When my daughter says she’s fat

Question of the Day: “What do I say when my daughter says she’s fat or talks negatively about her body?”

I’ve been asked this question many times over the years. Because I’ve been teaching sex education since the dawn of time, people assume I also know how to answer questions about body image, but it really isn’t my area of expertise.

To help me answer this question, I’ve called in my colleague Susan Hyatt.

Susan Hyatt is a master certified Life Coach who has helped thousands of women to transform their bodies and lives. She’s the creator of the Bare Process, the Bare Deck, the Bare Podcast, and an online community called Bare Daily. Susan has gained an international following of women who love her honesty, humor, and fearlessness.

Susan has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Woman’s World, Seventeen, and O: The Oprah Magazine, and was a Finalist for the Athena Award, honoring her work in the field of women’s empowerment.

What should a mom say when her daughter criticizes her body and says “I’m fat”?

Susan: “When a young woman says ‘I’m fat,’ it’s usually an invitation for conversation because they are feeling less than confident. Some kids use ‘fat’ as an insult but others are starting to reclaim the word fat saying, “So what if I’m fat? Why is fat an insult?” When your daughter talks negatively about her body, ask her to tell you more.”

“Don’t jump into fat being a terrible thing. So what if you are? Is that a big deal to you?”

“If you ask more questions they might elaborate, ‘my thighs are getting big’ or ‘I over-ate.’ You’ll want to ask questions so your daughter can think deeper about what it means to live in the skin she is in. If she says, ‘I weigh more than I did last month.’

Separate thoughts from facts

You can help her separate her thoughts from the facts. The fact is I gained 5 pounds. My thoughts about that are: “I should be skinnier then I am.” She gets to choose what she wants to think, about the facts. 

Torie: “I think the natural response for many moms when their kid makes a negative statement about themselves (“I’m fat, I hate my body, I’m ugly”) is to say “No you aren’t honey, you are beautiful just the way you are.” This creates a resistance and doesn’t seem to give us the result we want, which is our kids to think positively about themselves.”

Susan: “Yes, When we immediately jump in and say, ‘No you aren’t fat. You are beautiful,’ not only does it cause our kids to push back against us, but we reinforce that gaining weight is a horrible thing. Kids may think ‘She has to say that, she’s my mom,’ or they will argue and advocate for the thing they think is horrible: pinching their fat belly to PROVE that they are right and we are wrong.”

“If you agree with them, and start to talk about exercise or weight loss, that’s not a good plan either. Parents should be neutral, get more info, and talk [to their kids] about confidence and taking care of themselves from place of love. We’ve been trained to think [being] fat is the worst thing you can be. There are a lot worse things you can be in this world than having a few extra pounds on your body.

“The culture of ‘fat phobia’ has done a lot of damage to the mindset of women. Clearly pushing back against being fat and seeing fat as an insult isn’t working. The obesity epidemic in America has tripled since the 80’s.”

“Many people think they can beat themselves into submission, trying to motivate themselves with negative self talk. It’s the opposite of what a human body needs.”

Torie: “I can remember being a freshman in high school, and after lunch all the girls would gather in the vanity room before heading back to class. It was a room with mirrors on all four walls, and girls would fix their hair or put on makeup before heading to class.

I remember one day, one of the girls looked at her reflection and said, ‘I hate my nose’ the girl to her left said, ‘I hate my hair,’ on it went, around the room. I hadn’t learned how to hate on my body yet (thanks, Mom!) but I wasn’t going to be the ONLY one who says, ‘I love my body’ so I made something up about hating my eyebrows and on it went.”

“Do you remember the first time you picked up on the idea that you were supposed to hate your body? What would you have loved to hear at that age?”

Susan: “We want this sense of belonging, we’ll do and say things that are terrible for ourselves just to belong. It takes a lot of courage, even as grown women, to be the one in the room saying I love my body as it is.”

“I was 11, with my older sister, who is 6 years older than me, playing with a Polaroid camera. I had a box fan to blow my hair, while we took pictures and played.  She was holding the photo up to the light to develop when she gasped and said, ‘Oh my god your thighs are big.’ My first thought was, ‘Oh my god, I’ve been walking around and something’s wrong and I didn’t even know it. She’s my older sister so she must be right. I need to diet; I need to shrink myself.'”

“I would have loved to hear: You are more than your appearance.”

“We are trained to believe our external appearance is our commodity in the world. Our power comes from how attractive we are to the male gaze.”

