Back to School Anxiety: Coping Skills for Your Teen

If you’re noticing your teen is a little edgy lately or seems less than keen to talk about school they may be struggling with ‘back to school anxiety’. The usual pre-jitters and mix of excitement and nervousness of going back to school could be prompting thoughts like these for your teen:

  • Who will I be in class with?
  • What if I get that teacher again?
  • I can’t wait to see my friends again!
  • I hope I will get good grades.

On top of this, teens have spent  the last year and half contending with  alternative forms of schooling in response to the pandemic – online, on and off in-person (with masks, shutdown sports, etc.), hybrid between online and in-person, etc. For some teens, this adds an extra layer of worry.

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If your teen spent the last year learning online , they may be wondering what it will be like to go back to school like “normal”. They may be thinking,  “Do I even want to go back in person??”

This year may be especially hard for teens if they struggle with social anxiety and enjoyed the online aspect of schooling. On top of the regular ‘back to school’ worries, your teen may  be thinking:

  • What if it’s really hard?
  • What if I’m behind?
  • What if it’s weird to not be wearing a mask?
  • What if we have to wear masks again?
  • What if things shutdown again? 
  • What if they do cohorts again and my friends aren’t in the same class as me?
  • What if I don’t like it?

Sometimes teens don’t have an exact grasp on the specific thoughts but their worries  manifest physically. You might notice complaints of physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, general flu like symptoms with no illness related causes, etc. You may also notice changes in behaviours – more irritability, sleep disruptions, etc. 

Worries about going back to school – especially this year – are to be expected. But that doesn’t mean your teen has to white knuckle through it. 

Here are five anxiety coping strategies you can implement to help your teen transition back to class as smoothly as possible:

Anxiety Coping Skill #1

Breathing can be a secret weapon for your teen. Dialling into their breathing can help activate their rest and relax system (parasympathetic nervous system). This sets off a domino effect of calming. 

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There are various breathing techniques you can try. Sheryl Ankrom, MS, LCPC shares eight different breathing exercises you can try here. Square breathing, or 4×4 breathing is one I find works well, and can be done anywhere anytime – including on the way to the school, in the hallways, and even in class. The Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto shares a really great video on how to do this exercise here.

Whichever exercise your teen chooses, I recommend going through it at least 4 times to allow their nervous system to catch up.

Breathing exercises aren’t for everyone. If your teen can’t focus on their breathing, or doesn’t enjoy it – try having them focus on some of their other senses. Here are a few ways they can do that:

  • Look around the room and (in their mind) name objects they can see
  • Pick a colour and try and spot it as much as possible
  • Listen for sounds near or far
  • Name one thing from all 5 senses – something they can see, hear, smell, feel and taste

The key is to bring awareness to the present moment and be less hyper focused on the anxiety.s.

Anxiety Coping Skill #2 

We all have objects in our lives that immediately bring comfort. They serve as relaxation prompts. It can be helpful for your teen to have an object like this with them as they begin the new school year. Here are some ideas, or things I have seen work well:

  • Favourite piece of jewelry

    Photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash

  • Extra comfy sweater
  • Stone/crystal around their neck, or tucked in their bag
  • A note/quote/message on their phone
  • Putty
  • Favourite playlist on their phone (if permitted)
  • Doodle a small heart on a knuckle
  • Fidget ring around their finger

Having something that reminds your teen of comfort and calm will cause their brain to put out some chill alpha waves.

Anxiety Coping Skill # 3

Photo by Rosie Sun on Unsplash

Encourage your teen to find at least one person they can rely on that has got their back – a coping buddy. They can have more than one of course! It might be a teacher, guidance counsellor, friend, sibling, etc. Someone they can seek out and connect with when needed. This person can provide a nice distraction, or some comfort.

If your teen really can’t think of anyone that is accessible at  school, see if you can find someone remote who can be available for a call or text during an anxious moment – you, their auntie, etc.

 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 4

Use the F.E.A.R. technique. This stands for False Evidence (or Emotions) Appearing Real.

Anxiety can trick your teen’s mind to make them believe they are small and incapable in the face of the problem or thing they fear. The F.E.A.R technique is a way to bring balance in the other direction – with anxiety being small and your teen being big and capable.

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Step One: Identify the worry (fear) – e.g. ‘I’m worried that I won’t be in the same class as any of my friends.”

Step Two: Dig deeper – what would happen if your friends weren’t in your class? What’s anxiety telling you? – e.g. ‘I will have no one to talk to all year. I will be lonely.’

Step Three: Flip it around – what could you do if your friends aren’t in your class? How could you respond? How could you solve this? – e.g. ‘Could be a total loner and not talk to anyone all year, 

I guess I could make new friends, I could find my friends during breaks, I could join a club or something at lunch, I could ask to be switched classes, I could talk to the person sitting next to me, etc.’

This technique gives the worry clear words and takes your teen down that FEAR acronym. It lets them know that even if the scary thing does happen, they have a lot of control and choice to do something about it! 

Anxiety Coping Skill # 5

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Create a plan and a routine so your teen knows what to expect. It is helpful to focus on what is in your teen’s power to control (their routine) and what is not.

A routine for school starts the night before – with a good amount of sleep, taking time to relax before bed, etc.Encourage your teen to include some things in their routine they enjoy.

You can also help your teen plan ahead for when they get to school – who will they meet up with? Do they know which classes they are in? What time does school start and end?

