How to Connect With Your Teen So They Feel Understood

When my kids do something pretty outrageous, my first urge is yell- “what were you thinking?!?!”

It’s a work in progress, I take a lot of deep breaths, and repeat my 3 mantrasI still often default to – what were they thinking ?!

Connecting with your teens can be hard, especially if you are met with sarcasm, mean words, and attitude that would pierce even the hardest of heart shells.

Photo by Kevin Lehtla on Unsplash

What’s Going On With Their Brain

Tween and teen brains are undergoing many different developmental changes and their identities are forming. Their limbic system (emotion centre, reward, pleasure, and motivation) is ON and their pre-frontal system (rational, impulse control, decision making) is still wiring.

This means youth are much more prone to interpret body language, tone, and words as judgmental and self-focused. You might say “Oh, new shirt?” and it may be received as “you look bad” or “I’m noticing all of your imperfections”.

This can make it hard to say the right thing or not have a 40 foot wall suddenly appear between the two of you.

If you want to flip some of those interactions and connect with your teen, even though you are tired and don’t need another thing for your brain to take in, here is a no-brainer I have found super helpful.

I stick to these 3 mantras to guide me:

  1. I want to understand
  2. I am listening with empathy
  3. I may not like it, but we can get to that

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

I Want To Understand

I follow the L.I.S.T.E.N acronym: Listen, Inquire, Self-Regulate, Tone, Empathy, No advice giving. I want to understand is about 100% curiosity and trying to understand as best you can their experience. It’s not an interrogation. It’s not a solution giveaway. This is a great way to get your teen to build their reflective and awareness skills. There will be opportunities for advice, guidance and coaching, but to start off with, using LISTEN can really help open up that dialogue.

I am Listening With Empathy

I already said empathy I know, but this one deserves its own mantra. The definition of empathy, courtesy of Brené Brown is “to be nonjudgmental, understand another person’s feelings, and to communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings”.

When all I want to do is give the solution, explain my stance, or just tell them to stop, these are my red flags that I am not listening with empathy. I pause and reset and authentically say something from a place of empathy like, “that sounds really hard”, “I know it doesn’t seem fair”, “I can’t imagine…”.

​It’s a game changer.

Photo by Canva

I May Not Like It, But We Can Get To That

Some things will be hard to listen to! There are going to be times when you will have to clarify expectations, help them navigate safety in situations, and give some helpful suggestions. “But We can get to that” reminds me that I always want to start with the first two mantras.

You can always come back to things that are important in another conversation. Your relationship with your teen and the conversations that go with it are not a One Shot Deal.

If you follow these 3 mantras you are sure to feel more connected to your teen and stay a support in their squad.

​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.

10 Rules for Being Confident When Talking to Others That Your Teens Need to Know

I have heard from many teens I work with – I don’t get how people are so confident when talking to others. ⁣Variations of this wondering brings me back to when I was younger and my teen self totally relates- sometimes even now I still do.

It can be hard to talk to others, especially new people. If you feel shy sometimes, you’ve probably had your mind go blank in the middle of a conversation, feeling your face grow hot, and feeling at a loss to keep going.

Photo by Canva

Great News: Confidence is a skill. ⁣

Sure, some people struggle less with confidence for various reasons (brain wiring, genetics, environment) but confidence is something you can train every day, like a muscle, for it to become stronger. ⁣

Practice by sticking to these 10 rules:

1. 𝐊𝐢𝐥𝐥 𝐅𝐞𝐚𝐫 𝐰𝐢𝐭𝐡 𝐋𝐨𝐠𝐢𝐜– when you feel nervous or worried about what others are thinking, your flight or fight takes over. The best antidote is to bring your thinking brain back online. Try being extra logical about your fear beforehand- what’s the worst that can happen and then what, what has changed?⁣

Photo by Canva

2. 𝐂𝐨𝐧𝐬𝐮𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐥𝐚𝐭𝐞𝐬𝐭 𝐭𝐫𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐭𝐨𝐩𝐢𝐜𝐬– A little each day and diversify. Find one or two things you find interesting. These can help you start small talk which is often the hardest part of conversation⁣ with others.

3. 𝐀𝐬𝐤 𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐧 𝐞𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐝 𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐬𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬– When you are talking with someone to help keep the conversation going, use some open ended questions- What do you think? What’s your favourite? How do you? And, listen- don’t be getting ready for the next thing you’re going to say in your head⁣.

​4. 𝐁𝐞 𝐚𝐰𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐩𝐨𝐭𝐥𝐢𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐞𝐟𝐟𝐞𝐜𝐭– The “oh crap everyone is looking at me” effect- research says you overestimate on average 2x the amount of people who are actually noticing you in any given moment⁣.

5.𝗪𝐢𝐠𝐠𝐥𝐞 𝐲𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐭𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐟𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐫𝐬– keeping yourself present and connected to your body will help with checked out nerves⁣.

​​6. 𝐔𝐬𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐩𝐨𝐤𝐞𝐬 𝐦𝐞𝐭𝐡𝐨𝐝– Imagine a conversation like a bike wheel. The topic is the centre of the wheel and all the possible conversations are the spokes. If the main topic is something you know little about, that is OK . Think of things that are related to the topic and questions you can ask. ⁣

Photo by James Mason on Unsplash


For example, someone starts talking about Crossfit, your conversation spokes might be- working out, exercise routines, staying healthy, personal challenges and some questions might be – what do you like about Crossfit? When did you start ? ⁣How does it work?

7. 𝐓𝐡𝐨𝐮𝐠𝐡𝐭 𝐋𝐚𝐝𝐝𝐞𝐫 𝐄𝐱𝐞𝐫𝐜𝐢𝐬𝐞– You can go from “I suck at talking to others” to “I am confident to have a conversation with anyone”. Imagine your thoughts as if they were on rungs of a ladder. The first one (I suck) is on the bottom rung and the ultimate one (I am confident) at the top. Now map out 3-4 other thoughts that would be between these two. Practice them one rung at a time, starting at the second rung until each feels more believable before moving to the next⁣.

