Anxious parents. Anxious families. Anxiety is contagious. How do I know if I’m an anxious parent? And if I am one, how is that affecting my kids? What can I do about it—for their sake and for mine? Therapist and author Sissy Goff, LPC-MHSP, joins Amy Julia Becker on the podcast to talk about:
- How to identify and stop anxiety loops
- Why failure is good for parents and kids
- Common parenting strategies that DON’T work
- Practical tools for changing thought and behavior patterns
- PLUS you get to listen in to Amy Julia’s own parenting therapy session when she tells Sissy the hardest thing for her as a parent right now!
“Sissy Goff, LPC-MHSP, has worked as the director of child and adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries since 1993. She speaks to parents and children’s ministers across the country, is a frequent guest on media outlets, and is the author of 13 books including her latest, The Worry-Free Parent. She also co-hosts the chart-topping Raising Boys and Girls podcast, with fellow Daystar Counselor David Thomas.”
- Website: www.raisingboysandgirls.com
- Instagram: @RaisingBoysandGirls and @sissygoff
- Facebook: @raisingboysandgirls
- YouTube: @raisingboysandgirls
On the Podcast:
- The Worry-Free Parent: Living in Confidence so Your Kids Can Too (Bethany House)
- The Worry-Free Parent Workbook
YouTube Channel: video with closed captions
Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
Amy Julia (5s):
How, do I know if I am an Anxious parent? And if I already know that I am an anxious parent, how is that affecting my kids? And What can I do about it for their sake. and for mine, I’m Amy Julia Becker, and this is Love is Stronger Than Fear. I am so grateful that I had the chance to read Sissy Goff’s new book, The Worry Free Parent, because I got to ask her all my questions about anxiety and parenting. Sissy is a font of wisdom and kindness, and there was so much for me to learn by talking to her. And I’m sure there will be for you as well. When you listen to this episode, I do have one quick announcement before I give you a more official introduction to Sissy.
Amy Julia (47s):
That is that my Advent Devotional Prepare Him Room is available. So if you are looking for a gentle daily guide through this holiday season, you’ll want to order one of those for a daily reading. It walks you through the Christmas story, actually passage by passage from the Bible, but also offers my reflections along the way. All right, official introduction time Sissy Goff has worked as the director of child and adolescent counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries since 1993. She speaks to parents and children’s ministers across the country. She’s a frequent guest on all sorts of media outlets. Really long list here.
Amy Julia (1m 27s):
NBC Nightly News, CNN. Good Morning America, Fox News, it goes on and on. Sissy Goff is the author of 13 books, including her latest, The Worry, Free Parent, which we’re talking about today. She also co-hosts the Chart topping Raising, Boys and Girls podcast. So now let’s turn to my conversation with Sissy Goff. I am so delighted to be sitting here on Zoom with my new friend, Sissy Goff. So Sissy, thank you for being here with us today.
Sissy (1m 59s):
I’m so delighted to be on here with, with you, with Zoom, and I’m so delighted to be new friends. But
Amy Julia (2m 3s):
Thanks, me too. so fun. I know we got to send each other books and talk about people we know in common. And also I got, and this is one of my favorite things about podcasting that I feel like, especially since I have not been to many conferences since the Pandemic, so it’s been a couple of years, And I feel like when I used to go to conferences, I would meet up with people like you, people who I’d heard about and thought, oh great, I’ll finally have a chance to meet them in person and get to talk about stuff. And I, I get feel like I get to do that now through this podcast where I read someone’s book and then I get to talk to them about it. So I am really delighted to get to do that with you. And I’ll tell for listeners who don’t have this book yet, or I just read Sissy’s book, The Worry Free Parent Living in Confidence, so Your Kids Can Too.
Amy Julia (2m 50s):
And that’s what we get to talk about today. Although you also sent me your other beautiful books. So we can just send people down like a whole trail of really important resources and information, not just in terms of parenting, but in terms of actually being like humans who are healthy and whole. Yes. So anyway, thank you for that. I guess let’s just start with why this book, why a book, you know, which is really as much for parents to learn and grow themselves as it is to learn and grow as parents. Right? Can you just talk about that a little bit?
Sissy (3m 28s):
Yes. It’s my first book that’s geared towards parents for parents. And I have been counseling kids and families for 30 years, which I can’t even believe it’s been 30 years. And I usually am writing out of whatever I feel like the need is in the moment. The thing I’m most concerned about and, and post, I mean, really leading up to the pandemic, I was watching it, the anxiety ramp up in kids, but in parents too. And I had written a book for parents about girls, and I’d written a book for elementary aged girls and then one for teenage girls. And I just was becoming more and more concerned about parents and post pandemic. It is more rampant than I’ve ever seen before.
Sissy (4m 8s):
And you know, the cool thing is I do believe parents are more anxious, but I also believe they’re more intentional and thoughtful than I’ve ever known ’em to be. So I was sitting with a lot of parents who were saying things like, I think I’m making it worse. Hmm. I think what’s going on with me is spilling over onto them. And I don’t know what to do. And so I just, I wanted to put, you know, I’m so aware, which I’m sure you are too, in different parts of the country, counseling is harder to come by and, and so I wanted to put something in folks’ hands that it felt like if they can’t get to counseling or they’re having trouble finding a Counselor that they like and trust and connect with, I wanted there to be something that they could, a place to start of things they could try at home.
