Tag Archives: anxiety

Want to Know the Secret to Supporting Your Perfectionist Child?
Anxious little girl

Q. My daughter freezes when she is asked a question on the spot or during exams because she is fearful of being wrong, not knowing the answers or not being able to complete the entire tests. What advice should I give her to help her overcome this fear?

A. Of course you want to help her deal with her fears. Most parents, I find, live by the myth that you can help your child by telling them what you have learned as more experienced human. Makes sense. You want to tell her something that will make her see the light and stop being fearful of getting it wrong. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Advice rarely helps unsolicited.

Your daughter was likely born with sensitivities for self-awareness, a desire for approval, as well as strong capabilities. This can underscore any ideas she has of how important those capabilities are to gain the approval she wants.

As parents, most of us are unaware of how our expectations of our children effect their behavior. Of course, we want our children to do their best, but often inadvertently we send messages that we expect their best all the time. “How many times have I told you?” can send a message that “You should know better,” “Something is wrong with you,” and “Why don’t you understand?” to a sensitive child who comes to fear she isn’t getting it right.

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Feb ’22 Q&A Hitting a Wall? (Revising a conversation from May ’20)
Emotional Exhaustion

Q. I’m utterly overwhelmed. I’m resentful of those who have support from a partner and grandparents and guilty for feeling resentful. Frustrated that there’s no end in sight. Exhausted, emotionally and physically. Sad. I miss my family and friends. Lonely. 3 kids 1, 4 and 8 entirely on my own. Working 60 hours a week. Trying to be grateful I’m employed but there is no balance possible when you have 3 kids in tow. I don’t bathe or sleep without them and if I try, they scream or immediately ‘need’ me for something which is their anxiety showing up. It’s endless. How do I stay sane?

A. We’re on year three of a global pandemic and all of us, especially parents with young unvaccinated children or families with unpredictable child education schedules due to positive COVID cases, are still very much in the throes of it. If we thought we were exhausted in May, 2020, it’s certainly not gotten better for a lot of people. Maybe we’ve become more accustomed to our reality, but emotional stress among our hardworking families is very real and present.   

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‘Tis the Season for Compassion

Holiday Hug

Expectations are always high at this time of year. It’s the season for joy, friendly people wishing each other cheer, generosity of spirit, and family gatherings. But just as often, it’s not for so many.

The stress and tension of buying gifts, satisfying expectant children, and anticipating family gatherings fraught with anxiety and judgement are also heightened at this time of year. Loneliness, grief, and loss feel heavier now than at any other time. Suicide statistics peak. And on top of all the usual stress, we are in our second holiday season marred by a world-wide pandemic with a new and possibly scarier variant at our doorstep. The unhappy and the sick feel more isolated, rejected, and angry at this time of year.

Now that I have fully depressed all of you, I do not mean to be a downer. What I want is to prod your compassion and empathy to understand that this season is just as hard for many as it can be joyful for others.

Can you allow a family member’s, even your child’s, sadness, depression, anger, without allowing it to spoiling your own happiness? Can you be the support that a loved one needs without worrying you must do something about it, feeling guilty and then backing away because you don’t know what to do? Are you free to feel how you want without fearing the judgment of others?

Many hate and resent this time of year—the commercialism, the lies and myths, the money spent, the decorating, the fake cheeriness. We come in all shapes and sizes of how we celebrate, what we believe, what brings us happiness, and what brings us down. The question is not can we simply tolerate the differences. Can we accept them? That does not mean agreeing, joining, or endorsing. Can I accept that people are different, that someone believes something that I don’t, that my child thinks it’s wrong that he doesn’t have a smartphone and I disagree? That I feel happy, and you feel despair? Or vice versa. And it’s okay. I don’t have to change anything.

True empathy means I get how you see the world from your vantage point, in your experience of the world with the feelings that come up for you—and I don’t judge that. It does not mean I agree with or share your point of view. It does not mean it is my job to fix things for you so that you see it differently. It really and truly means I understand. It’s not sympathy. Sympathy puts me in your experience with you. Empathy means I can stand in my experience and understand and support you in your experience.

Can you empathize—understand another’s point of view—without being brought down by it or thinking you must fix it? If you think you should but know you can’t fix it, that’s when you will walk away, avoid, or ignore the one who is hurting—because you feel incompetent. But all any of us really want is just to be heard, recognized, and validated—not fixed or changed.

