When the schools first closed due to lockdown, I was quite happy to be honest. I imagined all the free time we would have. I imagined my children getting ahead with their studies now that we could work through it all together, slowly and calmly.
How hard could it be when we had all day every day to work on it? How wrong I was!
If there is one “take-away” that I got from home-schooling during lockdown, it was a deeper understanding of the huge amounts of information that teenagers these days are expected to process.
Having taught GCSE English for many years, I am fully aware of the information teenagers are expected to absorb for this. I know how to break this information down and make it manageable.
However, some of what I had not fully appreciated before was that every teacher thinks that their subject is a priority. Our teens are being told that, above and beyond the work being set at school, they should be doing enrichment tasks and re-reading their notes. Sometimes they will have multiple tests in a week to revise for, alongside possible sport fixtures or music commitments. At the same time as all this, their phones are pinging with social media notifications every five minutes, with friends expecting instantaneous replies.
I don’t mind admitting that I felt a little overwhelmed by it all. It is little wonder then that our teenagers often feel overwhelmed too.
So how can we help our teens to reduce this feeling of overwhelm?
Overwhelm occurs when there is too much information to process in a given time frame. This can be because too much is happening at once or because the information is being presented too fast.
The bottom line is this: we can do anything but we can’t do everything.
The simple answer is that we need to find a way to reduce the overload for our children. What makes it less than simple sometimes is that often, as parents, we too hold a belief that we “must get everything done.”
Below are some useful strategies for helping your teen (and yourself!) reduce the feeling of overwhelm:
Tip 1 – Break the state
If your child is in a state of overwhelm, their adrenaline levels will be high. If their adrenaline levels remain high for a long period of time, it will cause them to crash later and they will feel exhausted (like an adrenaline hangover).
They need to break this state before they will be able to think about anything else. Sometimes it can take up to two hours for their rational brain to “reconnect”, so if they need a break, it is important that they take it.
They could do some exercise to increase their oxygen supply to their brains.
Tip 2 – Use positive language
Words such as “pressure,” “stress” and “overwhelming” are less than helpful – they embed the negative state. Instead, use words such as “calm” “slowly” and “relaxed” as these words will help your teen to access these more resourceful states.
Tip 3 – Ask your teen what their priorities are.
Everyone involved in our teenager’s lives will have different ideas about what our teen should be focusing their time on but what is important is what YOUR CHILD wants. They are far more likely to perform well by concentrating hard on a handful of things they enjoy than if they spread themselves too thinly.
Get your teen to visualise what they would like their life will be like when they are 25. What should they be focusing on now as part of this plan and what can they let go of?
Tip 4 – Help your teen to plan ahead
Some teens need guidance when it comes to planning. Help them to create a revision timetable. Some teens might also need a plan for each day so that they can balance school, clubs, homework and free time.
Tip 5 – Help your teen to “chunk it down”
This works with anything – whatever the issue. Instead of looking at the problem as one big thing, get them to break it down into smaller and more specific things and then help them to create a priority list and focus on one thing at a time.
Tip 6 – Turn down the noise in the house
By turning off the TV, radio and or/phones even for a short amount of time each day, we can reduce the “sensory overload” which contributes to overwhelm. It’s far easier to focus on one thing at a time if our phone isn’t constantly buzzing and distracting us.
Tip 7 – Help your child to train their mind to focus on just one thing
You could teach your child to “tune out” background noise by imagining themselves in a sound-proof box or you could teach them to imagine that they have “tunnel vision” and can only see the one person or thing that they wish to focus on. Sometimes, if there is a lot of noise in the room, it can be useful for them to imagine a piece of string between themselves and the person they are talking to.
Tip 8 – Tell your child that there is plenty of time
Regardless of how much time we actually have before an event, it can be so much better for our neurology to believe that we have plenty of time rather than a limited amount. If they focus on what they can do with the time they have got, rather than focusing on the time they have not got, they are likely to feel calmer and therefore be more productive.
Tip 9 – Encourage your child to look at all their options
If your child is worried about a particular situation, it can be useful to get them to think of the most likely outcome, the best outcome and the worst outcome. That way their mind is prepared for all eventualities, which can in turn reduce overwhelm.
Tip 10 – Get them to focus on what they can influence
There are certain things that are out of your teen’s influence such as lockdown measures, whether the exams will take place or which teacher they get given. Get them instead to focus on what they can influence: their revision timetable, their personal goals, what they eat, how early they go to bed and how much time they spend on social media.
If you or your teen are struggling with overwhelm, I can help. Book a free 30 minute trouble-shooting call with me.