of loss with the routines that we all rely on, engage in and look forward to.”
To help youth and teens navigate this new and challenging terrain, Clark encourages parents to acknowledge the disappointment with their kids and to initiate conversations that dig into the best ways for working through it.
“The first thing is to acknowledge the loss to the kids,” she says. “Acknowledging the grief helps your kids to say what it is that they are feeling. It’s very empowering to the child and also empowering to the parent.”
THE POWER OF REALLY LISTENING
These are difficult days for all. Begin by asking your child how they are feeling about what is going on around them.
“Asking a child how they are feeling and then listening without telling them what to do or how to feel is very healing, empowering and calming to the child,” Clark says.
It’s crucial to be fully engaged during these all-important talks, too. Parents can’t be distracted by television, their cellphones or anything else that tends to pull at their attention.
“Even though it sounds obvious, listening to the feelings and asking about them can be a really useful strategy,” Clark says. “A lot of parents think they are listening to their kids and they think they are talking about feelings when they really aren’t.”
During these exchanges, parents need to be wary of trampling their kids’ thoughts. It’s important to give them the space to share what they are feeling and to soak in their thoughts.
“Telling kids it’s all going to be OK is really important for them to hear and they need to hear that from a parent,” Clark says. “But they also need to hear that we understand how they’re feeling and not jump over how they are feeling into the solutions.”
SORTING THROUGH SOLUTIONS
When it comes to those solutions, parents naturally want to impart wisdom and guidance to help pull their kids through those murky and difficult situations.
But it’s also incredibly beneficial for kids to learn how to explore solutions for themselves and share with parents to discuss.
“Ask your child what they think are some ways to mitigate this disappointment,” Clark says. “What do they think would help them feel a little better about not being able to be with their team? As parents, we all feel responsible for having the answers and putting them in place. But when it comes to helping kids with their emotions, helping them see that actually they can come up with solutions and they can feel better by talking about how they are feeling and understanding that they are going to be OK is very empowering.”
As difficult as the weeks have been, numerous lessons are being learned that will serve youth going forward.
“We’re incredibly adaptive as human beings,” Clark says. “We’re doing this together. This is global coping; this is global adapting. We don’t get angry at the request to adapt; we do it and we solve it. We recognize what’s working and we pivot and change what isn’t working until we get it right.”
Dr. Alicia Clark can be followed on Instagram and Twitter; and in this Facebook video clip she shares techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety.
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Acclaimed developmental psychologist Dr. Peter C. Scales, author of THE COMPETE-LEARN-HONOR PLAYBOOK, on cultivating character and helping youth thrive as individuals and athletes
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Sara Slattery – NCAA champion, former collegiate cross country coach, and co-author of HOW SHE DID IT – encourages parents of young athletes to stress multiple sports over specializing to build athleticism and lay the foundation for greater success