When it comes to providing helpful tips and strategies to parents of adolescents and young adults before and during the COVID-19 global pandemic, Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins brings a multi-dimensional lens to the task.
She is a mother to two teenage boys. Professionally, Dr. Booth Watkins is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, as well as Associate Director at The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachussetts General Hospital.
“I would definitely say the expertise leaves typically when you come in the door,” Dr. Booth Watkins shared during an interview with Where Parents Talk. “It’s a little bit harder to be a great psychiatrist at home. But I try,” she says.
Dr. Booth Watkins revealed some of her practices within her own family to help support the social, emotional and mental well-being and healthy development of her sons.
“I do a lot of encouraging them to be their best selves, reminding them that they’re great, validating their feelings and emotions about what’s going on,” Dr. Booth Watkins told Lianne Castelino of Where Parents Talk. “Really trying to build them up and encourage them to not get too into what the media might show, portray, or what they may see on the news. Reminding them I’m ultimately going to do everything I can to see that no hurt, harm or danger comes to them.”
That message is among several she shares with parents, children and families in her practice — before the pandemic and especially since the onset of COVID-19.
“First and foremost is really to validate the experience that their young person is having, ” says Dr. Booth Watkins. “There’s a lot of disappointment, loss and grief that they’ve encountered, not being able to have graduation or not being on a college campus like they envision, not being able to engage in their sports and extracurriculars. So it’s a lot of loss. I think really taking the time to validate — that’s going to be really important,” she says.
One theme in particular has gained added importance and meaning as Dr. Booth Watkins works to support her patients during this historic time: resilience.
“Resilience is not something that is automatic, it has to be cultivated, they have to be taught,” she says. “If you’re not practicing how to solve problems practicing how to approach problems, it’s going to be really difficult to do it, and you’re going to feel insecure about it, which really kind of starts that downward spiral. That is really why it’s important to allow your kids to face some adversity. Those little bumps and bruises along the way are really going to build up their ability to manage and tolerate in the future.”
During her video interview with Lianne Castelino of Where Parents Talk, Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins also discusses:
- Tips and strategies parents can consider in supporting their adolescent child or young adult
- The gratitude jar
- The value of facing adversity
- Support and resources
Watch the full interview:
Click for video transcription
Welcome to Where Parents Talk TV. My name is Lianne Castelino. Our guest today is a mother of two. She is a child and adolescent psychiatrist at The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital.
The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds is focused on supporting the mental, emotional and behavioral health of children and adolescents. Dr. Khadijah Booth Watkins.
Thanks so much for joining us today for having me.
I wanted to start first of all by asking you what trends were you and your colleagues observing prior to the pandemic in this space.
So prior to the pandemic, a lot of the same things existed. So people in this kind of age group or demographic, was struggling with anxieties, depression. That was all there before the pandemic. People were having trouble, I guess adolescents had also gotten extended. So they were spending a lot of time in that period, because people were doing more and more education and there was college and grad school. So a lot of the things that we see post-pandemic or in the pandemic are pretty much the same, it’s just a greater degree.
When you look back on pre-pandemic, what would you say are some of the main contributing factors to what you described?
I mean, this age group was such a critical period of time, they’re becoming individuals, they’re exerting their autonomy, trying to become more independent. This age group, there’s some dependence, their peers are much more influential than the parents at this stage. So that in and of itself, I think creates a lot of pressure just trying to figure out who you are as, as an adolescent, as emerging adults.
But then there’s so much pressure around, you know, achieving school, grades, extracurriculars. You know, what are you going to do after college, that there’s a lot of pressure, and then I think social media, people compare themselves to other people not really knowing what exactly someone has had to go through, or what hurdles they had to clear. But everything just looks so easy. So I think there’s a lot of pressures from various places, but I think, at the core, you know, just all of the pressure to achieve and be excellent and do well.
Now you’re a parent yourself, you’re. You’re a mom of two, and you’ve got two adolescents, how do you go about balancing that in your own home, while also as a professional having, you know, the body of expertise that you have on that level?
