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What Our Kids Need Now To Recover From The Pandemic – With Dr. Melanie McNally

After the pandemic, tweens and teens are slowly but surely transitioning back to normal. Some may be going back to school and starting to see their friends, while some are still inside doing remote learning. The COVID-19 outbreak has changed and impacted us and our kids in multiple ways, whether it be anxiety, depression, or an eating disorder. In my last podcast episode, I interviewed Dr. Melanie McNally who works with teens and young adults to support them to manage stress and anxiety, develop coping tools, and learn how to like themselves, flaws and all.

If your kid has been struggling with transitions, this episode is a great resource to seek guidance and comfort.

Scroll down to read the full episode transcribed, if you don’t have time.

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Where To Find Melanie McNally: 

What You Will Learn: 

  • How to help your kids ease back into normal life as we come out of the pandemic.
  • What you can do if your tween or teen is experiencing anxiety or isn’t talking.
  • How to help them to cope with their stress.
  • What parents do to get them out of their rooms.
  • What you can say and how you can help them after a challenging past 14 months.

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And here is the episode typed out!

Welcome to the Moms of Tweens and Teens Podcast. If some days you doubt yourself and you don’t know what you’re doing. If you’ve ugly cried alone in your bedroom because you felt like you’re failing. Well, I just want to let you know you are not alone and you have come to the right place.

Raising tweens and teens in today’s world is not easy. And I’m on a mission to equip you to love well, and to raise emotionally healthy, happy tweens and teens that thrive.

I believe that moms are heroes, and we have the power to transform our family and to impact future generations. If you are looking for answers, encouragement, and to become more of the mom and the woman that you want to be welcome. I am Sheryl Gould. And I am so glad that you’re here.

SHERYL: Welcome Melanie to our show today. I am so grateful to have you here. We’re going to talk about all the challenges and struggles around our kids’ mental health and how we can support them. So thank you for coming on the show and being with us today.

MELANIE: Yes, thank you so much for having me. I am very excited to speak with you today.

SHERYL: I know, we’re going to glean so much wisdom from you. I can’t believe it — I think we’re going on 14 months now that we’ve been in this pandemic.

MELANIE: I know, it’s mind-boggling when you think back to the beginning and what it was like. We thought it would be a couple of weeks, and then you look at the transition over summer and how much things have evolved and changed. In 14 months, there has been so much change that had occurred for all of us.

I know, and we’re still in it but somewhat coming out of it. There’s a lot of trauma that we’ve gone through. What have you been saying to tweens, teens, and parents that you work with?

SHERYL: In the beginning, everything was uncertain, causing a lot of anxiety all across the board for parents, tweens, and teens. I noticed there’s a lot of social anxiety that was present before and intensified after the pandemic. For the first time, they’re experiencing some social anxiety. It’s terrifying the idea of having to go back to school and be around people again. They are anxious to participate in class, as opposed to being able to type in the chat and ask your question that way.

MELANIE: I’ve also noticed some body image issues come up. Even for many teens and tweens who didn’t have a history of body image issues previously, they haven’t been moving as much or been as active. Their clothing size has changed or gained a few pounds. Now they’re self-conscious and feel uncomfortable in their skin.

Some talked about wanting to restrict calories. Some of these behaviors could lead to eating disorders down the road.

I’ve noticed more discomfort of being out in public, where they’ve gotten so comfortable being on their being in their rooms not having to interact with people face to face. It’s not just going back to school, but it’s going to the grocery store or soccer practice.

SHERYL: I know, it’s so much. I hear a lot from my clients, and I want to read a few of them because it may comfort listeners.
Their mental health is suffering, which you were talking about. They aren’t talking about their feelings. They’re isolated, not coming out of the room, so parents are very concerned about that. They’re addicted to their devices because social media allows them to connect with their friends.

They lack activities and not getting exercise. They don’t want to go out now. Their grades have plummeted, so they’re having a tough time.

Because they’ve gotten so far into the pit, digging themselves out is overwhelming. Tweens and teens are scared about the future and social situations. Often, it’s hard to find a therapist. You mentioned you’ve never been busier and have a waitlist.