Having a plan around things that your teen can actually control (e.g. their responses, behaviours, what thoughts they tend to, etc.) can help quell some of that anxiety. 

Things to Make Note Of

Your teen is not alone in their anxiety – going back to school can be an anxiety-inducing experience in ‘normal’ times. Never mind the times we are in now! Let them know they are not the only ones.Ask them about their back to school thoughts.

What are they most stressed/worried about? 

Another thing you can do is focus on the things they are looking forward to. Get them to pay  attention to the friends they may get to see again, the school club they will join, etc. 

Anxiety can be a big deal but it doesn’t have to take over yours or your teen’s life – Share this blog with a parent of a teen and spread the support! 

The Happiness Pill Program is a 6-month teen life coaching program that supports teens to shift beyond anxiety, depression, and overwhelm and into confidently living the life they want by providing ongoing support. There is a built-in parent program and community to support you, too. Get on the path to freedom from teen anxiety here.

Love,

Chantal 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Family Bonding Time – What To Do When Your Teen Refuses To Join

The other day a parent was sharing that their 15 year old daughter refuses to go hiking with the family on weekends; she is missing out on family bonding. Sometimes forced to go, her mood puts a damper on the hike. Recently, they were planning to take a family holiday and their teen was saying she didn’t want to go and would make it miserable for everyone the entire time.

The thought of arguing the whole time with your teen  or having them mope around in straight up objection to being there can sound painful as a parent.  You may be tempted to just abandon ship and let them stay behind so at least one of you can enjoy the adventure.

Although teens are developing independence, and that comes with a level of pushback and push away, I am still going to make a case for “dragging” them along on these family moments in the name of memories, experiences, and bonding.

family hike

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WHEN YOUR TEEN REFUSES TO JOIN IN

Ultimately you get to make the call that fits best for your family. I would invite you to consider your reasons for proposing family time. For me, family time is an opportunity to connect and get to know each other outside of the stresses and routines of the daily grind. It’s also an opportunity to invite us to try new things and discover likes and dislikes. The truth is, often times when my teen is in refusal, it works out to be a pretty good time in the end.

Photo from Canva Pro

You may ask yourself:

  • Why do I think family time is important?
  • What values do I hope to share and instill in my children?
  • What do I hope my children will remember most about their childhood?
  • How do I think these experiences might impact our relationship?

I know I used hiking and holidays as the example up top – but it doesn’t have to be something that requires many resources or time. Family time can be games night, walks in the park, drive-in movie night, shooting hoops together (I do this lovingly and terribly!), etc. It all counts.

 

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Your teen may see this as time that could be spent with friends or something that pulls them away from things they enjoy (like being on their phone). There is some truth to this and it can be helpful to acknowledge it. You may approach this lovingly with expectations. Start by understanding the refusal – What are their reasons for not wanting to do the thing? Acknowledge their reasons – “so you’d rather be hanging out with your friends, I know how important they are to you.” Lovingly state your expectation – “I love you and want to make sure we have some time doing things as a family, we are all going to try this hike on Saturday – I hope you can make the best of it”. 

​CREATE SPACE FOR COLLABORATION AND NEGOTIATION

Whatever the refusal is, there can be an opportunity for your teen to feel heard and for you as a family to come up with ideas that work for everyone (most of the time). The time you invest in this process is a part of helping your teen develop communication and perspective taking skills and it can strengthen your bond and relationship.

How?

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Well if your daughter says “I don’t want to go hiking, I hate walking that long!”. Acknowledge the refusal. See if you can come up with some ideas to collaborate and negotiate on the family bonding activity  – maybe it’s a shorter family hike, maybe afterwards there is a relaxing reward like stopping for a cold bevie or ice cream, maybe you leave earlier for the hike to get home early enough for her to relax with her friends afterwards, etc.  

Know that their refusal is a part of the parent-child dynamic. Teens are exploring boundaries and pushing against them. When you’re in the midst of it, it can feel infuriating – know that this is essential to their development and you are that special person that is helping them along the way. As difficult as it may be sometimes, trying to remind yourself that this is normal and healthy development that is going to get them to be independent functioning adults can help you keep perspective. 

Photo from Canva Pro

When your teen is refusing and letting their opinion be known by way of their mood- it can be so easy to get swept up in the emotions. Remember your hula hoop – this is something I’ve been really working on lately. Your hula hoop is everything that is within your control; the things you have choice around. Everything that is outside of your hula hoop is outside of your control.

The way your teen behaves during the family activity – outside of your hula hoop. Your response, thoughts, perspective? All within your hula hoop. You get to choose whether their negativity is going to take you down or if you want to take the high road. You allow somebody or something to ruin something for you – not them.

I’d love to hear what is a part of your family bonding time – send me an email so we can compile an awesome list to share with our community of parents – chantal@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,
Chantal


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Teen Mental Health Check up : How Are They Doing?

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, but let’s face it – Every Day should involve mental health awareness, especially at this time. The constant unknowns, missing out on friends, grads, sports, social gatherings and changes occurring in response to Covid-19 are sending many teens into a spiral of overwhelmed and anxious emotions. As parents and adults, you may be finding yourself in a similar situation where it is hard to look on the bright side or find motivation to get yourself out of this rut.

Are you noticing your teen spending hours in their room? Do they lack energy and motivation to get their tasks done?

Let’s talk about mental health and how to know when your teen is needing more support.

