Today people are hunting Easter eggs in the beautiful Georgia sunshine and icing the coconut cake for tomorrow’s family lunch, but the reality is several of my friends have had a terrible year. Divorce, death, illness, accidents, and disappoints in general seem to be a major theme during the past year and honestly for life in general. The question I am posed with quite often is how to help students process the trials in life. In spite of having a degree in psychology, I am far from being a counselor and do not claim to have answers, but I do have experience as a parent of adult(ish) children and teacher and will share some observations of effective tools for helping students through dark days:
Allow your child some space.
Parents will desperately try to engage with their child during a crisis, and children desperately need caring family members loving on them. However, kids can also be overwhelmed by continually talking about feelings and need alone time to process. If a kid is wanting to play a video game, hang out with friends, or sleep, parents may get nervous because the kid is not dealing with the issues, but these teen activities bring normalcy to a spiraling out of control life. Allow your student space and the right to deal with hardship in their own way.
Seek other adults to speak into your student.
Many teens, who I know love their parents dearly, confide things to me that their parents don’t know. Sadly, I have seen parents feel threatened when students open up to teachers, ministers, or adult friends of the family instead of to them. Encourage these relationships and trust other adults to advise your student. (I do realize that some adults are poor role models for students and am certainly not encouraging relationships with them or any type of inappropriate relationship). Eventually, students open up to parents but a safe person without the complexity of family dynamics often helps a student sort through and process feelings.
Encourage your child to lean into their pain.
Pain and suffering are universal and part of life. As much as we would like to shield our kids from this reality, we cannot remove all pain from their lives or fix all of their problems. Encourage children to accept pain instead of ignoring it and realize that trials can shape them in ways that good times cannot. I recently read Hope Heals by Jay and Katherine Wolfe (highly recommend this book) and love how they have embraced their suffering. Katherine reflects on her now very different life after her stroke saying, “What has happened to me is extreme; however, it is not that different from what everyone deals with. I am a sort of microcosm for what we all feel. I can barely walk, even with a cane, but who feels free even if they can? My face is paralyzed, but who feels beautiful even when they look normal? I have no coordination in my right hand, so I can’t hold things, even my child, but who feels like a competent parent even if all their faculties are intact? For months I could not eat, and even today I have difficulty swallowing, but who feels fully satisfied even if they can enjoy every delectable treat they desire? I am tired almost all the time now, but who always feels energized to engage fully in their life? My voice is messed up, but who feels understood even if they can speak plainly? I have double vision, but who sees everything clearly even if they can see normally? My future is uncertain, but whose isn’t?”
Get professional help.
The stigma of seeking counseling is fortunately going away. Even if you cannot afford professional help, school counselors, pastors, and adults who have gone through similar trials can be excellent resources. Don’t be too proud or pretend to have it all together while struggling internally; seek help.
Turn to literature. (You knew this was coming)
I watched a sweet student grieve her sister’s death, and poetry spoke to her soul. This student threw herself into collecting poems about grief; she told me these poems “put into words what she could not yet say.” I have never forgotten this phrase. After a parent conference with parents who did not know what to do with their depressed child, I told them I would like for him to read It’s Kind of a Funny Story, a young adult book dealing with a student’s struggle with depression. He now claims this book served as a turning point for him because he identified with the character. Don’t underestimate the power of literature.
Believe that Sunday is coming.
I purposely chose today for this post because of its importance in history. I am a person of faith and am saddened that this day – the day between Good Friday and Easter – is often overlooked by the faith community. This is the day when the disciples thought Jesus was dead. This is the day that God appeared to be silent. This is the day when hope disappeared. BUT the next morning was a day of victory over death, suffering, and hopelessness. Commit your children and their suffering to the Lord and trust HIS – not your – plan for their life. Easter Sunday represents hope and healing for our souls.