MELANIE: It’s a huge weight, and it’s a lot to take in for a parent, teachers, and the teens and tweens themselves.
We’re all collectively in a mental health crisis right now. The pandemic has only increased the severity of symptoms. Mental health issues are stigmatized — it’s okay to walk around with a cast on your arm and talk about having a broken bone. But it’s not okay to talk about how you might have depression or anxiety.

People bottle those things in and hide it. They don’t want to share, and they think that it means there’s something wrong with them. Tweens and teens may not want to tell their parents because they’re afraid of their parents’ reactions or they see parents dealing with their own stress and anxiety.

There could be stressed in the home or their parents are so worried about what’s going on in the world They don’t want to add to their parents’ stress. They view what they are dealing with as a burden, so they hold it inside.

SHERYL: Oh yes and then feel so alone in it, which troubling when they’re stuffing it all down. So what should parents be on the lookout for when it comes to their kids mental health?

MELANIE: That’s a really important question because you have to know what you’re looking for. Parents have to know signs of severe mental health issues.

First, if there’s any signs at all of self harm — if they are hiding their arms and legs during warm weather.

They’re not wanting you to see their body parts that you normally would see and that could be a sign that maybe there’s some self harming going on. Suppose the parent notices any signs of self harm. In that case, there’s immediate need for help, whether that’s going to the emergency room, talking to the school social worker, the school psychologist, contacting your local therapist and trying to get an appointment immediately.

SHERYL: So they see that they see that their kids are cutting, and they freak out. What should the parent say when they see that? What should they not say?

MELANIE: They should not say anything that includes judgment, criticism, reprimanding, or giving some sort of consequence or saying, “What is wrong with you? Why would you do that? You know better? How could you do that to me?” Those are things that they absolutely do not want to say they want to approach it from a place of curiosity. As hard as that is.
We have to approach it from a place of curiosity. You could say, “I noticed you have some cuts on your arm. Can you tell me what those are from?” or “I noticed there’s some bruises on your legs, what happened?”

They’re open under questions, there’s no judgment, there’s no criticism about it, and then leaving space for them to respond.

I noticed that parents will jump in to either finish their teens or tweens response, give the response for them, or they don’t leave room for them to actually fill it in themselves. Sometimes that might take a little time. Sometimes it’s a little awkward because there’s some silence there. That’s totally okay, but leave room for them to respond and ask very open ended questions about if they do share that they’ve they cut themselves or they used a paperclip to scratch their arm, or they’ve been starting to pinch themselves and they’re leaving bruises.

Then, ask some open ended questions about that, like, “What was going on in your life at that time when you felt the need to do that?”

Also, they can make it a little relatable, like, “It sounds like you were really hurt at that time. When you did that, I know what it feels like to be really hurt.” Then, parents can continue making an open ended conversation where you’re asking more questions. Sometimes parents will say, “I know what it feels like to be hurt. But I would never do that to myself. I can’t believe you would do that to yourself.” Yeah, I want to leave that last part. This is something you don’t want to say.

SHERYL: Yeah, I love that. Thank you that is so helpful. It causes a lot of anxiety as a parent. I love saying “I’m noticing” because it’s non-judgmental. It’s more like, “Hey, I’m noticing that you have this…tell me about it.” It’s from a place of care. Then, parents can validate that pain, like saying, “You must have been really hurting. It sounds like that was really hurtful, or you’re feeling really anxious.”

MELANIE: Yes, and then let them talk. Parents should be curious, ask questions, and get some further information. They should gage if this is new behavior or if they have done this before. Maybe asking, “Do you ever try and hurt yourself in any other ways? ”

Because right now, maybe we’re only talking about some bruising. They can ask, “Do you ever do anything else to your body when you feel that kind of hurt or that kind of frustration?”

So you’re gathering information in a slow, curious, non-judgmental way. That way, when you get further assistance from whoever, you have some background information to share with that professional. Based on the information, parents can see how severe is this, what level of treatment does this tween or teen need, and what’s going to be appropriate for them.

I’ve had some parents contact me and the self harm might be too severe where teletherapy isn’t appropriate. They need either outpatient care like intensive outpatient where they need multiple appointments a week, or maybe they need hospitalization. If you gather that information, then you go to a trusted professional and they can then guide the parent towards further support.