So I would definitely say the expertise leaves typically when you come in the door. It’s a little bit harder to be a great psychiatrist at home. But I try. First and foremost, because I am the mother of two beautiful black boys, I do a lot of encouraging them to be their best selves, reminding them that their great, validating their feelings and emotions about what’s going on, but really trying to build them up and encourage them to not, you know, get too into what the media might show, portray, or what they may see on the news or reminding them that they’re great and that they’re going to achieve and that them and that I’m ultimately going to do everything I can to see that no hurt, harm or danger comes to them. But I do feel within the best of my ability to do that. So that’s one of the biggest things that I do and one of my priorities. Other than that, we really try to live in gratitude. You know, it’s sometimes can be hard, but we try to really remember all of the things that we we need to take time to appreciate and be thankful for. You know, at our table, we have a gratitude jar. So a couple of times a week, we fill out a card, we exchange it with whoever’s at the table, and we read the card that’s been written by someone else trying really hard to figure out who wrote it, but just to read it to share. So we do that a couple of times a week. And I think that really grounds us to remind us that there are plenty of things that we can be grateful for, and really to see the silver lining, but all of the situations that we come across, because they’re there, it really is just trying to make sure that you hone in on it, because sometimes it’s harder to see than others.
You talk about a lot of you know, the anxiety and other issues that you described earlier being exacerbated by the pandemic, what concerns you the most in terms of what you’re seeing during this pandemic, in this age group of school aged children, children and college children University. What concerns you the most?
What’s the return to school kind of look like? You know, what was it? What’s the return to high school gonna look like? What’s the return to college and it’s kind of normal form gonna look like so that is what concerns me the most and are we prepared as, you know, parents, as providers as school, you know, schools to really take on whatever is going to come I think there’s going to be a much higher rate of school avoidance of school refusal on in high school, colleges as well.
Mostly because you know that there’s a group of kids and adolescents and young adults who struggled with social anxiety. And so going to school and, and being in those kind of social places were already difficult for them. And then I think we’re going to come into some kids who, who didn’t have any problems with social anxiety or anxiety, but because they’ve got so comfortable being home, they’re going to have a hard time returning to school as well. So I think really, about what the return is going to look like, is really a concern to me.
And are we doing enough to prepare? On that note, what would you suggest? Let’s start with parents in this age group of children? What would you suggest are some strategies and practical tips that parents can employ as they try to not only just survive this pandemic with their children, but hopefully get out of it in a positive way? How can they support their kids kind of that really just talking about school?
So there, there are lots of things I think that parents can do. I think, first and foremost is really to validate their experience that their young person is having, you know, there’s a lot of disappointment, loss and grief that they’ve encountered, you know, not being able to have graduation or not being on a college campus, like they envision not being able to engage in their sports and extracurriculars. So it’s a lot of loss. And so I think validating that. But I think it’s easy to say that we’re in a pandemic, and these things aren’t as important. But I think what, what it really is, is that, yes, we’re in the middle of a pandemic. And they’ve been, they’ve really suffered a lot of losses, and no one thought we would be doing what we’re doing right now. So I think really taking the time to validate, that’s going to be really important.
I think, secondly, is really important as a parent or caregiver to really kind of take your own temperature, like, know what you’re feeling and manage your feelings and emotions, because it’s really going to be hard to help them manage theirs, if we’re not kind of put together well. So being able to tolerate their emotions, and their feelings are going to be really hard if we are really thorough. So those are probably the two top things that I think are really going to be important as we try to support our kids.
Outside of that, you know, I think the buzzword is resiliency. I think really modeling and teaching our kids resilience is going to be a really important tool, that probably one of the best gifts we can give them, helping them to be able to, you know, come through adversity in a way that they don’t feel kind of just burnt out, teaching them how to problem solve, giving them opportunities to problem solve, really fostering and facilitating their social connections. And in a healthy way, those things are going to be really important if we can get to the end of this. I
It’s interesting, because when you talk about fostering resilience, and allowing them to promote problem solve, there are many parents and you know, it’s been a trend for quite some time, that want to get in there and do the problem solving for their children, and clear the path as it were. And there’s all kinds of names that you probably know better than I have of these different groups of parents. And it probably comes from a place of love. But can you give us a sense of why you know, always intervening and not allowing a child to face adversity isn’t a great thing, in and of itself.