Sissy (4m 50s):
And there’s a work, a companion Workbook that makes it kind of a deeper dive just to say, Hey, try all these things. And if it feels like at the end of a couple of months you’re not seeing the needle move at all, then I think it’s time to go ahead and find a Counselor. But at least this is the first six weeks of counseling I would do in my office.
Amy Julia (5m 7s):
Yeah, that’s a great point. And I do will say for anyone who hasn’t actually picked up this book yet, that each chapter is its own little workshop. I mean, and And I say that in a really positive sense. And there is a sense of also take what you need and leave what you don’t, because you give so many pieces of kind of practical, try this, try this, look at this, look at that, you know, lists and opportunities for people to really evaluate and grow. So it is a chockfull of resources. Well,
Sissy (5m 37s):
You know, us Enneagram, once we’re just trying to give all the helpful, practical things we can. Amy Julia.
Amy Julia (5m 42s):
So true. I know. Yes. I, I for listeners, Sissy, And I have bonded over the fact that two things, actually, we are both wearing stripes in case you’re just listening and not seeing this. And two, that we are both Enneagram ones And. if you don’t know what the Enneagram is, I won’t go into a deep dive at all. But it does mean that we both have somewhat perfectionistic tendencies. But I think there is a desire to like be good and right and helpful
Sissy (6m 9s):
And, and have integrity
Amy Julia (6m 11s):
And that shows up in your work for sure.
Sissy (6m 13s):
Wow. That’s kind And I think it means, I won’t speak for you, at least for me it means I’m anxious and didn’t know what it was when I was growing up. And so my coping skill I developed was just being highly productive, AKA control. And that’s kind of how I dealt with it. So I always joke the parents who are perfection,
Amy Julia (6m 32s):
Sissy (6m 33s):
Hello, you’re Anxious.
Amy Julia (6m 34s):
Yes. I, I wanna get back to that because I still find that I have these coping mechanisms and one of them is hyper productivity and yeah. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna come back to that. But first I realized I would like to talk about like, what is anxiety? Is that different from worry? Is it different from fear? Like what do we mean when we use these words? And also how do these things affect us and our kids?
Sissy (7m 2s):
Hmm. Yes. So the way I would describe it, you know, fear I think happens in the presence of what we’re afraid of. So I’m afraid of snakes, but I don’t, nothing in my body registers when I say that, you know, it’s just a thing. But if a snake all of a sudden came in my little library Im in, I would lose my mind. You know, it would, it would definitely register in my body. And so fear is, and a lot of ways fear is easier to work with, and it’s an adaptive mechanism in our body to keep us alive. Fear is adaptive now, worry and anxiety are maladaptive. Hmm. And so with worry, I think we worry about kind of vague things.
Sissy (7m 43s):
It, it, it’s a little bit more pervasive. All of us worry in this day and time. And I would, you know, I read in the research for this book, one of the things I read that I thought was interesting is just a definition of anxiety that says anxiety is a response to cumulative stress over time. Which that even in itself makes me feel like, I think in 2020, I don’t know when this is coming out. 2023. 2024. Yeah.
Amy Julia (8m 7s):
Sissy (8m 8s):
Yeah. I mean, we’re all anxious to some degree. I mean, there’s no way for us not to be based on what’s going on in the world, what went on in our lives during the pandemic, what’s still going on. That might be some holdover for the kids that we love. You know, there are just a lot of things, but I, but the way I describe anxiety with kids, you know, we all have hundreds potentially of what are considered intrusive thoughts every single day when we’re anxious, the intrusive thoughts come in and they get stuck. And so with kids in my office, I talk about it like the one loop rollercoaster at the fair, you know, that this thought comes in and it just circles around and around and around and they, we have no idea how to get it out.
Sissy (8m 49s):
Right. And so, and, and what’s interesting, Amy Julia, if I were to like line up, if I had a group of kids on here with me of different ages, I could predict for you what their loops will be about. Because it changes through development. Little ones. It’s often being away from their mom or dad, something bad happening to them. They get a little bit older. And, I can’t even count the amount of kids I have seen who have been at a birthday party here at school and someone throws up and now they can’t stop thinking about throwing up. And to the degree that their, of course, their little bodies get on board and their bodies start to feel nauseous. Right? And so then we get older and it morphs again into, my friends aren’t gonna like me anymore.
Sissy (9m 29s):
I’m gonna trip in the track meet. And then we get to parents who say things to me all the time. Like, I never had any anxiety until I had kids. Because the thing that matters the most to you as a parent matters more than anything ever has in your whole life. And so of course, that’s where your lupus
Amy Julia (9m 47s):
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I remember as a young mom lying in bed and trying to figure out how do I interrupt thoughts about water and cars, you know, just with my, my toddlers wandering out into the road or, you know, wandering into the water without being equipped to protect themselves. And that was a real challenge. And And, I have And I, I have not had those types of fears about myself. Right. Like that it felt new to be in, in that loop. I’ve had plenty of anxious loops in my life, but that did feel really new as a parent for sure. Yes.
Sissy (10m 25s):
Amy Julia (10m 27s):
Well, so how do we know as parents like that? One of the things you write about is how, you know Anxiety is contagious. And especially if we are anxious as parents, it will not only affect our kids because of our behavior, but it actually is more likely to therefore pass on anxiety to them. Right. So how do we know if that’s happening? Like, are there signs that we can look out for where it’s like, you know what this is like, you know, for lack of a better word, harming your child. Yes. So maybe you wanna pay attention to it, you know?
