Several times a week, parents tell me, it's odd....my kids are so different from each other! I don't think it's odd at all. Despite growing up in a "shared family environment," multiple factors from non-shared genetics to non-shared environmental influences shape each of us.
This summer, we are observing this in our own home. Both our kids are at overnight camp - one is gleefully happy and wants to stay longer than planned and one is having a tougher time and at some rough times, would clearly prefer to be at home! Both kids are dealing with a shared stressor - a very ill relative who they love and the uncertainty that comes with that. The kids are at brother/sister camps with the same values, activities, food, etc. Yet, we laugh all winter about how one thinks the chicken patties are the best things ever and one thinks they are similar to "roadkill." Same.chicken.patties!!!!!
It is hard to be away from your kids when they are struggling. Typically, during our nightly family dinners, we discuss the day and guide our kids on how to deal with the challenges of peers, a sport they want to play but aren't very good at, or a family issue like an ill relative. When the kids are away, and all correspondence is via letters only, it is harder to guide. Some days, it feels unfair to send the kids off in this way. But, on the rough days, here is what I remind myself:
-Even when we are not there, the kids hear our voices and our guidance. This was confirmed to us during our one phone call of the summer with our more reticent child who said, "During the tough times, I think, well, what would mommy and daddy suggest in this situation?" We always want to teach our kids to do this self talk. Now, of course, we don't only want our kids to hear OUR voices in their heads. We want them to develop their own voice in their head - their own internal psychologist to provide advice to get through challenges. If we always jump in, they will never learn to handle all of life's ups and downs on their own. Sometimes a few weeks away is a good opportunity for kids to learn they can cope on their own -- and flip-side -- for parents to see that they don't always need to jump in to solve every problem.
-On a related note, people in our society tend to keep struggles within their own families. You know, never let them see you sweat! Sending kids off on their own for a stretch of time also encourages them to seek support from others. This is an amazing skill to have. So many of my patients can't order their own food in a restaurant or ask for help in a store, let alone share their innermost feelings with a friend or ask for support from a grown up. When we are not there to support our kids, it is more likely they will seek this support from trusted others and learn how to establish meaningful connections outside their nuclear family.
-On tough days, I remind myself that our goal, as parents, is to raise our children into adults. My favorite read this year was "How to Raise An Adult" by Julie Lythcott-Haims. You must read this book!!!! This book reminds us that we don't want to wait until college for our kids to learn to manage without us. A bit of struggle along the way is a good thing! Facing a challenge, sticking with it, and coming up with a solution develops resilience. And, of course, where camp is concerned, learning to clean a bunk, set a table, and prepare one's own food isn't such a bad thing either!
Are your kids at overnight camp? How are you dealing with struggles that they might be having from afar?
I was happy to be quoted in the Chicago Tribune recently on a situation we have all been in....haven't we?
What do you do when a stranger tries to parent your child in public? (Photomondo / Getty Images)
Christen A. Johnson Chicago Tribune
Q: A stranger tries to parent or critique your child in public. How do you deal with the person without becoming irate?
The first inclination is to give a dirty look or nasty retort. These public put-downs can eat away at us for hours, or even days, after they’ve happened. They can make us question our capabilities as parents or the goodness of our kids.
Ask yourself if you value what this person thinks of you. There are many people you care about who give parenting feedback and whose advice you will take to heart.
The stranger in the playground or the neighborhood restaurant? Not so much. You don't know the person’s values or parenting skills. So be prepared for these situations with a set response. "Sorry he's bugging you. We were all kids once, right?" Or a simple, "I've got it, thanks."
Care about the people who do matter to you, and be able to dismiss the people who just pass through your life momentarily.
— Dr. Deborah Roth Ledley, author of “Becoming a Calm Mom: How to Manage Stress and Enjoy the First Year of Motherhood”
Today's New York Times is a must read: nyti.ms/2yYp7cn
Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety?
captures what I do on a daily basis - the kids I see, the issues they face, the reality of treatment (what it can achieve and its limits). I encourage all parents to read this wonderful article. And, please leave your comments here.