Making mental health a top priority can help flip things around for your teen. You might already know that if you want to feel better physically, you figure out the gaps and make changes to things like exercise, rest, and eating habits. Just like your physical health, if you want to feel better mentally, it starts with figuring out the gaps and making changes that will support your teen feel better.

Let’s break this down into 3 sections:

  1. Your Teen’s Current Level of Functioning
  2. Red Flags That Your Teen Needs Extra Support
  3. How to Help as a Parent

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Your Teen’s Current Functioning

How is your teen doing? There are 5 main areas that you can take stock of that will help you determine how they are doing. The first area is their current supports. Paying attention and asking questions to learn about their friend groups and their connections is the place to start. Supports may be peers, adults or even pets! Be curious about who your teen is talking to – is it you? An older sibling? A teacher? Their best friend? They don’t need to have many people, but it is important to have a few options.

The second area that influences teen mental health is current stressors. Stress is not always a bad thing – it can help your teen prepare for a test or perform in their sport. However, there’s a tipping point where stress zaps energy and motivation away. You can try checking in with your teen by asking things like:

  • What are 3 things you think about most of the time? 
  • What’s been stressing you out lately at school/with friends/at home? 
  • What’s one thing (or person) that’s been annoying you lately?
  • If you could take one thing away from your daily tasks what would it be? 
  • How would you like to spend more of your time? (The answer to this one may surprise you!)

Dialing into what kind of stressors are most impacting your teens right now will give you an idea of how they are doing.

Once you know what’s stressing them out, then you want to know how much this causes issues. In other words, how much is the problem disrupting their day to day? Is their stress keeping them up at night? Is it something they think about every day? Are there physical effects caused by the stress – like headaches or stomach aches? Stress in small doses can build your teen’s stress resilience or, in other words, their ability to deal with stress. I wrote a blog specifically on stress – Why Stress About Stress – A Teen’s Guide to Handling the Ups and Downs – which includes the different zones you can pay attention to.

Photo by Imani Bahati On Unsplash

Next, you want to have a sense of your teen’s coping strategies. How do they deal with their problems and challenges? I often talk to teens about the concept of ESD (express. soothe. distract.) Although it is important to build coping strategies in all of these areas for the best mental health outcomes, people do have a tendency to have a more dominant way of handling struggles – and that’s ok.

Express is all about finding ways to let out the thoughts, feelings, and energy behind what is troubling you. Express could be:

  • Talking to a friend
  • Going for a run
  • Listening to music
  • Painting or drawing
  • Creative writing
  • Journaling
  • Screaming into a pillow
  • Tearing paper
  • Crying

Soothe is about finding ways to calm your mind and body. It’s like helping your nervous system do a little reset. We all need a little reset sometimes. Soothe could be:

  • Crying
  • Hugging
  • Going for a walk
  • Taking a nap
  • Wearing a favourite sweater
  • Giving yourself a hug
  • Having a warm drink
  • Taking a bath
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Yoga

Distract is usually the dominant one for most teens that I first start working with. Anything that gets your mind off the problem can be considered a distraction. Some examples are:

  • Watching TV, YouTube, or social media
  • Hanging out with a friend
  • Going for a run
  • Playing video games
  • Playing with your pet
  • Finding something funny
  • Cooking/baking
  • Creating art
  • Listening to music

As you may have noticed some coping skills fit into more than one category. It depends on the outcome – what does this coping skill help me do: express myself, distract myself, soothe myself, or a bit of everything? To give your teen a whole list of coping strategies to try, download our free Mental Health Handbook for Teens (illustrations done by a teen!) here.

Last and certainly not least is whether they are asking for support. If your teen is saying they’d like to talk to someone or they’re not sure how to handle things, this is important to listen to. You can read about the different supports I offer in my blog article: Everything You Need To Know About Therapy – On And Off The Couch.

Photo by Canva

Red Flats *Pay Attention To These!*

You may have a decent idea of your teen’s current functioning. In the above conversations, you may have even brought some of those pieces to your teen’s awareness. Teen’s are going to have ups and downs – it’s part of being human and especially part of being a teen human. Here are some red flags; things you want keep an eye out for that will let you know your teen’s mental health is suffering:

  • Your teen is feeling worthless, hopeless, helpless, or rejected
  • You notice a major lack of energy or motivation in daily activities
  • There are sudden changes like withdrawing or isolating themselves from things
  • A significant decline in school performance (e.g. super hard to concentrate or get motivated)
  • Consistent trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Decline in personal hygiene beyond the typical stuff (here is an article you can read on this topic)
  • Your teen has a lot of negative thoughts, or thoughts that spiral down out of control (e.g. thinking of dying or suicide)
  • Your teen says they are hearing voices or seeing things that others don’t

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How To Help as a Parent

1. Put your oxygen mask on first. I’m not a fan of “musts and shoulds” most of the time, but this one is imperative! You must take care of yourself in order to support your teen. If you are burnt out, overwhelmed, or crazy stressed, you not only don’t have the energy to help your teen, you also set a precedent on how to take care of yourself and your mental health.

Stop. I don’t want you to make yourself wrong or bad about this. Just notice. Pay attention to how you take care of your own mental health. What message do you think it is sending to your teen about how to take care of their own mental health? What is the message you would like them to pick up about their mental health? Check out this resource on avoiding parent burnout!