“I would have loved to hear: you are fine as you are. You have a lot more to offer the world than thin thighs. It’s important to compliment your daughters on things other than their personal appearance. ‘I love how smart you are, how artistic; that was such a kind thing you did. I love your questions. You are so curious.”

“We need to communicate to our daughters that their value in society is beyond how thin they can get.” 

There is an entire industry built around keeping you believing something is wrong with you. Don’t believe it and don’t buy into it.

Torie: “Teenagers have this natural rebellious streak, so giving them something to push back against can be helpful. Saying the media messages are designed to keep you small, not using your voice, can evoke their inner rebel.”

Susan: Tell your teen, “We want you to be a big, bold, brave version of yourself and the best way the diet industry can keep you from that is to keep you focused on your thighs. A diet teaches obedience.  Do you want to be obedient or do you want to shake stuff up? All that time spent counting, obsessing, weighing, ruminating is time that could be spent making an impact on the world.

The fastest way to grow any economy is to empower girls and women. We are 83% of dollars spent in consumer industry. The patriarchy wants you to be quiet and distracted, Why? Because an empowered woman in the patriarchy is a dangerous woman. If we have any hope of closing the pay gap before 2026, it’s going to be from disrupting the pattern of dieting.

Take a look at social media news feeds and make sure it feeds you, not depletes you. How do you feel while scrolling? Curate news feeds and beware of your mental diet. Make sure it’s filled with all shapes and sizes.

Life Coaching Answer: What gets in your way from saying the right thing?

Susan: “Moms have been steeped in diet culture just as much as the kids. Most moms want something different for their daughter but they don’t believe it for themselves. Learn together.”

“My sister was no villain; she was steeped in her own issues and diet culture. Be honest and say, ‘When I was your age, (or last week), I was envious when I saw my friend on social media because I thought, That’s never going to happen for me or I wish I looked like that.’ I’m learning to tell myself different things, let’s work together. I don’t want to waste my time pinching my fat in the shower, getting dressed a million times, then not going out because I don’t look skinny enough.”

It can become a bonding thing. 

Torie: “When you can humble yourself and admit you don’t know everything, it will create an easier relationship with your teen.

Try saying, ‘You’ve listened to me criticize my body for the last 12 years, but now that I hear it coming out of your mouth, it doesn’t feel good to me.’ How about we figure this out together?

Kids are in a major growth journey, why not join together? Ask your daughter, ‘Am I still a good mom, even though I have extra weight on my body?'”

Susan: “When teens think you are trying to be the authority, they won’t listen. This isn’t about having the perfect conversation, just opening the channels of communication.

If you lecture them about feeling positive about their bodies, they won’t respond. Aim for a collaboration or invitation.”

Torie: How do you balance the idea “I’m perfect as I am AND I want to change?”

Susan: “We’re all messy works of art. I can love my country and recognize we have work to do. I can love my body and decide to get ripped abs but from a place of love and peace, not oppression and obedience.

How does it feel to have that goal? When you think about a weight loss or exercise goal, does it feel like a celebration? Is your motivation from a healthy place or a dangerous place. 

How you feel about your goal will determine the result you get.

Supermom KryptoniteBeing rooted and taking action from negative emotion.

Torie: “Taking action from negative emotion can drain your energy. You might do the same things as someone else like eat healthy and exercise, but if you do it from shame or self hatred, it’s never going to give you the result you want.”

Susan: “Exactly, if you go to the gym while rooted in fear and anxiety over what might happen if you don’t, it’s not going to work. If you are exhausted from self-care, then your self-care is rooted in fearful, graspy, needy energy. Others go to the gym because they love the feeling they get when they go. This gives them a positive self image, emotions and motivation to keep going. Be a woman who takes amazing care of herself from a place of love.”

Supermom Powerboost – Move your body.

Want a quick boost of energy? Put on your favorite playlist and dance, by yourself, for 5 minutes. That is an instant mood booster. Check out Susan’s “Summer of Yes” playlist. Or, copy Torie and sing and dance to your favorite broadway show tunes.

Quote of the day:

“It isn’t about the physical weight you have to lose, it’s about the mental weight that blocks you from loving yourself.” Susan Hyatt

Check out Susan’s BARE book and mother-daughter book club www.Letsgetbare.com BARE daily membership community. Listen to BARE podcast. Follow on Instagram: @SusanHyatt

 

Middle School Misery

Today’s Question: Middle School Misery

My son is finishing up 7th grade and had a terrible year. He is BEGGING me to homeschool him next year. He’s always struggled with reading but got through elementary school with help and support.

