How do I model resilience about online school when I just want to cry?


Episode #80  How do I model resilience for my kids when I just want to cry?

Hi Torie, I’m struggling with how I should model resilience for my kids, when I’m not feeling very resilient. I have 3 teens that are all doing online school starting tomorrow. I wish I could feel and model being more upbeat but I just want to cry :-(. Any advice?  Thanks, Sabrina

Parent Educator Answer: 

Let’s start by talking about what resilience is and why you’d want to model it.  The definition of resilience from the Oxford English Dictionary is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” Resilience is a word that grew in popularity amongst child psychologists a few decades ago when they realized that trying to give kids “high self-esteem” wasn’t working.  Resilient children don’t just bounce back from adversity, they bounce back with a positive outlook. It’s the difference between: “I failed the class because I didn’t turn in my homework. Guess I’ll turn my homework in from now on.”  and “I failed the class because I’m such a loser. I always forget my homework. Something is wrong with me.”  In the second example, a student will either believe their negative self-talk and continue to prove it true, forgetting homework and failing more classes, or they will use fear and pressure to motivate them to never miss another homework assignment. Neither of these examples is modeling resilience.  Resilient children recognize that we are all human and humans make mistakes. When we are resilient, we forgive ourselves for our mistakes and learn from them. Resilient children accept the things they cannot control. When we let go of the things we cannot control and focus on what we do have control over, life becomes MUCH easier.  The reason some kids don’t bounce back from hardship is that they pick up a negative belief and carry it forward. Something like: “Bad things always happen to me.” “Nobody cares about me.” This, we call these negative beliefs, “dirty pain”. Dirty pain will keep you stuck in negative emotions and cause you to feel like a victim. It’s awful! When you get coached on your “dirty pain,” you feel like 100 pounds has been lifted off your shoulders.  Clean pain is a genuine emotion that feels healthy and healing. When your friend stops communicating with you, there is some clean grief around losing that friendship and the expectation that it would continue. You can let yourself be sad about it.  If your friend’s lack of communication makes you pick up some dirty pain beliefs like “Nobody likes me” or “People I care about always leave me” then you want to rush yourself to a life coach ASAP before those beliefs become embedded and you create evidence to prove they are valid.  Sabrina wants to know “How can I model resilience when I just want to cry?”  The good news is that the best way to model resiliency IS TO CRY!  LET YOURSELF BE SAD!  Resilience is not putting on a happy face and forcing optimism. It’s letting yourself experience the clean pain of disappointment. You expected your kids to have a traditional school experience with football games and after-school clubs. You expected school to offer close relationships with teachers and peers, dances, sports, and spirit week. IT’S OK TO BE DISAPPOINTED.  When we try to push down this emotion and look at the bright side, it delays the healthy processing of emotions. If you can allow yourself to have your disappointment, the emotion will pass through you like clouds in the sky. We tend to think there are good and bad emotions. Happiness and excitement are good; sad and disappointed are bad.  This is not true. ALL emotions are good. When your dog dies, you want to be sad. The sadness feels like healthy, appropriate grief. This clean pain helps heal us.  Let’s take this example:  You KNEW your lacrosse team was set up for a winning season. OF COURSE you are going to be disappointed when it gets cancelled. You are going to miss your teammates, you’ll miss the competition, the traveling tournaments, etc. Feeling disappointed is the perfect emotion. If someone tried to talk you out of it and told you to look at the bright side, it would feel icky.  We need to cry, grieve, and let go of our expectations before we feel READY to think positively. You don’t want to think happy thoughts until AFTER you have processed the negative emotion.  My best advice to Sabrina on how to model resilience for her kids is to write a list of all the reasons why she is sad, and let herself be sad for each one.  If a plane crashed, you wouldn’t have one funeral for all the passengers on board. It would feel impersonal and lack closure. We need to grieve for each individual person, honor their life, and show love for each family in order to experience healthy appropriate grief.  I think the same is true for this pandemic and all it’s repercussions.  Write down the specific things you are sad about.  My list is long:
  • Not getting to see my brother and his family this year. 
  • Cancelling my trip to Europe.
  • Not getting to watch my daughter play volleyball. 
  • Not getting to help my friend who was sick with COVID
Respect each loss, one at a time. Cry and be sad. Talk about your sadness to your kids. Ask them about theirs. You might be surprised how different they are.  Once you feel you are done grieving, re-adjust your expectations to fit the new reality. I think everyone deserves a life coach to help them through this crazy time. If you or your kids are stuck in some dirty pain, hire a life coach. Life coaching helps people let go of things that aren’t working for them, so you can smoothly and easily navigate change.  Want to model resilience for your kids?  Step 1: Grieve, cry, and be sad about each specific loss of expectation.  Step 2: Accept things you cannot control, and re-adjust expectations to current reality.  Step 3: Take the stigma out of hiring help. When you hire a life coach not because life is terrible, but because you value living joyfully and you deserve to feel better, your kids will learn that they deserve to be happy, too, and there are people trained to help create that.

Life Coaching Answer: What gets in our way? Future Focus vs Past Focus. 