SHERYL: What would you say if they’re talking to their kid and then they say, “I’m fine. I don’t want to. I don’t want to go to anyone.” That’s a common thing where the kid does not want to get help. What would you say to that parent?

MELANIE: Yeah, it’s tough when the parent notices problems and the tween or teen doesn’t. First, I would encourage parents to try and have a relationship with their kid — the type of relationship where it’s not based in criticism. A lot of times when teens get that response, it’s because they feel like they’re going to be criticized. So they kind of brush it off like, “I’m fine.

Everything’s fine. Don’t bug me.” Because they don’t want to be criticized.
If a parent has a good relationship with their teen or tween, it’s pretty open and non- judgmental. The tween or teen might feel more likely to share. They might not because there’s a lot of trouble We’re doing everything right and the team still doesn’t want to share, or doesn’t want to get further help.

So then the parent can talk to them about what they’re noticing, I noticed that, you know, you’re spending more and more time alone in your room, you know, or I’m noticing that you, you know, used to love playing soccer. And now you’re saying that you don’t want to try out for the team this summer. You know, and I’m just wondering if there’s something going on.

And I know you don’t want to talk to me, but you might want to talk to somebody else who’s going to be there in your corner who’s private, it’s helpful if parents share the confidentiality part of therapy, because sometimes teens think that a therapist is just going to go and report everything to the parent. And that’s not the way it works. Like in the state of Illinois, for example, anyone over the age of 13, they have a total right to confidentiality.

And they have to give written permission for the therapist to share confidential information with their parent, like they, the therapist in the parent can talk about scheduling, without the the team’s permission. But other than that, they need written permission.

So it’s good if the team knows, like, Hey, this is somebody, they can’t even share stuff with me, this is going to be your own private place. And you know, and then if they’re still really resistant to even encourage them to just, you know what, let’s just try five sessions. Let’s give it five appointments. And then after that you can make your own decision and decide what you want. And then let the teen also be a part of picking out the therapist. That’s really helpful, too.

SHERYL: Yes, I’ve done that before I did that with one of my kids. It was really helpful to just let them choose, like give them like two or three names. They can talk to them, and email with them even coming alongside them. So it’s not so scary because it’s intimidating. They are self conscious at this age and having that compassion for where they’re at. Because I find that when theey don’t feel so pushed and forced, they are more apt to think about it, and then come back and be more open to it. Do you find that?

MELANIE: Yeah, if given a little time, absolutely it helps and makes a difference. As a psychologist, when the parent forces it, I can always tell when I first meet with a teen if they’re there by their own choice or by their parents.

When the parent forces them into therapy, it’s tough to get anywhere because there’s no buy in into the process. With a little bit of time, we’re able to kind of figure stuff out and you get a little bit of wiggle room for that buy in. There’s enough to kind of get deeper and deeper into it.

They’re going to get so much more out of therapy if they want it and see a need for it. If the parent wants their kid in therapy and the tween or teen says no, they can say, “Hey, you know what, maybe going to talk to somebody about what’s going on in your life. It’s just something that maybe you’re dealing with personally, that you want somebody to bounce something off of, and you could try and go and talk to them about that.”

It’s getting the tween or teen to see that they have some control and get what they want in the session. It’s not about their parent deciding what therapy is going to be about for them.

SHERYL: Yeah, I love that. Because for tweens and teens, it’s about having control. They feel like the parent is going to try and push or force or control them. That’s where you’re going to get the pushback.

During the pandemic, they’re not getting the level of independence that they should be getting. At this age, adolescence is all about becoming more independent. It’s about testing your limits. It’s about getting a little bit more freedom and making mistakes, but then coming home and having a safety net. The pandemic has taken that away — they don’t have the independence and freedom that they really need. If you can find a way to give them some independence and freedom within the confines of the pandemic, this is going to be really helpful because they’re not getting it anyplace else.

Yeah, that’s that’s such a good point. From talking to parents, it’s hard for them not to overly focus on their kids. They question if their doing homework, stress about their screen time, and being in their room. But then you get a breather. You’re not there and don’t see what they’re doing. It’s great when your kids leave the nest because you don’t see the mess in the bedroom. You don’t see everything that’s going on. When it’s right there in front of you, it’s so easy to worry and get stressed out as a parent.

