Mental Health

Feeling Anxious? Talking about it skillfully with your kids and teens

Delaney Ruston, MD
March 31, 2020
Family smiling

I believe that talking skillfully with youth in our life about our emotions — past and present — and the ways we navigate such feelings are some of the best resiliency teachings we can do as parents.  

I have worked to become more skillful in talking about my anxious feelings, and other challenging emotions, with my kids over the years. I have learned how to share with them what is appropriate and not to communicate those things that would be burdensome. One tool has been to run things by people whose insight I deeply trust before sharing things with my kids.

I had a very intense childhood, and I don't ever overshare or burden them with certain details of that time of my life. Burdening our kids with our past traumas or making them be our care providers is not good for them at all!

Naming the feelings we have, and how we handle them, is something kids, and teens appreciate. I have spoken to many who say how they wish their parents would talk more about their own emotional states.

I interviewed many parents for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER about whether they talk with their kids about their emotional challenges and ways they have addressed them. And, so often, parents stopped, scratched their heads and said they have never thought about it, but now that I had asked, they realized they had not.

In the film, I ask one father the following question,  

"Do you ever talk about your emotional experience of what your day is like?"

He responds,

"I don't think so. You mean like just kind of saying how I'm feeling about something other than being angry with them for not doing something. I can't think of a lot of examples of checking in emotionally and letting them know what's going on."

So now, in this time of high anxiety, it is a good time to consider talking more openly about your present and/or past feelings and things you have done or are doing to manage the emotions.

In doing so here are just a few of the positive things you will be modeling:

  1. That it is natural to be feeling all sorts of feelings —anxious, worried, angry, sad, and yes, also happy at times too — and not to feel guilty about that.
  2. That trying to understand what we are feeling can be challenging. For example, when we say "stressed" what do we mean? Overwhelmed? Afraid? Getting to the core of an emotion can help address it more effectively.
  3. That no one can fully control the thoughts and feelings that come into one's head. So, that might mean maybe, for you, the parent, your anxious feelings don't fit the facts.
  4. That we have choices of how we want to handle challenging emotions. You model this when you talk about the things you have tried to help handle your emotions. For example, maybe you say, "I am feeling anxious, and it just makes me want to avoid the feelings and watch movies, but actually that is making me feel worse. I realize I need help so I am going to start talking with someone who can help me. "

I found it very interesting what psychologist and author, Laura Kastner, PhD, says in Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER about parents who want their teens to open up to them about what is going on emotionally for the teen, but who don't model this openness themselves. She says:

"Have these teenagers seen their fathers or even their mothers talk about mistakes, embarrassment, shame, disappointment, regret. It's an emotional language that they need to learn from our modeling it at the dinner table and other places. But it's also a sense of vulnerability that they need to sort of master."

I loved meeting and filming for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER this one family in which the dad, mom, and son talked about how the father changed from telling his sons to "man up" to valuing discussions about emotions.

The dad says,

"I come from India, and over there, you know, you don't show the sign of weakness. Crying is the sign of weakness. And I didn't want them to be weak. And I'd say, "Why are you crying?... So what's wrong with you?' And they will try to explain, and I say, "Come on, be a man, man up."

Then his son says,

"When I'm stressed out, it's helpful to just talk about it with someone. 'Cause it's like you don't wanna hold in all that emotion because it's just not healthy. I kind of feel like I try and make it so that he doesn't feel uncomfortable talking to me."

The dad,

"And he'll say, 'So you can talk to me, you know that, right.' And I say, 'Yeah, I know.' "

The son,

"I think mom is good at talking with people. I do think that she does tell me when she's going through something emotional."

The dad,

"Now, I see how they approach it with their mother, and I see the positive impact it's having on the kids. If I had not recognized that or changed that, they would have been different kids today."

Let me reiterate this is not about overwhelming our kids with our hard emotions. But gently and skillfully naming what emotions are here for us at this moment in time.

And one final point is to remember now and then that when we tell our kids or teens that we are having a hard day, one of the things they often enjoy doing is helping us to feel better. When they were little, they might have brought us a warm cloth for our head, and now maybe they lean in to hug us. Letting them feel needed is a real gift. All of us want to feel needed at times. It is truly empowering when we, as humans, get to help others. And the beauty is: it reduces anxious feelings of the person who receives the help and also reduces the stress of the person giving the help. Standing at the sidelines and seeing someone in emotional pain and not being able to do anything is very stressful.

Here are some questions to start a conversation about anxiety this week:

  1. Have you felt any new feelings of anxiety this week?
  2. Do you notice that anyone else in the family is feeling anxious?
  3. How does that make you feel?
  4. Is there anything that you do to help make you bring down feelings of anxiety? Are there any ways that you have helped others this week bring down their levels of anxiety?

One last important thing...

We NOW have a way for people to host online events during this time. We still strongly believe in the coming together as a group model for showing both movies, so these temporary online events will be here only while the social distancing is in place.

Click here if you are interested in hosting an online screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an online screening. (For those of you have already told us last week you want to attend an online screening, we will email you in a few days with signups.)