So if you don’t face adversity, and you don’t have the opportunity to try to problem solve, you don’t really have to do it when you’re left to do it on your own. So I think it’s, it’s, you know, resiliency, resilience is not something that is automatic, it has to be cultivated, they have to be taught with the practice. So if you’re not practicing how to solve problems practicing, you know, how to approach problems, it’s going to be really difficult to do it, and you’re going to feel insecure about it, which which really kind of starts that downward spiral of, you know, the styles and the anxiety. So, that is really why it’s important to, you know, allow your kids to face some adversity, you know, they might scrape their knees, we don’t want them to have any major damages. But those little little bumps and bruises along the way are really going to build up their ability to manage and tolerate in the future.
Let me ask you, and you alluded to it earlier, the age group that we’re talking about, you know, youth, teens, there’s so much going on, those are their formative years. And in many households communication is a huge issue in that age and stage of development. Any tips for parents that you can provide on how to not just maintain but strengthen and sustain communication with a youth or a teenager.
So listening is incredibly important. I think it’s hard sometimes to do when you have a message you want to send to other parents. So I think, really, the act of listening is really important to be able to hear what they have to say, because especially at that age, they want to be heard. And they want to feel like you understand what they what they’re trying to communicate to you. So from that standpoint, it’s really important. But also, you know, you don’t know what they need, if they don’t tell you that age, they typically kind of have an idea of what it is they need, and they want them. So that’s why again, it’s so important to listen, you have to create a safe space for them to be able to feel invited to come and talk to you where they that they’re not going to feel judged and criticized, and they’re not gonna feel invalidated.
So this is an open safe space, that’s, that’s going to be another cue to really have an open lines of communication and being able to have productive communication. Ultimately, that’s what we want, we want them to come to us and help and allow us to help, what we don’t want to deal with shut down communication. And I think when we are not mindful of our nonverbal cues, and our body language really can quickly kind of shut a conversation all the way down, and then then the doors close. And it’s really hard to have them come back through that door again, when when they feel comfortable coming to you, you can help them problem solve and think through things things. You know, as a parent, I like to inject safety because, you know, she doesn’t have to think about safety. So this is your plan. That sounds great. So what are we going to do to stay safe?
But if you find yourself in an unsafe situation, what was the plan? And I think those kinds of conversations are more collaborative. And that’s what they’re looking for at this age.
The parents and and children that you see in your practice, can you give us some examples of some of the more common situation situations that that you encounter or that they encounter and bring to you? And what generally do you advise them.
So one of the most common challenges is really managing the remote school process. And, and really trying to help the teenager, young adult, have boundaries around the screens and the devices and so how to support them, and really encouraging healthy habits. So things as simple as healthy diet, healthy ways to eat, physical exercise, you know, those are some of just some of the common things that they’re really trying to get their kids to, or their adolescence to do. And, you know, the pandemic in this remote world has really landed to Super sedentary life. For even for people who are super active, it is a lot of sitting. And so how do we do these things. And really, it’s most of the time doing it together. So eating healthy together, having family meals at the table, making the dinner time, you know, a fun, pleasurable place to be doing activities together that are physical, whether it’s hiking, walking, swimming, making it more of a family affair. The other thing that I think that a lot of parents are coming to the table with questions or concerns about is really how much do I insert myself? So this is a 16,17 year old, how much do I insert myself in terms of what they’re doing? And how much do I just can give them the room? You know, they’ve made it this far. So what’s what should I really be doing? What’s going to be helpful?