2. Making time to listen and check-in with your teens on a regular basis is important. It doesn’t always have to be on the topic of mental health of course, but that topic needs to be on the table for discussion. Some teens have said to me they enjoy going for drives with a parent or going for a walk and just talking. Others have check-ins with their parents just before bed or around the dinner table. You can collaborate with your teen and find ways that work in your family to have undistracted, tech free conversations on a regular basis.

3. Ask how you can help. If your teen is struggling with a specific issue like anxiety, school stress, friendship stuff, start by asking them how you can help. You can give a few ideas if that question is met with I don’t know or a dazed look. Sometimes I will ask ‘are you looking for ideas to resolve the problem or to vent and just have me listen right now’?

4. Get help from others. Hook your teen up with resources that are specific to supporting their mental health. Here are just a few:

If you decide after your mental health check-up with your teen that it would be helpful to work with someone, connect with us over at Pyramid Psychology 403.812.1716 (call or text) or email us at info@pyramidpsychology.com.

Love,
Chantal

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Making The Most of Family Time During The Pandemic

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It can be easy to focus on the negatives, and not without reason. We are living in a pandemic; many people are stuck at home, have lost their jobs, activities of interest, or otherwise made major life adjustments. While a lot of these factors are not easily changed, we can make the most of the situations that we are facing. For some families, the pandemic means a lot more time is spent together at home. Choosing how to relate to others and ourselves can make a significant difference.

Here Are Some Ideas For How To Encourage Healthy Family Dynamics

One way to build family cohesiveness is to come together and make a list of factors that will lead to a healthier and happier family. These factors can include anything from values, such as treating each other with respect, kindness, and being honest, to more practical guidelines. Practical suggestions could be taking turns completing certain household responsibilities, or everyone cleaning up after dinner together until the job is done. It is important for everyone to pitch in, have their ideas heard, and to agree to work as a team to reach the goals.

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This list of therapeutic interventions comes from Dr Hertlein’s “recipe for success,” whereby the family comes together to agree upon shared hopes, identify ways to get there, and being sure to celebrate when progress is made. For families with teenagers, the “recipe for success” could be rephrased as the honour code or the pizza plan, with the reward for making progress being a family pizza and games night, or whatever other enjoyable activity fits best with the family.

Another way to foster family unity is through gratitude. At times, our minds like to focus on the negatives or things to improve. While there is a time and a place for that, it is not always the most productive strategy to stay in that mindset. Instead, aim for roughly five positive comments to every one negative (or constructive) one. This is a high standard, and admittedly can be difficult to achieve. If verbalizing gratitude for another family member seems like too big a leap, consider reflecting on and writing down aspects of people within the family that you are thankful for.

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Related to gratitude is taking a genuine interest in the activities of other family members. Video games, puzzles, makeup, sports, fashion, or what-have-you may not be of personal interest but being curious about these interests if they are important to a loved one shows care, support, and encourages connection.

Lastly, role-modelling desirable behaviour is a great way to move toward a preferred outcome. Loving family members even when they are at their worst, taking accountability for errors, and being vulnerable with personal thoughts and feelings set the groundwork for authentic connection. Admitting wrongdoing and asking for forgiveness sends a huge message in terms of what it means to be human – it is okay to be imperfect, to try our best, and that relationships are more important than personal pride.

A part of this role-modelling is kindness for oneself. We all make mistakes, but it is of no benefit to anyone to stay there and dwell on it. Similar to thinking of five positive factors to one constructive factor for others, take a similar approach for yourself.

What are other tips do you have to build family connection and confidence?

Love,

​Jessa


Jessa, our intern – a Masters of Counselling student – has officially started!

Jessa graduated from
the University of Calgary
in 2015 with a Bachelor
of Arts with Distinction
in psychology. and is
currently completing her
Masters of Counselling
Psychology through
Athabasca University.
Jessa loves spending
time with family and
close friends, learning
new things, and being
outside in nature. She
also enjoys food,
cooking, and trying new
recipes, and is
interested in art both
personally and as a tool
in therapy.

5 Secrets On Why You Want Your Teens To Care About Social Justice

I’ve been meeting the most amazing youth in my therapy practice. One of the things that really strikes me is the caring and passion they have for things they believe in.

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What does your teen care about? What lights them up, sparks their fire, gets under their skin – you know – the thing they just can’t help saying something about? You might find it challenging if it differs from your own views and beliefs. This may lead to you to feel frustrated at why they can’t see your point of view or a series of pointed heated debates.

When I was younger, I became really interested in learning about cultures. I eventually started volunteering with an organization that supported refugees who had recently arrived in Canada. It started from a place of curiosity and I ended up learning so much about myself, others, and the world. Even though my views were not necessarily the same as some of the people in my world, I continued to stay connected to this program and even worked there for a while. Following my passion and what I believe in has made for some incredible connections, learning, and experiences.

Here’s the thing: If your teen is passionate about a cause, they are hitting an important developmental milestone. If your teen’s views or passion are not harming them or others, it’s worth elevating their voice. Even though you may not share the same opinion as them, here are 5 reasons why encouraging your teen’s passion is important:

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Fostering Your Relationship With Your Teen

When you take the time to hear about your teen’s views, whether it’s political, social, or other, it fosters connection with your teen. Being curious about things they care about is like getting the inside scoop on your teen. It can open your eyes to their likes, dislikes, values, and worldviews. At a time in their development where they are often pushing parents away, these can be invaluable moments of connection and insight for us as parents.

