Raise a Teen who can Adapt to Change
Change, uncertainty, and transition are a reality of life. The extent to which we are able to effectively respond to change has a significant bearing on our lives. Change isn’t easy for anyone, but for some people it can be more difficult than for others. Unexpected changes can lead to anxiety, depression or the use of unhealthy coping skills. Fortunately, research shows that we can be taught how to be more adaptable, which then allows us to better succeed in our ever-changing world.
The following tips give some ideas of how you can help develop flexibility in teenagers.
Alter the everyday routine. Routines are great because they help kids know what comes next. Young children often thrive when they have specific daily routines in the home, but sometimes the dependence on routine increases rigid thinking. If you’re looking for a simple way to start building your teen’s ability to adapt, start by changing up your family’s routine and doing everyday things differently. Even making the smallest of changes like everyone sitting at a new spot at the dinner table, taking a walk after dinner instead of watching TV, or daring your teen to use their non-dominant hand to brush their teeth can help their brain build and strengthen new neural pathways.
Seek out new experiences. Each time your teen experiences something out of the ordinary or learns something new, their brain creates new synaptic connections and releases dopamine, which enhances memory, motivation and learning. One of the most obvious ways to gain new experiences is traveling. When traveling, so many unexpected things occur, such as flight delays or getting lost. Plus visiting a new place exposes your teen to different cultures (and sometimes even a new language if visiting a different country). But even if you can’t travel, you can expose your teen to new activities, such as learning a new musical instrument, taking a new class, or even exploring a part of town you’re not familiar with.
Meet new people. Along the same lines as seeking out new experiences, encourage your teen to meet people from outside of their normal social circle. Getting to know someone from a different culture or walk of life, whose perspectives and viewpoints are likely to differ from your own, can help you to be less rigid in your way of thinking and accept that there may be more than one “right” way of looking at things.
Teach positive ways to handle change. As your teen faces difficult changes in their life, teach them positive ways to handle it. If they learn these skills at a young age, they will have a better chance of adjusting successfully to transitions in their adulthood.
- Encourage positive thinking. When their circumstances change, help your teen minimize their disappointment and maximize their enjoyment. In other words, if your teen focuses on all the negative aspects of the change, they will resist and hate the change. If they look for the opportunities that the change is bringing, your teen will feel more positive about their situation.
- Teach positive self-talk. We all say things in our head about ourselves and our situations. Help your teen become more aware of what they are saying about themselves. Encourage your teen to remember times in the past when they successfully handled a challenge. Help your teen identify their strengths. When your teen is able to say to themselves that they are perfectly capable of overcoming the challenge, they will approach the change more positively.
- Focus on choices. One reason we hate change is that we like to be in control. Having choices helps us feel back in control, so help your teen see that there is a choice in every situation, even if that choice is as simple as ‘I can do nothing’ or ‘I can do this small something.’ Your teen might feel less “stuck” if they have options, but be sure to help them consider the consequences of what their choices could bring.
- Teach problem-solving. Teaching teens to use problem-solving skills helps them cope with unexpected change with less frustration. Encourage your teen to state the problem, consider at least three solutions to the problem, make a list of pros and cons for each solution, and choose one solution to implement.
- Consider possible scenarios. Help your teen “walk through” in their head what the change will bring. How will the change effect their situation as a whole? What things are going to happen because of the change? Considering different scenarios increases a teen’s flexibility, helps the changes feel more predictable, and can even dispel fear as they realize that the “worst-case scenario” isn’t as bad as they thought.
Learning to adapt to change will make your teen feel happier and more satisfied with life, reduce anxiety, become a good leader, and be more successful in relationships and the workplace.