Using Cognitive-Behavioral Strategies to Treat Perfectionism Across the Anxiety Disorders in Children and Adolescents:
Learning to Live by Values Instead of by Rules
Friday October 27, 2017, 10am-2pm
Deborah Ledley PhD and Lynne Siqueland, PhD
Continuing Education Information: The Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety is approved by the American Psychological Association to sponsor continuing education for psychologists The Children’s and Adult Center for OCD and Anxiety maintains responsibility for this program and its content. Participants will earn 4 CE hours for completing this workshop.
Please contact Lynne Siqueland for more information and to register: email@example.com
I love working with kids during their Senior Year in high school. It is a time of so much potential stress, and a time when cognitive-behavioral therapy can be SO beneficial. Each year, I feel an internal burst of happiness when I have finally helped to navigate each of my Seniors through the craziness of the college application process, the agony of choosing a school, and the preparations for leaving home (sometimes for the very first time).
I've had a really busy week with clients preparing to start a new grade in elementary school or make the transition to middle school, high school, and college. Although each of my clients is so unique, the concerns they tend to share at this time of year are very similar. The boil down to the Three L's:
-Who will I sit with at LUNCH?
-How will I get into my LOCKER?
-Will I get LOST (and as an addendum to that one, will I be LATE?)
For anxious kids, I think these fears point to a few very important lessons to be learned:
-All adjustments take time. Every kid is going to have a hard time getting into their locker the first week of school. Everyone is going to get lost on their way to class in the first few weeks of school (and might even be late). Every student is going to feel uncertain about who to sit with at lunch. I tell kids that by the end of two weeks, they will feel pretty good. With respect to friendships, it will take longer. For college freshman, it might take several months to find a group of like-minded kids who really make you feel at home in your new surroundings. All of this is normal and should be expected.
-The only way to succeed is to ask for what you need. If you can't get into your locker, ask a friend or teacher for help. If you are lost, ask an older student. If you are alone at lunchtime, ask to join some kids who look nice. What is the worst thing that might happen? Test out this fear. In all likelihood, this fear will not come to pass. For example, if you fear that someone will laugh at you if you ask where your next class is, test it out. In all likelihood, the student you ask will point you in the right direction or even walk with you to help you find the way.
-Anxious kids often fear doing the wrong thing and getting in trouble. Ask yourself, "What's happened in the past for me?" or "What would happen if this happened to another kid?" For example, in the first week of school very few kids get in trouble for coming into class late. Remind yourself that when you've made a minor mistake in the past, the world hasn't ended - you haven't even got a detention! These is generally wiggle room for kids to make little mistakes, and even if a teacher says some sharp words, you can handle it!
Good luck with the new school year - and send me any questions or concerns you'd like me to address!
One of the goals I have when working with each of my clients is to tailor treatment to their unique needs. I'd like to do the same with my blog! With the school year beginning, what is your child worrying about? Fill in this survey and I will write some blog posts to address YOUR concerns (confidentially, of course!).
Want some tips for coping with worry? Click on the link to hear me speak about putting your worries in a box!
Yesterday, we were on a flight and my husband and I were seated in front of a mom and her kindergarten-age child. As we were waiting to take off, this mom reviewed the seat back safety card with her son. She had him practice how to brace should the plane make an emergency landing. She talked about water landings. She discussed why it is unsafe to smoke on planes and reminded her little boy how nanny had died from lung cancer from smoking. We were relieved when the sounds of the engine began and drowned out the painful conversation behind us!
Even in the context of my work with anxious kids, this was an extreme example of how parenting can prime anxiety. This child did not ask a SINGLE question about air safety. In fact, he sounded like he was having a fun time on the plane. But, I have no doubt that as he gets older, he will become anxious about air safety. This experience made me think.....
How do we balance educating our children with preventing unneeded anxiety?
