Most of us are experiencing changes to our routines and behaviors that are unprecedented in our lifetimes. As adults, we may have some context and personal experiences to provide a template for coping (think 9/11 or other catastrophic events). Kids are seeing all of this with fresh eyes and heightened emotions. We are living through a hurricane of cultural, societal, academic, and social change. Change is hard and can leave young people disoriented, confused, and adrift.
When our students, clients, patients, athletes, or kids bring emotional intensity to our interactions remember to maintain a sense of even stability – equanimity. Cultivate deep compassion and a calm presence to provide a stable support for young people to rest upon.
But how do we do this when the world is so chaotic, the future is so unpredictable, and kids can be so challenging?
First notice your own thoughts, emotions, body sensations and urges, without acting on them. Observe them as though they are floating by you, separate from you. It might help to label them, “I’m noticing the thought that I don’t like this”, “I’m feeling heat in my face”, “I have the urge to . . .”. Observing and nonjudgmentally describing your internal experiences allows you to respond with intention and puts a pause on reacting emotionally.
Accept that whatever happens is not personal and is caused by all that has come before it. Accept reality as it is, not pushing it away or ignoring it. Allow reality to exist in your own mind. Paradoxically, it’s this acceptance of reality that leads to the changes that are needed. By ignoring or resisting reality, we remain stuck.
Notice the other person’s suffering. If you can’t see it clearly, allow for its presence. What might have contributed to them acting this way? What is in their own history that leads to this moment? What impact are current events having on them? Let yourself acknowledge all that you don’t know about them, and how all of that contributes to their behaviors right now.
Observe the reality and your internal reactions to it with curiosity. What might your attitudes be telling you that you need to learn? What is the most effective way forward? What can you do that moves you closer to your own values and goals in a way that honors the other person’s experiences?
Act with intention. Model acceptance, kindness and equanimity.
The pandemic is causing disruptions to the social and academic lives of teens with outcomes that are yet to be determined. Challenging societal issues are front and center and evoke intense emotions for adults and teens alike. Be the calm in the storm. Kids need us to be there for them. They will be there for us one day too. Pay it forward with equanimity.
Britt Rathbone, LCSW-C