8. 𝐋𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐧 𝐭𝐨 𝐦𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧𝐬– try some related to confidence and grounding⁣.

Photo by Nalau Nobel on Unsplash

9. 𝐊𝐧𝐨𝐰 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐄𝐯𝐞𝐫𝐲𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐟𝐞𝐞𝐥𝐬 𝐧𝐞𝐫𝐯𝐨𝐮𝐬 𝐬𝐨𝐦𝐞 𝐨𝐟 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐭𝐢𝐦𝐞⁣- everyone has things that are out of their comfort zone and some things that feel downright terrifying. You are not alone in your experience and most people have some level of questioning their confidence when it comes to talking to others in some contexts.

10.𝐏𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐢𝐜𝐞 𝐏𝐨𝐰𝐞𝐫 𝐏𝐨𝐬𝐞– your body language affects how you feel percent. What we know about an expansive posture is that it helps you breathe in a way that relaxes your nervous system and helps reduce stress. So 30 seconds every day, stand tall with your hands on your hips- kind of like Wonder Woman ⁣

Practice these 10 rules and talking to others will become the least of your stressors.

​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.

What Boredom Will Teach You About Self-Love

If you are a tween or teen or the parent of tween or teen who has uttered these words “I’m bored”, read on.

Have you been thinking this? Feeling this? Or, saying this lately?

Dozens of my clients are struggling with feeling unmotivated, lacking excitement in life and feeling down a lot of the time. Covid isolation and the domino effect of changes has been a drastic 180° for many activities and routines that guaranteed some sort of social interaction.

If you’re wondering what you should do to overcome this feeling, check out the 7 boredom busters below :

Photo by Canva

Hobbies: 
What kind of hobby do you enjoy? Is there something you’ve been thinking of learning or trying? Pinterest, Etsy and YouTube are some great places to find ideas of things to try. You don’t have to obsess over it or even perfect it, it’s about trying something and discovering what you enjoy.

Routine:
routine might sound like the root of boredom, same thing all the time…..Boring! Well turns out that some amount of routine actually helps with boredom!

If you have a solid routine on some of the basics (sleep, hygiene, exercise), it frees up brain power to focus on things that are fun and creative like new adventures. Also, having predictable routines in the areas of exercise, nutrition, sleep, and hygiene help boost your feel good endorphins- and a brain that is feeling calm and feeling good is much less likely to feel bored.

Mindfulness: 
Practicing mindfulness and becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings in the present moment can help you better understand your boredom. Being bored is the surface state, but a curious deep dive may allow you to discover if it’s about feeling lonely, disconnected, unmotivated,  tired, etc.

The more you know and name your experience, the less power it has over you and the more it leads you to knowing the action and choices needed to change the feeling.

Photo by Canva

Creativity:
If boredom is a lack of something, then creativity is the opposite. Music, games, art, reading, challenges, anything that gets the right side of your brain engaged can be great for ending boredom. So grab your markers, paint, headphones, a good book and let creativity in.

Get to know Thy Self:
I am aging myself big time here, but reading teen magazines back in the day (yeah like the paper kind) and filling in those quizzes to know more about what kind of friend I was or what was my dating style was always interesting.

I would always take the results with a grain of salt, but there was usually something I could relate to that helped me learn a thing or two about myself. Take some time to get to know who you are!

Photo by Canva

Get to know Thy Roommate :
Spend time with your roomies. Your roommates, whether they are mom, dad, siblings, or other, can be a source of boredom no more. Get to know them a little better by joining them during an activity or asking them questions. It might be interesting to learn about a hidden talent, memory or story that you didn’t know before.

Laugh:
What makes you laugh? I mean belly moving, watery eyes, laugh? Laughter releases feel good endorphins that are sure to help in those moments of boredom. You could try laughter yoga, comedy shows, try not to laugh videos, pranks, hanging out with a funny friend- let the laughter flow.

Being bored can be a fantastic thing.

It can spring you into action to resolve the feeling and it is where the most creative and fun ideas are born.

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.

Anxiety In Children and Teens: What You Need To Know

In these times with uncertainty in a world that is changing more rapidly than we can sometimes imagine, knowledge can be like medicine.

If you are a child or teen impacted by anxiety or you are caring for someone with anxiety, I hope this blog will provide you with some helpful information.

Lets Start From The Beginning – What Is Anxiety?

Well anxiety is a state caused by your perceived sense of threat to an event, person, or situation. In other words, anxiety is a combination of thoughts and feelings that activate your Stress Response, calling your body and mind to take action to try and keep you safe and minimize threat and danger.

When put that way, I kind of think of anxiety as a superpower. A superpower that every human being has.

If anxiety can activate your body’s stress response, putting you in a state of action, and doing this in a matter of mere seconds- that’s pretty impressive!

Photo by Canva

I want to say a little more about how anxiety is useful. We can probably agree that everyone experiences stress at some point. Perhaps you even agree that our stress response to perceived danger and threat is one very important way to keep you safe.

Our body and mind’s response to danger is part of your evolutionary hardwiring for survival- this is most useful if the goal is to live.

The response is automatic, meaning you don’t have to think about activating your stress response. If a rabid tiger (do tigers get rabies?) ran into this room right now, you would not want to waste time thinking about whether or not it is dangerous or what you should do. You need to act right away and that’s what anxiety helps you do- ACT NOW.

Anxiety is useful in the tiger situation, but let’s face it, you may not encounter this scenario too often. Anxiety can also be useful in handling situations that require some stress for best outcomes. A situation like a performance, maybe a sports performance or an art performance require some degree of stress to mobilize memory, muscles, blood flow, and breathing.

​Anxiety can be useful and it can also become problematic and I will talk more about that below.

​Keypoints to remember:

  • Everyone experiences stress and anxiety some of the time
  • Anxiety is like a superpower designed to detect and respond to perceived threat and danger
  • Our stress response is automatic and it happens in mere seconds
  • Anxiety in doses, can be useful for performance

​The world you live in today is much different than the world of 50 years ago. You experience stimulus at a much faster rate. Take a second and think of how many sources of information and the amount of information coming at you, even in the last 30 minutes.