He’s a bright kid, knows everything about every type of animals and their habitats. He loves turning over rocks and finding bugs of all kinds. My joyful nature-lover has turned into a miserable, despondent lump.

We made him stick it out all year, hoping things would get better but he struggles with just about everything school has to offer: sitting in a classroom, listening, learning, doing homework.

He makes friends easily but I’m worried about how homeschooling will limit his socializing and mess up his opportunities for college and future. What should I do about my miserable middle schooler?    -Lynnette

Parent Educator Answer: Middle School Misery

This “middle school misery” is more common than you might think.

Kids who have undiagnosed learning disabilities can get through elementary school just fine, but middle school magnifies problem areas.

The workload creates a bottleneck for kids with attention problems.

Too much information comes in (that they are NOT interested in) causing attentional fatigue. This mental fatigue causes kids to zone out and miss critical instruction.

middle school misery

Kids who struggle to pay attention at school do not have a focusing problem when it comes to things they WANT to be doing. 

Some kids have the ability to HYPERFOCUS on things that fascinate them.  However, having too much uninteresting information at school doesn’t leave much time left over for one’s passion.

When there isn’t time to learn about things that truly lights them up, you’ll end up with a grumpy, zombie child.

Kids without learning disabilities can struggle with traditional school as well.

Highly sensitive children can soak up the insecurities on a middle school campus so that they feel lost and drained of their own energy.

With so much pressure put on kids to perform and the fast pace of society, the mental and emotional health of students is of high concern.

Any kid who has a predisposition toward anxiety may find their symptoms ramping up during these sensitive years. 

Our brains are not designed for the amount of input we are currently taking in. I’ve even noticed a change in my ability to focus my attention.

I used to read all the time but now my mind wanders more and struggles to keep attention on the page. I have to be really selective about what books I read because so few will grab my attention. 

 

Life Coaching Answer for Middle School Misery

Let’s start by accepting reality as it currently is today. You could argue that society is too fast-paced.

Perhaps schools should be designed to nurture the whole human being, not being so focused on college and the workforce.

It would be great if our educational institution were able to meet the unique needs of all children.

Could your child learn to adapt better to the system he is in? Maybe.

For clarity and peace, let’s just accept the schools as they are and your child’s brain and personality as it is.

Your son has an easy time making friends. Let’s assume that will continue wherever he goes.

He has an appetite for learning the subjects he is interested in which will probably rekindle once he has some free time and mental space.

We don’t know what the future will bring. If he stays in school, he may enter such a depressed state that he can’t handle high school, let alone college and beyond.

The same thing may be true if you pull him out and homeschool.

All we know is that, right now, he is struggling with school and he thinks he has found a solution.

Offer Contrast

An easy way to increase happiness is to offer contrast.

When you are blazing hot and you jump in a cold pool, it feels fabulously refreshing. If you are cold and jump into the same pool, it feels terrible.

Trying to drink 8 servings of water a day is tough for me, but when it’s hot and I’m thirsty, water is the best beverage on the planet!

I’m wondering if you could increase your child’s happiness by offering a contrasting experience.

I’m going to tell you a few different scenarios of other moms who were in your shoes. Surprisingly, they found homeschooling scenarios worked for them.

I can’t tell you what is right for you or your child. Only you know what’s best for you and your situation, but perhaps these stories from others will help you access your own wisdom.

My Son

My son incurred a head injury when he was 11 and could no longer function at school. ‘

His hormones were completely out of whack (cortisol through the roof and almost no adrenaline).

He couldn’t sleep at night, couldn’t get up in the morning, and felt easily overwhelmed and overstimulated.

He accrued many absences the first quarter of sixth grade and trying to keep up with assignments was stressing him out.

By November, it was clear: he wasn’t getting better.

We pulled him out and finally treated the concussion we should have treated back in May.

He enrolled in an online school, I worked from home, and he continued to play soccer.

By April, he was well enough to go with his class to 6th grade science camp for a week in nature. The more downtime he had, the more he could recuperate.

Life at home with mom for six months made him appreciate his classmates and the structure of school. He returned to school for 7th grade and stayed.

Sheri

Sheri pulled her son out of middle school at his request.

Her job allowed her to work remotely so she enrolled him in a Shakespeare theater program where he read, studied, performed, fundraised, learned set design, etc.

He got to study every aspect of theater with others who shared his passion, while she worked on her laptop and phone.

For the other subjects, he worked online or with a tutor at the kitchen table. It’s been a few years and he has no interest in going back.

Katherine

Homeschooling versus M,iddle School Misery

Katherine’s daughter’s anxiety was unmanageable. She felt pressured and was missing lots of school due to headaches and other vague symptoms.