MELANIE: Oh, my gosh, I love that you brought that up because even with remote learning. Before the pandemic, kids went to school and parents didn’t know exactly what was going on. They might hear if it was a good day or bad, they saw the grades, and they knew if work was being done.

But then with remote learning, they can listen in and hear what’s going on in the classroom. Then the parents would freak out like, “Oh my god, this is what you guys are talking about in class or this is what you’re working on.” And then now they’re getting involved on this micro level of their school day and criticizing the teachers, the schoolwork, and the way things are being done. Normally, they wouldn’t be involved. Tweens and teens feel suffocated, where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, my mom is emailing my teacher over every little thing. I have to do remote learning downstairs, and she can hear everything.” I’m getting all these comments about my school and how things are going. So it’s this claustrophobic feeling.

SHERYL: Yeah, no wonder they’re hiding in their rooms. I want the moms that are listening to know it’s tough. I’ve been in that situation where it’s so hard not to be overly focused on them. But to know, we’ve got to get our own focus and do things that get our eyes off of them. I like it think of it as an electrical socket. You think of a phone charger, and we’re plugged into our kids. So we should ask ourselves, “How can we unplug and plug into somewhere else?” Because it’s actually creating the very things that we don’t want.

MELANIE: Yes, and I don’t mean to criticize moms or anything like that, especially parents who are doing that because I get it. I think sometimes it comes from a place of anxiety. And during the pandemic, with all the uncertainty, parents want to focus in on what they have control over, just like tweens or teens.
We’re all trying to focus in on our little area of control. But it is helpful when parents and caregivers can kind of take a step back and say, Okay, you know what, I’m leaving that between them and their teacher. They can work that out, or that’s between them and the school. I’m going to take a step back, and I’m going to go focus on my thing, or I’m going to focus on taking care of myself right now. Because otherwise I’m just too involved and now it’s creating conflict between me and my tween or teen. There’s nothing I can do because really the issue is between the kid and the school.

SHERYL: Yes and I love what you’re saying about what it’s like for the tweens and teens because we need to understand what it feels like to them. When you’re in it, I think it’s hard to have that objective view of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that. It has the potential to create divisiveness, which is what we don’t want and they’re not talking.

So there’s so much to talk about.They’re also not coming out of the rooms. I’m hearing that a lot. What do you do or say if kids are not coming out of the room?

MELANIE: I know, it’s funny because I hear from teens and tweens, like I’m so bored, all there is to do is sit in my room and scroll through social media. I’m like so sick of it.
I’m like, “Wait, can I record you saying I’m sick of social media because I feel like we’re going to need that in the future.”

But they’re bored too. I don’t think that they want to be in their rooms all the time. I don’t think they want to be in their houses all the time.

We all want to go out and interact with the world and we want sensory stimulation. So we have to understand that part of it, especially the kids who are still doing remote learning. They have to be in front of devices because of their remote learning.

It’s not necessarily fair to say, “Okay, because you’ve been on your screen all day, we’re going to take it away in the evening.” So we can’t necessarily just take away screen time or take away devices.
Instead, it’s about trying to create a little bit more of a balance in the home for everybody. Parents can look at like how can everyone in the house create more balance so that we’re not sitting around so much, or we’re not all on our devices so much. So, they can make it like a family movement and it helps not place the spotlight on any one person.

As a family, you could say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that we’re on our devices all night and we’ve been on them all day. Let’s try and break it up. Maybe one evening a week, everyone has to shut down and no one’s allowed on anything. We can find some stuff to do as a family, or each night we can all go for a walk after dinner, take the dog to the dog park or fill in the blank. But make it a family thing where you’re trying to find more balance.

We’re trying to get out in the world a little bit more together as a family. Once you start to do that, the tween or teen goes out, they walk the dog, and they notice like, “Hey, I feel a little bit better when I do this.” Now they’re more likely to want to do something else that’s outside of their room. At this point, it’s normal for them to be in their rooms a lot. So I caution parents to not feel like it means that there’s something wrong with their particular teen or tween. I think that’s pretty normal right now.