I have probably checked my emails (yes more than one), glanced at instagram, received text messages from people I know, half read a couple articles that piqued my interest on Facebook, all while eating a burrito and petting my dog. This statement gives you plenty to judge me on, but I’m hoping to highlight that we live in a world with a lot going on a lot of the time.

Why Is It Important To Talk About Anxiety These Days? 

Your body and mind need to sift through information (stimuli) at lightning speed and determine what is a threat and what is not. That’s a taxing job, even for a superpower.

Research tells us that severe anxiety and mood disorders are on the rise in young populations. We need to talk about anxiety so we can come together as a community, share ideas, support one another, and create spaces and states that feel safe.

It’s also important to talk about because stress and anxiety have larger consequences on the body and mind if not attended to. Stress has different levels, one of those being adaptive stress or as some call it, healthy stress. This kind of stress causes a response in your body that has quick recovery times which is great because you can manage that. Prolonged stress or toxic stress however, is more taxing on the body and mind and has slower recovery times which can cause significant negative consequences to your health.

Photo by Canva

Key points to remember:

  • Our mind is sifting through enormous amounts of stimulus at lightning speed to determine what is a threat and what is not.
  • Research tells us severe anxiety is on the rise in young populations
  • Prolonged or toxic stress can have long term consequences on your health

What Does Anxiety Look Like? 

Ok, remember anxiety is a state that activates a response in your body to perceived danger or threat. That response brings on-line our sympathetic system, which is also known as the flight, fight, freeze response. This is a survival response that mobilizes your body to take actions required to keep you out of danger.
You might notice:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Shallow, quicker breathing
  • Increases in some of your senses (smell, sight)
  • Dilated pupils
  • Distributed blood flow to certain parts of the brain and muscles

Photo by Fernando @dearferdo on Unsplash

Now if you continue to have anxious thoughts and feelings, the body continues to mobilize resources, but has to make some changes to sustain this flight, fight, freeze mode.

Now your system is:

  • Releasing cortisol (stress hormone)
  • Suppressing pain response
  • Reduces hearing
  • Increasing activity in the amygdala (alarm system in brain) and hippocampus (memory bank of brain)
  • Decreasing activity in pre-frontal cortex (planning and reasoning part of brain)
  • Increasing blood clotting activity
  • Interfering with sleep
  • Suppressing immune system

Keep in mind your stress response is proportional to the degree of perceived threat. If you think something is super dangerous, your body and mind will respond in a big way!

Also, the longer your body and mind are sustained in an anxious state the longer the recovery time. This part is really important. If you imagine anxiety as a superpower and you use it all up to deal with your nemesis DANGER and THREAT, you are going to need time to rest and rebuild your energy stores.

Key points to remember:

  • Anxiety triggers your sympathetic system (flight, fight and freeze)
  • Anxiety and stress require recovery time
  • The bigger the stress response, the longer the recovery

Different Types of Anxiety

Anxiety in and of itself is a very useful state to have to keep us safe and responsive. However, when anxious thoughts and feelings lead to symptoms that interfere with day to day functioning it can become problematic.
Anxiety disorders can be a way of labelling when anxiety becomes problematic.

Some types of anxiety known in children and teens:

Phobias
Experiencing very anxious and fearful thoughts and feelings, often irritational, linked to situations, objects, or things. More common phobias are dying, flying, spiders, vomiting, needles, etc.

​Separation anxiety
Experiencing very anxious thoughts and feelings when separated from parents or caregivers. Usually feeling worried that something bad will happen to self or someone you love while you are apart. May result in refusing to participate in playdates, school, daycare, camps, or sleepovers.

Social anxiety
Experiencing very anxious thoughts and feelings related to social situations. Heightened stress and self-consciousness around others with strong worries about being embarrassed, humiliated, or judged.

Generalized Anxiety disorder
Experiencing very anxious thoughts and feelings about everyday events for prolonged periods.

Panic disorders
Experiencing sudden and unexpected panic attacks. You would also experience very anxious thoughts and feelings about having another panic attack in public or in undesirable situations and usually avoid places where a panic attack might occur.

PTSD
PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is when you experience ongoing symptoms after a terrifying event(s). Usually experience very anxious and frightening thoughts and memories of the past event(s). The event(s) was/were terrifying to you physically, emotionally, and psychologically.

OCD
OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) has two parts- obsessions, which are persistent, intrusive and unwanted thoughts, images or impulses (urges) and compulsions, which are repeated behaviours that can decrease the anxiety temporarily. Often, you may know the obsessions are irrational or unconventional but unable to control them. Some common compulsions may include, washing, checking, repeated walking patterns, touching, counting.

Key points to remember:

  • when anxious thoughts and feelings lead to symptoms that interfere with day to day functioning (for many different reasons) it can become problematic. 
  • Anxiety disorders are a way of labelling when anxiety becomes problematic

How To Cope

Photo by TK Hammonds on Unsplash

If anxiety is just doing its thing and keeping you away from danger, this is great. Thank anxiety for being such an amazing superpower and keep it up.
If this superpower is out of control and interfering with daily life, there are things you can do to harness its energy.

If you want to talk to someone about what’s going on or you have more questions, consider reaching out to a healthcare professional or another trusted adult. It may be a parent, family friend, coach, doctor, school counsellor, therapist, etc.

​Don’t suffer alone!

Here are some ideas that might help harness the power of anxiety.