Katherine found a retired teacher on Craig’s List with dyslexia training who was willing to come to her house for 3 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Her daughter missed her friends and did not like this new arrangement.

She still saw her friends after school and at gymnastics, but she relaxed, worked hard to get caught up academically, and learned to manage her anxiety.

The next year she felt stronger, more capable, and ready to return to school.

 

Eileen

Eileen’s 6th-grade daughter was sinking into depression.

Everything about school seemed like a chore: the work, the social dynamics, being pulled out for extra academic help.

Her parents pulled her from school and divided up her studies between mom, dad, and grandma.

They increased her time at her favorite horse ranch to 12 hours a week. To their delight, they watched the light come back in her eyes.

They don’t know what they will do next year, but they will let their daughter’s happiness and mental health guide their decisions.

I hope these examples of other moms give you support and guidance as you make a difficult decision.

Supermom Kryptonite – information overload 

Information overload occurs when the amount of input to a system exceeds its processing capacity.

Too much information causes a bottleneck in the brain. This thus increases feelings of stress and overwhelm and reducing the quality of our decisions.

The amount of information that we take into our brains continues to skyrocket.

If you think of a typical newspaper being about 85 pages, in 1986 we received about 40 newspapers full of information every day.

In 2007, this rocketed to 174 newspapers full of information we are taking into our brains every day.

Having too much information streaming in not only affects our children’s mental well being but ours too.

When we are trying to make important decisions, like what to do about our child’s education, it’s easy to get bogged down in information and choices.

Be wary of spending too much time online, googling, and gathering information.

The world is changing fast. It’s more important than ever that you slow down, focus on your child’s well being, and listen to your gut intuition.

Which leads me to recommend today’s supermom power boost, Forest Bathing.

Forest bathing
My happy place

Supermom Power Boost

Forest Bathing basically means to go into a forest and stay awhile.

Breathe. Sit. Walk. Savor.

Since I am writing this from my campsite in a magnificent redwood forest on the California coast, I couldn’t help but choose this for today’s power boost.

Forest bathing is a technique that originated in Japan during the 1980s and is suggested for preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine.

Researchers in Japan and South Korea have gathered significant scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.

Forest bathing (immersing yourself in a forest) is shown to have several benefits. It boosts immune system function, reduces blood pressure and stress, improves mood, sleep, and energy levels.

Being in the woods is shown to increase focus, especially in children with ADHD.

For moms, trying to make important decisions, there is tremendous value in cutting out all external input and listening to your own gut intuition, voice and values.

Let the forest shift you into a relaxed, receptive state FIRST. You will then notice how your creativity and quality of thinking improve. 

Quote of the Day:

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein 

He did everything right, but still didn’t get in to the college he wanted.

Today’s Question: On College Disappointment

My son is finishing up high school and did everything he was supposed to do. He worked hard, got good grades, did extracurricular activities, volunteer work- you name the hoop, he jumped through it. The university that he had set his heart on did not accept him and he is suffering from college disappointment.

He got into his “safety school” but he’s really not excited about it. I think it bothers him that so many of his classmates are going there. They offered us some great financial incentives so it makes sense for him to go there, but it’s a little to close to home for his liking.

I just wish he were happier. He’s got all these end of year celebrations coming up but there’s a dark cloud over him that’s keeping him from enjoying his accomplishments so far. I’m so sad for him. What can I say to cheer him up? -Anya

Parent Educator Answer:

Most of the advice you would hear from a parent educator when a child just came from college disappointment is the same advice you’ll hear from other parents. “He’ll be fine.” “Once he gets in there, he’ll realize how different the experience is and make it work for him.”

When these attempts at “cheering up” don’t work, it’s probably best to meet him where he is.

Agreeing with him by saying, “This totally sucks” or “It’s so disappointing” will help him accept his emotions, feel supported, and move on when he’s ready to move on. Being compassionate towards him teaches him to be compassionate towards himself.

Lots of people encounter a situation like this and think, “I’m such an idiot” “I suck” “Why did I think I would ever get in” and other self-defeating comments.

When we are our own cheerleaders, we can take chances and try new things, knowing we have our backs. The more we model this to our kids, the more they will learn to do the same.

There’s nothing wrong with being disappointed. If you are going to have ambitions, goals, and dreams, you are also going to have disappointment. It’s a natural part of the human experience and nothing has gone wrong here.

college disappointment

Life Coaching Answer:

The life coach in me has A LOT to say about this, starting with, I’m so sorry, Anya. It’s so hard to watch our kids work so hard for something that they really want and not get it.