Sissy (11m 1s):
Yeah. I mean, I think there are definitely signs that it’s happening. One of those is, you know, when we get anxious, what’s happening is the amygdala of our brain is taking over, which is the fight or flight region of our brain. And the, the blood flow has shifted and left the prefrontal cortex, and it’s all gone to the amygdala. So it’s why parents say, my child’s like a crazy person when they get anxious.
Amy Julia (11m 23s):
Sissy (11m 24s):
So are we, yeah. And so I would say if you feel like And I, think there’s this thing that happens. I’m sure you lived in a dorm at some point I did. Along your college career. Yes.
Amy Julia (11m 36s):
Quite a few times in fact. Yes.
Sissy (11m 38s):
Yes. So you remember that whole thing that would happen where one person starts their period and then everyone on the hall is on their period. You know, I think there’s something that literally happens where one amygdala takes over and then everybody in the near vicinity does too. And so the child’s having a meltdown, and all of a sudden you find yourself doing the same, or you start to get really anxious and tense, and your kids do too. I mean, I think at that point, that’s what’s happening is anxiety is all of a sudden infiltrating our whole family. And so that’s where I think we need to, to rein it in and figure out some tools we can use. But I think too, if I really would want any parent of a child that you’re starting to see some symptoms of anxiety, you’re seeing them show more fear socially, you’re seeing them start to fixate on certain things.
Sissy (12m 31s):
One of the the interesting, you know, 30 years of doing this work, there are trends that I see and I’m seeing anxiety show up right now in kids more as obsessive compulsive types of tendencies. And so if you’re seeing that in your child, I always want a parent to just stop for a minute and look a little bit at themselves and see, yeah, is this happening inside of me? Do we have a family history? Because if we do, I wanna stop their progression and, and my child is not gonna be able to move toward health if I’m not doing the same.
Amy Julia (13m 4s):
There was one line, very short sentence in your book that I like circled and starred a grownup’s job is to be the calmest person in the room. And, I. I do think this is an area I’ve grown in, but recognizing that when I match my children’s emotion with the same or elevated, like I can show you that I’ve got more anger, you know, it’s like not helping. And in fact, my job is not to just kind of give into whatever their emotion is. I mean it, but actually to remain calm and be with them in that yes, in some, in some way. But that has taken a lot for me to learn how to not, as you just described, kind of amp the anxiety up, up, up.
Amy Julia (13m 51s):
Instead of saying, okay, I’ve learned more, hopefully as an adult about what this is, how to address it, how to identify it. And I can bring that non-anxious presence into this scenario. Easier said than done. But what
Sissy (14m 5s):
I would want, well, And I think, I think part of what’s so hard about this, I mean, I sit with parents all the time who will say they won’t stop until I get really big. Right? Yes. Until I’m yelling even. And so I think in some ways we’ve trained them to not listen until we get to that place. That means we mean business. Hmm. And, and when we are all elevated, because our thinking brain is not even online. They’re not hearing us. We’re not getting, there’s nothing productive or helpful that comes out of a conversation when everyone’s screaming or everyone’s upset in that way. And so I, I think if your tendency is to get bigger, you know, I think about the bearer, what you’re supposed to do.
Sissy (14m 47s):
I think if your tendency is to do that, then I would say flip it and get down on their level and quiet your voice. And, and it might even be scarier for them in a positive way. Right. Well, and actually before I say that, I, I think every family needs a code word that when everybody’s starting to get elevated, that one of us says watermelon or whatever the word is. And we take a break because to try and reverse and get smaller in that moment is gonna be really hard. And they can’t, until we can calm our bodies down, we can’t move out of the amygdala anyway. And back to the prefrontal cortex. So we’ve gotta take a pause and then I think we can get quieter and lower
Amy Julia (15m 26s):
To get to a more Yeah. And I think some of the, you know, pr like practices of reflection, at least for me in noticing I have one child in particular that I’m the most likely to get amped up with of our three kids and Julia.
Sissy (15m 43s):
Yeah. I love that. You know, that what a gift to that child that you’re aware of it.
Amy Julia (15m 48s):
Well, and you know, I really do credit a lot of people like you for helping me learn. And also the fact that they’re in a Montessori school helping me learn how to actually meet this child as a child, and not just assuming that we should be operating somewhat as equals And, that everything I know they should also know. And, but one of the things that has helped me has been actually doing it wrong a lot and having to like reflect back on that and think, I know, and, and this, I remember having this conversation in which one of my kids came home and said, they were talking about another friend who had gotten to go to Disney World five times.
Amy Julia (16m 36s):
And the reason this friend has gone to Disney World five times is because their grandparents live in Orlando. So it was not as though, you know, we live in Connecticut. I mean, it’s just, yeah. It was just this jump outlandish thing. And, you know, I was calm for maybe two exchanges, and then I finally, I mean, I just lost it. And, you know, made grandiose statements about how you think that you’re entitled to everything that everyone else has, you know, all these terrible things. So that to me was like the pinnacle of my reactive, getting big And I. You know, I, it was basically, I, I really felt like as a parent, I either needed to fix the problem, which would mean going to Disney World every year in my thinking, or I needed to squash the problem, which was essentially, I’m going to like beat you as a, not physically beat you, but I’m gonna win over you.
Amy Julia (17m 30s):
Yes. By winning this argument and making you understand, you know, what a petty person you are, eight year old or whoever, I don’t know what age. And so that moment was just stands out to me as a parent because I just knew I’m, I’ve put myself into the scenario, neither si neither one of my solutions works. Mm. And there has to be another way. How can I honor the feelings that my child is having? That, I mean, like right now, this child feels really like there’s injustice in the world, world. Like, my parents don’t really care about me.