Photo by Canva

Grounding and settling:
Finding a way to settle your body and mind is like adding water to a flame- it can soothe and lower your anxiety response. A lot of these ideas start with the body and are designed to kick in your parasympathetic system (rest and relax) which is the opposite of the sympathetic system that kicks in when you are anxious. Some examples of this are:

  • Focused breathing
  • Tense and release exercise
  • visualizations
  • Stretching and yoga movements
  • Sensory exercises to bring you to the here and now (54321, rainbow spotting, hearing challenges, etc.)
  • Brain gym
  • Calming art or music

Self-Compassion:
Often times, you might find yourself having harsh thoughts about anxiety. It can be easy to go to a place of what’s wrong with me, why can’t I control this, this is my fault etc. Self-compassion is an invitation to bring in a gentler, kinder voice (maybe like a kind friend or a great sidekick) that can offer some new possibilities in understanding and handling anxiety. Some examples of this are:

  • Mindfulness exercises
  • Compassion and kindness exercises
  • Exploring feelings with curiosity rather than judgement
  • Art to help explore

​Thought work:
Anxiety is about your perceived sense of threat or danger, so it is not necessarily the truth of how things are but rather how you think they are. If you have ways to understand and challenge your thoughts this can be very helpful in harnessing anxiety. Some examples of this are:

  • Mapping your thoughts
  • Thought ladders
  • Thought stopping
  • Thought challenging
  • Understanding thinking traps

​Containment:
Imagine (I know I’m really going with this superpower metaphor) anxiety is a powerful ray of light that shoots from your body uncontrollably anytime you feel you are in danger. Containment is a way to centralize and focus that beam of light to one area or to keep it locked up for a bit while you work on some other harnessing strategies. Some examples of this are:

  • Worry boxes
  • Worry trees
  • Things I can control and things I can’t control exercises
  • Container visualizations, imagery, art

Photo by Dustin Belt on Unsplash

​Habits and Hygiene:
Just like anything in life, if we are well rested and refreshed, we tend to show up in a much more capable way vs. when we are feeling exhausted and depleted. Considering the different habits and different hygiene practices you have can be very helpful in harnessing anxiety. Some examples of this are:

  • Having consistent quality sleep
  • Eating regularly and eating foods high in nutrients and vitamins
  • Having routines that are supportive like around bedtime or when you first wake up
  • Bringing supportive relationships closer and distancing self from harmful relationships
  • Having regular self-care practices such as sport, art, exercise, spending time with friends, laughing, relaxing, etc.
  • Limiting alcohol and drug use which mess with our body chemistry and can quickly make anxiety feel out of control

​Key points to remember:

  • There are so many different things you can do to help harness anxiety
  • Don’t suffer alone, talk to someone if you are struggling with anxiety

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash

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

Comment below on how you manage anxiety.


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 To Help: When Tween and Teen Emotions Are Running High

During the Covid-19 home bound period, many of us may notice our tweens and teens emotions at an all time high and moving around like roller coasters. You might notice tears, frustration, yelling, down moods, isolating, and so on. This is partly due to the state of change and uncertainty being experienced in our society because of the pandemic. However, you are also likely getting a magnified look at what was already there.

Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash

Spending more time at home with our youth has given us an opportunity to get the inside scoop on how they are doing emotionally and how they are coping with the ups and downs of life.

I’ve chosen to see this as a gift, a true opportunity to get a pulse on what otherwise may be kept away from us most of the time. What is the gift in seeing my 12-year freak out because I asked them to turn off their video game? Or having a full out meltdown during an English assignment?

Photo by jLas Wilson on Pixabay

Well I’m glad you ask, because it may not be that apparent in those moments and I’m definitely not saying it is easy in any way.

What I am seeing is an opportunity to better understand how our young people are doing at the moment and how we can help teach them valuable ways to cope with the tough stuff.

I want to share three​ areas that you can focus on, as parents and supportive adults, to help your tweens and teens when emotions are running high.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Normalize and Allow

I saw a post the other day in my IG feed that said something like “we are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm”. Everyone, including our kids is experiencing the pandemic in unique ways. There are some good moments and some tough moments and I don’t think we can say this statement enough-

​Whatever you are feeling is ok!

​Normalize and allow means:

  • Showing empathy and compassion
  • Letting your kids know it is normal to respond with all kinds of emotions about what is going on
  • Saying things like “this does really sucks right now”, “I know you’re frustrated right now”, “I’m missing __________ also”
  • All feelings are ok
  • This is different than all actions are ok (e.g. It’s ok to be pissed off- it’s not ok to punch a hole in the wall)

Spending more time at home with our youth has perhaps allowed us an opportunity to get the inside scoop on how they are doing emotionally

Noticing And Naming Feelings

This might seem like a no brainer and you may think, “my teen knows if they are sad, glad, mad, etc”. This may well be true but one thing I’ve noticed is that there is a tendency to focus on a narrow range of emotions such as excited, happy, scared, angry, sad, disgusted.

It can be helpful to develop your kids emotional vocabulary. This can help young people better understand their experience and express themselves. Also, this can help us as adults tune in and show our support.

Emotion Wheel

In a moment of high emotions, it might be impossible to imagine introducing an extended emotional vocabulary, so that’s not the place to start with this one. You might start by printing out a feelings wheel and posting it somewhere, checking out on-line resources together or practicing using different words to express your own emotions. Research suggests the more vocabulary we have about our feelings, the more we develop ways to process them and the ability to figure out plans of action to cope.

Naming the emotion can simply start with “I’m feeling….”. Your tween or teen may not know what they are feeling all the time. In the beginning, we can encourage our kids to start saying “I’m feeling….”. This is the start of building awareness and noticing feelings.

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

If your tween or teen is open to mindfulness in some way, and you may be surprised which ones are, you can try inviting them to try some short practices. Mindfulness is big with athletes right now with the perspective of sport being such a mindset game. Athletes are practicing mindfulness with their coaches and organizations. It has become so much more mainstream and so the invitation might be worth a try.

If your tween or teen is able to practice naming their feelings or at least acknowledge that they are experiencing a feeling you can invite them to check in with themselves.

Checking in means asking:

  • Where do I feel this feeling in my body?
  • How big or intense is it right now?
  • What sensations do I notice- tight, tense, heavy, hot, light, pulsing, empty, numb, knotted, etc.

​The more our kids can connect with a feeling and bring awareness to it, the more easily it will flow in and away. There are a couple of scripted practices that you can search for such as “labelling thinking and feeling” and “noticing your emotions”. Try this with many different feelings not just negatively experienced ones.