It sounds like he found a school that really resonated with him and seemed like the perfect match. It’s hard to have figured out what you want and do everything you were supposed to do, and still not be able to get it.

I’m going to guess, Anya, that you live in a part of the country that participates in a “crazy college culture.” There are places in our country where people place A LOT of importance on which college children are attending.

It’s become a marker of success FOR THE PARENTS and THE SCHOOLS, as well as the kids. This is so screwed up. GRADUATION is the marker of a successful high school career! People are stressing their kids out, putting so much pressure on them, making them believe where they go to school is vital to success in life.

Do you know what the #1 predictor of success in life is? It’s not where you go to school. It’s not what kind of grades or test scores you get.

The #1 predictor of success in life is social and emotional well being.

When we, as a culture, prioritize grades, hard work, and competition over relaxation, peace, and kindness, we may actually be hindering the success of an entire generation by increasing their stress levels.

The purpose of higher education is to diversify your thinking, build a set of skills, and deepen your education in one specialized area for the purpose of employment.

You can do this right now, for free.

In the “olden days,” you had to go to a university in order to access this knowledge and higher wisdom. With Kahn Academy, Youtube, and free online universities, you do not need to leave your bedroom to learn the content you want to learn.

Pretty much anything you want to learn can be acquired online, anytime you want.

Today, the value of going away to a university is more about personal growth. Our kids are sheltered without a lot of opportunities to test their mettle.

We don’t send them away for a month at a summer camp, or to a grandparents farm anymore. We don’t let our kids travel alone, or even take a bus to the city by themselves. Today’s teens are even delaying getting jobs and driver’s licenses.

Going away to school has become a rite of passage into adulthood. It is personal growth and independence that has made going away to college so important, (but only because we stopped giving them other opportunities to grow).

My hunch is that the reason Anya’s son doesn’t want to go to this school is he feels it’s stifling his growth.

What else can he do that would be a growth opportunity for him? Could he take a gap year and travel? Could he join the peace corps? Teach for America? Become an au pair or teach English in another country?

If he really has his heart set on this dream school, he could get an apartment and attend a junior college nearby.

How about starting his own business doing something fascinating? Take up a new sport, job, or hobby? There are lots of ways to grow and explore one’s independence.

Our higher selves will rebel if we try to be happy about staying small. We are meant for continual expansion and growth at every age and stage of our lives. Help him think creatively about growth and you’ll see the light come back in your son’s eyes.

Think of your high school senior like a hermit crab who has outgrown its shell. As scary as it is to venture out into the unknown and try out a new shell, but it feels better than staying stuck in a shell that has become too small for him.

The way to help a hermit crab find a new shell, is to present him with a few different options with varying sizes, shapes, and thicknesses. He thought he found the right shell, he thought it was going to be perfect but it wasn’t.

Maybe it will be the right shell after a year of growth? Or maybe, after a year of growth, it won’t feel like the right fit anymore.

The important thing is to be patient and let your hermit crab be uncomfortable. Let him be disappointed. This discomfort is what will motivate your hermit crab and when he is ready, he will choose another shell.

I think it’s great that the system failed him at a young age. It was going to happen eventually.

I have so many clients who play by the rules and do what they are told, hoping for some future reward that never comes.

Better to learn now, that the key to happiness is making the systems work for you instead of you believing the key to your success and happiness, is in the hands of a system.

Supermom Kryptonite: Trying to fix a problem that isn’t yours to solve.

Anya is trying to fix this college disappointment for her son, understandably, but the effort of trying to solve a problem that doesn’t belong to her, will exhaust her and drain her energy. When a loved one is suffering, there are two ways people try to help that really aren’t helpful.

We feel bad for them

Many moms try to help by “feeling bad” for the suffering person. We think, “My son is so sad, I’ll feel bad along with him, so at least he’s not alone in his suffering.”

There’s this underlying belief that a mom shouldn’t be happy if her child isn’t. We feel guilty being happy when our loved ones are suffering but having two suffering people really doesn’t help.

You feel better because you think you are being a good mom, but your son feels even worse because now he’s responsible for creating a dark cloud over two people instead of just one.

Tell them what to do.

It’s so easy for us to see what someone can do to improve their life!

We hate watching them suffer, so we try to move into their life and take over: telling them what to do, how to feel, and even taking actions for them.

This ends up being a lose-lose situation. They feel disempowered because they can’t solve their own problems, we get annoyed that they don’t follow all our great advice.

