Help kids overcome their fears

I am in Costa Rica, getting ready to zip line over the canopy of trees and I am NERVOUS. I’ve got my harness and helmet on, feeling the natural fear of being VERY high up and doing something very unnatural to humans. I tell myself, “freaking out is a choice”. I access my logic with the question, “What’s the mathematical probability of something bad happening?” I remind myself, “I get to choose how I want to think and feel right now”. I decide to focus on this really cool opportunity to see what it feels like to be a bird. 

Once I take off and am flying through the trees like a bird, the thought comes to me, “I have always wanted to do this. This is my dream coming true.” 

Oh yeah, with all the fear, I had forgotten that. 

But while I am using all my tools to deal with fear, I’m watching others, drop like flies.

Not out of the sky, thankfully, but off the platform, out of line, and back onto solid ground. Teens and tweens, crying unconsolably or standing frozen with fear. Moms and Dads doing their best to reassure, convince, console and talk their kids out of their freak out. None of these parents had the capacity to override the reptilian part of their kid’s brain. The reptilian brain is the part that hyjacks the more intellectual parts of our brain and can only focus on fight, flight or freeze.

Have you ever been in this situation? Your kid is too scared to ride a roller coaster, or be left alone in the house, or talk to someone they don’t know, or eat a vegetable, or other scary, yet typical hallmarks of childhood?

When the reptilian brain kicks in, it’s pretty hard for a parent to override it with logic. In fact, none of these parents I’m watching on the zip, line were successful. All these kids ended up walking back down, or refusing to step up to the platform, surrendering to their fear.

So what is a parent to do when their kid is scared? How can we encourage them to be brave, in a way that actually works?

The important thing to remember is to be respectful of their fears. Life is full of scary, vulnerable things and we want our kids to learn how to overcome their fears. This is a VERY important life skill and one worthy of respect.

The trick is to help kids shift out of fight/flight/freeze response so they can make a decision from their higher brain. Helping kids calm down is first priority. Bring them away from the immediate threat and speak to your scared kiddos with a calm, confident voice. Don’t try to talk your child out of his fears, instead listen with respect, almost reverence. Then repeat what you hear them saying, adding in these key words: YOUR BRAIN. As in, “Your brain is telling you that you could die.” or “It sounds like your brain is thinking this spider can harm you.”

When children avoid their fears, it can encourage anxiety, so we don’t want to let them off the hook entirely. Once you’ve calmed them down, try asking your child, “What would make you feel more comfortable?” or “What’s one small step you can take towards overcoming your fear, that would make you feel proud of yourself tomorrow?”

Fears are a natural and beneficial part of being human. When kids get to work through them one at a time, at their own pace, they will slowly learn to manage their reptilian brain, take risks that align with their values, and learn how much fun there is to be had on the other side of their fears 🙂

Pura Vida! 

letting go of worry

He got cell service on a hike and texted me this. Amazing.

My son was leaving to go camping for 3 nights in Yosemite with his friends. I have been SO GOOD about not worrying or micromanaging, like seriously, they don’t even have a camping reservation. Ever since I started doing research into the skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression in teens, I’ve been much more cautious about putting my worries onto my kids.

My son is 18 years old. A man who makes his own decisions. He’s camped before. He knows what he needs. So I don’t go over his packing list with him. I want to communicate enthusiasm and show that I trust him. So I sneak things in….

“What’s the weather going to be like in Yosemite?”  He answers “probably nice”.  “Did you check? Sometimes it snows in the mountains in June.” (He looks it up! Yeah! 40 degrees at night, Score 1 for Mom!)

I say, “I know you aren’t planning on cooking while camping, do you want to bring that box of granola bars from the pantry?” “Sure” he replies. (He grabs one. For four days. Score 1 for the teen)

After he’s left, I notice his warm North Face jacket still in the closet. I text him, “Your jacket is here. I’m worried you aren’t going to be warm enough.”  “I’ll be fine”, he says, “I brought a long sleeved shirt and a windbreaker.” ……me, silently aghast…. “Can you ask your friend to just throw an extra sweatshirt in the car, just in case?” (He doesn’t, and he never got cold. Score 1 for the teen)

Me….squeezing one more text in before he goes out of cell range….“Do you know what to do if you see a bear?”  “Yes, Mom” He replies. (the old me would have told him what to do, showed him youtube videos or warnings so I’m giving myself a 1/2 point for this one). I don’t even remind him not to keep food in the tent. Or say 3 people have already died in Yosemite this year. Or tell him not to wander off a waterfall. So proud.

