We all encounter stressors but our ability to be resilient from those experiences varies greatly. This resilience is impacted by past history, memory, communication, and most importantly relationships.
I have known several clients who were really struggling with stress and anxiety. In particular, middle schoolers who were working so hard all day at school to understand content, negotiate the social climate, and self-regulate, only to come home and fall apart when a parent asked them to do a seemingly small thing like throw a snack wrapper away. In coaching these families, I have suggested that they pull way back on their expectations during these times of high stress from outside factors. My argument in favor of this has been that there is only so much one human being can manage and the fact that their tween is not responding well to simple requests is a signal that they are overwhelmed. The family’s job in that moment is to lower stress where they can and increase support, even for simple things. I call this “Circling the Wagons”. This goes a long way toward showing that child that they can count on their family to be there and help them build resilience from the other stressors they are experiencing. If the child doesn’t understand that they are being supported in this way, they feel that they have no safe harbor from the intense expectations of life and it adds to feelings of incompetence and distress.
Sometimes parents worry that if they lower expectations, it will be difficult to raise them later. My experience has been that when the stress is at a manageable level, a family can reintroduce chores and other responsibilities with less overall fallout. Dr. Ross Greene talks about how kids want to do well and this is no different.
If you find yourself with a stressed out kid, consider giving a little more support for small things, a little less nagging, and increase the message of “we are a team with you.”