Supermom Power Boost:

The way to help suffering loved ones is today’s supermom power boost. There are three things to think about when we watch someone we love going through a hard time.

1. There’s a reason they have a problem.

There is a skill set they need to build in order to solve the problem. It’s not that they need an immediate solution, it’s that they need to grow a capacity.

In Anya’s son’s case, if he had experienced many disappointments in his life, this college disappointment wouldn’t have been a big deal.

My guess is that it’s his first big disappointment, so he needs to decide what he’s going to make it mean and recalibrate his expectations with the reality he is experiencing. This skill set will serve him well and now is his time to develop it. 

 2. “Troubled? Then sit with me for I am not.” Hafiz (*I think I said Rumi in the podcast…oops!) 

Have you ever had a problem and someone else was more upset and worried about it than you were?

It feels icky. What helps our loved ones who are suffering, is for us to remain peaceful and untroubled.

We can hold the space for them to feel whatever they want to feel, while also letting them work it out on their own and making their life even better.

Do you know someone who is suffering? Picture your loved one standing in front of you, strong and peaceful, with an open, empty suitcase at their feet.

Imagine taking your worries, your fears, your sadness, and placing it inside the suitcase. Watch as your loved one closes the suitcase, thanks you, picks it up, and walks away. This is their problem to solve. You can give them advice if they ask because that’s a sign they are ready to hear it.

 

Quote of the Day:  “Every success story is a tale of constant adaptation, revision and change.” Richard Branson

How to motivate your child

How to motivate your child in one simple step

Today’s “parent education” answer is a fabulous way to motivate any child or adult so keep listening even if today’s question isn’t reflective of your situation.

Today’s Question: “My son is quite smart and capable, but not motivated in school. He does his homework but forgets to turn it in. He could get top marks in his class but seems content with mediocrity. It bothers me that his grades don’t reflect what he’s capable of. How can I motivate my son to care more about his school performance?” Jen

Life Coaching answer: There is one simple thing parents can do to motivate their kids. There is also one thing that will BLOCK kid’s motivation that I think could become a problem for Jen here. Beware of attachment to ego.

When kids are little it’s not unusual for their success to feel like our success. Someone tells us how cute or polite our pre-schooler is, we say thank you. When our kids act out in public, or bite some other kid on the playground, we feel embarrassed. The line between where they end and where we begin, is blurred.

As they grow into their own person, it’s helpful to stop taking credit for their amazing-ness and stop blaming ourselves for their missteps, however tempting it may be. When our ego gets attached to their academic performance, their athletic performance, their drive or lack of it, we create a messy situation. Our ego will fight like crazy to stay in tact and often kids will sense our attachment to their success and deliberately sabotage themselves to take off the pressure and stay in control in their lives. When we can see them as a separate individuals, allowing them take credit for their successes AND failures, it keeps us sane. We have the privilege to guide our children but not steer their lives.

Parent Educator answer:

One day, I was on a road trip with my family, and my kids called from the backseat asking, “Mom, wanna play a game with us?”

I responded, “No thank you, I’m enjoying reading my book.”

“What book are you reading?” they asked?

“Oh, it’s a fascinating book, I’m absolutely loving it. It’s all about play and how it shapes the brain, opens the imagination and invigorates the soul.”

My astute kiddo responds, “So you would rather read a book about play than play a game with your children?”

I pause with stunned realization, knowing the answer is yes, but also aware of how strange that answer sounded. I WOULD rather read about play! Why? What was motivating me to choose reading my book, over playing game?

Luckily, Dr. Stuart Brown had the answer right in my hands.

What motivates anyone to do anything is emotions. We are driven to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It sounds like Jen’s son doesn’t get enjoyment out of turning in his homework, or seeing gold stars posted on the sticker chart. Jen, on the other hand, does enjoy that. She sounds like she is motivated by accolades, competition and identifying herself as a high achiever.

Emotions are crucial to motivation and the one simple step I’ve discovered to motivate kids, is to figure out what is their PLAY PERSONALITY.

Dr. Stuart Brown identified 8 distinct play personalities.

If you can figure out your child’s top 3 play personalities, you’ll have key insight into how to make things more fun, and therefore more motivating, for your child.

  1. The Joker  – Play revolves around nonsense, practical jokes, pranks, silliness.
  2. The Kinesthete – If I’m not moving, it’s not play.
  3. The Explorer – Goes to new places, discovers, learns and understands new things.
  4. The Competitor – Enjoys competing and keeping score, plays to win.
  5. The Collector – Enjoys collecting objects or experiences (can be social or solitary)
  6. The Artist/Creator – Joy is found in making things.
  7. The Storyteller – Imagination is the key to play. Movies, dance, acting, reading, etc.
  8. The Director – Enjoys planning and executing scenes and events. Loves being in charge and in the center of the social world.