-Talk about what is likely to happen, instead of what is extremely unlikely to happen. Do planes crash? Yes, they do. But, with extremely low likelihood. Air travel is extremely safe. What should we talk about on an airplane? How about all the fun things we will be doing at our destination? The shape of the clouds? The beautiful sunrise or sunset? Rather than instilling a sense of fear in our kids, we can instill a sense of wonder.
-Let kids ask the questions, and answer as briefly as possible. I noticed yesterday that the little boy behind us did not ask a single question about air safety. My advice would therefore be - don't talk about air safety! If kids ask questions, answer them but as briefly as possible. Do planes crash? Yes, but barely ever. Why can't people smoke on planes? Because it stinks and pollutes all the passengers' lungs. Why do we go through the Xray machines before boarding the plane? Because those are the rules. Yesterday, my son asked why we can't take liquids through security. Before I could even answer, he said, "I know mommy! They want us to buy our drinks at the airport so they make money." I am totally fine with him thinking that rather than knowing about people using liquids to try to blow up planes. After all, he is nine!
-Make your answers age appropriate. Related to the previous comment, answers to our kids' questions are obviously going to vary depending on age. If a three year old asks if a plane can fall out of the sky, it is totally fine to say a simple NO WAY! If a thirteen year old, with access to the internet, asks the same question, it is appropriate to have a more detailed discussion about airplane safety.
-If you are a nervous flyer, try to not transmit that anxiety to your children. Children learn by example. If you are a nervous flyer, try not to share your fears with your kids. Wouldn't it be nice if they can grow up enjoying something that you fear? Read a self-help book on fear of flying. Attend one of the wonderful classes offered at your local airport. Seek treatment from an expert. Have your kids sit with the adult in your family who is not afraid of flying so that they can learn to associate flying with calmness and enjoyment. And, remember, the nice thing about kids is that they are distracting! You might find that flying becomes easier ones you have children and your attention is diverted from your fears to tending to their needs on the flight!
Last weekend, we went skiing for the first time as a family. Not only was it fun, but I also found it immensely helpful for both of my kids - in very different ways.
-Conquering fears - One of my kids tends to be on the slightly more anxious side. She has always been a little reluctant to try new things and a little fearful of bad things happening. On the way up the chairlift for the first time, she was scared of falling. At the top of the mountain, she was terrified she would not make it down. There were a lot of "What if's!" We had some really useful discussions on our way down this first run - great for skiing and great for life!
-Being Gritty! -- This child is also a typical "gifted kid" - so many things naturally come easily to her that she sometimes gives up on things that are really hard. Skiing is hard for everyone at first! It was great for her to see how she could build on new skills over the course of just two days and know that with more work and practice, she could get better and better. This lesson applies to skiing, and to really anything new that we want to learn.
-Maintaining Focus - My other child can be a little unfocused at times. He has a really busy, inquisitive brain. It is a super thing about him, and can also pose challenges when he needs to do just one thing at a time (like getting dressed in the morning without chatting with his sister, getting immersed in a book, or looking at a beautiful sunrise out his bedroom window!). We were so proud of his focus on the slopes! He was 100% in the moment, attentive to making those big C's across the mountain, filtering out unimportant information (like the annoying snowboarders swooping around him). Since we returned home, we have been talking about how this focus led to success! All that attention made him ski beautifully and he also saw how enjoyable it can be to have your brain and body do just one thing at a time.
-Being in the moment - We must all be teaching out children about how to be in the moment. Skiing is a beautiful exercise in mindfulness. When you are actually skiing, you can become completely immersed in the swishing sound of your skis, the wind on your face, the beautiful scenery. We can re-create that experience when practicing mindfulness at home. Picture a beautiful mountain and imagine skiing down it at a relaxed, even pace. In your imagery, you can remove the annoying snowboarders and the whizzing five year olds (who make us adults really notice our aching knees!). Just you, a gorgeous spot, and the side to side rhythm of skiing. Try it and have your kids try it -- it's really good for your body and mind!
I am a licensed psychologist working with kids, teens, and adults with anxiety disorders.