SHERYL: I love what you said about this is all of us. I just know, for me, I’m like a sloth. I don’t want to get out of my house now. I have to motivate myself to get out. We get into this kind of rut and so come alongside them and say I’m struggling too in some ways. It can unite the family when you include yourself into it.

MELANIE: Absolutely. For the parents who are taking the more punitive approach, that makes me think that perhaps the situation’s pretty dire at that house. If they’re wanting to remove doors or shut down the Wi Fi, then things are pretty tough. At that point, they might say, “Okay, the Wi Fi is going to be turned off every night at 11:30 for like the entire house. It’s not just for one person. But we’re just doing this because we needed to create some healthier habits.” Or, some families will say,

“Okay, every night, all devices have to be turned off and put in this one spot and left there for the night. We won’t go through anyone’s phones. We’re just doing this to teach healthy habits, so you’re not staring at your screen as you’re falling asleep or you’re not tempted to FaceTime with friends.

We’re just doing this to create some healthier habits.” Parents can start small, like little baby steps, and then build on those. If you already have a situation where your teen isn’t talking to you, they’re holed up in the room and online constantly, then it’s like, okay, what’s one little thing that you can do to get them out of the room — maybe it’s walking the dog everyday after school.

Parents can start with that, and then build on it. Don’t add a whole bunch of changes all at once, but just start with one small thing.

SHERYL: Yeah, that’s important. My kids are a little bit older now, and I would get excited when they would do something. When I started piling on because it’s like, oh, they’re gonna do the dishes. So now I would say what needs to be done next. And then they’re like, “Mom, don’t pile on, just start with one thing. I haven’t even finished the first thing.”

Yes, parents are in states where things are starting to reopen or where kids are starting to return to school, then that might be enough. If they’re back in person, then that may be enough of a change right now. You might not want to add anything else to it. Once they’ve adjusted to being back in school, then you can add some other things.

SHERYL: Okay, yeah. What would you say to parents as they enter into this process of their kids going back to school or some things returning to normal? Parents are worried about how their kids will catch up or are scared about them being comfortable in social situations.
What would you say the parents are concerned about these things?

MELANIE: First of all, I would encourage those parents to seek help and support for those worries and not vocalize them to their teens. You don’t want put those worries onto them. That’s number one.

I think we’re all going to need to transition back into the world. For somebody who got anxious about germs and started developing some health anxiety during the pandemic, they will need to baby step transition into the real world and get comfortable being around other people. That means helping them figure out what feels safe, and doing the things that feel safe. Once they are doing those things regularly and stretching that safety bubble a little bit, they can do something that’s a little bit outside that safety bubble and little bit unsafe. They start to feel safe and comfortable doing that thing and then stretch the bubble wider. So for some people, that’s what we’re going to have to do for the germ conscious.

Other people have some social phobias or social anxiety right now. They’re going to need some sort of comfort bubble. They’re going to have to constantly stretch, expand, and get comfortable being around people.
With somebody with social anxiety, you wouldn’t want to just throw them back into attending a concert or something like that, where they’re surrounded by all these people. You want to start small, build, and stretch until they feel more and more comfortable in these social situations.

If that’s what we’re going to be doing, a lot of people have to figure out what their comfort level is and how they can stretch and build upon it. I think this is going to be a very long process because there’s a lot of anxiety that’s developed. A lot of people are dealing with anxiety and have never dealt with it before.

I have to make sure that they have the right coping tools to go out in the world and handle things. I encourage parents to find that line between pushing, but then stepping back — it’s a balancing act where you want to push them a little bit outside their comfort zone, but you don’t want to go too far. It’s kind of figuring out where that line is for yourself and also for the teen or tween in your life. Once you do that, you can help navigate and find balance. I think we’re all going to need mental health support from the schools and from psychologists and therapists out there until we’re kind of shifted back into whatever our new normal ends up looking like.

SHERYL: Yes, it’s going to take a lot of patience on our part as parents to not push. I like what you said about getting support as parents because so much a parenting is managing our own anxiety so we can support our kids.

MELANIE: Yes, when it comes to anxiety, we can actually make the anxiety so much worse. If we push too hard, let’s take the social anxiety example, if somebody is really, really anxious in social situations, and we throw them into a crowd, we’ve just made that social anxiety probably 1015 times worse than it was before. We’ve created more hurt than help.