Amy Julia (18m 12s):
I mean, those are real feelings. They’re not actually true. Like, so, so what do I do? And I didn’t, it’s not as though I kind of figured that out immediately, but at least being able to do it wrong and then reflect back on that, started to help me actually make some progress in learning how to not just react with my own anxiety, essentially. I mean, ’cause that’s really what, that was my anxiety of not being a good enough parent, which is, again, as an Enneagram one, what comes in so often is like, I’m not good enough and you are telling me I’m not good enough. So I’m going to yell at you for that.
Sissy (18m 53s):
Well, no, but I, I mean, I’m, I’m gonna back up. Well, two things. One is I love that Richard Rohr said we grow more by getting it wrong than by getting it right. Yes. And, and that’s exactly what you’re talking about. And Amy Julia, the fact that you dug into that felt like you failed and dug into it to try and figure out what to do differently is beautiful. And really, I would say is such a gift to that child. And I am hearing more parents who feel like failures and who are losing it talk, who are willing to say, I lost it with my child. Which I’m so grateful when parents feel like they can say that. And, and my response is always, I think you’re getting angry, not because you’re some terrible parent or you failed, but because in fact it’s the opposite.
Sissy (19m 38s):
And you want really good things for your child. I mean, in that moment you could look at it like, you know, every switch got flipped because I felt like they were being entitled and ungrateful and had these unrealistic expectations. Or you could look at it like, I want so much for my child to have humility and gratitude and to be a person like that in the world. Yeah. And it feels like my job to help them grow into that, to it. And so of course I felt anxious when I see the opposite And I. And it’s really because I want good things for them. And so that is one of the things I hope parents get the most through the book is not only does it mean you’re a good parent if you’re getting angry, but there’s a way to flip the thought to a more positive place.
Sissy (20m 26s):
Because I think so often when we get angry at ourselves and start to beat up on ourselves, I always think it’s like when I snow ski, which I don’t do a lot, And I don’t do very well, but if I fall once, I fall five more times in the next hour. Hmm. ’cause I get so tense and so tight. Right, right. That I can’t even ski the right way. I don’t even have rhythm anymore. And I think that’s what we do as grownups. We fail once and then we get so mad at ourselves that it’s like the anger then creates more of an issue than the fact that we failed once and we can learn from it and receive grace there.
Amy Julia (20m 60s):
Yeah. And you even write about like the importance of certainly this what we’re talking about in terms of kind of failure and learning from it as adults, but also you talk about like that being important, like the, the process of failing and talking about it in front of our kids as something that’s important even when it comes to the anxiety loops and all the different things that happen there. Can you say a little bit more about that?
Sissy (21m 26s):
Yes. My coworker, David Thomas, who’s like the boy version of what I do at Daystar, he says all the time kids learn more from observation than information. And so if they’re watching us mess up and get mad at ourselves on one hand or on the other, if we’re trying so hard to be this perfect parent, then when they hit that age of awareness of, oh, I mess up and kind of a lot, then they think that’s not okay because my parents never mess up. They’re these perfect parents. And so I think when we can, I mean, I’m saying this to parents of perfectionists all the time. I want you to fail in front of them. I want you to talk about what it’s like to work through that And I want you to laugh at yourself in the process.
Sissy (22m 10s):
Because I mean, you And I, I mean, again, I, I don’t mean to speak for you Amy Julia, but I think typically we perfectionists are so intense when we fail, we don’t know how to laugh at ourselves. Yeah. And I can’t even fathom. If someone had showed me what that looked like at Ate, that I could blow it, that I could disappoint people, And, that they still loved me, that I was okay, they were okay with me. I mean, what an immense yeah. Difference that would’ve made in my life. And so to help kids And I would say, I mean, definitely perfectionist, perfectionistic kids of boys or girls, but I think girls, I read a study years ago that talked about when something goes wrong in a boy’s world, he blames someone else.
Sissy (22m 52s):
And when something goes wrong in a girl’s world, she blames herself. Yeah. Which is part of why I think girls are twice as likely to deal with anxiety as boys. It’s why. And women we’re leading the statistics. And so I think when we can start to give ourselves more grace, I just, I think it would be a game changer for us and for them.
Amy Julia (23m 11s):
Yeah. Such a good point. And I did not learn. What I learned how to do was how to avoid failure at all costs, which is to say not take risks, not grow. I mean, I really did not learn how to, even little things like this is a story my husband And I tell about me often, which is that when we were dating in college one day, he said, Hey, you wanna go shoot basketballs? And I’m five foot one, he’s six foot tall. So I was like, no, that’s okay. And he’s like, why not And? I was like, I’ve, I’ve never done that before. And he was like, oh, okay, well let’s just go try And. I was like, no, I’ve, I’ve never done it before.
Amy Julia (23m 52s):
So we have this big back and forth where we’re just not understanding each other because what I’m saying in I’ve never done that before is, therefore I will be bad at it and therefore I will not try. And he’s saying, I understand that you’re a foot shorter than I am And that you’ve never done it before. Maybe you’ll think it’s fun. Like I’m not gonna judge you. I’m not gonna critique you. And I was almost in tears, simply standing in front of the basket trying to shoot, you know, like it was so, and, and we eventually had fun, like we played and had fun. But it was such this moment of me recognizing I have oriented my life around not being in a position of even possibly failing, which you can’t fail at going out in the driveway with someone and shooting a basketball.