3 R’s of Emotional Literacy – Regulate, Relate and Reason

If you are familiar with Dr. Daniel Siegel’s hand brain model, it can be a really useful tool in understanding how our brain functions and how it responds to stress.

Dr. Siegel uses the expression of “flipping our lid” when our brain goes into fight or flight mode. When we are faced with something that is distressing or provokes big feelings, our brain detects a threat and jumps into a sympathetic state called fight or flight. What does this look like in our kids?

Well it could be yelling, shouting, tantrums, tears, meltdowns, shutdowns, self-harm, etc. Dr. Bruce Perry introduced the idea of 3R’s as 3 steps that parents can take to help support their children when they have “flipped their lids”.

Hand Model courtesy of Dan Siegel

 

Regulation– This is the first step in settling and soothing the body and brain. This step gets “the lid” back on so that our kids can get their thinking brain back on-line. The more this skill is practiced, the more the brain builds new neural pathways that make regulation more automatic. You can coach your tweens and teens through these moments and you can also teach them to use these skills on their own.

Regulation means:

  • Using our senses (tuning into what we can see, hear, feel, smell, taste)
  • Movement- the best is patterned and repetitive movement such as walking, running, wall pushes, dancing, butterfly taps, drumming.
  • Using sensory items like putty, pounding clay or pillows, weighted blankets, hugs
  • Using calming smells like aromatherapy (test beforehand!!!), or a fresh smelling article of clothing or blanket
  • Using sound like noise cancelling headphones or listening to music
  • Focused breathing like slowing down our breath, finger or shape breathing, 4-7-8 breath

Photo by Marco Bianchetti on Unsplash

Relate–  Now that “the lid” is back on, we are looking to care for their emotional centre. Connecting and reconnecting with our kids in that moment and letting them know we love them and are there for them and with them. Consider your own affect and your tone. It may be subtle, but if you offer a calm and loving presence vs. an agitated and cold presence, the outcome will likely be very different. Actively listening to our kids can help them feel connected and bring about more positively experienced emotions.

Reason Once our kids are calmer, we are able to access the deeper and more reflective thinking. This might be where you come up with ideas on how to solve similar problems in the future. It might be where you talk about alternative behaviours and negotiate expectations and limits.

I saw in my IG feed that said something like “we are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm”.

So as emotions run high during this time, remember to normalize and allow, notice and name, and use the 3R’s to help our youth develop their best emotional coping skills.

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.

When the World Feels Like its Falling Apart a Little (a lot!). Understanding Phases of Disaster Model and 6 Things You Can Do About It Today.

When I transitioned to working from home after the schools closed on March 16th of this year, I was feeling optimistic! I was thinking to myself- I will have quality time with my kids, get a good exercise routine going, see my clients virtually, and maintain a clean home.

Photo by Ben Wicks on Unsplash

Well that idealistic dream burst when I started to realize that triple duty; mom, teacher, and psychologist, within a 12-14 hour day is…..um…..ludicrous! It turns out I’m not alone and there is actually a fair bit of research on this whole responding to pandemics and crisis stuff. I’ve learned a lot over the last couple of weeks and I’d like to share one thing with you all that has helped me gain some perspective. ​

​It is called “The Phases of Disaster Response” or sometimes called “The Emotional Phases of a Disaster Response” and “Phases of Collective Trauma Response”. This model has helped me understand the ups and downs that my family and I have been experiencing as well as given me hope for what might come next.

As I am learning about this model and its 4 phases (heroic, disillusionment, rebuilding and restoration, and wiser living), I have also been considering different ways to cope. This is not a rigid model and everyone’s experience is unique so you may not follow the exact flow of what is described and that is OK!

THE 4 PHASES OF DISASTER RESPONSE

Heroic Phase – The heroic phase generally happens right after a disaster has hit.  A disaster such as a crisis or a pandemic. One of the main qualities is a rush of endorphins. It is like having a surge of energy where we take action almost automatically. We jump in, doing whatever we can to help. We can tend to hyperfocus on “necessary” tasks and be in “get it done” mode. This might look like planning schedules for school and work at home during the pandemic, making to do lists, buying lots of toilet paper, and tightening control over things we have a say in. Lists, routines, and planning are the name of the game.  We may feel resourceful and come up with creative ways to spend our days with self and family.

Photo by Esteban Lopez on Unsplash

Disillusionment Phase– This is where the endorphin train halts hard! We may notice constantly feeling exhausted, like a burnout of “this too much and there is nothing I can do to make it better”. This usually shows up as physical tiredness and lethargic feelings. It might be hard to get out of bed. Our emotions are running high. We might be feeling grief, stress, helplessness, frustrated, irritated, and these emotions might be wearing us down. Some people may experience different types of feeling like appreciation and gratitude for some of the changes. There can be a sense that there is nothing we can do to change what has happened and that there is no going back to the way it was.

Photo by Tonny Train on Unsplash

Turning– This is not a phase but lies between disillusionment and rebuild/restoration. This is usually described as coming to two truths- one where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time feel that there is still good in the world. There may be a balance in productive energy and rest/recovery. We might give ourselves permission to not know everything. We feel a sense of acceptance of some of the more negatively experienced emotions (sadness, confusion, anxiety, frustration, boredom, etc.) and know that there are still positive emotions to be experienced (joy, fun, excitement, gratitude, etc.).

We may miss things from our “normal life” like friends, teachers, routines, learning a certain way, and activities. We may also start to adjust to a “new normal” with new routines, different ways to connect with friends and family, etc.

Rebuilding and Restoration Phase – This phase is considered an action phase. It is one that is collective and collaborative. Families coming together, professionals, community, government, etc. Is it marked by a focus on the “best interest of the most people”. We may see that this phase strikes creativity and an invitation for many voices from the community. This phase takes time and we experience the ups and downs of grief with a sense of moving forward.