If we help the person, like first be around a couple of people, and then a larger group of people, and while they’re feeling a little bit anxious in those social settings, they are practicing some tools to relax themselves. They will eventually get to that point where they’re able to be in a crowd again, and they’ll be in much better shape. Like I said, if we throw them in there, we’ve just made it so much worse. Now we’re probably going to have to take about 20 steps backwards, and start way behind the line from where we were before.

So it’s more like how can I support you and really listening?

Because you do have to challenge because there will be some teens who are gonna say, “Okay, listen to me, I don’t want to do anything, I don’t want to leave my room.”

And obviously, the parent can’t allow that when it’s time for them to start participating in the world again. So it’s knowing that where that line is of like, okay, I know, they’re really anxious now in social settings, so I’m not going to force them to go to that birthday party.

But I think it’s okay, if we have one friend over, and maybe they hang out in the backyard, or they watch a movie in the basement, and we order pizza. It’s kind of in the kid, maybe they’re resisting that and so the parent really has to kind of push that part. They still do have to do some pushing, but we don’t want it to be pushing, like too far out.

SHERYL: Can you think of something you would say, to push in a gentle way? Can you think of any little phrase that might be helpful?

MELANIE: You could ask, “What do you want to be different in your life a month from now?” For example, if it’s a social thing that we’re trying to push them on, then how do you want your life to be different socially, in a month? Maybe the tween or teen says, “I want to be able to hang out with my friends.” Then it’s like, “Okay, well, do you feel like you’re at a point right now where you can hang out with your friends?” If they say no, then say, “Okay, what do we need to do to get you to that point? So what would be a little baby step to get you to that?”

SHERYL: I love that. That is so good. You’re asking versus telling. We’re so tempted to tell them what they want and what they need to be doing rather than asking them.

MELANIE: Yes. They’re told all day long how to live and how to be. We want them to create real meaningful change. And this is actually true for adults, too. This is just a human thing. Real meaningful change comes from within us, not from outside of us. If someone tells me I should start exercising every day, I’m probably not really going to listen to them.

But if I decide I need to start moving my body more and I know I feel better when I move around, I’m more flexible and more likely to do it. So that’s what we we want the change — from inside of them.

SHERYL: Yes, I want to briefly talk about your book because it was so powerful that I couldn’t put it down. You’ve written a book for tweens and teens, called Counting Dragon Flies. I wanted to bring it up because you really had some amazing points in the book that are good to hear as parents about what our kids need. Briefly tell me what the books about and then I’ll ask you questions.

Yeah, so it’s a novel for tweens and teens. It’s about a girl named Susan, who’s in seventh grade. She hates everything about her life — she hates her name, her body, her family. Her parents end up having this huge fight, which causes her to run away from home and find her eccentric and artsy, long lost aunt who lives in the Montana wilderness. Along the way, she ends up learning how to like herself. She learns how to manage stress and anxiety. She learns about resilience and what that looks like. I wanted to have a story where there’s a lot of therapeutic tools and concepts in the story where it’s teaching what I teach in therapy, but in a story format to make it a little bit more relatable and digestible.

Her aunt Sophie was so loving and nurturing. One of the first things she says to Susan is, “It’s okay to not be okay.” I thought that’s such a good message right there. Right now, it’s okay for our kids to not be okay and to normalize it.

MELANIE: As soon as Susan gets off the bus and lets her know, “Okay, you’ve been through a lot. You don’t necessarily have to talk about it right now if you don’t want to. You’ve been through it. No matter how you’re feeling, that’s okay. Because there’s no shame in any feeling that we’re having. It doesn’t matter what the feeling is, if it’s anger, rage, depression, anxiety, there’s nothing wrong with those feelings. And they’re part of the human experience. It’s what we do with the emotions that can cause problems.

And that can hurt us or hurt other people. But the feelings themselves, there’s, there’s no shame to them. And that’s what we have to get comfortable with this, knowing that okay, whatever I’m feeling is okay. And I can learn how to either process a feeling, work through it, learn how to manage it, learn a coping tool, whatever I might need to do, but the feeling itself, that means I’m a human, that means I’m not a robot, I can feel things.