The younger we are, the better we tend to be at letting go and moving on. Sure there were a lot of high school seniors disappointed at how their school year ended up but it was A LOT harder on the parents! Moms, especially, took the absence of graduations and proms REALLY HARD where most teens bounced back quickly from this disappointment.  Why does youth make us more resilient?  The younger we are, the more in touch with our emotions we are. We can’t HELP but to let ourselves feel sad when we are sad. We cry more easily, we throw fits. As we get older, we learn to stuff these emotions down. We avoid them by scrolling on our phones, arguing, or drinking wine. Parents can take a lesson from young children on how to allow emotions to move through you. When you let your body move with it: cry, yell, stomp, vent, it’s over and done with. No dirty pain, just a clean release of pain.  The other reason kids are better at handling disappointment than parents is that children and teens tend to be more future focused. We are always asking kids questions like, “Are you excited to move on to middle school?”  or talking about what life will be like in high school. We ask questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Or “How does it feel to be one year older?”  This constant focus on the future trains their brains to look forward, not back. We don’t talk to kids much about “Remember how great second grade was?” or “Don’t you miss your best friend from preschool?”   This future focus helps kids move on from the past and look forward to what is coming up next.  As we get older, we tend to be more past focused.  We remember their cuteness on the first day of kindergarten. We get sentimental about first day photos, lunch boxes, and field trips. We miss seeing their elementary school friends and don’t understand why they drifted apart.  When we find out our kid’s school experience isn’t going to be what we expected, we think about all the things WE enjoyed that our children won’t be experiencing.  Take a look at where your thoughts are wandering and see if you are past or future focused.  I used to wonder why some moms cried at their kid’s milestones and graduations, and others didn’t. So I asked. “What are you thinking about that is making you cry?” Sure enough, sad moms thought about the past. Future thinking moms were focused on the next adventure awaiting their kiddo.  The quicker you let go of what you thought this year was going to be like, the more you can adapt to the reality as it’s presenting itself: not good, not bad, just different.  This pandemic is bringing up a lot of dirty pain for a lot of people.  Another way to encourage resilience in your kids, is to help them connect with their spirit. Schools, sports, friends will come and go, but if kids have a connection with the part of them that is connected with the divine, they can find peace and joy no matter what happens. You hear people say that everything happens for a reason. People like to think that because it gives them a spiritual connection to something bigger than themselves. I don’t abide by that philosophy because it doesn’t feel good to me when I see people suffering, but if it works for you, go for it.  The philosophy I hold on to during this pandemic is that we are witnessing a transformation of human consciousness. While structures fall apart all around us, people are rising up, becoming more compassionate and more spiritually aware.  Our ego does not like all the changes and lack of predictability, but our spirit stays strong. Slowly we are burning up the illusion that we were ever in control.  We were always leaves blowing in the wind, we just didn’t know it.  Now we are aware of how little control we have; which means our ego is letting go, while our spirit is coming alive.  Holding this optimistic view keeps me out of despair or fear while things crumble around me. Only the ego is afraid because it knows it’s losing control. The spirit isn’t attached to any particular outcome or agenda. It just lives in continual creative response to whatever presents itself.  Maybe the best way to model resilience is to learn from our children who are better at this than we are. Feel our genuine feelings, focus on the future not the past, and stay connected to spirit while dissolving the ego’s sense of control. 

Supermom Kryptonite – Trying to look at the bright side when you aren’t feeling it. 

We often resist negative emotions because we think we can’t handle them. We think, “I don’t want to open that can of worms!” so we avoid them.  Pushing down emotions isn’t difficult, but it’s kind of like holding a beach ball underwater. Over time, we get tired or distracted. Inevitably, this beach ball slips out and comes rocketing back up to the surface with full force! Pushing down emotions can make them explode up with more power than the situation called for.  When we avoid our own emotions, it makes it hard to allow our kids to have theirs. We can’t sit with them as a compassionate witness. We try to cheer them up or get them to think differently, so that we can feel better.  When kids feel like their negative emotions aren’t ok, they will either….
  1. Go hide in their room and try not to think about it. Suppress and avoid.
  2. Share their feelings with someone else who “gets it”. 
  3. Complain louder, getting even more dramatic because clearly you don’t “get it”. 
Trying to force you or your kids to be cheerful when your spirit needs to grieve, will drain your energy and make life much harder.   

Supermom PowerBoost – Solidarity 

Solidarity is defined in the dictionary as “unity or agreement of a feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest.”  Solidarity makes us feel validated. I remember the first time I became aware of this. I was about 32, hanging out with a friend while our kids played at the park. I happened to mention that my husband and I hadn’t started saving money for retirement. I was feeling guilty and scared because everything I had heard or read said to start saving as early as possible. Then my friend, who I respected and seemed to have her act together, says they haven’t saved either! I felt a wave of relief wash over me. Suddenly all the fear and burden washed away! Why? It didn’t solve anything. I suddenly wasn’t a responsible saver with money in the bank! Why did it feel so much better to know I wouldn’t be alone in my cardboard box under the bridge? It’s weird, but it works.  When we are suffering, we feel better knowing others are suffering, too.  The good news is: There are always suffering people on the planet. The bad news is: they don’t always post their suffering on Instagram.  Social media can make us feel alone in our fear and pain because it’s filled with pictures of our friends feeling happy. When we feel sad and alone but no one else seems to, it can increase feelings of inadequacy. Help your kids feel supported by telling them about the struggles of others. This could be people you know who are having a hard time, struggles you had as a young person, or famous people your child looks up to.  If your child is sad and you are always trying to get them to look at the bright side, they won’t feel supported.  Give them the gift of solidarity by sharing your own grief, disappointment and struggle.

Quote of the Day: 

Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.  -Helen Keller

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