As a psychologist who works with teens, one would think I’d have my daughters and their teenage journeys all figured out.
Professionally, I am acutely aware of the stressors at play as I support teens struggling to thrive and find their way under the pressure to perform and achieve. I aim to buffer my teen clients by encouraging healthy sleep habits and engagement in meaningful activities that protect them from stress. I help them create healthy schedules that meet their needs physically and emotionally. I have also supported my young clients as they navigate Covid — the losses and disappointments they have endured and the emotional fallout it has inspired. Through our work together, my teens find resilience, strength, and tools they will have for a lifetime. Like the team at Challenge Success, I see skinned knees and setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning.
But, this is where it gets personal. Even as a professional therapist, I feel challenged by how to best parent my kids every day, especially in the middle of a pandemic. My oldest daughter has dyslexia and despite everything I “know,”
- I too have gotten lost in the anxiety of my children being left behind academically.
- I too felt frustrated when they were missing out on so much socially and athletically.
- I too kept on telling myself what I told my clients’ parents, “These kids are resilient, and they will bounce back faster than we will.”
But when I looked out at my own daughter lying on the floor, feeling increasingly down and frustrated by schoolwork with no soccer games to lift her spirits, I started questioning my own advice.
Thankfully, I circled back to the fundamental principles of Challenge Success. They have been a guiding light for our family during Covid.
Focusing on playtime, downtime, and family time
During Covid I had forgotten that my daughters were already getting a huge dose of what has been shown to be a protective factor in keeping kids healthy – playtime, downtime, and family time (PDF). Holding these Challenge Success values close, dinners became magical moments of connection and storytelling. Family hikes became amazing opportunities for playtime out in nature. Our bedtime routine became tender moments where we were processing and snuggling through the undigested feelings of the day. I watched my daughters’ imaginations blossom as they played together on those slow, boredom-filled downtime days. Buffered by these moments of connection and creativity, I witnessed our family find resilience and flexibility again and again.
Creating a healthy and balanced schedule
Pre-Covid my girls had school all day, activities each afternoon, homework each night, and sports each weekend. After I got over my feeling of them being left behind, the silver lining of Covid was an opportunity to find more balance, ease, and meaning in our schedule. With no late-night practices, we got our family dinners back, the girls caught up on sleep, and they had time to play together. My youngest has especially blossomed during Covid. Her smile is brighter and her laugh is wildly robust. She no longer feels lost in the shuffle of a busy life with all the extracurriculars and social activities. The pandemic offered us the opportunity to slow our pace to meet the needs of our whole family. As the months passed, I became less worried about them missing out and more attuned to gifts of a more balanced schedule.
Expanding the definition of success
When everything shut down and there were no extracurricular activities, my daughter focused on increasing her juggling record every afternoon. In retrospect, supporting her quest to reach over 100 juggles was simply an extension of the achievement mindset we had before the pandemic. Over time, “success” morphed into finding meaningful quality time and connection, rather than soccer games and schoolwork (or increasing a juggling record). It became about family rituals and telling each other our “rose and thorn” each night at dinner, about making time for a dance party before bed, about how flexible we were as a family when each school schedule changed or we had yet another loss of something that could not be in person. Expanding our definition of success helped us lessen the focus on my daughter’s challenges with dyslexia by focusing on the bigger picture of mental health.
This September, my oldest will be back to playing soccer, and both my girls will be navigating school in person, but I know this is just Plan A. Inevitably there will be curveballs, changes, and challenges. What matters most is supporting my daughters to be fully engaged in life and to be healthy, both physically and emotionally. This fall I will hold these core values of Challenge Success close as both a mom and as a therapist. They will be my True North, helping me, my family, and my clients weather whatever storm comes next. Hopefully, I will also find compassion for myself as a parent when I get lost and need to circle back to what I “know.”
Rebecca Sacerdoti’s support of Challenge Success is both professional and personal. As an advisory board member and advocate for the organization, she believes Challenge Success is dedicated to what matters – helping our young people live full, healthy, engaged lives. The organization’s mission is tightly aligned with her professional approach as well as her personal values, and she sees its potential to radically alter the current trajectory of the teenage experience on a national level.