I decided to look for answers from my 15-year-old daughter, Mia. I asked her what has been tough during this time, how she helps herself and how we — her parents — can help.
Have you felt sad? Why and what helped?
Sometimes I feel sad because I just miss my friends. Sometimes, it’s the worry of how long this is going to last, not knowing when I get to see friends and go back to school. Thinking about best-case and worst-case scenarios. Am I going to be able to hug people? I’m a big physical-affection person, so this is something I worry about not being able to do, and it makes me sad.
Talking to you (my mom, I know!) helps. Talking to my friends. Finding distraction is really good right now. If I think too much, I get sad or upset. Working out, playing piano, reading, watching TikToks are some good distractions for me.
What’s the best thing I can do when you are sad?
It makes me feel better when you don’t try to talk me out of my sadness because it’s nice to feel validated. Sometimes, when people try to cheer you up, it’s like oh, you can’t deal with me when I’m sad? It’s nice to have someone to sit with and not feel like you have to be in a certain mood.
Most of the time when I’m sad, I don’t really feel like being cheered up — I want a big hug instead of a bunch of presents, if that makes sense.
It’s better to just ask me: Do you want to be cheered up or just talk?
I’m pretty open with you about my own stress, and sometimes I worry I’m laying it on too thick. Do you wish I shielded you more?
Definitely no. Sometimes it makes me sad to see you sad, but that’s okay.
I like when you tell me that you’re not feeling good.
When you don’t say anything about how stressed you are and then you act annoyed or are being annoying, it’s frustrating. But if you tell me you’re sad or stressed, you get to release how you feel, and if you snap or something, I know why so I don’t get upset.
What has been most challenging about being stuck at home?
Not falling into the slump of every day being the same. Losing motivation. I have days when I wake up, and I’m into doing stuff. On other days, I wake up, and I just don’t feel like getting up and being productive. I have to create my own structure, and sometimes that’s really hard.
Learning online is also difficult. I’m never shy in class, but on Zoom, I struggle to jump in and ask questions during a call with my teachers, like I would normally do in a classroom.
I miss certain day-to-day interactions, a lot. I miss seeing my dance teacher every Tuesday and my friends, of course.
What are some things you’ve done that have made you feel better?
Make a checklist of all the things I want to get done in a day. I know you’ve been telling me to do this my whole life, and now I’m doing it, and it helps. I like knowing that I’m getting things done during the day, and having a physical checklist is a useful representation of being productive.
I also talk to friends as much as possible.
I started to do at-home workouts, and I realized I liked it, so now I’m doing them five days a week.
Even when I don’t feel like getting something done, like piano practice, I feel really good once I start doing it.
Baking is something I love to do, and I’ve made a lot of new recipes in the last few weeks (carrot cake and cinnamon rolls were my favorites). But what’s made me really happy is to send some of the things I baked to friends to cheer them up.
What have we done as a family that has been helpful to you?
Allowing me personal space. I feel like parents go to extremes — either they helicopter kids a lot or they aren’t present. I feel like you guys are pretty good at finding the balance: I get to do my own stuff, in my room, and then we eat dinner together or play Scattergories, and that makes me really happy.
All of these little rituals that we’ve created have really helped me to feel connected and have fun. Fun is good and really necessary right now. I love our Gratitude Jar and game night.
Sometimes I think I just want to be by myself all day, but then we go for our daily walk together and I’m happy. When I go to school and see my friends, often I just want to be on my own when I get home. But now, I don’t get as much interaction, so I like having regular things we do together as a family. It helps.
For me, there were a few takeaways from my conversation with Mia. First, our natural instinct as parents is to try to cheer up our kids when they feel sad. Not doing that has been one of the toughest things I’ve had to learn as a parent. Most often, what kids need first is to feel that it’s okay to feel how they feel, that it’s okay to not be okay.
Research shows that when we acknowledge and accept a difficult emotion, we get through it faster and feel it with less intensity than if we try to avoid it or resist it. I used to feel like I was being too passive or not “fixing the problem” by allowing Mia to remain sad. But I’ve learned acknowledging how she feels and accepting it means I’m validating her feelings. Research shows this leads to an improved ability to process emotions, a greater sense of self, confidence and a better parent-child relationship.
Another important reminder from the conversation is honesty. For most of Mia’s life, I thought it was my duty to protect her from my stress or worry. I would put on my “happy parent” face and try to act positive all the time. In retrospect, I only thought I was hiding my difficult feelings. I’d snap at the littlest things, and she would be puzzled as to why spilling a little water on the chair was such a big deal.
But a few years ago, when I went through severe burnout that I couldn’t hide from anyone, I began to accept my difficult emotions and be more open about them, both at home and at work. Not only did my relationship with Mia improve when I got more honest with her, but when I was open about not always feeling good, it gave her permission to be more open about her own worries, sadness or stress.
The final takeaway is simple family rituals. They have definitely helped us to stay more sane during this strange and difficult time. As Mia mentioned, we take a daily walk together, have started a family game night and add notes to our Gratitude Jar every week, which we also read to each other.
More than 11,000 studies show that gratitude not only makes you happier but helps you feel less stressed and even sleep better. It’s also an important source of resilience when you’re going through a challenging time because it reminds your brain that there is more to your life than the difficulties and stress you’re facing.
When this crisis began, I started my own new gratitude ritual: On Monday mornings, I write gratitude notes for Mia and my husband — simple things like “I’m grateful for your goofiness” or “Thank you for making my lemon water in the morning” — and put them on the kitchen counter before they come in for breakfast. The other day, I noticed a neat pile of these gratitude notes on Mia’s desk — she has been saving them all. Now I have another thing to be grateful for.
Nataly Kogan is the author of “Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments” and the founder of Happier Inc.
Mia Kogan-Spivack is a sophomore at Newton North High School in Newton, Mass., who loves baking, playing piano and teaching her mom to TikTok.
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