Amy Julia (24m 39s):
Right. I mean, you can’t. And yet that’s what it felt like to me. And, and so we’ve really tried in our household, that’s one thing we have tried, because I think he, And I learned this about me early on to try to Yeah. Really kind of try new things, demonstrate when that’s hard. Talk about taking risks, you know, that kind of thing. And we also is one of the most endearing qualities of our daughter, Penny, who is our oldest child and who has Down syndrome, is that she laughs at herself when she makes a mistake really, really easily. And it’s so welcoming to everyone, you know? And, and it’s really been a gift to our whole family.
Amy Julia (25m 20s):
And I don’t know if that is kind of common among kids with down Syndrome or not, or if it’s just particular to her. But I, I know that I really do appreciate it, which has helped me recognize, oh, it’s actually a welcoming thing to other people if I can be gracious to myself and kind of enjoy myself, not as someone who has to get it right all the time.
Sissy (25m 42s):
Yes. Yes. I love that. I love that story. And And, I think especially because one of the things in this age of anxiety and perfectionism, I’m seeing more kids than ever who will not do things that they can’t already do. Well, who won’t even learn sports. Yeah. Who won’t try things because they wanna do it perfectly from the outset, which is crazy and makes me so sad. Yeah. I mean, I get it and it makes me so sad.
Amy Julia (26m 8s):
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I have, I wanna talk about parents again because I have a couple of questions, kind of two different sets of parents. I’m thinking about people who know that they have a lot of anxiety, that that’s just something they’ve known about themselves, maybe even since they were children or teenagers. And so if you’re talking to someone who says, look, I know I have a lot of anxiety, I know it’s affecting my kids. Like, where is there a place that you start? Are there first steps as far as practices or, you know, other than certainly And, I would recommend this, getting your book and the Workbook and possibly a group of people to work through it with. But yes, I love that idea. You know, love that idea. If you’re just kind of like, oh my gosh, I, I don’t have time for that today.
Amy Julia (26m 51s):
What, where do you start?
Sissy (26m 53s):
Well, IWI want all of us to be aware at the two places anxiety starts is first is in our bodies, and the second is in our thoughts. And so I think anytime we can notice patterns of how it impacts us, so in our bodies, for all of us, I think it starts in a different place. I mean, maybe your shoulders hunch up, I find my shoulders around my ears a lot. Maybe your breathing changes, maybe your, I’m in the age where I’m having hot flashes, and so my face turns red really quickly. And I get really hot. I mean, again, it’s, it’s different for everybody. But basically the more anxiety takes over our body, the more our amygdala hijacks our brain, the harder it is to fight.
Sissy (27m 36s):
And so the sooner we can catch the progression, the better off we are. Okay. In terms of stopping how it takes over. And so when I first start to notice my body getting tense and registering some anxiety, if in that moment I can take some deep breaths and whether it’s, you know, I love square breathing, I love breath prayers. Apple watches have an app. There are a million apps out there we can have that just help us walk through an exercise of deep breathing. Yeah. That’s gonna dilate the blood vessels in our brain. And shifts shift the blood flow right back to the prefrontal cortex. So that’s always where I wanna start. Now we’re talking about parents, but with some kids, they can’t start with breathing and they need to start with movement.
Sissy (28m 20s):
And so with some kids, we would say, Hey, go run a couple of laps around the kitchen island. You know, And, I, think some of us as adults too, it might be that we need to go for a run or go for a walk first because it’s just too hard to get into the breathing space. But that’s where I wanna start, is I want us to calm our bodies down. Yeah. And then I want us to notice the themes that our thoughts take, because all of us have themes. And it’s often things like I always, or I never, or no one ever, it’s these, use the word grandiose earlier. It’s these grandiose places that we go to that are when anxiety’s starting to lie to us. Which is true. And it’s fascinating because I think from a a thinking perspective, we move so much into the place where anxiety really impacts our perception.
Sissy (29m 9s):
And, and it anxiety is based on interpretations, not the actual events. But if we back up and we go really practical, again from a scientific standpoint, basically the more often our amygdala is activated in that way, the more likely it is to be activated. It actually enlarges and develops what’s considered a hair trigger response. And then the bigger it gets, the more likely it is to lie to us. So it’s this self-fulfilling prophecy. And so the sooner we can catch it in our body, the sooner we can catch it in our thoughts, the better off we are. And 20 seconds of deep breathing begins a process of resetting the amygdala.
Sissy (29m 49s):
So when we can start with that, when we can start to notice, okay, I think my thoughts have totally spun out. I’m gonna do some deep breathing in this moment. I’m gonna bring my thoughts back to what’s true. When we’re doing parenting seminars, we’re talking a lot about the old stop drop and roll fire safety theme. So stop, drop and flip the thoughts we’re gonna stop in the moment, do some breathing, drop the anxious thought, and we’re gonna flip it to something more positive or some kind of truth that we can anchor ourselves to, because then we can stop the way it’s hijacking our body and our thoughts. So that would be where I would really start.
Amy Julia (30m 28s):
That’s really helpful. And then the other question I have is, I’m thinking about, there was this place in the book where when I read it, it was a long list of different things we can do to kind of help when we are having anxious thoughts. And what I wrote in the margins, I’m looking for it right now, but what I wrote in the margins was, oh, this helps me with insomnia. And when I, what I laughed about at that point was like, oh, because maybe insomnia is about anxiety. Like, I was like, oh no, Sissy, this isn’t about anxiety, it’s about insomnia.
