Is your high schooler approaching the challenges of ACT/SAT testing and college touring with excitement, anxiety, or dread? Does he or she have a sense of optimism about the process? Or is he or she feeling burned out academically already and just going through the motions because “that’s what I’m supposed to do”?
Is your child skipping school?
Is he or she stressed by tests, grades, expectations? Working too far ahead and falling apart if the grades aren’t A’s? Procrastinating and falling behind? Disorganized and missing homework? Staying up all night to perfect a project or paper?
How can you help????
Watching your child suffer is one of the worst things a parent can go through. You may be feeling lost and unable to help. Your child’s struggles may mirror your own struggles at that age. You may have encountered the mean girls when you were a teen and now that your daughter is dealing with them, you may feel powerless to help her. Or your son may be facing the bullying that made your life miserable at his age and you’re unsure how to help him. When do you get the school involved and when do you teach him to defend himself? Some changes that you’re observing in your child are the normal changes of puberty, the processes of biological and psychological maturation, with their attendant emotional instability.
Some of them are the result of family conflicts, death of a loved one, divorce, social conflicts, school difficulties, and more. You may see loss of interest in activities your child has always enjoyed or a hopelessness about the future. Your child may be depressed.
When you’re seeing behavioral problems, it’s important to remember that these are the external expression of internal struggles, because teens use behavior more than words to express themselves.
How much should you intervene? Should you let your child fail, so he or she will learn from the consequences of his or her actions or passivity? How much should you help your child with homework?
Sometimes that help is therapy for you to calm your anxiety or anger and to learn more effective ways to deal with your child. Modeling healthy coping skills is an important part of parenting a child of any age, but if you didn’t learn that growing up, you may feel frustrated and lost in the usual situations of parenting. Add another layer of stress, and you may find yourself reverting to some of the behavior you swore you’d never do with your child. Screaming at your child to calm down is not getting the point across, any more than hitting your toddler when he or she hits another child teaches him or her not to hit!
Sometimes that help is therapy for your child. This is not a cause for humiliation for you or your child! This is a loving gift that will enable your child to get on track to have good self-esteem, be an enthusiastic lifelong learner and critical thinker, be a good friend, and reach his or her full potential. It’s a sign of strength to recognize when you and/or your child need professional help.
Lisa is the daughter of one of my long-term patients, Debbie. Lisa was a rising sophomore in a competitive NYC high school, a middle-of-the-pack student who had a pattern of friendships with girls who were rejecting, which reinforced her low self-esteem. She was a disorganized student who often missed homework assignments, forgot about tests till the night before, then had to deal with Debbie’s anxiety and anger over the situation. Lisa was so stressed she was literally pulling out her hair. Debbie had a history of eating disorders and had transferred her strange ideas about food onto Lisa.
Debbie had been working on herself in treatment, but was highly resistant and had learned well from her abusive mother. Debbie was concerned about Lisa’s depressive tendencies, low self-esteem and how it played out in her friendships, her pickiness with food, and her mediocre academic performance.
I worked with Lisa in individual sessions, sometimes bringing Debbie in with Lisa as needed to help their relationship, and sometimes bringing Lisa’s father in to help their relationship. I had to help Debbie understand and learn to tolerate Lisa’s reactions to her, because they had an enmeshed relationship that wasn’t healthy for either. Since Lisa had always been a fairly compliant child because she felt responsible for Debbie’s moods and Debbie had kept her a bit too close since Debbie’s marriage wasn’t a satisfying one, when I began to work with Lisa she got a bit more spunky and began to confront Debbie about her anxiety and volatility.
This was hard for Debbie to hear, but I helped Debbie understand that this needed to happen and was part of Lisa getting better. Debbie could be defensive and feel humiliated by what she was hearing, or she could appreciate that her daughter loved her enough to improve their relationship and that her daughter was actually teaching her some important lessons.
As I continued working with Lisa and Debbie, Lisa stopped pulling out her hair. Lisa also began to become a more responsible student, using her planner to keep up with her assignments and tests, and Debbie learned how to support Lisa’s efforts. I taught Debbie to give Lisa pep talks about her school work, to get tutors for the subjects that were more difficult for Lisa (instead of leaving Lisa to fail, as Debbie’s parents had done), and to help Lisa develop a better work ethic.
In Lisa’s junior year, I referred them to a wonderful ACT/SAT prep program and suggested that the mother-daughter pair make it fun, with a trip to their favorite restaurant after each tutoring session and practice test. Having a handsome tutor helped!
Lisa’s grades steadily improved and she spoke up more in class. Debbie began hearing from her teachers how insightful Lisa’s comments were, what a kind and caring classmate she was, and what a joy she was to have in their class. When it was time to tour colleges, I made suggestions of colleges that Debbie had thought were too much of a stretch for Lisa and were too far away. I also referred Debbie and Lisa to a college consultant who helped refine Lisa’s list. Lisa got a large financial aid package to attend a challenging school five hours away and has thrived, learning for the joy of it, rather than just to get a good grade. She’s now a college junior who is planning to study abroad (and got a scholarship to do so) in her spring semester, is weathering her parents’ divorce and learning to stay out of the fray as she continues to make her own life her own way, rather than feeling so responsible for her parents, especially her mother.
“I began seeing Nancy as a high school sophomore. I was scared of the world and lacked all ambition to explore my passions, work hard in school, and make friends who did not approach me first. Life seemed overwhelming and I retreated into myself.
Nancy helped me realize that this did not have to be my normal. By teaching me to love myself and ignore negative self-talk, Nancy helped me to change my perspective and create a life for myself that I treasure.
Now, as a college junior, I am thriving. I no longer have the depressive and anxious thoughts and behaviors that once dominated my life, and instead see the world as a beautiful place, full of opportunities for me to explore. I have been on the dean’s list every semester, have an excess of fulfilling extracurricular commitments, and formed a loving and outgoing friend group.
This journey of self-improvement was worth all the time I invested and it would not have been possible without Nancy’s encouragement and insight.”
If you’re concerned about your middle schooler, high schooler, or college-age child, give me a call. I’ll help you learn to help him or her, stop trying to control and start learning to parent effectively, learn to move past what you learned growing up to really be there in a positive way for your child(ren). I’ll help your child develop healthy self-esteem and thrive in the world, make the most of the support system in school and out of school, learn to manage time, and find balance between school work, outside activities, and social life. I’ll determine whether treatment will work best with me seeing you as parent(s), seeing your child(ren), or a combination.
To schedule an appointment, give me a call at 212-749-0694 or contact me here. I look forward to hearing from you and starting the process of helping you and your child(ren) make satisfying lives.