Wiser Living Phase – This phase occurs when communities are well into their “new normal”. Families and communities have considered measures and preparation to help with future experiences. There is an acknowledgement of what has changed for people in more permanent ways. There is an awareness of existential questioning and a recognition of our mortality. This phase is an oscillation between scars and healing.

6 THINGS YOU CAN START DOING RIGHT NOW TO COPE

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

1. Recognize this is a collective trauma response – Many of us have heard this or something like this “We are in this together”. As social creatures, knowing we are not alone and that everyone is impacted by this global experience is an important coping strategy. There are others who are badly wishing they could hang out with their friends, go outside, play on their sports teams, and not constantly be frightened of someone they love getting ill. ​

2. ​Have a sense of what phase you are in -If you identify where you most closely find yourself in this model, it can help you decide what you need next. For example, if you are in disillusionment, care and rest are so important as well as giving yourself permission to NOT do. Also, knowing where you are right now, might give you a sense of what might be ahead.

3. Everyone’s experience is unique – ​Know that this model is just a guideline. In some ways this might contradict my second point. It is important to recognize that this is one model with some good information and that our experiences are unique and may not follow a linear path. As a role model of mine often says, “take what fits and leave the rest”.

4. Start with safety (bottom up approach) – If we think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the very basic needs must be met before we can tend to other needs. Our physical needs are first, followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem, and finally self-actualization. Basically we need a roof over our head and food in our belly before we can “desire to be the most we can be”. Think about your physical needs and what you might be needing right now. Are you tired? Are you hungry? Are you staying somewhere that is not safe right now?

Two truths- One where we acknowledge the loss and grief of the old normal and at the same time know that there is still good and hope in the world.

Our nervous systems work the same way. If we start from the bottom-up, we can help kick in our parasympathetic (rest and relax) nervous system. This can help us feel calmer and manage moments that are overwhelming. Start with something simple, like finger breathing (tracing your breath on one hand using a finger from your other hand), finding 10 items in the space where you are that are the colour blue, imagining a calm place and tapping gently from side to side on your upper legs. The more you practice these types of tools, the more automatic they become.

5. Nourish yourself throughout the day -I feel like you can’t overdo this one. Find moments, even slivers, throughout your day that bring calm, well-being, laughter, inspiration, creativity, play, exercise, rest, and more each day. You can begin by focusing on one of those and peppering your day with activities that bring that into your life. If you choose laughter for example, Facetime someone who puts a smile on your face, watch a stand up comedy show, funny cat videos (are those still a thing?), or try not laughs, fake laugh for 10 seconds- and it shouldn’t take long before it becomes a real laugh. Let me tell you by experience it is super contagious to fake laugh, as my 12 year old said between giggles, “stop mom you’re being so weird!”.

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash

6. Know your village​ – Who are the people that you feel good around. Do they live in your home with you? Are they elsewhere? What is about them that makes them important to you? List those people, think about them, and think about ways you are connected to them right now. You might be meeting up on video games or during virtual games nights. You may be part of a WhatsApp or Marco Polo group. You might call them once in a while. You might sit down to a meal together every day. Be intentional about connecting to your village, to your people. ​

 


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal 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. 

Anxiety and Nightmares: How To Curb Their Appearance

 

Everyone Has Nightmares

Everyone has had a nightmare at one time, or at least it’s safe to say that most people will have a nightmare at some point in their life.

How old we are (developmental stage), what’s going on in our lives, and what we’ve been exposed to can impact the type, frequency and intensity of the nightmares we might experience.

In this video and blog we will talk a little about why we have nightmares as well as some ideas to help prevent and respond if you or your child are having nightmares.

I have to apologize (and laugh a bit) because my dog burst into the room in the last few minutes of the video demanding attention. You can hear her nails tapping along on the floor as she gets closer to me. It’s slightly distracting but I was on a roll and I didn’t want to stop. There will be no clickety clacking in future videos.

I promise!

The noisy culprit on our summer vacation last year

​I really enjoyed creating the video and blog because I decided to ask the young people in my life. I have a demographic from 6-20 years old. My husband also wanted to share his input, but he did not quite fit the demographic of the folks I’m reaching out to – so thank you and a shout out to him for his passionate support of my practice.

Why Do People Have Nightmares? 

Well the thing is, it is not entirely understood- here is what science is telling us so far:

  • At night, our brain continues to actively process the daytime sensory input (what it saw, heard, smelt, tasted, felt)
  • The brain connects to memories and past experiences at night
  • Emotionally charged thoughts that we have during the day that the brain is still working through, like thoughts that lead to us feeling worried, scared, anxious, appear during sleep
  • At night, we process thoughts and memories that we might be avoiding during the day
  • Being stimulated by an image, video, or event that we continue to think about can cause nightmares
  • Food intake and exercise that interact with our body and brain and impact our sleep

One thing research tells us for sure is that while we are sleeping there is still a lot of electrical activity happening in the brain which activates certain parts of our brain and that can create images and narrative (or stories) if you will, which are our dreams and our nightmares.

Routines, reassurance, protective symbols, grounding and making meaning can be helpful in coping with nightmares

 

Photo by Tayla Jeffs on Unsplash

When it comes to anxiety and nightmares, it is common that a person with a lot of thoughts that lead to anxious or fearful feelings can be a prime candidate for having nightmares.

It’s not to say that everyone that has anxious, negative, or fearful thoughts and feelings will have nightmares, but there is some information that states a link there. Nightmares linked to anxiety can be difficult because they may be caused by anxious and fearful thoughts and feelings, but they may also leave us feeling more anxious and fearful, thus becoming a bit of a loop.

Photo by Tine Ivanic on Unsplash

The young people I spoke to said the reasons they have nightmares are, seeing something scary, like an image or a video, or something that lead to a scary feeling could result in a nightmare. Another reason might be if they are experiencing something stressful that they are thinking a lot about or something they are worried about, it can carry over into their sleep. Also, if there is an event or a circumstance that played out and left them feeling worried or scared or anxious, it could be a traumatic event or it could be something that they’ve got on their mind, whether it be an upcoming performance or a fight that they had with someone they care about.