Foster Empathy

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Empathy is the ability to connect with others, the emotions they are experiencing, and a way of communicating to others they are not alone, even if you have not experienced the same situation. When your teen is speaking up for others, learning about a specific cause or thing that matters to them, they are nurturing their ability to be empathetic. This builds their emotional and social intelligence which will serve them in all human interactions. Even if this cause is not people-oriented like being passionate about rescuing animals, there is empathy in the connection to a living creature as well as to the people they meet along the way that share and don’t share these views.

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Foster Identity and Confidence

 

Your teen is constantly in the process of getting to know who they are, how they want to show up, and who their people are. By engaging in something larger than themselves and finding things that matter to them, they can build pieces of their identity. They may go through periods where something is important and then shed that part of their identity and that is ok. They are trying things on for size and this is an important part of developing identity. By speaking out and speaking up your teen is developing their confidence – their ability to take action even if they are unsure, nervous, or doubting.

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Foster Connection

Feeling connected is core to the human being. We need connection in order to thrive. This connection can come from meaningful relationships with others, spending time with people who have similarities to us, and in being witnessed and understood. When your teen is passionate about a cause or issue, they will likely find others who have similar views. They may connect to peers, mentors, and other influencers along the way. This is also an opportunity for you as a parent to connect with your teen around what matters to them.

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Foster Critical Thinking

Giving your teen a voice around their views and beliefs can help build important brain skills. Be open to conversations around the issues they find important. Ask them about their interest and what makes it important to them. When there are opportunities, engage in healthy debates and critical questions around these issues. You are ultimately helping them develop their ability to have perspective and to critically think about things.

What are some causes you felt passionate about as a youth? Are you still connected to these views and beliefs today? I invite you to share one thing that your teen self felt passionate about with your teen and find out what it is that lights their fire.

Love,
Chantal

​​If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – thanks!


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

Why Stress About Stress – A Teen’s Guide to Handling the Ups and Downs

 

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What is Stress?

A breakup, a big test, talking in front of the class – you know exactly when you feel stressed. There are certain situations that probably really rev up your stress levels and you can see them coming from a mile away. Then there might be other times when stress either creeps up or slams into you like a semi-truck.

Stress is your body and brains’ response to the outside world. Whether you’re taking a test, meeting a new person, talking to your crush, playing your sport, or performing in some way, stress is basically anything that is put through your brain computer and interpreted as tense, straining, scary, or pressuring. Your brain interprets stress in microseconds.

What you find stressful may not be the same thing as what your friends or parents find stressful. But, there are some situations that our brains are wired for from an evolutionary perspective, like rejection, that most of us feel some stress around. Public speaking and speaking up for ourselves or others are pretty common ones.

What is Happening in the Body?

When your brain detects something that feels like a threat (emotional, psychological, physical) it flips on the stress response. You might notice your heart start to race, your breathing change, your body feeling tense, sweaty, or shaky. You may be feeling nervous, like you’re in a fog, or like you notice everything on hyperdrive (ex: everyone is staring at me.)

If you think about this response in a real life-threatening situation, it’s actually a really good thing! You would want to be noticing dangerous things and be tense and ready to run or fight. But in the case of meeting a new person or eating in front of your friends, this stress response is….. Kind of a bummer.

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How Can We Flip The Switch On Stress?

Everyone gets stressed. It’s totally normal and can be a good thing. Thinking of stress on a continuum (like the one above) can be really helpful with green, yellow, and red zones, or like a 1-10 kind of thing.

Some amount of stress actually helps your brain and body focus, be alert and ready for things – so that could be really good if you’re taking your drivers test and want to be paying attention and alert or you’re in a playoff game and you need to be focused, muscles tense, engaged and ready to perform.

If you start to look at stress as an opportunity to get better at handling stress, you will actually be better at managing stress. The kind of stress that is an opportunity is sometimes called adaptive stress and this would be your green zone stress. These situations help build your stress muscle to become more resilient, more able to handle stress. You know you’re in your green zone when you are having a stress response, you’re able to handle it, you get through the stressful thing, and the stress goes away.

There is also the yellow zone stress, this is stress that lingers a little more. So even when the thing is done, the stress is still there. Sometimes things like moves, family changes, breakups (friends or relationships), or a death can be considered yellow zone stress. And sometimes people who have become fearful of certain things – like speaking in front of the class or test taking – end up feeling like these are more like yellow zone stress until they learn ways to manage that stress better.

Red zone stress is the kind you want to avoid as much as possible – it’s sometimes called toxic stress. When your body and brain are flooded with stress continuously, it can actually change the way your brain is wired. Stuff like abuse, neglect, and violence fit into this zone.

Why Should I Pay Attention To Stress? 

So now that you know stress happens to everyone, and stress is not always a bad thing… When should you pay attention to stress a little more? Here are some signs you need to pay attention to your stress:

  • ​If stress is moving into “all the time” territory and you’re constantly feeling stressed.
  • If stress is extreme and affecting your mood – so if you’re feeling aggression/anger, anxiety, overwhelm, depressed, unable to get out of bed, really down, shutdown, etc.
  • If stress is causing physical symptoms like headaches, stomach aches, lack of appetite, or disrupting sleep, it’s time to pay attention. Butterflies in your stomach and sweaty palms don’t count, especially if they are temporary.
  • If stress is affecting your social life like your friendships, family relationships, school success, etc.
  • If your stress coping behaviours are risky like drugs/alcohol, self-harm, restricting your eating or binging, binging on social media to numb out, totally avoiding people or things, etc.

