A guide to getting the right F’s.
We all want our kids to succeed. We want them to feel confident and capable and proud of their accomplishments.
As parents, we’re supposed to let them struggle a bit along the way so that when they DO succeed and overcome challenges, they can own it. Allowing room for uncertainty, discomfort, and the mistakes necessary for learning and growing is— I hope— a familiar concept to you by now, especially if you are working to help your worried child.
But this isn’t an article about how to parent an anxious child or about the skills we need to teach our kids. I want to focus instead on how we, as adults, handle our own social and emotional selves.
Because a parent’s mental health is a huge predictor of a child’s wellbeing, it’s important to acknowledge the impact we have when we do (or don’t) take care of ourselves.
I write frequently about how to help your anxious child, but many of the parents seek me out for help with their anxious children are unaware of how frequently they are modeling anxious behaviors themselves.
Kids watch adults and absorb how they are managing their own stress, how they problem solve their own adult problems, how they talk catastrophically about grown up things, or use avoidance and accommodation as a way to minimize their own uncertainty and worry.
So now we’re knee-deep into summer, perched happily on the crest of July with August still out of sight.
Now that tests are over, grade books closed, backpacks and desks cleaned out, I’m asking you to do a bit of reflection about your efforts this past school year.
Even as adults, that school calendar still lives within us, and summer offers us a reset. Let’s use it to step away from evaluating and worrying about our kids’ performance… and to take stock of our own learning and growing instead.
If you were to write your own report card, how did you do this past school year? In the role model category? In the self-care department? What grades did YOU earn? Did you fall into the common trap of earning all A’s?
- Anxiety: Did you worry about your children? Micro-manage them? Did you have anxiety-related symptoms, like headaches, GI issues, insomnia?
- Angst: Were you battling a sense of foreboding? Did you routinely talk negatively and pessimistically? Would you or family members describe your house as tense?
- Anger: Did you yell more than you wanted to? Were you often frustrated and explosive with your children? Was there a lot of “emotional reactivity” in your home?
- Avoidance: Did you decide not to do things just to avoid conflict or anxiety in you or your children? Do you adjust your routines in order to prevent triggering anxiety or anger in yourself or your family?
I urge you to use this summer as a time to practice new patterns that can make your life—and your children’s lives, too—more balanced and positive.
How about pivoting away from the demanding life of all A’s?
Let’s strive for a few “F’s” instead
One of the first things I assess when I’m meeting a family is the level of rigidity versus flexibility in their own family culture. Anxiety demands rigidity. It wants to know everything ahead of time.
Perfectionism is rigidity on steroids, the need for things to be a certain way, with no tolerance for mistakes or variance. Anxiety’s need for predictability and certainty is what often holds a family hostage.
On the other hand, parents sometimes err on the side of too much flexibility, which is reflected in a lack of boundaries and limit setting. They are afraid of angering their child or causing distress, so rules are inconsistently applied…or nonexistent.
Summer is a time to practice healthy flexibility, which is about adaptability, problem solving, and stepping out of routine in a way that allows for discovery and a bit of healthy risk-taking.
It is NOT all or nothing, but about moving between the need for rules and boundaries and the ability to adjust and bend them in ways that make family life smoother and social interactions more positive.
Can bedtime be adjusted for special occasions? What about ice cream for dinner one night? Are there new places to explore on a summer adventure?
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do I know how to be flexible when a situation requires it?
- Am I modeling the ability to adjust routines when necessary?
- How do I talk to my children about (and SHOW my children) the skill of being adaptable?
- How does my rigidity make my life more stressful? My family’s?
- Do I differentiate between the need for rules and routines and the value of flexibility?
We are quick to complain about teens and children being inattentive and distracted by their devices. But I spend a lot of time observing adults when they are around their children. Full engagement is not the norm. (Parents have even pulled out their phone in the middle of a family session.)
Look, I get it. Being fully attentive every moment you’re with your children is also problematic and weird. But pay attention to your multi-tasking.
None of us can have an attentive conversation with a child while texting someone else.
Are you modeling multi-tasking? Are you internally focused on what you need to do, then exploding at your kids when they’re not ready to leave? Are you trying to do too much, all at the same time, and doing nothing well?
This summer, practice giving your complete attention to your child during certain activities. Look for opportunities to have conversations—in the car, at the grocery store, at the dinner table.
As obvious as this may sound, adults are complicit in teaching children how NOT to converse, pay attention to directions, complete a task. You need to practice this skill! And do it with your partner and friends, as well.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Are devices such a part of our activities that we’re missing opportunity for focused interaction?
- Am I multi-tasking at home and at work? (Multi-tasking is inefficient. You know this.)
- Can I create activities with my family (games, walks, swimming, meals) where conversation and attention are the goal? How about with my friends?
- Do I get frequently irritated and frustrated when my children are not paying attention or focused? How can I model a different pattern?
What do you for fun? Yes, you! And if I were to ask your children what YOU do for fun, would they be able to answer?
For many of us, life has become a race to the finish, a contest against the clock, an internal competition with our peers, our neighbors, and fellow parents.
Kids notice this, of course. They often watch us and recoil at what’s ahead.
More and more teens have said to me lately, “Why am I working this hard? So I can be a miserable adult, too? I don’t want to live like my parents.”
It’s summer. You need fun now, and you need it to continue into the fall.
Are you having fun? Are you laughing, taking time to do the things that make your heart sing? Are you active? Do you have something in your schedule that, like a little kid, you can’t wait for?
It doesn’t have to be huge. But you need to enjoy yourself. Your family needs to see that part of you in action, separate from your duties as a parent, at play with them.
But, you also need to leave them for a time and return home happy.
Questions to ask yourself:
- What is fun for me? Have I given up this activity?
- When does my family see me completely enjoying myself?
- How can I make some time for fun?
By playing around with these positive and doable adjustments this summer, you’re adding a dose of happiness to your life, and setting up your family up for a smoother fall. Think shift, not miracles. Little changes add up.
To get things started, here’s your assignment, due at the end of August:
• Look for opportunities to get off devices and focus fully on what you’re doing, be it with your children or for yourself. Tune in completely to what’s happening in front of you. Be aware of multi-tasking and cut back on this habit.
• Break the rules every now and then in a way that delights and surprises. Show your family how you are flexible when you can be, so they can learn the value of both boundaries and compromise. Talk out loud about the need for both.
• Notice how often you laugh. Seek fun. Make it a point to show your children your OWN joy. It’s a contagious and powerful gift.
These are the F’s we all want, and are the recipe for more peace, connection, and joy.
Join me at Canyon Ranch this fall
I’m excited that Luxe Recess invited me to present a new type of parenting retreat for moms this fall at Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires. We’ll work hard on managing our own worry patterns and learn tools to strengthen our kids’ resilience and independence. And I promise it’s going to be fun.
This intimate retreat is capped at 16 participants for both one-on-one consults and group workshops at one of the country’s leading wellness centers.
This retreat is also about moms getting spoiled with surprises and delights and feeling part of a like-minded community. Click to read the retreat brochure in full-screen mode.