Review: A sophisticated playbook for an all too mysterious process.
As adults, we know that life inherently contains harsh realities and dangers. Violence, divorce, drug abuse, panic attacks, severe depression are merely a few of the many external and internal sources of threat and distress.
Of course, children do not innately know these things.
Managing a child’s initial exposure or introduction to such distressing realities is a significant, often unspoken, challenge for parents.
In the recently published “How to Talk to Your Kids About Divorce,” Dr. Samantha Rodman teaches parents how to adapt to divorce and successfully protect the child’shealth and wellbeing from the psychological shrapnel.
Divorce is not an inherently unhealthy situation that is doomed to harm a child. However, the life transition does produce short-term stress, and, if mishandled by one or both parents, can linger to undermine the child’s longer term health outcomes.
In clear and direct language, Dr. Rodman integrates important foundational ideas about healthy coping (how to skillfully channel negative emotions) with divorce-specific psychological obstacles.
For instance, in discussing an adaptive approach to the announcement (how to tell children that a divorce is happening), Dr. Rodman suggests that parents declare some version of the following idea: “Mom and dad don’t get along, and our marriage is not working out. We think it will be better for us to get divorced and live apart…it is nobody’s fault…we are sorry.”
While this narrative does not completely explain the divorce, or alleviate the child’s unavoidable distress, it efficiently relays critical information, minimizes conflict, and sets the stage for healing and recovery.
Dr. Rodman provides sophisticated solutions and strategies to each of the psychological curve balls that can emerge during the divorce process, and discusses how to modify each message to best-fit a child’s given age, developmental phase and idiosyncraticpersonality.
Overall, the book provides a very concrete and pragmatic script that empowers the parents to guide their family out of the turmoil, through the adversity, and toward rich healing and growth.
The Senior Scare
If you are a college student readying to embark on your senior year, then whether you know it or not there is a serious life stressor heading your way. It is big, unavoidable, and can cause significant distress, marked by persistent and diffuse unease that, at times, borders on bouts of panic or depression.
The life stressor is known as a major life phase transition or, in this case, the changeover from student to young professional navigating through the wider world.
Major life phase transitions are sprinkled throughout the lifespan, and carry a stress load of abrupt change, demands for autonomy, and high stakes (success or failure).
To help facilitate a successful outcome on the “work life” piece of this transition, I will discuss some principles from the clinical literature on problem solving, proactive coping, and cognitive therapy that can help guide an adaptive approach and thought process around this particular life challenge.
First, reframe the vague problem into a concrete goal; shift the question from, “what the hell am I going to do after graduation?!” to “I need to identify, pursue and obtain a reasonably decent, if not high-quality, next step in my professional life.”
Note the phrasing. Using a range (“reasonably decent to high-quality”) and the term “next step” sets the stage for flexible thinking and fair expectations. Every goal contains a finite number of healthy options. In this case, there are at least three:
Graduate school, an entry-level job in a preferred field, or meaningful “see the world” programming.
Now, every student falls along a continuum of career commitment and certainty, which reflects the best-fit option. Thus, while there is no “correct” or “perfect” spot, you do need to introspect enough to know where you fall on this spectrum, or at least have a rank order of preferences.
Be aware of the madadaptive options available to you at the start of the academic year, namely avoidance and externalization (“this issue will figure itself in time” or “I’ll push it off till after I graduate and cram for a job as if it were an exam.”).
Once you select one/multiple healthy options, the next is to engage in committed action.
Whether it is graduate school applications, entry-level job hunting or travel, there is legwork and preparation that must be approached. A balanced mindset is useful – be focused and relaxed.
Behaviorally, this translates into a well-paced routine of bite-size effort. Imagine that this “successful preparation for post-graduate work life” is an extra course that you have to take throughout the year; consider it pass/fail in nature. Schedule in a concrete amount of time every week (e.g. 1 to 2 hours) and start concretizing the tasks (it starts with research and studying and ends with application writing and interview scheduling).
It is advisable to self-impose this extra workload, so that you can adaptively engage in the psychological coping technique that you will be utilizing most of the time – “letting it go.”
That’s right; most of the time, the healthy response to moments of work life worrying will be to “let it go” so that you can engage in more immediate life demands like coursework, and mindful enjoyment of daily collegiate routines.
To genuinely and effectively “let go” of the worriment when it enters your mind, requires that you genuinely be able to fall back on such notions as “I’m tolerating my anxiety and working hard on this issue.
The persistent effort is key to the reduced worry - see the double-edged sword?
The final step is more meta-attitudinal. While it is healthy to be emotionally invested in the outcome, know that your first professional feat is not life-or-death. Further, the anxiety that you will sporadically feel as this topic cycles in and out of your mind is inevitable – you don’t have to like it, but you do have to begrudgingly accept it. And while the angst is not a signal of legitimate danger, it can feel threatening and promote a sense of paralysis. Bear in mind that anxiety is merely a wave of temporary discomfort that, with some awareness and intention, can be channeled into motivation to execute on the aforementioned principles.
Finally, hold some optimistic compassion for yourself. What looms is the beginning, not the end, of an exciting journey. And as you move through the unavoidable discomfort and rejection be gentle and forgiving during your internal commentary. It will help you thick-skin criticism when you are doing the best you can, and tune into and modify your responses when you need to do better.
Dr. Jeremy Clyman earned a master’s and doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD) from Yeshiva University. He completed three years of doctoral-level clinical externships in neurocognitive assessment, couples and family treatment, and cognitive behavioral for adolescents, adults and older adults.