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6 Things You Can Do Today To Better Manage Your Stress:

1. Notice Your Stress  pay attention to what’s happening in your body and brain and dial in to your green, yellow, red zones. The more you recognize this, the more you can choose to do something about it. If you notice yourself ramping up, you can stop and use your coping skills and resources and reach out to your supports as needed.

2. Organization and Planning Skills – make your stress more manageable by getting stuff in order – organizing your space, reminders, lists, using a calendar, planning ahead, breaking tasks down into smaller chunks can be super helpful.

3. Relaxation Strategies – practice calming yourself every single day. Some ideas you can use are breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, journaling, having a drink of water, slowly counting to 10.

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4. Express Your Stress – stress has a lot of energy behind it so don’t keep it bottled up. Try working out, sports, writing, singing, art, talking to someone, taking a nap, listening to music.

5. Make Stress Work For You By Using Mindset Stuff – working on your thoughts and beliefs about things that are stressing 6out this? Am I actually in danger? Can I laugh with myself about this right now or after?

6. Enroll in Stress Buster Bootcamp – I have created a bootcamp that includes one month of daily texts for you, with a different tip, tool, or resource to managing stress in each text. Your parents will receive a weekly webinar so they can support you better, too. You or your parent can email info@pyramidpsychology.com for details.

So now you are ready to take on stress and even allow it to be your friend sometimes. If you are looking for more ways to be the boss of your stress, sign up from our Stress Busting Bootcamp, where you will get 28 audio text messages with different ideas and information on how to manage stress, PLUS 4 webinars for parents (and teens if they want) to learn all about stress.

Love,
Chantal


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

How Much Do You Know About Gratitude? And Why You Should Care

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It can be so easy to find things to complain about, to want more, to be unhappy or unsatisfied with life and how things are going. Our brains are wired to find the negative first as a way of surviving. This is great if you are in danger or if you need to take action to save yourself. It’s not so great if you want to experience emotions that help you feel more connected, happy, joyful, calm, and loved.

What is gratitude anyways? Gratitude is an emotion and an attitude. Gratitude is the feeling of being thankful and in appreciation. You might be grateful for tangible things you have like friends, family, a phone, clothes you like, the sport you play, the ability to sing, etc. You may be grateful for intangible things like love, peace, memories, quiet moments, laughter etc.

Gratitude can be a game changer for your mental health. Researchers have found that a daily gratitude practice can increase mood, optimism, and overall pleasant feelings (like happiness).

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As a teen, practicing gratitude has a lot of benefits. Here are just a few: 

  • Gratitude Causes a Good Mood: focusing on the things you appreciate and are thankful for increases happiness and decreases stress, which will definitely put you to be in a better mood. To learn more about moods, check out by blog article: The Miracle of Teen Feelings.
  • Gratitude Promotes Empathy: when you are feeling grateful and thankful for others it’s almost impossible to not care about them and their well-being. This grows your empathy, meaning your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to care about and want to understand them.
  • Gratitude Connects: thinking about and sharing the things and people you appreciate can increase your sense of connection and love to others. This is really good for friendships and social bonds with loved ones.
  • Gratitude is Flexible: being in appreciation can be done in so many different ways. It can be a thank you note, thanking someone in your head, being grateful for a past experience or something coming up, writing it down, an act of kindness, saying something you appreciate out loud, etc.
  • Gratitude Motivates: the more gratitude you practice, the more wonderful things you will start to notice. This can be quite inspiring to want to do more, live more, and be more.

Here are 4 gratitude practices you can try:

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Gratitude Journal

Start or end your day by writing down 3 things you are grateful for. You can start with more general things but over time try and get more specific about the things you appreciate. For example, I might write “friends” in the beginning. When I’m trying to get more specific, I may say something like “my friends because I love how much they make me laugh”.

Getting more specific about why you are thankful makes the appreciation feel more connected to you personally; it becomes more meaningful.

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Gratitude Circle

In a gratitude circle each person gets the opportunity to share 1 general thing they are grateful for and 1 specific thing that they are grateful for today. It’s a great way to feel connected to others and grow gratitude in your social circles.

You can do this with a group of friends or with your family. Decide on a time where you will practice it. Some families choose at the dinner table or friends may choose to do this in a group chat.

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Gratitude Jar

Set up a jar where every day you write something you are grateful for and drop it in. It can be a centrally located jar in your house where everyone can contribute or it can just be for personal use. At the end of the week or at the end of the month read all of the things that you have felt grateful for. Start to fill your jar all over again – and you can keep the previous ones too and watch your jar fill with gratitude.

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Gratitude Meditation/Prayer

You can search on-line and find gratitude meditation scripts or videos. Here are a few you could try:

You can also create your own. Start by writing down 10-15 phrases that begin with “I am grateful for….” or “I am thankful….” and then record yourself saying them in a calm voice and playing them back for yourself as you are sitting comfortably, lying down, or walking outside in nature.

What are some other ways you are practicing gratitude during your day?

Share this with someone who you are grateful for.

Love,
Chantal

 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.

The Miracle of Teen Feelings

This could apply to all humans really, but my passion and purpose are all about helping teen girls build bulletproof mindsets and believe in themselves, so I’m writing for you today.