Photo by Anaya Katlego on Unsplash

Ways to Curb Nightmares

Food
I was curious about the possible link between food, exercise and the impact on  nightmares. I didn’t find anything so specific that said “eat this and you won’t have nightmares” or “avoid this to stay clear of nightmares”, but I certainly found some information about the quality and quantity of food that we have just before bed or sleep time and the potential impact.

For example, if there is something interfering with your digestive process at night, that can impact our sleep and lead to nightmares. If there are certain types of foods that are rich in certain nutrients or lack certain nutrients that can impact your sleep, increasing your chance of having nightmares.

A quick personal anecdote, I’ve noticed a link between eating cheese late at night and having the most bizarre dreams/nightmares. There is no scientific research to back that one up, but for me it’s about noticing and being aware of how certain foods might impact the dreams and nightmares that I have.

Photo by Lidye on Unsplash

Exercise
I found information that linked exercise to the prevention of nightmares. If we exercise regularly during the day, it releases different hormones into our system and those are mood enhancing hormones. If we have an enhanced mood, then it’s more likely that our thoughts are leading to more positively experienced feelings. If we have more positive feelings, it decreases the amount of time for stress and negative thoughts. If you are not going to sleep with a lot of stress or negative thinking, then it lessens the chances of having nightmares.

​Love it!

Continuing on with the exercise piece,  one way of lessening the frequency of nightmares is ensuring that you are doing things throughout the day that produce happy feelings and encourage joyful moods.

Photo by Tevarak Phanduang on Unsplash

Routines and Rituals
The young people I chatted with said that it was helpful for them to have some sort of routine and ritual that is part of their bed time. Some examples of this were using prayer or some sort of affirmative statement (may I be safe, may I be free from bad dreams).

We also talked about actions that contribute to relaxing and calming the mind and body as being helpful. For example, focused breathing, massage, meditation, snuggling a pet, a bath, journalling or using essential oils.

Photo by Sarah Darweiler on Unsplash

Protective Symbols
A more commonly known symbol of protection when it comes to dreams is the dream catcher. The specific symbol isn’t necessary, if there is a symbol that works for you to introduce, it’s more about what it represents. I’ve known people to use guardian angels pins, horseshoes, crucifixes over a bedroom door and red fabric meant to keep bad dreams away- it can be anything really. The representation of the protective symbol or ritual that has to do with going to sleep and feeling protected and comforted.

Photo by Dyaa Eldin on Unsplash

Comfort and Reassurance
Reassurance from a parent or another safe person after a nightmare can also provide that necessary comfort. A simple, “I know that was scary for you”- can provide the gentle reassurance that is calming and soothing. Hugging a pillow can be another comforting action.

Dreams and nightmares can be caused by the ongoing electrical activity in our brains at night

Distraction and Grounding Practices
Transitioning from the feeling and state of having a nightmare to a more safe and settled state is really important. Thinking about something completely different or something really good may be helpful. Having a book by your bedside that makes you feel good or makes you laugh can be a great to have. If you have a younger person that has had a nightmare, you can read the story to them. and you can also place the book gently on their lap. The weight of the book along with the soothing voice as you read combines comfort, distraction and a grounding response.

You can try taking a drink of water or splashing your face with water. Colouring, writing, petting a furry friend, looking at your fish aquarium, are some other ideas and really anything that gets your mind off of the nightmare can be helpful.

Caging the Nightmare
I really like the idea of “caging the nightmare” and I’ve used it for kids as old as 11 but I think it could be a reflective exercise at any age.   This is a simple art activity where you invite the person to draw a picture that represent the nightmare in some way. They do not have to put details if they don’t want to. Once they have complete the image, invite them to draw or create a cage for the nightmare in some way. Children can get pretty creative with this. I always encourage them to create a cage that is secure and strong and that only they have the power to open it if they choose. This act can be pretty helpful to prevent future nightmares.

Sometimes, once the nightmare is caged up really good, I might invite them to have a conversation with the nightmare and ask them questions like, why did they come to visit? what is it they wanted them to know? what makes them stronger/weaker? It can give some good insight on what our child is worried about or frightened of.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Thought Dump
Our active minds may begin to race especially at bedtime when there is a little less stimulus coming our way and things are a little quieter. Some of those thoughts may be the ones that interfere with our sleep. Having a way to write those down or draw them can be a way of getting them out so that it doesn’t carry into our sleep.

The “thought dump” is where you take your journal or something you can write or draw your thoughts out on- unfiltered, pouring them out freely for a set amount of time, maybe 2-5 minutes. This technique can literally and metaphorically feel like it is getting the thoughts out so that they are not ruminating in the mind or carrying as much weight as you go to sleep.

Sometimes it can help at the end, after you are done writing or drawing to crumple the paper up or if you are typing it on your phone doing a big DELETE.

Making Meaning, not Interpreting
The last thing that the young folks shared with me is getting to the root of the nightmare. Not necessarily interpreting the nightmare, but rather understanding and being curious: “why is it that I might be having this kind of thought? What’s happening in my life right now that is stressful that might be leading me to have nightmares? What is it that I’ve been thinking about? What are some things that have been making me feel scared, anxious, negative?”. You can entertain these as self-reflections, journaling, or talking to a trusted person.

There are links between the foods we eat, exercise, and preventing nightmares.

Ok so that’s a little bit on nightmares. I would like to invite you to share in the comments any strategies that you use that work really well to prevent nightmares or respond after a nightmare. Or, if you have a great book that you’ve used to help children or teens respond to nightmares, let us know.

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

Happy dreaming.


Chantal Côté

5 Practical Ways to Take Control of your Happiness

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.

Anxious thoughts and feelings in the age of pandemics and uncertainty – How can we help our children and teens

Ok, I must admit when I pulled up to our local grocery store in the middle of a typical work day to find a full parking lot and checkouts with long lines, I started to feel a little uneasy. To add to my nerves were the empty aisles of canned goods and toilet paper and the hushed side conversations between couples and families on the current Covid 19 pandemic situation while shopping.

