Right now more than ever, we need to ask our partner, our kids, and our loved ones, “Are you okay?” We also need to be ready to listen even if the answer is, “No, I am not.” That answer just may be your invitation to contribute to someone you love during one of the most confusing times of their life.
Up until the COVID pandemic began, the world made sense to most kids. But as the pandemic progressed, it challenged things that most of them have probably taken for granted up to this point—going to school, hanging out with their friends, seeing family, and planning for the future.
Even worse, no one can tell any of us when this will be over. We are all left with an eerie sense of insecurity. This is especially true for our children. This is hard enough for us adults to handle—just imagine if you had to deal with it as a child or teenager!
World Suicide Prevention Day is on September 10, 2020. Suicide prevention remains a universal challenge. It is responsible for over 800,000 deaths, or one suicide every 40 seconds. In 2019, worrying trends in U.S. suicide rates continued as suicide ranked the second leading cause of death for 10- to 34-year olds.
Having personally suffered from depression to the point where, 20 years ago, I set a date to end my life, I know how important it is to have someone in your life that cares for you. Someone from whom you can ask for help. Someone that you can trust.
As a parent, you can be that for your kids. You can help them navigate this new unpredictable world in which we now live.
These are my top three tips on how to check in with your child and know that they are okay.
1. Talk with your kids.
Start talking with your kids about real things when they are very young. Make sure they know you are willing to hear anything—the good, the bad, and the ugly. If your kids are older and you do not have great communication, don’t judge yourself for that. Just START NOW! It is never too late.
Ask questions and listen to the answer, in words, energy, or actions. Be interested. Be present. Engage.
Sometimes the greatest contribution you can make to your child is giving them your full attention, where they get to be the most important person at that moment.
2. Never judge your child or their choices.
If you judge your kids for the choices they make, they will stop coming to you when there are things they are struggling with. Actually, they will stop coming to you, period. They need to know that no matter what they tell you, they will not be judged. If your teenager tells you they were drinking, ask them questions. Did you have fun? Tell me about it.
Being interested in your child’s life without continuously grading their experiences as right or wrong or good and bad creates the space for them to come to you with the big things.
The old paradigm of parenting to teach our kids right and wrong no longer works. The world is different, and what was true for you may not be true for your kids. Find out how they see the world and what works for them.
What if your kids could be your greatest teachers? And what if being your teacher is a gift to them?
3. Tell your kids that they are a gift and that their voice matters.
Feelings of not fitting in, of being unworthy and different, are not uncommon as kids grow up. Teenagers spend an enormous amount of time and energy comparing themselves to others. They wonder what their value is and yearn for validation. They seek for meaning and identity. Navigating through this can be difficult, especially today with social media flooding with points of view. As a parent to teenagers, it sometimes seems like everyone else’s point of view matters more than yours.
Don’t give up. What you say does matter, even if your teenager pretends it doesn’t.
Have conversations that acknowledge that what makes your child different is what makes them great. Talk to them about people they respect and admire and point out their differences. Let them know that you are a safe space for them, where they are appreciated and acknowledged for exactly who they are.
Even if they are just able to hear 5% of all of that at the moment, that 5% matters more than you can imagine!
So, how do you ask your child if they are okay?
First, be willing to hear that they are not. Then be the voice and the ear that lets them know that no matter what they face, they’ve got this.