Parent Education Committee Event Recap: Managing Stress Excess with Laura Kastner
Seattle Academy parents turned out for a quality evening with Laura Kastner Ph.D., to hear about teen stress and how parents can cope and help. She discussed CALM: C for Cooldown, A for Assess your options, L for Listen with empathy, and M for Make a plan.
Dr. Kastner discussed how teens today have a higher level of ambient stress, as do parents! Contributors to high levels of student stress include parental worry/pressure (they do care about what we think), social media, being among high achieving, competitive peers, and global and cultural anxiety (e.g. climate change, school shootings), among others. Stress and conflict can lead to “flooding” where the emotional brain hijacks the rational brain, and both thinking and hearing become difficult. Teens can sense when parents are stressed; emotions are contagious, and brains can be connected wirelessly. Her warning to parents: don’t talk under the influence (of flooding)! Instead, take a break, get to calm, and then make clear-minded choices about how you talk to your teen when you are under control.
Maybe you will choose to apologize for your response to them. A key predictor of best outcomes for our kids is a secure attachment to their parents. Focus on nurturing and improving your relationship with your teen by making deposits into the bank account of your relationship, so there is something left after you make a withdrawal. Instead of asking “how was school today?” (scoping down on academic success = pressure), consider asking “what was the fun thing you did today?” or about specific things that you know happened that day. Let them open up and talk about the details. Parents should validate student angst and show appreciation for their struggles. Reassurance (“It’s not a big deal!”) can feel like dismissiveness to our kids.
Teens also may display maladaptive coping with stress by using their devices more, going on social media, gaming, and other self-defeating behaviors. You can help them identify self-calming behaviors like meditation, prayer, drawing, journaling, exercise, listening to music, etc, that lead to calm. Parents need to model positive coping skills! In summary, Dr. Kastner suggested leading with acceptance and empathy, then focus on your calm before addressing your teen’s.
Laura Kastner Ph.D. has authored several books that cover this and many other topics, including: “Getting to CALM: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens” and “Wise-Minded Parenting.”