SHERYL: Yeah, it’s so important, that to know and whatever we’re feeling it’s valid, but it’s what we do with those feelings. And our kids don’t know that yet. And I think so many of us we don’t know, we have nobody ever taught us. So that it’s hard to give that to your kids when you haven’t learned how to how to do that and that goes back to even get our society or culture.

We’re just we’re bad about teaching feelings. Schools have gotten so much better about teaching social emotional learning and teaching coping tools. Believe it or not, tick tock is a really useful tool for teens and tweens to learn about feelings and coping tools. So I feel like Gen Z is they’re learning so much more than I learned when I was a tween or teen. Oh my gosh, they’re learning such such great things about like really good therapeutic tools they’re getting from just out there. But a lot of parents don’t necessarily have those tools themselves. And so you know, parents and caregivers have to learn those things. And then we have to encourage the the teens and tweens to use them to but we have to take the shame. First and foremost, we have to take the shame out of having the feeling to begin with.

SHERYL: Yes, I found a good message in chapter 11 when we talk about getting our kids to come out of their rooms. It’s entitled, “What love looks like,” and she describes Sophie’s house by the smells of coffee and pancakes every morning, tons of laughter, board games, and afternoon sunlight that hits the windows just right. So there’s slivers of light big enough for the dogs to nap. And it’s I just love, it just felt so nurturing. And of course, our homes may not be looking like that right now, because we’re all in, you know, feeling so many different feelings, and it’s super stressful.

But I couldn’t help but think about how she walked in there. And there was fun happening. And there was laughter happening. And I think this this whole pandemic week, it’s kind of locked us down, and it’s heavy, and we’re feeling stressed out. And how do we get to kind of a lightness where we can allow for more room for some laughter and some fun and playing music or whatever that is, our kids are going to be more apt to want to come out of their rooms, if we’re making it a place where they’re going to want to come out and and feel safer.

MELANIE: Yeah, I feel like our physical space is so important. where we live, the homes like our the towns, you know, the type of physical environment we’re in, impacts how we feel. And so if we have homes that are really stressful, like, like the Susan, the main character did, originally, her family that she came from, it was such a stressful home environment where her parents fought all the time, and her older sister was drinking and it was a really stressful home life, then people yeah, no one’s going to want to have friends over, they’re not going to want to come out of their realm.

Because if mom and dad are constantly in conflict, who wants to be around that, you know, and who wants to be in a home that feels like there’s no life in it? You know, it’s tense, and there’s no, it’s just like TV’s on.

And when everyone’s just kind of fending for themselves. It’s not a family, it’s not a home. And so if we create a physical environment that it doesn’t have to be, you know, this, you know, where we need all this new furniture or anything like that, it’s more of how does the home feel?

You know, are you welcoming people into it? And that means each other, like, when your kid comes home, or when your spouse comes home? Are you happy to see them? Or are you annoyed, because now it means like, there’s more work or there’s conflict. So part of it is how we treat each other and that creates that overall environment. But then also, if we have a home where we’re encouraging, you know, board games, we’re encouraging our see, you know, we’re encouraging, like we have music playing instead of the TV on, then that’s creating an environment that’s a little bit more engaging, and then people are more likely to participate and engage in that environment. Yeah,

SHERYL: I loved that. I just thought I do I want to go to her house. just sounds so good. And the non judgement there and you know, just really a healing place for her to be at that time. Can you share about the dragonflies story?

MELANIE: She went to Montana and you know, her aunt is kind of this eccentric character who likes to go take photos of wildlife and ends up taking her on this moose chase. They go find some moose to get pictures of them, and they are out camping will Sophi’s friends. He’s an older man and tells lots of stories.

He ends up telling Susan a story about how when he was a boy and used to lay out on the field and he would watch the dragonflies flying around. He would be so anxious and so worried when he was out there. He found that by taking time to try and count all the dragonflies it kind of calmed his mind and gave him lsomething to focus on but not overly focus.

She’s looking at the dragonflies and she’s watching them fly around as he’s telling her the story and she realizes like wow, I don’t have anything that brings me that sense of peace and calm or anything that makes me feel that good.