And then along the same lines is when the college kids have come back home, you know, unexpectedly abruptly, they’re upset about it. And now they have to live under house rules. So how do you balance you know, house rules. And just a month ago, we trusted you to be at school on your own to go and come as you please. And no one knows what time you came home. But now that you’re home, we actually live under these house rules. So finding that balance has really created a lot a lot of conflict between parents, and those young adults. And what do you advise in that case?
Again, I think it’s a collaborative process, you know, really sitting down and thinking about what battles are worth fighting. You know, what things are really important to you as a home and in your in your values? And what things are you willing to give on remind remembering that this is a tough thing for them to do as well to come back home when they had hoped to be with their friends, you know, this is again, the time we’re peers and connections are super important. So remembering that and where can you get to find the balance and what can you negotiate? So even if it’s harpy where no one’s going anywhere, but we’re talking about curfew, you know, if your curfew is 12, and they want to be too, like how do you kind of come to a middle and it comes up like it’s not five?
Can you tell us from the point of view of some of the young people that you deal with what would you say to them in just in general terms about you know, how to deal with their parents during these very difficult years of development are challenging years, let’s say in terms of how they can better enhance improve their relationship with their parents?
So the first thing that I usually try to encourage them to do is to give them the benefit of the doubt, like your parents care about you, parents, you know, many 98% of the time, want what’s best and want to help you. So give them the benefit of the doubt. But they’re coming from a place of, you know, love and kindness and wanting what’s best for you, that usually will allow you to stop and think, before you respond, you know, out of anger or frustration, that they’re coming from a place of kindness, so, so your responses, probably, that’d be a little bit more tempered.
And it again, allows for a much more productive, and pleasure of all conversation, people aren’t yelling and screaming and accusing, and no one is listening, because they just want to prove their point.
In addition to that, I think another strategy that I really encourage them to do is
take, take a moment before you respond before you come to them with a complaint, think about what it is you want to say, think about how mad or how frustrated or angry you are, and it’s a good time to have a conversation. And that’s similar advice I give to parents, this is a good time to have a conversation. if everyone’s upset, probably not a good time. Those I think are the two biggest things that I think really turned the tables in terms of having conversations be productive, and inviting agent.
If I think that every time I come to you it’s going to be an argument, I’m probably going to avoid those conversations. Definitely.
For those in our audience who might not be aware of The Clay Center for Young, Healthy Minds. Can you tell us a bit about what the center is all about? And what do you what do you do in terms of the mandate?
So we’re essentially a vehicle to deliver education to the caregivers. Free, it’s a website. So there’s information about a lot of the things we talked about today, like how to manage conflict, how to build resilience, and in your child how to engage in self care. So there, there are a lot of useful tools there to really support caregivers and caregivers can be teachers, coaches, anyone who has a meaningful role in the life of a young person. And the goal really is to educate and decrease stigma. show people that, you know, mental health is a vital part of health. It’s not a luxury, it’s something that is necessary. And educators aren’t really scary people. So when I think they see us and they hear us and they engage with us, I think I can help decrease the stigma of what what that would look like, what would treatment look like? What does the psychiatrist look like? Everyone has their ideas and fantasies, which you know, to be able to see it in real time. I think it’s really helpful for a lot of people.
Any final thoughts on how parents can go about navigating this challenging time during the pandemic and even beyond that, with respect to supporting their children, you know, who might be experiencing stress, anxiety, all the things that we’ve mentioned in this interview, any final thoughts on on tips for them?
I mean, I think just to remember that we’re all struggling you know, and you’re not in this alone there, there are resources to support you as a caregiver. And with that, try to find those silver linings and have fun, find time to deliberately have fun and pleasurable, you know, engagement with with your young person, whether it’s again at the dinner table, or whether it’s carving out time for for a movie or whatever it is. This is a time that you can really take advantage of because we’re here and stuck together in this house. And I know that sounds strange and says find time to spend together but this is deliberate time that we’re going to just spend pleasurably doing a pleasurable activity. So I think those two things remember that you’re not in this alone and that there are people
who can help and support you and and try, to try to have fun with the with the young person.
The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds