Lots of our tweens and teens suffer with anxiety, depression, stress, emotional disregulation, and a need to somehow be perfect. Why are they so caught up in fear, worry, and how others perceive them? And how can we help? The problem is that they have learned to look outside of themselves for success rather than inside.
The antidote is not to help them be more successful by getting a special coach, tutor, or invitation. It's not to tell them how special they are. It's not for them to be the best at something. What we can do to help our young people is to help cultivate a strong inner presence.
How do we help them know themselves? It's the same loving presence practice that I've been sharing about lately. Beginning when they're babies or as soon as we figure it out, we can show our kids that they don't have to be special or 'good enough' for us to love and accept them. Telling them doesn't help, kids listen to our behavior more than our words.
We do this by accepting them, whether they are gracious or awkward, cool or dorky, smart or struggling, whiny or strong, the MVP or the bench warmer. Of course, we all want to do this, right? But how does it work when your child comes home with a failing grade on a test? Do you sit with them and listen? Let them process their feelings through (those unpleasant) layers of blaming their teacher, classmates, the weather, and even you before they begin to open up and share their fear and sadness and regret? Give them space to have their own feelings about that grade rather than tell them what they need to know and do?
Accepting them as they are right now, warts and all, is essential to the development of their strong inner presence. Just as I've been saying about each stage, accepting does not mean that we rescue our kids from hard times and challenges. When they mess up on a test, we can listen deeply and help them to feel their own feelings. We don't need to call the school and request a retest or extra credit! If we want our kids to be resilient, we need to let them fail or struggle in the circle of our love.
I'm a mom, wife, daughter, friend, and teacher who has long struggled with the desire to be the perfect person I imagine that I should be. Practicing mindfulness has changed my life, helping me to make peace with myself as I truly am and to appreciate my family, life, and the world as they actually are.