 

The reason I enjoyed reading about play more than playing, is that my top play personality is that of explorer. I love traveling and seeing new places, but also learning and discovering what makes people tick.

Jen probably has competitor as one of her top 3. She cannot understand why her son wouldn’t be motivated to turn his homework in. He might be an explorer, more interested in the act of learning, than proving to anyone else what he has learned. To motivate him, she can tap into his play personality. If he’s a collector….for every paper he turns in, she’ll buy him something to add to his collection.

If he’s an artist/creator…..he could design a creative poster or method to remind himself to grab his homework before he leaves the house.

If he’s a storyteller, pretend his homework is the important key he needs to bring to school to open up the world to a new dimension, saving an entire species of alien beings. 

If he’s a kinesthete, hide the homework somewhere in the house and play a game of “you are getting warmer” in the morning before school.

The director can put his little sister in charge of his homework. The joker can attach a joke to his homework assignments for his teacher to read or “prank” her by doing his assignment upside down or backwards.

I think part of the way we stay attached to ego is by thinking our kids should do things the way we would do them. As we let go of our expectations, and learn to see our children as separate from us, it actually helps us grow closer to them.

Understanding your child’s play personality will help you motivate them, but also appreciate what a unique and wonderful person they are.

 

Supermom Kryptonite – valuing work over play

I’ve always loved working. As a teen I loved babysitting, waiting tables, garage sales, you name it. As a child, my favorite thing to “make believe” was playing store, bank, library or house. Today, I’d rather sell raffle tickets at the school auction than just mingle and socialize. But the reason I love working so much is because it feels like play to me.

When we value work, for the sake of work, without honoring our need to play, it’s like burning the candle at both ends. We use up twice as much energy trying to motivate ourselves. We can do it, because our ego values hard work & productivity but it’s a struggle on our soul.

Imagine a dog digging a hole to bury a bone. This dog is focused, intensely digging, not distracted by anything around him. It looks like he’s working hard and he is, but he is enjoying it. He’s doing work that he’s meant to do, that’s aligned with his essence, and so it feels like play. It requires physical effort, but not psychological or emotional effort. I think this is what work is supposed to be like for us, too.

I’m not a kinesthete. Ask me to do yard work or mop my floors and I will move at a snails pace, dragging my feet and complaining the whole time. UNLESS, I’ve got people coming over for a party or my girls summer camp and suddenly I’m full of energy. The director in me loves creating fun events for others. Be careful not to value work, over play. Use play to make work more fun and aligned with your highest self.

Supermom power boost – Step out of your routine

Stepping out of our normal routine encourages our brains into a more playful state. Life coaching encourages playful transformation because you take an hour a week to observe your life from the outside in, looking at what’s working and what isn’t. Getting a change of scenery can also help to offer a new perspective.

  • Getting swept away into a novel or spending time in nature are play states.
  • Attend a local cultural event for a holiday that is not one you are familiar with.
  • Learn to play a new game or understand a new sport.

Sometimes, stepping out of our routine is all we need to open ourselves up to our sense of play and imagination.

It is really common for Supermoms to lose their sense of play when there is so much work to be done. Stepping out of your routine, creating space for you, is a quick way to invigorate the soul and feel playful again. 

Quote of the day:What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of ‘nonproductive’ activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life.” Dr. Stuart Brown

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can I support my over-achieving teen

Today’s question: 

“I’m impressed, but also worried about my daughter. She’s 16 and has a 4.4 GPA, great friends, and excels in dance. She is amazingly driven, but averages 4-5 hours of sleep every night. Recently she got REALLY sick. Two weeks of flu symptoms so severe, she almost needed to be hospitalized. Now she’s back to her hardcore lifestyle. I encourage her to sleep and relax more but I’m wondering if it’s it all too much for her? Am I just finding things to worry about, or is there something I can do to support my over-achieving child?”   Marlene

Parent Educator Answer:

Our culture trains us to look for signs that our kids are on the right track. Developmental milestones when they are young, like walking and talking, grades, friendships, and extra-curricular activities when they are older. When your child is meeting all the societal expectations of success, it can cloud your judgement and make it harder to know if you should intervene or not. 