Feelings (emotions) can fill your heart with love and joy, steady your body with calm relaxation, or claw at your chest with heart rippling anxiety. Feelings can be raw, intense, and totally hijack your body and brain.

 

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Even though they can be pretty powerful at times, your feelings are also a practical and important barometer (measurement tool) for how you are doing in any given moment. They give so much information and if you can be curious enough to learn about them, they can be a guide to your inner world and what you are needing.

Here are 5 things you must know about feelings:

Photo by Ilya Shishikhin

1. UNDERSTANDING THE EMOTION:
​THOUGHT-BEHAVIOUR LINK

Feelings are the body’s response to your thoughts. Feelings can seem like they are happening in response to something outside of you like a breakup, a test, a fight with a friend, etc. The truth is that it is not the situation or event that causes the feeling. It is actually the mental filter which it is interpreted through. So the mental filter (your thoughts about the thing) which you see a situation through leads to the feelings you experience.

You may not feel a lot of emotion if I tell you that Sarah is no longer best friends with Jude, but if it is you that is no longer friends with your best friend, you will probably have a lot of feelings about this. The meaning we give to situations and events cause our feelings. Why is this important to know this? Well it means anytime you are feeling a feeling you can check-in with yourself by asking:

What is the story I am telling myself right now (e.g. I’m not a good friend, I’m not smart enough, I will screw this up, I am strong, I can always try again, I am a good friend)?

 

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2. NAME IT TO TAME IT

When something is unknown or uncertain, our human brains see it as a threat of danger. The danger can be physical, but it can also be emotional or psychological danger. So if you don’t know what you are feeling or you are not sure how to express that feeling, you might end up getting totally overwhelmed. Being able to name your feelings might sound way too simple to make any difference, but it can really help your mind and body start to feel better.

​I like to use the emotion wheel below as a tool to practice this skill. You can start at the centre (these are the 6 primary emotions that have been researched and pretty much found globally across cultures and ages.) They are Happy, Angry, Scared, Disgusted, Sad and Surprise. Then from there you can branch out to other feelings that might help you better understand how you are feeling in that moment.

​I like to print it out and have it around. You can circle different feelings that you notice coming up for you often.

 

3. OBSERVE YOUR FEELINGS

It can be really easy to get caught up in your thoughts and feelings, kind of like being swept up by a storm. Once you calm down or it is over, do you ever realize that you can look back and see things much more clearly?

Imagine your thoughts and feelings like a big aquarium full of sea life. When you are caught up in your thoughts and feelings it is like swimming in the aquarium along with all of the sea life. It can feel pretty overwhelming to imagine swimming in the water with sharks and stingrays beneath you! (Did I mention the aquarium was really big?)

Being able to observe your feelings and taking a step back can give you a whole new perspective. It is like standing outside of the aquarium and looking in. All of the sea life is still there (your thoughts and feelings), but you can now look at it with curiosity instead of overwhelm. It often opens up the possibility of choice on what you want to do and how you want to respond when you are observing your feelings.

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One exercise that can help you practice observing your feelings is an exercise introduced by Daniel Siegel, called SIFT. You divide a piece of paper into 4 (see below) and take 1-2 minutes to write or list anything you notice. Start with sensations and work your way through.

Sensations – Any body sensations you are noticing in this present moment (e.g. tense, tight, tingling, numb, warm, cold, shaky, etc.)

Images – Any images that you are noticing. Some people see them as pictures, moving images like a movie, colours, shapes, symbols, or nothing at all. All of these are ok!

Feelings – Any feelings or emotions you are noticing in this moment. It may be one dominant feeling, or different feelings mixed together.

Thoughts – Any thoughts you are having right now. They can be repetitive thoughts, questions or random thoughts. Anything goes!

4. YOUR BODY CAN SOMETIMES FOOL YOU

Your brain and body are pretty amazing. They take in everything that is happening in your environment – what you see, feel, hear, smell, and taste – and within fractions of seconds, decide if things are safe, dangerous, good, bad, liked or disliked.

The thing is our brain can’t tell the difference between an actual situation and a thought. Weird right?! Meaning we can think ourselves into worry (and other emotions) and our body will feel it like a real danger or threat.

Next time you feel worried, scared, or anxious yourself: Am I in real danger at this moment? What is the evidence for this? Then take a couple slow breaths and see how you’re doing.

 

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5. THE POWER OF FLOW

The more you resist a feeling, the more it will keep coming back. The expression “what we resist persists” means that if you try to avoid anxiety or ignore anger, it gets bottled up until it basically explodes in ways you are not meaning to. Allowing yourself to feel what you’re feeling helps it flow through instead of getting stuck.

Think of your emotions like houseguests. If your anger houseguest comes to the door and you pretend like you’re not home, anger keeps knocking. Then anger knocks louder and maybe starts trying to find other ways to get it. Your feelings are like really persistent houseguests. Or you may have your joy houseguest that comes by and you invite in and you never want it to leave. Eventually joy is like, “I need to go home now” and you may cling to it and ask it to stay just 5 minutes more.

Learning that feelings come and go constantly is important, and if you allow them to stop by and hang out for a while, they always leave.

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I love this translated poem, written by Rumi –

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes

as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!

Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,

who violently sweep your house

empty of its furniture,

still, treat each guest honorably.

He may be clearing you out

for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,

meet them at the door laughing,

and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,

because each has been sent

as a guide from beyond.