Amy Julia (31m 8s):
And I was like, oh, whoops. Anyway, I’m not finding the list at the moment, but the reason I bring it up is that I am someone who, for a long time I really did not think that I had anxiety. I thought I had perfectionism, I thought I had these other things. But because of hyper productivity and ability to rationalize like I did, there were, there were these tactics I had to kind of contain what I now would say was my anxiety. But they were, they were very much just containing it. So I do think they were kind of like putting a box around it that probably made it less terrible. But it was not actually addressing the anxiety, it was just kind of like trying to squeeze it into this little place so that it didn’t just take over everything.
Amy Julia (31m 53s):
But so for people like me who don’t necessarily know that they have anxiety, like where do, where do they start? Like, because I feel like I was someone who was in denial and probably on some level still am like, as opposed to, I know I’m Anxious, tell me what to do. You know? So what do you say? What do you say to people like me?
Sissy (32m 11s):
Well, And, I, there’s a section in the book. There are a lot of sections of five things. ’cause I just feel like everybody’s so busy. I want us to really kind of boil it down. And there is a place where I talk about the five ways I see anxiety show up the most in parents, but I think it’s true of any of us as adults. And let’s see if I can remember all of them. One is anxiety distracts us. So we’re not in the present moment because anxiety resides in the past or the future. So I’ve spun off into one of those places. I had a mom one time who said to me, it’s like I’m trying so hard to be a good parent that I’m not even parenting.
Amy Julia (32m 44s):
Mm. Yeah. Which
Sissy (32m 46s):
Makes so much sense. So anxiety distracts us. Anxiety causes us to attach future meaning to present problems. That whole sense of, well, they’re not keeping their room clean now, so they’re never gonna be a functional adult. Right, right. You know, or they’re struggling with telling some little white lies. They’re never gonna be able to have a healthy relationship because they lie all the time. You know, these big things that we attach the little issues to when they’re growing up, when they’re still developing people. And so we don’t wanna do that to them. Yeah. Yeah. Anxiety makes us micromanage. So I think if you find yourself as a micromanager, which we are as as type A, we are, yeah.
Sissy (33m 25s):
The queens of, you know, we’re, it feels like you can’t control the big things, so you lock down on the little ones to control. Yeah. And, I think for me, I don’t see details. So if somebody told me to just let the little things go, I don’t even know what those are because everything has equal importance to me. Right. So anxiety makes, makes them us micromanage anxiety makes us angry based on exactly what we were talking about before. I think it often comes out that way because we feel out of control in the moment. And, I always hate to say this, I hate to say all these out loud, but this one particularly, one of the things I read in the research for Raising Worry-Free Girls, is that anxiety in kids is often linked to a lack of parental warmth.
Sissy (34m 12s):
And it’s not that we’re not warm inside of ourselves or we can’t get to a warm place, but I know for me, when I’m anxious and hyper-productive, like you said,
Amy Julia (34m 24s):
Sissy (34m 25s):
I literally have to say to myself, Sissy, stop with your agenda and smile at the person. Right. Stop and listen to them. I mean, I mean, there’s no warmth coming from me. And. I have sat with so many parents who I think, I know you’re warm, but I’m not experiencing it all because you’re so fearful about what’s happening with your kids. And so, right. I talk about how anxiety takes away our warmth and joy, and again, I think we can get back to it, but if any of those five statements, as I say them feel a little, make you feel a little squirmy or uncomfortable, I think then maybe that’s part of what’s going on for you.
Amy Julia (35m 2s):
Well, And I loved the part in the book where you even said you can practice being warm. Like just that, that is something that we you like even in the mirror. Like just, we can learn this if you feel like it’s impossible, I’m too afraid, or that’s just not who I am or whatever. That And that sense of so many of these things w with a little bit and, and not even, I mean, what I love, even this is going back a couple of answers, but just like 20 seconds of breathing 20 seconds Yes. Makes a tremendous difference. I, I mean, three minutes of reflection a day. Yes. Picking one moment to just say, okay, what went wrong there? Like, these really are actually life-changing.
Amy Julia (35m 43s):
If we do them consistently, they really can change our trajectories a lot.
Sissy (35m 48s):
Yes. And, and back to the code word. I bet I feel like you And I probably read a lot of the same people. Kelly Corrigan, do you know? Okay. We had her on our podcast not long ago, and she was talking about, she didn’t even know that I talk about the code word. And she was talking about how she and her husband, based on who her dad was in her life, I think her dad was really kind, really warm. And so she said, when I get really Anxious with my girls, my husband will quietly say to me Face of Love, which says to me, I’ve gotta let go of this intensity, warm up my face, smile at them, look them in the eye and say things like, her great book title, tell me more. You know, that that’s where I can camp out instead of this rigid, intense place that I, that we all go, I think when we’re feeling anxious.
Amy Julia (36m 36s):
Yeah. And I certainly go there. And it, it’s so interesting to me because one of the things, again, having a child with Down syndrome, I had said this to you before we even started recording, has been more like a magnifying glass than a different experience of being a parent where some of the concerns and fears and also some of the opportunities to really observe and learn have just been bigger. And one of those was really early on in Penny’s life, we heard a, an actually autism expert, but talk about something called responsive parenting. And he said, you know, what we’ve learned with kids with autism is that the most effective way to be a parent is to respond to what they are strong in and good at.