Over-parenting is fear based parenting. It can make our teens not want to listen to us, it can increase anxiety and depression in kids because they pick up the message that world is scary, can’t be trusted, and that they aren’t strong or capable enough to handle adversity.

So what if my teen gets hungry?!  So what if he gets cold?!  This is how they learn what they are actually made of. Right!?

I felt totally justified in my worrying. I felt like I was being a typical MOM. That it’s my role and responsibility to worry about his safety and well being.

But maybe it’s time for Moms to teach without FEAR. Could I have gone over his packing list with enthusiasm, instead of presuming he’d forget something?  Just because my brain starts looking for everything that could go wrong, doesn’t mean I should communicate it to him.

Some schools are deliberately putting kids into adverse environments, forcing them outside of their comfort zones in order to build self reliance, resourcefulness and confidence. I love this idea. Over parenting has helped our teenagers live cushy lives where they don’t get to test their mettle in the real world. Maybe a little constructive adversity is just what they need to thrive in this dynamic world?

And maybe I can start by letting go of worry, trusting that we live in a safe and wonderful world, with many helpful people.

He ended up having a great time and everything went perfectly. (Score 100 for the teen)

 

 

 

When your teen refuses to go to prom

This can be difficult for some parents!

Many parents see prom as a right of passage. Something their teen “should do” or they will regret it. But often it’s our own fears and insecurities that get in the way of supporting our child’s decision. There are many reasons a teenager might opt out of prom.

We think that if our teen goes to prom, then we don’t have to worry about them. But this can keep us from seeing other issues that are really important. Do they have social anxiety or depression?  Are they taking a stance that is aligned with their true self? Do they just not like dancing and feel perfectly fine about it?

If your teen is open to discussing it with you, ask him why he doesn’t want to go and if he likes his reason. If he feels good about his decision, it will make it easier for you to feel good about it, too. Click here to watch the video below.

Moms: It’s time to do LESS

Imagine your middle schooler had a tough day at school: His friends ditched him at lunch, your daughter got a bad grade on her report, a seagull pooped on his jacket, etc. After school, your child walks home with a friend, shooting the breeze, talking about nothing. By the time she gets home, she FEELS BETTER! Something about the slow pace, the exercise, the peer support, the nature time, the independence, makes those problems fade away. Now, at home, she feels relaxed.

It’s more normal in today’s overprotective and over-scheduled culture for kids to get picked up in cars, rushed to activities, asked about school/grades/friendships, etc. Moms are looking for problems to solve, wondering whether to intervene, wanting kids to be happy.

When today’s kids do walk home, they pop their earbuds in, stare at their screens, and disconnect from people around them. Rather than using this valuable time to process emotions and connect in compassionate ways, they avoid and suppress emotions, making them feel even worse.

When trying to understand why rates of anxiety & depression are skyrocketing in today’s teens, it comes down to many small things, having a great big impact.

As parents, we want to smooth the way for them, make it easier, protect them from negative emotions and experiences. But our attempts to make life easier for them, may be costing them their mental well being.

Kids need to feel they can handle life’s mishaps on their own. Having time, moving in nature with friends, to process these emotions is natural. Sheltering kids, for fear they will experience a negative emotion, can delay their growth. Don’t buy into the popular culture that says “A good Mom would do everything for and with her children.” Kids need uncomfortable experiences in order to build internal strength and resilience.

As you are making plans for this summer, try encouraging experiences that push your kids outside their comfort zone.