If you are reading this and beginning to feel slightly uncomfortable or nervous, you are not alone and this is a normal response to the fear of the unknown.

Times are uncertain, and information regarding this situation is changing rapidly. The thing is, and this might sound like a bold statement, times are always uncertain and things are always changing and transforming.

So why might this feel different?

Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Well for one, the amount of communication coming our way regarding this situation is intense and reaching many facets of our lives; politics, national sports, social media, global neighbours, and local communities. If we have the same messages on repeat coming at us from many sources, it begins to infiltrate- the psychology of panic.

It is like taking a hyper powerful microscope and pointing it right on the coronavirus- it will look quite dramatic and absolute from that lens. Historical peaks in flu season are typically December, February and March in North America, we know that other strains of coronavirus such as SARS and MERS have shown much higher mortality rates, and we know that focusing on basic hygiene practices can be effective ways to minimize the spread of viruses. This information however, may fall into the background during the panicked feelings under the hyper powerful microscope.

The best thing we may do is to zoom that microscope out, get a wider perspective, and use that larger understanding to guide us through yet another moment in time that has uncertainty.

Photo by Merakist on Unsplash

HOW DOES THIS TRANSLATE TO OUR KIDS AND HOW CAN WE SUPPORT THEM DURING THIS UNCERTAIN, CHANGING TIME?

​HERE ARE 7 IDEAS TO CONSIDER:

RESILIENCE AND ADAPTABILITY– Life is just this- it is uncertain and is in constant flux of change and transformation. Yet, we do not (for the most part) hyperfocus on the fact that we may get into an accident today or that a natural disaster may hit at any given moment. We manage, we tolerate, and we accept a certain amount of unknown to live. We share those traits of resilience with our children as well. We teach them the joy in playing together, the enjoyment of a good meal, the mundane of boring but necessary tasks, and the comfort in connecting with someone we love. All of this exists within the bigger scope of life’s uncertainty but the focus shifts, the attention is drawn elsewhere. Take a moment to highlight your child/teen’s resources and resilience to life’s general unknowns and how they are already handling it, they’ve got this and so do you!

things are always changing and transforming, so why might this feel different?

LIMITING ACCESS TO INFORMATION THAT WILL FUEL THE FIRE OF PANIC– Of course, having some information can be helpful to have a sense of preparedness and knowing how to respond. However, the is a point when the amount of information we and our children are receiving is not serving those purposes anymore and is simply sending us into a state of anxiety and alarm. Now there is no magic here in terms of how much information is too much.

Consider your child/teens age and their developmental stage. If they are 5, the information we will share with them will likely be a lot simpler and lot less than if they are 15. Consider their personality: is my teen someone who is naturally more anxious? Is my child someone who already worries about health matters? Is my child someone who just really isn’t phased by too much?  Consider your family values and what you believe young people should know and think about the current environment in which you live in.

In our case, being a family involved in different sports, the cancellations have been something we have had to address with our kids. You are the expert of your own family. Focus on providing truthful information, the minimum you need to help support your child and teen. Know that your conversation may have “I don’t knows” and unknowns with the possibility of giving more information if a child/teen is asking or it feels important to do so. You can always give more information, you can’t really take away information.

Photo by Markus Spiske – Unsplash

SHARING ACCURATE AND TRUTHFUL INFORMATION– Think about what kind of information you are sharing with your child/teen and how you are sharing this information. Where are you getting your information? Is it on the latest Facebook feed or from someone in the checkout line at the grocery store? Where are your children/teens getting their information and what are they hearing? Find sources that you feel are as accurate as possible and reputable. I am currently checking in with the Alberta Health Services page, the Government of Canada page, and I have checked the World Health Organization site. I appreciate places where I can find the most factual information and information on how we can respond to minimize the spread.

It’s also important to think about how we are sharing information with our kiddos. Try delivering information in a way that is consistent, calm, and honest. It’s ok to share some feelings of worry and uncertainty, but probably best to avoid panicked delivered message.

ROUTINES– When there are cancellations of sporting events, gatherings, hobbies, and in some cases school, life can quickly feel out of control. As parents, focus on ways that you can promote routine and predictability. If your children/teens are staying home from school, are there some basic school tasks  they can do for part of the day (reading, some math, working on an assignment)? Can you offer some time outside, some art making, or some scheduled meal times that provide routine?

If sports plans or events you were going to attend were cancelled, check-in with your child/teen and see what they might want to do instead. Would they still like to get some exercise, even if it’s taking the dog for a walk, or shooting some hoops with you at the local school. Consider how they continue to connect with their peers and provide opportunities for this to happen.

Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

KEEP THE FUN GOING​- Life continues in the face of change and the unknown. Continue to encourage conversations outside of this topic. Share funny stories and experiences that keep positive emotions flowing. Continue to encourage fun and laughter. Create opportunities for excitement, joy, doing things they enjoy, and connections with others. You may not be going to public spaces in the same way at this time, but you could try playing board games, going outdoors (weather permitting), spending some time as a family, inviting a few friends over, etc.

INFORM CHILDREN/TEENS ON WHAT THEY CAN CONTROL– Letting young people know that they can be an important part of prevention and they can help and do their part can be very meaningful and supportive. Informing them about health hygiene practices like hand washing, coughing and sneezing “properly” into your ‘chicken wing’, and social distancing are all things children and teens can be active agents in.

Photo by CDC – Unsplash

HARNESS OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP OTHERS– In heightened moments of uncertainty, being able to help others and to feel part of a community can be important. Consider ideas that help your child/teen feel like they are part of a caring community. Maybe they are an advocate for handwashing at their school, maybe they are delivering a box of food to the doorstep of someone who is not feeling well, maybe they are the calm presence for someone who is feeling panicked.

There you have it.

​I’d like to take a moment to thank Renee Jain for providing some interview information on how to help young people manage anxiety regarding the coronavirus.


portrait of Chantal outside in a fieldChantal 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.