Amy Julia (37m 23s):
Because if you’re trying to, if you’re paying attention to their weaknesses, then what you are doing is saying in this area, that’s really hard for you. We need to get better. And what that does is it creates a feedback loop where they are struggling. You are generally in terms of your facial expression, grimacing because you are responding to their struggle wanting it. Whereas if you can find something that they love and are excited about or good at or strong in, you probably can actually work on these other skills and develop them. But what happens is you create a joy loop where you’re excited, they’re excited, and you’re, and and, and basically he was like, smiling at your kid is the best thing you can do.
Amy Julia (38m 8s):
Like, that is the most important thing to do as a parent. I don’t care if they crawl more quickly than they would because of the exercises. Like, I don’t care. I want you to smile at your kid. And it was truly like transformative for me because of being such a productive, you know, person and wanting to have lists, lists and graphs and charts and saying, you know, especially with my first child, you know, how is she going to make her progress? And just to be like, okay, slow down smile. What does she love? And which is also part of like, who is she? Yes. How can you relate to her? And not to what the book says she might be doing right now. But anyway, I just appreciate that sense of responding that like how we, our faces look and how we inter are interacting with them is just so crucial to who they are becoming and who we are becoming too.
Sissy (39m 2s):
Oh, I love that so much. And you know, part of what concerns me right now for parents is that I think there’s so many experty people out there who are telling pe parents what they need to do and have really differing opinions. And so I think it’s so overwhelming for parents. I’m telling parents, I want you to pick two or three voices and only listen to them. It’s just too much. Yeah. And it’s funny as you say that, because I, I think when I, you’re younger than I, but I mean, when, when I was growing up, there were not parenting experts out there. Right. There weren’t a lot of people to listen to. The one book that my mom read was Dr. Spock.
Amy Julia (39m 39s):
Sissy (39m 40s):
And the one thing she took away from Dr. Spock was smile at your baby. Mm. Which is so funny that that’s what you’re saying. And Yeah. And we haven’t gotten to be around each other much, but I have one sister who is 16 years younger than me. Oh, wow. And it’s, it’s funny, if you were around us, the compliment that we both get the most out of anything is that we smile all the time.
Amy Julia (39m 59s):
Sissy (40m 0s):
And I think it’s because mom, that was her one philosophy. I’m gonna look at them And, I’m gonna smile at their little faces, you know? Isn’t that funny? So I love, love, love that idea. So love that so much. Yes.
Amy Julia (40m 10s):
All right, well, so here’s a question I have. This is, you know, kind of me sneaking in my need for a personal therapy parenting session. But, but the thing that is hardest for me as a parent right now, And I have 17, 15 and 12 year old. So Wow. You know, that those are my, my age. Think of it, And, I’m a, I mean, such a better parent of teenagers than I was when they were little. So in general, this is a much easier stage for me. But the thing that is hardest for me, Hey,
Sissy (40m 36s):
Julia, way to go on that. Oh, thanks. I think often perfectionists are the opposite. Oh. You know,
Amy Julia (40m 41s):
I read that And I was like this Yes. Is actually, but part of that is because my husband, And I have literally lived with teenagers essentially since we were teenagers because he, we’ve lived in boarding schools. So we’ve been, wow. We’ve started out in youth ministry and then have been living amongst teenagers, And, I think I’m such a communicator that once kids get to an age where they can even give a little bit of a reason for what’s happening and what they’re feeling and what they’re, I’m like, I’m all in for that. Whereas when this is just seemingly irrational behavior, I, anyway, that’s a whole other story. But here’s my question. So the hardest thing for me as a parent is that I want to help my kids avoid discomfort.
Amy Julia (41m 26s):
I want to, when, you know, my daughter has been home, stayed home from school sick, but gets invited to a sleepover, I want her to be able to go because I know how much it means to her. But I also really feel like as a parent, it’s my job to protect you and have you get some sleep or, you know, when, I mean we just, when they’re struggling in anything, I want to make it better for them with like a quick fix And that feels kind of like smiling at them. Like that’s what it, it feels like bestowing my love for them on them. But I also know that it is potentially like holding them back. So could you just talk about why my attitude might be problematic and also how to have some sort of like discernment, you know, about like as a mom, when do you, when do you rush in and say, Hey, let me help you make that better and and when do you say, I’m gonna let you struggle because I know that’s part of your growth?
Sissy (42m 24s):
Hmm. That is such a hard question. And I. I wouldn’t say it’s problematic. I would say it’s coming from a place of so much love for your kids and of course you want good things for them. And, and in light of anxiety, the two most common parenting strategies are es escape and avoidance. So I’m gonna pull ’em right out.
Amy Julia (42m 42s):
Sissy (42m 43s):
And. I mean, I think it’s true really for any kid who comes upon distress. Not just Anxious kids. Although anxious kids can be so loud and manipulative when they come up on something like that. Hmm. And in the research, the definition I came up with is that anxiety is an overestimation of the problem and an underestimation of themselves. Hmm. And so when we rescue them, we are ba basically affirming that definition. Hmm. Right. You do need me to step in ’cause you’re not capable of doing it yourself. Which is never what we would be intending to. I mean, that’s not what we’re wanting to say. Yeah. But that’s the message that’s received. And so, I mean, I think I, I often will say to parents, what are two things you’re doing for your kids right now that they can do for themselves?