Then he says you need your own version of county dragonflies; you need something that’s going to bring you that peace and calm. That needs to be your mission in life.

I think that’s what a lot of us need. We need something no matter what it is — something healthy, not distraction, but a healthy thing that can bring us peace and calm. It can be a visualization or a memory, but something that will kind of calm us. And so that’s what she ends up learning as she finds her own version of company, the dragonflies.

SHERYL: How can we help our kids to find that for themselves?

MELANIE: That’s a tough one because we have to give them space to make mistakes in order to do that. And I know sometimes parents have a tough time doing that. We want to fix everything and make life easy and comfortable for them.

But we want the tweens and teens in our life to learn how to deal with mistakes — learning their own version of county dragonflies. Some of that’s going to be experimentation, finding different hobbies and experimenting and seeing, how do I feel when I’m swimming? How do I feel when I’m painting? Is that something that is going to bring me that peace and calm?

We can encourage them to experiment with different things — try out different hobbies and activities and see what feels like a good fit.

Then encouraging them later by saying, “Hey, I noticed like you are really in the zone, like when you were painting and I walked in the room. It’s like you don’t even hear or acknowledge me. How do you notice that you’re like that when you’re painting? And how does that make you feel?” We can get them to identify it a little bit, and then saying, like, “Gosh, that seems like something you could use to calm yourself down when you’re feeling really anxious.

But if you can’t, let’s say you’re sitting on the school bus and you’re feeling really anxious, you can actually imagine yourself painting a picture to bring that same feeling.” So we want to encourage the experimentation, allow them to make some mistakes, try different things out, and reflect back what we observe them. Then, we can encourage them to do that thing more or imagine it.

SHERYL: Wow, I love that. We should model what’s helping us that. They can see some of those things that we do, whether it be meditation, journaling, prayer, gardening, exercising, and talking about how it’s helping us when we do those things.

MELANIE: Yes, modeling is key. It’s doing it in a way where it’s suddle. For example, it might be saying, “Gosh, I’m so nervous about this presentation I have to do at work tomorrow. I’m so worried and keep thinking about it. So you know what, I think I’m actually going to go for a run or walk because that always clears my head.” You are kind of alerting everyone and letting them know. That’s great modeling where they get to see you are normalizing anxiety, but then you’re also letting them know that there’s something that you can do to help yourself feel better.

SHERYL: Yeah, it’s not manipulative. It’s just including them in your own process.

MELANIE: Yeah, I always tell parents to make thir internal dialogue external. Things that you’re already kind of doing and saying inside your own head, just make it external. They see the process and understand. It’s like a teaching moment, but in a very subtle, indirect way.

It’s teaching them social emotional intelligence, which is noticing how they’re feeling and including them in your process. This can help them to grow in those areas as well.

SHERYL: So thank you, Melanie. I mean, this has just been super helpful. Ar ther any last, encouraging words you would like to say to parents?

MELANIE: Yes, as much difficulty as the pandemic has brought, I do actually see so much hope for us as humans.
All of the people that have stepped in to help their neighbors — people who didn’t hoard the toilet paper, who went grocery shopping for the elderly couple next door, or reached out and offering support. It’s shown me what the great things about us as humans, like I still get tearful when I go out to the grocery store and everyone has their mask on. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, look at all these people like caring about one another, I see that as such a sign of hope.”

I feel like there’s a lot of really great things that can come out of this. For parents, they can just try and reframe when they’re feeling negative.

They can help their kids by thinking about things a little differently — not saying everything is perfect and wonderful, but recognizing the small positives in the negatives. We can say, “Gosh, you know, it’s been so hard, but at the same time, look at how much closer we got to our neighbors next door during this time. We probably wouldn’t have become this close to them. And like that’s really incredible.”

So trying to find like the little nuggets of joy, or the little nuggets of gratitude, and just kind of sprinkling those into conversation. These nuggets can help us feel more hopeful and optimistic overall.

SHERYL: Yes, that’s good. Our whole world has been in this together — it’s connected us in ways that we’ve never experienced before. No matter what our differences are, it can unite us because we’re all in it together.

MELANIE: Thank you so much for having me today. It was really fun to talk with you.

SHERYL: It was wonderful talking to you Melanie. Thank you.