Experts say it's important for parents to remember that whatever emotional experiences their children are having is OK. "They should work not to remove their children’s emotions, but to help them shift and manage them.”
Experts say it's important for parents to remember that whatever emotional experiences their children are having is OK. "They should work not to remove their children’s emotions, but to help them shift and manage them.”
It’s not your imagination: Some people have adjusted to the current restrictive lifestyle of the COVID-19 pandemic more smoothly than others, experts say.

So to help others  make the transition into “the new normal,” Dr. Widian Nicola, DSW, a licensed clinical social worker and assistant professor of social work at Seton Hall University, South Orange, offered a number of strategies both parents and adolescents might use to survive, even flourish, as a family unit.

“There is no shame, no sense of right or wrong about how you’re managing,” Nicola said during a recent National Association of Social Workers New Jersey video teleconference that is available online. Parents, she noted, must manage both their own emotions and those of their adolescent children who might be experiencing feelings such as grief, disappointment, anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, helplessness, powerlessness and more.

“Adults have more capacity to react to changes. Kids can be resilient and rebound, but still need skills and direction from their parents and mentors,” she said.

Nicola encouraged parents to remember that whatever emotional experiences their children are having is OK, and added that “they should work not to remove their children’s emotions, but to help them shift and manage them.”

Nicola suggested five strategies for parents:

1. Pay attention to mood changes in children.

“When kids don’t have the language to express themselves, they will use another outlet such as crying, aggressive behavior, eating changes or sleep changes,” she said. “This is a gateway into a deeper, unmet need. Look at meaning behind the action.”

Nicola recommended parents remember the acronym RAIN: Recognize emotional turbulence; Allow it with no judgement; Investigate it with patience and curiosity, and Nourish or Nurture it.

“It is a process,” she said. “Emotions, unless they are resolved, will reappear.”

2. Model balance for children.

“We have a responsibility as parents to regulate some semblance of balance in your home,” Nicola said. “If children see the frantic nature of your existence, they will mimic it.”

Figure the rhythm of your home, she advised parents. “Create structure, routine and continuity, but you need a break from it as well.”

3. Clarify your expectations.

“It’s not that we like this situation,” Nicola said, “but we can aim to adapt, manage and maintain. This may be difficult for those who are perfectionists, for the access to those things that energize them are inaccessible. Aim for basic survival, adapt to this new world and manage your expectations. Things may change, for every day is different.”

4. Engage, don’t entertain.

The adolescent’s brain is malleable and can rewire itself based on relational experiences, Nicola stressed.

“Determine whether their decisions are fight-flight-panic type or more thoughtful,” she recommended. “You can help children to be engaged to find creative solutions to challenges they are facing. They can’t do this if they don’t get the whole perspective.”

5. Affirm and celebrate.

“They will experience grief and loss at their inability to celebrate milestones and small joys,” she said. “Affirm how far they’ve come, celebrate small victories, design alternate ceremonies and be sincere.”

In addition, Nicola offered strategies for children, which are three-fold: reframe, reclaim and remain.

1. Reframe

Language matters, Nicola stressed.

“Reframe the way they are thinking about issues, such as saying, ‘You are not stuck at home, you are safe at home,” she said. “These small shifts interpret the meaning of their experiences. The more they are embedded in conversation, they help manage stress.”

2. Reclaim

Nicola advocates enabling adolescents with opportunities to reclaim some of the autonomy they have lost.

“Every choice was made without their consent and involvement,” she pointed out. In the safety of their homes, “have them create schedules that help them make more decisions and gain more opportunities.”

3. Remain positive

The level of resilience adolescents have is unbelievable, Nicola said. “They can come back from these difficult circumstances. We have to rely on the fact this will end.”