Sissy (43m 27s):
And what are two things you’re doing for them that they can almost do for themselves? And, I want you to stop doing all four. And so maybe that’s a question, is this something they can do for themselves or they can almost do for themselves? And, I’m not gonna take care of it. If it is And, I would go back to, I think a good litmus test. I’m such a proponent of empathy and questions with kids. Oh, I hate that you’re going through that. That looks so hard. I cannot imagine what it would’ve been like to have that kind of math as a sophomore in high school. Or you know what, I hate that your friends are treating you that way. What do you wanna do about it? Or what do you think would help?
Sissy (44m 8s):
Or what’s your game plan here? Questions that basically imply capability.
Amy Julia (44m 15s):
Sissy (44m 16s):
And then we listen to them try to work through it and if it feels like they’re floundering and they’re confide is dropping by the minute, then I think yeah. You know, maybe it’s a time to step in and help. Or if they’ve tried even in a situation at school with friends, they’ve tried to talk to the friend, they’ve even gone to the teacher and nothing is changing, then at that point I think we step in. But Right. But give them an opportunity to try first because kids, I mean I think we are looking at a significant lack of resilience today among kids, And, I. Think it’s that sense of somebody’s gotta step in and fix this for me ’cause I can’t do it myself.
Amy Julia (44m 56s):
I love that. And yeah, that’s just such good advice. The both the empowering questions that kind of again say I’m here with you in this and I’m not gonna fix it for you. You know, I think that is really great. And then also just what a good challenge in terms of two things they could be doing for themselves and two things they almost could do. I need to need to contemplate that a little bit for, for my three. Well, I could ask you questions all day, but I’m just gonna ask one more. And I’m thinking about this book, which again is kind of full to the brimm with guidance on how to truly change our patterns of thoughts and behavior. So I thought maybe we could close with a picture of what happens when we start to implement these practices, right?
Amy Julia (45m 40s):
Like, so I’m an anxious parent, I’m reading this book, I start to actually do some of the things we’ve talked about in this conversation, some of the things in this book, like what happens?
Sissy (45m 50s):
Hmm. I think probably the opposite of those five things happen. I think we’re more present. I see kids and parents as parents start to work through their own worry. I see kids getting better. Yeah. I mean, I really do believe the best thing you can do for anxious kids is to do your own work. Yeah. And so I see kids getting better. I see parents enjoying their children more kids enjoying their parents more. I can think of one family that I really love and respect and the daughter right around the age of onset, which is somewhere between seven and eight. This girl started to get really anxious and we did a lot of work and her mom was very wise and knew she had to do the work alongside her.
Sissy (46m 35s):
And so one of the things I’ll have kids do is give their worry a name. I love her parents to do it too. And this little girl named her worry monster, we called it Bob. I have no idea why she picked the name Bob, but I would see them in my office together. And this mom would say, you know what, Bob has been driving me crazy this weekend. Tell me I can’t do all these things And, I’m messing up all the time. And I would watch this little girl with her big glasses and her even bigger bow and her face soften. I mean the intensity in her own little face fall away. Like my mom, who’s my hero, here’s Bob. And she’s figuring it out and she’s working through it. And. that gives me hope that I can too.
Sissy (47m 16s):
Amy Julia (47m 17s):
Hmm. Well Sissy, you give me hope that we can too. So thank you, thank you, thank you for your book and and for all the work you’ve done. Because I know that your counseling practice there in Nashville has been a kind of a depth of love and care and compassion for countless kids and their families in the wake of these like very kind of mundane and day-to-day problems, as well as in the midst of really profound tragedy and loss. So we’re just really grateful that you are doing what you’re doing, And that you’re sharing it with the world. Thank you.
Sissy (47m 53s):
Thank you Amy Julia. I’m so delighted to be with you. And I’m grateful for what you’re doing, And, that you’re sharing it with the world too.
Amy Julia (48m 1s):
Thank you. Thanks as always for listening to this episode of Love is Stronger Than Fear. And do check out Worry Free Parent if this resonated with you. There is so much more in that book than we were able to cover in this conversation. As a sneak peek of what’s coming next on the podcast, I will be talking with Tish Harrison Warren about her new book about Advent And. that prompts me to remind you one more time about my Advent Devotional Prepare Him Room. If you go over to Amy Julia Becker dot com slash newsletter, you can sign up for weekly reflections from me, reminders about podcast episodes, upcoming speaking events, books I’m reading, podcasts I’m listening to, and other news.
Amy Julia (48m 45s):
I would love to stay in touch with you that way. It’s always a huge help. If you wanna leave a review and share this podcast with friends, we have a growing community here of devoted listeners, which is so fun for me and hopefully fun for you as well. So spread the love share, you know, let other people know about it. And let me know how you respond. I’d love to hear from you. My email is Amy Julia Becker firstname.lastname@example.org. And I promise I will respond if you reach out to me. I want to also just end with thanks for Jake Hanson editing the podcast, Amber Beery, my social media coordinator, pulling all the different threads together, the TRANSCRIPT, the show notes, the editing that needs to be done for this.
Amy Julia (49m 31s):
She does so much and I’m so grateful for her. I’m also really grateful that you are here and as you go into your day, Today I hope you’ll carry with you the peace that comes from believing that love is Stronger, Than, Fear.
Learn more with Amy Julia:
- To Be Made Well: An Invitation to Wholeness, Healing, and Hope
- S7 E5 | Finding Hope in the Dark with Curt Thompson, MD
- S7 E2 | Anxiety: A Doorway to Your Best Self? with Curtis Chang
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