Parents tend to take responsibility for their children’s feelings. Christmas is for children after all—isn’t it? We expect their excitement and smiling faces. But what about disappointed, sad, bereft children? Isn’t Christmas for them too? We all want our children to be happy but taking responsibility for that happiness puts you in a no-win situation. You are not responsible for their happiness—an impossible task. You are responsible for all your feelings, words, and behavior. But that is what you often want to blame on others.

I often get questions from parents complaining their child is “ruining it for everyone else” or “dragging everyone down by her mood. It’s not fair to the rest of us.” Have you ever felt depressed, lonely, angry? Of course you have. Do you feel that way to make others feel the same? I doubt it. Don’t put that power on your children—or anyone for that matter. You will only increase their unhappiness and add to their guilt when they learn that they are “making” everyone else feel bad.

Empathy, acceptance, support, consideration, and respect go a long way toward providing the unhappy person with what they need. A person at any age needs to feel normal and accepted no matter what they are experiencing. When we meet anger with anger, we send the message that your anger causes mine, and it’s not okay. Staying above it, yet empathic with the angry person means you are not being dragged down into the negative experience. And you are providing space for the anger of the other to dissipate on its own.

No one, but children especially, should ever feel forced to alter their feelings. Yes, they are often inconvenient and can take up a lot of space. But isolating, belittling, criticizing, and blaming adds fuel to the emotional fire. If it does put out the flames, it’s only temporary. Burning embers burst into flame at the next opportunity.

This holiday season see if you can feel free to feel however you do. If someone tries to talk you out of your mood or cheer you up or bring you down, simply ask to be accepted and understood. Try, “I’m not asking you to do anything about it. I just need to be here for as long as I need. I’m only asking you to understand.” Just let it be. This too will pass. read more

Thinking Outside the Box for School-Resistant Kids

Frustrated Teen

My proposed solution is simple: don’t waste a lot of time and money pushing kids in directions they don’t want to go. Instead find out what weirdness they excel at and encourage them to do that. Then get out of the way. ~ Seth Godin

Q. What is the best way to respond to my 12 yo son who refuses to go to school? It started after he had 2 teachers who focused on the things he couldn’t do. We eventually pulled him and put him in private school but that only worked for about a year. We pulled him altogether last year on the advice of his therapist. Virtual school was a nightmare, and we were taking care of my dying father in the house too. It was too much. He really hates school. He is super smart but has dysgraphia, ADHD and anxiety so he really struggles.

A. I imagine there are a lot of kids this pandemic has pushed to the surface who were falling through the cracks pre-Covid. The silver lining of this struggle may be that you have come up against a dead end with traditional school before serious problems arise for your son in high school. This is a tough problem but one that needs solving sooner rather than later.

School doesn’t work for every kid—for an awful lot of kids actually. Never lose sight of the fact that the #1 preventive measure for teens avoiding the tragic pitfalls parents fear most is connection with a caring adult. Those fears that rise up—my child is never going to graduate, he’ll be a bum the rest of his life, he’ll be living on welfare, he’ll never fit in—often keep you in control mode and away from that much needed connection. I applaud you for pulling him from school and having the courage to buck the system. And I understand your fears.

Now the question is what to do. This takes creative thinking, which may be close to impossible alone. A parent has myopic vision when it comes to figuring out what her child needs. Getting other opinions can be frustrating but also can help you look outside that box.

It may take some time for your son to be able to reconnect with you and trust that you have his back no matter what. You have highlighted one of the biggest problems for kids—teachers and parents who focus more on what kids can’t do well rather than what they can. Your job is to put your focus on what he is good at and what he loves to do.

Unfortunately for a lot of kids who are unsuccessful in school, what they love the most is escaping into cyberspace where they have control over their world, and no one is telling them what they’re doing wrong. We must help and support them in finding what does work and give them authority over what they can have control over in the real world. Unfortunately, it’s all too common that that authority is taken away from them when they don’t do what a parent or teacher thinks they should.

To begin just work on letting him know you are there for him. That means forgetting about what kids are supposed to do. Success comes in all shapes and sizes. You have no idea what he is capable of, given his full potential. Think of all the world’s great geniuses who never finished high school. What does he love? Music, building things, sports, physical activity, philosophizing, fixating on insects, or yes, computer games?

If he is distraught and feeling unsuccessful at this point, it may take time for him to find out what he loves. He needs to trust his world first and that always starts with you. If you support what he loves, he will feel gotten—and that includes video games. Then he will trust his world more and branch out to find what is meant for him. Many of us enter adulthood scared and unsupported so we grab onto any old job out of fear.