Here are signs your high achieving daughter could use some mama intervention:

  • -cranky and unhappy the majority of her days
  • -not celebrating accomplishments: deflecting and denying praise
  • -mean to siblings and parents.
  • -recurring illnesses that don’t seem to be contagious
  • -recurring physical pain
  • -acting out – doing something impulsive and out of character
  • -acting in – cutting, self-medicating, eating disorders, etc.

People have two ways to motivate themselves: love and fear.

I have coached teenage girls who are VERY hard on themselves. They have really mean inner critics that constantly tell them: “I need to work harder. I’m not doing enough. I don’t have time to relax.” Or they will say things to themselves like, “You are wasting your time. You have to do everything perfectly. You are going to fail, etc.”

Read these to your daughter and ask her if any of them sound like thoughts that bounce around inside her head. If she says yes, or if you see more than one of the warning signs, then she is using fear to motivate herself and it’s time to intervene.

The trick with teenagers is many are very resistant to thinking that something is “wrong” with them and they may shy away from counselors or therapists.

Life Coaching is a great solution. Teens have coaches who help them with their sports. Elite athletes still hire coaches because they can offer expertise and perspective to enhance their game. So there isn’t the same association with something being “wrong” with them. 

There is so much benefit to learning life coaching tools while you are young. You will save yourself years of suffering from the sneaky voice of the inner critic. In teens, this inner critic hasn’t been around long, so it’s easier to rewire that part of our brain, than it is with adults. Young brains are very malleable, so getting coaching while young would help her learn to support and motivate herself with love and passion for the rest her life. Knowing how to coach herself at a young age means that she will be happier, but also be a positive voice for her friends as she moves on to college and adult life.

Life Coach Answer:

Before mom can suggest any intervention for her daughter, she needs to make sure she isn’t worried. Worrying energy repels teens like crazy and will make her not want to listen or be around you. 

I see no problem telling her that some perfectionistic teens commit suicide when they get their first C in college, or when they don’t get into the premiere ballet school, or don’t win the scholarship they wanted, just don’t use it to fuel your worry.

Mama needs to let go of any thoughts around this being an emergency or her daughter “needing her help”. Instead, trust that she could go through her whole life this way and be very tired, but successful. Most of my clients have harsh inner critics and finally seek life coaching once their kids are born and they can’t do it all anymore. If you offer coaching to her, letting her know it’s a normal thing that people do to optimize their life experiences, she’ll eventually come around when the pain, illness, fatigue or frustration are too much for her.

What you can do to help, is to be mindful of your own inner critic and make sure your inner perfectionist isn’t fueling hers. Let her see you making mistakes and laughing them off. Encourage and model relaxation. There has never been a better time to lay around and do nothing.

Supermom kryptonite: busyness.

We live in a culture that reveres busyness. When a mom complains about being busy, all the other moms nod their head in agreement. We wear busyess like a badge of honor, but there is a cost to pay. Being busy robs us of our productivity and sense of well being.

As humans, we aren’t wired to be busy all day. How do we know? Think about the last really relaxing vacation you went on. Didn’t it feel good to do less? Think less? Accomplish less? The fact that doing less, feels good, means it’s more aligned with who we are meant to be. When we are busy, our brains are thinking about the past and the future. We end up spinning in circles, emptying half the dishwasher, doing half the laundry, drafting an email but not sending it. This unfocused, frenetic, busy energy does nothing for our productivity, efficiency, and joy. It keeps us out of the present moment but we do it, to keep our inner critic from rearing her ugly head to tell us we should be doing more.

 

Supermom power boost: honor a sabbath

The old fashioned idea of ‘honoring a sabbath’ could be very beneficial for today’s modern families. With lives full of places to be and things to do, taking time out to just sit and DO NOTHING is probably the smartest thing we could all be doing to improve our sense of well-being. But as soon as we sit to do nothing, our minds fill with all the things we ‘could’ and ‘should’ be doing. Or, we pick up our cell phones and find something to fill the void.

I propose a modern take on honoring a sabbath by setting aside 5 hours (or even just 5 minutes) every week, where no electronic devices are allowed. Where you and your family are forced to “do nothing” together. When the intention is to do nothing but just hang out together, it helps keep that inner voice at bay saying, “you should be doing something else.” 

When my family takes time to honor a sabbath this way, we go hiking, fly kites, go out to lunch, hang out in the back yard, make up silly games, etc. Slowing down and focusing on BEING instead of DOING, can make wonderful things happen that you can’t anticipate when you are busy.

Quote of the Day: “We are living under the collective delusion that in order to succeed we have to burnout along the way.” Arianna Huffington