​You are the miracle that is a Teen and I feel so honoured to write to you today. Here’s to hoping your feelings can be your guide.

Love,

Chantal

If you found this post helpful, pass it on by emailing a friend or sharing it on Twitter or Facebook – Thanks!

– Chantal Côté, R.Psych, Pyramid Psychology – helping older children, teens, and young adults learn how to build bulletproof mindsets.

 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with. If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook. 

Fill Your Cup – The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself in Order to Take Care of Your Teen

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Being a parent can be one of the most rewarding roles a person can ever experience. It can also be draining, exhausting, and unusually confusing.

Parents of the teens I support will often say to me, “my teen is struggling with XYZ, and I know I am also struggling, BUT I don’t have time to deal with it right now.”

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Do you find yourself doing everything in your power to support your teen, finding that at the end of a very rough day, you’re exhausted? If you are juggling emails to teachers, counselling appointments, and emotional rollercoasters; it can be like having a second full time job.

How you take care of yourself will support you and your teen along the way to get through the tough times and relish in the great times. “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, is a message we need to hear over and over again as parents. The more you take the time to fill your cup, the more you can pour into your teen’s cup.

If it feels like everything is falling apart and you want a smoother, more fulfilling experience as the parent of a teen, ask yourself: What am I filling my cup with?

I think parenting will always have ups and downs, there isn’t a utopic vision to strive for. There are however guiding principles that can support you during these capricious years. Try filling your cup with the following:

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Self – Care

If you are tempted to stop reading right now, chances are you are not practicing a lot of self-care, or are just over this catch phrase word. I encourage you to keep reading… Self-care is incredibly important as a parent because not only does it fill your cup, it models to your teen skills and behaviours that will build their resilience as they go out in the world.

Self-care can look many different ways and what works for one person may not for another. You may also notice some strategies that worked well for you in the past no longer fit the bill.

Think of self-care as putting your oxygen mask on first. If you invest in daily practices, you will be able to be the best parent you can be.

I sometimes hear from the parents I work with, “how do I find time for self-care?”. I suggest starting small and tacking it on to something you already do. When I started meditating and exercising in the morning a few years back, I started with a 1-minute meditation and 10 sit-ups. I tacked it onto brushing my teeth in the morning. As soon as I was done brushing my teeth, I did my little self-care routine. It quickly became a short and doable habit and eventually grew to be a more filling self-care practice that I now do every morning.

For self-care ideas check this and this out.

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Inspiration

What inspires you? Where do you feel the most creative?

A creative brain cannot be a stressed brain at the same time. When we make time to tune into our creativity, it helps the brain start thinking outside the box.
This means thinking on your toes, the possibility of responding to things that come up between you and your teen differently, and looking at conflict and problem solving with a fresh perspective.

​So, go out in nature, pull out your camera or art materials and allow yourself to tune into that creative self as often as you can.

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Supports

It truly does take a village. Having a support system in place can provide you a place to vent, lean on, and a shoulder to cry on when needed. Your natural support system may include relatives, friends, neighbors, significant others, roommates, and community (local and online).

You may ask yourself: Who has been instrumental in different points in my life? Who can I count on for help? Who are the people that have my back or are willing to go to bat for me?

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Saying No

You might be thinking you already use “No” all the time with your teen. In fact, you may be really great at being clear around boundaries, rules, and expectations in your family. If so, this is amazing and worth acknowledging and celebrating for yourself.

​Saying no is about giving yourself permission to say no to overdoing it, overcommitting, and overexerting yourself thinking that is what it means to be a good parent. Take a moment to do a time inventory and take stock of things you may be able to release or let go of. In saying no to some things, you are saying a BIG yes to being your best self.

Photo by Thomas Evans on Unsplash

Turn Down The Radio

Our minds are always saying things to us. It can be like radio noise, at times playing in the background and other times blaring and drowning out all other things. When your radio noise is playing the ‘not good enough story‘ or the ‘unworthy story‘, it can be like a fog overshadowing every choice and decision you make as a parent.

Check-in with your radio noise. What is your mind saying to you? What are the thoughts that play on repeat? Turn down the radio noise that doesn’t serve you as a parent and as a person living your best life.

Next time you find yourself thinking that your struggle isn’t worth putting first, think again and ask yourself: What is one thing I can do to fill my cup today?

If handling your teen’s stress is an area you need support with, I am offering a Stress Busting Bootcamp for you and your teens – coming soon! Your teens will receive 28 days of texts with stress busting tools, while you will get four weekly webinars and a session with me. You can email me for details at info@pyramidpsychology.com

Love,

Chantal

 


Chantal Côté (she/her) is a psychologist and teen life coach living in Calgary, Alberta. After over a decade in non-profit and community mental health, Chantal started Pyramid Psychology, a practice dedicated to supporting teens – a population she is constantly amazed by. Chantal is on a mission to help 100,000 teen girls (and their parents) build bulletproof mindsets so they can weather the ups and downs of life. As part of this goal, Chantal has had the privilege of speaking at various events – virtual and live – to support teens and parents.

Outside of this passion, Chantal is often in nature, writing poetry, playing ball hockey and hanging out with her loved ones.

Each week, Chantal writes a blog article in response to issues she hears from the parents and teens she connects with.

If you have something you’d like to read more on – email ideas and questions to info@pyramidpsychology.com or DM us via Instagram or Facebook.