Dysgraphia may mean that speaking and recording are his best modes of communicating. Those with ADHD can multitask easily. (Check out Ned Hallowell’s work on ADHD. He believes it’s a blessing rather than a curse.) I predict that if your son begins to feel understood and 100% unconditionally accepted for who he is by you, his anxiety will diminish. That is not an easy task nor is it to say his behavior is acceptable.

Unconditional acceptance is for who he is and who you trust him to be underneath his defensive behaviors. You accept that given his current circumstance in life and how he feels about himself, his behaviors are understandable and self-protective, and his frustration, feelings of failure, and possible self-loathing are at the root.

Once he feels okay about himself, his blinders will open to see possibilities so he can find his way. It is so sad that society does not provide this acceptance for all our children. Some pockets are working on it and have exciting new educational modes. See if you have alternative schools available to you. read more

May ’18 Q&A – Confidence, Empathy and Shopping

Is it lack of confidence or too much control?

Q. Our 5-year old boy is struggling with confidence. He has difficulty focusing at school and we don’t want him to get behind. There are 22 kids in his class and the school has an expectation of work. Also has trouble focusing at soccer practice/games, anytime things are going on around him. He has no issues interacting with people, kids or adults. I believe he lacks confidence because he is afraid of trying new things. He doesn’t like to fail and gets frustrated easily when he can’t learn fast. He also gets very embarrassed when things don’t go as expected.

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When Your Child Feels Worry or Despair

Worry, Despair

Don’t go underground when you see worry or despair in your child.

What do I say to my kids when they seem consumed with worry or despair for their futures and when tragedy cuts down innocent lives? When leaders demonstrate behaviors that I work hard to steer my children away from and demonstrate intolerance where I want to teach them tolerance? And in their day-to-day lives when they complain of teachers and kids treating them unfairly or feeling pressured to do what doesn’t interest them? I feel helpless when I can’t answer their questions.

More and more I hear parents describe their children as anxious and angry, who see no reason to strive in school, who seem engulfed in worry and despair. The worry may not be voiced but shows up when they drop out of activities, lose friends and spend more time alone in their rooms gaming and on social media. Is this what’s happening to kids now because we are not tough enough on them or is this a reflection of the world we live in?

When schools focus on competency on standardized tests, children’s education gets boxed in. Few are getting what they need to excel in today’s world. Less and less feel inspired by what is out there. College degrees no longer guarantee jobs. Our political system is teaching that bullies win and minorities lose.

We lose sight of the picture our children see and instead reprimand them for being “lazy” and criticize the choices they make about how they spend their down time. Many kids remain focused on school-work and extracurriculars and are motivated to do well—the central core of kids the education system counts on, the core that establishes the bar the rest of the student population is held to. The rest feel overwhelmed in a world that seems to offer them nothing, that is unpredictable, and that looms large in their near and unsure futures. Sometimes it’s just easier to cop out.

It is wise to keep teens’ attitudes and behavior in perspective and look to the world they are reflecting. Unfortunately our challenge as parents and teachers is to find inspiring ways to motivate kids so the latest video game doesn’t win out.

How do we do that without feeling overwhelmed ourselves?

We need to support our children in ways that build resilience and self-confidence. But so many parents feel lost and discouraged and our own fears don’t model that confidence. So we try to shelter children from the ills of the world instead of going at the problem head-on with honesty and integrity. We do them a disservice when we could be inspiring them.

Working for a better world starts with changing the world within our own four walls—the world that influences our children the most and defines their sense of capability and enthusiasm.

Find ways to connect with and inspire your budding artists and revolutionaries:

  • Honestly share your opinions concerning the world and our leaders with your tweens and teens. Encourage involvement in what’s happening. Watch or read news together so you can help make sense of it for them. Engage in non-violent protests, phone calls, emails with your teen when and if the news threatens your values.
  • Listen and empathize when your child complains about “stupid” homework, “lousy” teachers, friends described as “jerks”. Empathizing means understanding his point of view. It does not mean agreement with it. When he feels heard, you are in a position to say, “What do you want to do about it? What do you think would help?”
  • Encourage speaking up, gathering petitions, presenting opposing views, debating and arguing. And that starts at home. Kids have difficulty standing up to peers when they aren’t allowed to argue with you at home.
  • If your child has strong opinions but doesn’t want to get involved, honor that with your understanding. Continue sharing opinions at home.
  • When facing any problem behavior, ask for your child’s side of the story first before making assumptions and judgments or giving advice. Knowing your child’s perspective will help you know how to proceed and allow your child to be heard.
  • If your child promises he will not get involved in drugs or other worrisome behaviors, ask him why with genuine curiosity. Listen to the reasons he has decided are in his best interest. Admire his thinking process. The very act of putting them into words adds to his commitment and builds a thinking mind.
  • Ask your child about examples of intolerance at school regarding ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, dress, even interests. Then ask her point of view, what she thinks is right and what she might like to do about it. Offer your admiration for views of tolerance and especially a desire to act on her beliefs.
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    New Year’s Resolutions: 10 Exhausting Things to Give Up

