In early December, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on the mental health of young people, as rates of youth anxiety and depression have skyrocketed during the pandemic. Sound scary? It is!
The stress that comes with life affects people at every age, child to adult. But managing that stress — especially in the unpredictable world of a child — takes learning, skill and practice. With the right support, parents of young children can effectively guide child behavior modification at home, equipping them with healthy skills to overcome challenging times.
Many parents of preschool and primary age children have noticed behavior changes over the past two years, often as a result of shifting routines and the collective stress around them. These are the first signs that a child is struggling to manage thoughts and emotions, inviting parents to teach skills and strategies for mental wellbeing and self-regulation.
What I’ve learned as a mom of seven grown children — and also in my experience as a school counselor and therapist — is that reactions to stress often show up as behavior changes, especially among young children. Some kids become disruptive, while others may simply disengage and mentally check out when the stress soars. Either way, our school partners tell us that their students’ families are feeling overwhelmed right now, uncertain how to help their child with behavior modification. They hear about their child’s challenging behavior or see it at home — and they just aren’t sure where to begin to fix it.
The effects that a COVID-19 world has had on the mental wellbeing of children and youth are well documented. But as the Surgeon General noted, many mental health obstacles can be prevented by teaching skills to young people in an effective and proven manner. Now is the time to equip young children — and their parents — with skills of resilience, confidence and intrinsic motivation that will serve them well for years to come.
What can a parent do at home to guide child behavior modification?
One of the most challenging things about being a child is that there is very little you can actually control about your life. You really are at the mercy of the adults around you — their routines, decisions and priorities. Big emotions can feel scary and overwhelming. These four steps can help you support your child as they learn to take charge of their emotions and learn the essential skills of self regulation.
- Remember that you are your child’s first and best teacher. You play a crucial role in your child’s learning and wellbeing. With the right resources, you have a powerful opportunity to help your child manage the many stressors in their life. And together, you can lay the healthy foundation your child needs to and become a confident, self-directed young person who can overcome life’s obstacles with grace.
- Get curious about the behavior. Whether disruptive or disengaged, what we think of as a behavior problem almost always has a root cause that can be identified with a bit of reflection. What changes, demands, relationships or routines might be creating stress? Make a habit of chatting about the day with open-ended questions, and don’t hesitate to ask your child’s teacher if he or she has noticed anything.
- Remember that children often absorb the stress and emotions around them, sometimes without notice. The goal isn’t to change the obstacles we face in life. But children (and adults!) can learn to take charge of our thoughts, emotions and next step forward. And those are life-changing skills at any and every age.
- Don’t wait to make a difference. When you notice that your child is struggling, keep open lines of communication in your family and with any teachers or caregivers. And don’t hesitate to partner with licensed clinicians to find solutions. We know that the earlier a child learns to identify and understand big emotions, the better able they are to build healthy coping skills to manage them. You don’t have to do this alone.
EmpowerU is the resource families need for real, lasting benefits
Our team understands first hand how overwhelming it can be for families to figure out the best way to support a struggling child. We have been there. That’s why we designed the EmpowerU parent/child program to give families a practical solution to create calm and dial down household stress.
Our approach to child behavior modification equips families with the tools to navigate engaging and proven online lessons together. You will learn positive ways to self regulate, manage big emotions and navigate difficult situations using your inner coach. Our program is based on decades of scientific research about social-emotional learning and the way the human brain works best to learn and remember new skills.
With EmpowerU, you have what you need to create a more peaceful and confident household. Together, you will learn, practice and master calming tools and strategies. And the easy-to-follow interactive online lessons will create a positive, shared experience between you and your child.
ABOUT KATIE DORN
Katie Dorn, MA, LSC, MFT is co-founder of EmpowerU and an experienced licensed school counselor and therapist. A mother of seven grown children and a successful entrepreneur and author, Katie is a strategic thinker with an ability to connect and build functional and productive teams. Her passion for finding effective ways to help students and families with mental health obstacles has fueled her work for EmpowerU since 2015.
EmpowerU offers proven social-emotional learning (SEL) solutions to help children, teenagers and adults grow in resilience, confidence and motivation to overcome obstacles and reach their goals. Whether supporting school counseling teams or individual families with home-based SEL, EmpowerU’s interactive approach is rooted in relationships and pairs technology and brain research for positive, lasting results. Together, we create healthy growth and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. And multi-year data makes it clear: our solutions work.