  1. Send them to summer camp (without YOU!)
  2. Make them earn money: get a job, start a business, organize a garage sale or lemonade stand.
  3. Have them walk or ride their bike, instead of being driven, to summer classes, camps, parks, pools, etc.
  4. Plan an “old fashioned” play date. Invite your friends over with their kids (different ages/genders preferred) and send them out into the street while you and the other Moms play cards and sip cocktails. (and invite me to this one!)
  5. Send them to the grocery store to buy groceries and make dinner for the family.
  6. Let them sleep in a tent in the backyard.
  7. Buy a season pass to an amusement park and drop them off.

This fear based parenting culture needs to stop. Our kids are physically safer than anytime in history but the mental/emotional stress of modern living is taking a toll. Do you have any other ideas?  I’d love to hear them.

The love we have for our kids created this overprotective, fear based culture. We can use the same love for our kids to relax, do less, and show our kids the world is a safe and trusting place.

Where are your kids getting their dopamine?

Our bodies and brains are wired to release a “feel good chemical” called dopamine when we eat, have sex, or exercise. We also get a dopamine release from creating something, accomplishing something or being in the flow state of learning.

Our culture has introduced many more dopamine producing activities to younger and younger children: Sugar, caffeine, TV, movies, porn, youtube, video games, social media, are all designed to flood massive amounts of dopamine into our systems. Our current culture seems to promote fun, excitement, productivity and keeping busy.

The problem is that our brains and bodies aren’t designed for this much dopamine. Some experts theorize this is one of the reasons we are seeing such a huge increase in ADHD, depression, anxiety, addictions and other brain centered differences.

Not everybody reacts the same way. I can’t get out of shopping malls and casinos fast enough but I have family members who come to life and love the dopamine release of shopping and gambling. When my kids were little, my daughter could be in a room with the TV on and barely notice, but the TV had a hypnotizing effect on my son that turned him into a zombie. We tend to gravitate towards things that give us these delicious hits of dopamine. When we get rewarded with dopamine, it motivates us to come back for more….and more….and more.

Can your kid sit in a room with her favorite sugary treat and not be tempted? If you take away the cookie or the ipad, does your son hyperfocus on the object until he gets his dopamine hit? Can your teenager sit with her phone nearby and not be tempted to check it? Every text alert or social media “like” is designed to release dopamine and create addiction.

When we don’t reward our brains with dopamine (by checking our phone or eating sugar, etc.) we can create anxiety and insomnia. But overtime, the flooding of dopamine in our systems creates addiction and increased feelings of depression.

So basically, the world our kids are growing up is a challenge to their mental health.

What can we do?

  1. We need to become really deliberate about where we get our dopamine and not just follow a “If it feels good, do it” mantra.
  2. Observe ourselves and our children closely to see where we might be flooding our systems with too much dopamine.
  3. Re-wire the brain BEFORE we become addicted and show signs of depression and anxiety.

I have a lot to say on this topic and invite you to join me for a FREE Webinar called,

“How Much is Too Much?” Screen time, Dopamine and Mental Well Being.

In the meantime, here are a few life hacks below to help you and your kids conquer this challenging culture.

  1. Establish a Streak – Middle School kids have discovered a dopamine hit from “maintaining streaks”, or seeing how many days in a row they can text friends about silly things. Instead, establish a streak of how many days in a row you made your bed, walked your dog, ate a vegetable. Mark it off on a calendar and celebrate your victory. Check out the app Calm and start a meditation streak.
  2. Create Something – When we can get immersed in a project, creative or not, it can give us a healthy dose of dopamine. Many of us think of art or music but for me, creating webinars, class content and writing blogs count. Encourage your kids to create a Rube Goldberg, a fort, or cooking project.
  3. Seek balance. Don’t let your kid play a video game WHILE also watching TV (choose one!). Turn off ALL alerts on their phones so they don’t hear “So & so posted a new video!” No cell phones while studying, or in the bedroom while sleeping. Buy an old fashioned alarm clock. Try allowing movies and video games only if interspersed with exercise. Save sugar for special occasions.
  4. Music! Turn music OFF on video games but turn it ON while your child is doing an activity you’d like to reward. Playing music shoot hoops outside or while they set or clear the table, might help them linger and want to do it more often.