March 31, 2020


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Mental Health

Feeling Anxious? Talking about it skillfully with your kids and teens

Delaney Ruston, MD
March 31, 2020
Family smiling

I believe that talking skillfully with youth in our life about our emotions — past and present — and the ways we navigate such feelings are some of the best resiliency teachings we can do as parents.  

I have worked to become more skillful in talking about my anxious feelings, and other challenging emotions, with my kids over the years. I have learned how to share with them what is appropriate and not to communicate those things that would be burdensome. One tool has been to run things by people whose insight I deeply trust before sharing things with my kids.

I had a very intense childhood, and I don't ever overshare or burden them with certain details of that time of my life. Burdening our kids with our past traumas or making them be our care providers is not good for them at all!

Naming the feelings we have, and how we handle them, is something kids, and teens appreciate. I have spoken to many who say how they wish their parents would talk more about their own emotional states.

I interviewed many parents for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER about whether they talk with their kids about their emotional challenges and ways they have addressed them. And, so often, parents stopped, scratched their heads and said they have never thought about it, but now that I had asked, they realized they had not.

In the film, I ask one father the following question,  

"Do you ever talk about your emotional experience of what your day is like?"

He responds,

"I don't think so. You mean like just kind of saying how I'm feeling about something other than being angry with them for not doing something. I can't think of a lot of examples of checking in emotionally and letting them know what's going on."

So now, in this time of high anxiety, it is a good time to consider talking more openly about your present and/or past feelings and things you have done or are doing to manage the emotions.

In doing so here are just a few of the positive things you will be modeling:

  1. That it is natural to be feeling all sorts of feelings —anxious, worried, angry, sad, and yes, also happy at times too — and not to feel guilty about that.
  2. That trying to understand what we are feeling can be challenging. For example, when we say "stressed" what do we mean? Overwhelmed? Afraid? Getting to the core of an emotion can help address it more effectively.
  3. That no one can fully control the thoughts and feelings that come into one's head. So, that might mean maybe, for you, the parent, your anxious feelings don't fit the facts.
  4. That we have choices of how we want to handle challenging emotions. You model this when you talk about the things you have tried to help handle your emotions. For example, maybe you say, "I am feeling anxious, and it just makes me want to avoid the feelings and watch movies, but actually that is making me feel worse. I realize I need help so I am going to start talking with someone who can help me. "

I found it very interesting what psychologist and author, Laura Kastner, PhD, says in Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER about parents who want their teens to open up to them about what is going on emotionally for the teen, but who don't model this openness themselves. She says:

"Have these teenagers seen their fathers or even their mothers talk about mistakes, embarrassment, shame, disappointment, regret. It's an emotional language that they need to learn from our modeling it at the dinner table and other places. But it's also a sense of vulnerability that they need to sort of master."

I loved meeting and filming for Screenagers NEXT CHAPTER this one family in which the dad, mom, and son talked about how the father changed from telling his sons to "man up" to valuing discussions about emotions.

The dad says,

"I come from India, and over there, you know, you don't show the sign of weakness. Crying is the sign of weakness. And I didn't want them to be weak. And I'd say, "Why are you crying?... So what's wrong with you?' And they will try to explain, and I say, "Come on, be a man, man up."

Then his son says,

"When I'm stressed out, it's helpful to just talk about it with someone. 'Cause it's like you don't wanna hold in all that emotion because it's just not healthy. I kind of feel like I try and make it so that he doesn't feel uncomfortable talking to me."

The dad,

"And he'll say, 'So you can talk to me, you know that, right.' And I say, 'Yeah, I know.' "

The son,

"I think mom is good at talking with people. I do think that she does tell me when she's going through something emotional."

The dad,

"Now, I see how they approach it with their mother, and I see the positive impact it's having on the kids. If I had not recognized that or changed that, they would have been different kids today."

Let me reiterate this is not about overwhelming our kids with our hard emotions. But gently and skillfully naming what emotions are here for us at this moment in time.

And one final point is to remember now and then that when we tell our kids or teens that we are having a hard day, one of the things they often enjoy doing is helping us to feel better. When they were little, they might have brought us a warm cloth for our head, and now maybe they lean in to hug us. Letting them feel needed is a real gift. All of us want to feel needed at times. It is truly empowering when we, as humans, get to help others. And the beauty is: it reduces anxious feelings of the person who receives the help and also reduces the stress of the person giving the help. Standing at the sidelines and seeing someone in emotional pain and not being able to do anything is very stressful.

Here are some questions to start a conversation about anxiety this week:

  1. Have you felt any new feelings of anxiety this week?
  2. Do you notice that anyone else in the family is feeling anxious?
  3. How does that make you feel?
  4. Is there anything that you do to help make you bring down feelings of anxiety? Are there any ways that you have helped others this week bring down their levels of anxiety?

One last important thing...

We NOW have a way for people to host online events during this time. We still strongly believe in the coming together as a group model for showing both movies, so these temporary online events will be here only while the social distancing is in place.

Click here if you are interested in hosting an online screening for your community.

Click here if you want to attend an online screening. (For those of you have already told us last week you want to attend an online screening, we will email you in a few days with signups.)

March 31, 2020


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