    Fun parenting

    If you’re making New Year’s resolutions this year, remember less is more. The key to becoming a better and happier parent in the new year is NOT to add on any expectations of yourself that you can’t be successful meeting. You’ll just feel worse. That does no one any good.

    Some parents need to spend more time with their kids and actually do more at home so their kids can have a childhood instead of being expected to run the household. My guess is that most parents reading this blog would do better to subtract from what they are presently doing, let go of some of their assumed obligations, know what they are responsible for and drop the rest, and let their children fight or play more on their own with less parental supervision.

    Here are some of the things my Facebook followers would like to drop:

    ~ feeling less anxious

    ~ hovering

    ~ always being in control

    ~ worrying about what I’m doing wrong

    ~ impatience

    ~ trying to get him to be the person I want him to be

    ~ yelling, dictating, interfering, and catastrophizing

    ~ so much screentime for all of us

    And add:

    ~ more adventures

    ~ letting her choose and lead more

    ~ patience

    ~ more time thinking about what I’m doing right

    ~ more empathy

    ~ being in the moment more

    ~ slowing down and wrapping my heart in joy

    ~ being present

    ~ more outdoors

    For those of you who could drop some of your load, here are some important things that need dropping:

  • Coming up with the answers. Always having the answer is exhausting and defeating. In most situations, not only do you not have to have the answer, you shouldn’t. When you have all the answers, you pressure your children, undermine their ability to problem solve, create a dependency on you as the fixer or decider. Instead, ask questions like, “What can you do about that?” “How can you make that happen?” “How can you two work this out?” Or simply leave it alone for a bit.
  • Taking responsibility for your child’s feelings. Cheering up or denying your children’s feelings robs them of experiencing difficult feelings in a supportive atmosphere. If you feel responsible to stop negative emotions – an impossible and exhausting task — you will get angry at their upsets and tell them not to cry because you don’t know what to do with big feelings. Just let them come.
  • Teaching 24/7. Teach less, be more. Listen, watch, observe, follow your child’s lead. Your child is way more capable than you give her credit for. In many areas, she actually does know what is best for herself.
  • Assuming you are the only one. Get babysitters, go out with your spouse or friends, take yoga classes, have plenty of adult time so you will be a fuller, happier parent. Children learn from many, and no one person can fulfill all their needs—ever. Find babysitters you trust and your children like. They will look forward to you going out.
  • Jumping in. When your child falls, wait to see how he is before scooping him up with worry. Hold back when your kids are fighting to give them the chance to work it out their way. After unacceptable behavior, stop what needs to be stopped, but wait for calm to talk about what went wrong or needs amending. In the meantime, breathe and think.
  • Controlling. Let go, choose your battles, lighten up, allow a bit of naughtiness, and trust your children’s developmental process. Don’t expect your child to be at her best all the time. Give her a break. Remember how old she is. The greatest lesson in life is to understand that we cannot control another person, only ourselves.
  • Nagging. You don’t like it, your kids don’t like it, so why not stop doing it? Because it means trusting more. Much harder. See how many situations that usually provoke your nagging could afford letting go. Ask yourself, So what? Can I let this one go? What harm will be done in the long run? You may decide it requires intervention, but the asking calms you down.
  • Expecting appreciation. It’s not your children’s job to be grateful for all you do. They haven’t had another family they can compare their own with—certainly not the one you came from. They should actually be able to take you for granted—when they’re young. Everything you do for your children is your choice. You provide opportunities because you want your children to have them.
  • Doing everything. Your children are not going to remember you for how clean and organized you are. If they do, you’ve neglected a lot—mainly your relationships with them. Cut down on your daily to-do lists and replace those minutes with just being with your kids, being silly or putting your feet up.
  • Needing to be the perfect parent. Good enough is good enough. No one wants to live with a perfect parent. If you set expectations too high for yourself you will keep failing. Lower your expectations, stop comparing yourself to others, and accept who you are, what you are capable of and what you’re not. Allow yourself to have fun.
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