The CDC states that since the Covid-19 pandemic began, one in every three children has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as anxiety or ADHD. It is more important than ever to learn how and to teach techniques to help reduce stress and anxiety.
Today’s guest is Dr. Michele Borba. Dr. Borba is an internationally renowned educator and award-winning author of 24 books. She is a motivational speaker having spoken in 19 countries on 5 continents and has served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations like Sesame Street, Harvard, The US Air Force Academy, and the Royal Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. Dr. Borba is an NBC contributor who has been on countless shows including Today, Dateline, Dr. Oz, Anderson Cooper, CNN, and more. Her work is featured in Time, Washington Post, Newsweek, Boston Globe, US News and World Report, and many others.“One of the reasons anxiety is going up is we are all in a state of loneliness. - Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
- [1:30] – Dr. Borba started her career as a special education teacher and has learned how resilient kids truly are.
- [4:03] – We can’t point the finger at one specific cause. We need to focus on what to do about it.
- [5:07] – Dr. Borba describes a study done over the course of 40 years.
- [6:25] – What are the things we need to teach to help manage anxiety or prevent it?
- [8:35] – Connect with teachers. Kids act differently at school than they do at home.
- [9:33] – Teachers see trends in behaviors in their class.
- [10:16] – A major change in society is that getting mental health services is more acceptable.
- [11:23] – Give kids a range of ideas to help your children.
- [13:12] – When you suggest a hobby, it isn’t a sport or activity that you have to add to the agenda. It is something they choose to do.
- [14:37] – Hobbies, pets, music, etc. can be tools that work for some kids.
- [15:29] – Everyone has a different stress sign.
- [16:18] – Dr. Borba shares a breathing technique great for both kids and adults.
- [18:21] – By learning these strategies, kids can build muscle memory.
- [20:21] – Thrivers have the tools to pull from to deal with stress.
- [21:44] – Your voice and family mantra can become your child’s inner voice.
- [23:00] – Volunteering helps build hope and empathy.
- [25:03] – There are many ways to build empathy but be intentional.
- [26:34] – Teach emotional literacy.
- [27:50] – Many social skills are in dormant mode right now.
- [29:03] – Kids can also feed off the stress of their parents.
- [30:18] – Our society tends to focus on performance which can add levels of stress.
- [33:32] – Kids are becoming ruder and civility needs to be retaught.
- [36:10] – Empathy is a super power and is the glue that holds society together.
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Dr. Borba, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Oh, I've been looking forward to this. Thank you, Chris. You're very welcome.
Can you give me and the audience a little background about who you are and why you started doing what you're doing?
Well, right now, I'm an educational psychologist and I'm a writer. I've had the immense fortune to actually speak in 19 countries and with a million parents and teachers, but I started as a special needs teacher myself. I began to see that despite the fact that some kids were diagnosed with severe learning issues or emotional problems, some of them were doing OK.
It's really been a 40-year journey to try to figure out why some kids struggle and others shine, and I figured it out. It's resilience, it's teachable. My last book is called Thrivers. That's all about what we can do to reboot our parenting and help all of our kids in this pandemic generation make it.
I was about to say—and this is particularly relevant—you’ve been doing this for 40 years for this kind of, like, your entire career is leading up to dealing with a pandemic, how kids handle it, and how parents handle it.
The timing was absolutely, well, it wasn't planned, let's put it that way. But I was seeing a trend that I think everybody needs to be aware of. Prior to the pandemic, my concern of why I wrote Thrivers is that one in five American kids was diagnosed with a mental health disorder, some kind of anxiety, then came the pandemic.One in five American kids was diagnosed with a mental health disorder, some kind of anxiety, then came the pandemic. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
Now, the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics say it's one in three, and we are in a national crisis that's unprecedented, which means mental health comes first and foremost. A crisis only amplifies the pre-existing issue. That's OK, we got it, we can figure it out. Science is on our side. Resilience is teachable. That's what I hope we can get in and dive into so we can do things, Chris.Science is on our side. Resilience is teachable. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
Awesome. Do you think that the one in five being diagnosed with a mental health disorder prior to the pandemic is more of an issue of us being able to do a better job diagnosing and realizing what's going on, or do you think there actually are more issues, more mental health disorders now?
I think there are more mental health disorders. The reason for that is we have stellar scientists who are tracking, per decade, this generation versus that generation versus that. Each generation of decades we're seeing an upswing in it. Now, why? It's not DNA in the water, but we have discovered that a lot of times we got ourselves into a culture—because we parent based on our culture—that was based on the test scores, the GPA.
We removed the kids play 101. It became less time with us just a bit to relax. Oh, this thing called a cell phone came into their lives. They were looking down, not up. Empathy scores went nosediving. Forty percent in 30 years said Sarah Conrad's work. The first thing is, let's not be so quick to put the finger as to, “Here's why.” We do know there is a problem. Now we're going to flip it to see, “OK, so what are we going to do about it and be better?”
Let's talk about that. What are some of the mental health disorders and the challenges that we're seeing, and then what can we do about it?
Well, the first thing is the challenges are just a tsunami of why anxiety is peaking. There's nothing absolutely picture-perfect than uncertainty, fear, and this anxiety-ridden of what will happen next. In addition, our kids are worried to death about financial situations, grandma passing away, will I get it? I mean, it's just absolutely a tsunami of anxiety.
I got into this work and I just have to mention her name. Her name is Dr. Amy Warner. She was a child psychologist at the University of California, Davis. Just so everybody knows, Chris, this is science-based. She had the same question that we all have. She was growing up as a kid during World War II in Germany and asking herself, “My gosh, how do we get to make it?”
Then what she did was go back and get her degree in psychology and began the most amazing study of over 678 kids all growing up, and at the same time, with facing severe adversity—homelessness, poverty, sexual abuse, domestic abuse. She studied the same kids for 40 years and found that about 10 years into the study, she was blown away. Surprise, surprise, one-third of them are making it despite the adversity.
Then she goes into the why factor and two things keep coming in. Here's our first roadmap. The first is adults who refuse to give up on the kid. They're calm themselves and they are caring champions. If not the parent, it's the coach, grandma, or the lady down the end of the street.
But the second thing is, the kids had learned ordinary simple protective buffers. When adversity came, they knew how to handle it. They were prepared, like what our army is now doing for our military. They're preparing them. PTSD is actually going down because they have that preparedness.The kids had learned ordinary simple protective buffers. When adversity came, they knew how to handle it. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
We're talking about the seven most highly correlated traits, that's what each chapter in Thrivers is. So what are the teachable ones that we can make a difference? They're confident kids. They know what their strengths are. They have hobbies and interests that they go to. The second one is that they have a sense of empathy. They have social connections or they know how to connect with others, not that they have 50,000 friends.
I was about to say, which is separate. Social connections, do you really mean like people that they spend time with, that they interact with in person, and that it's not an online social connection?
Not online, it's called face to face and they know how to make new friends. That piece seems to be pivotal. We've seen one of the reasons why anxiety is going up so much right now, our surgeon general is saying, is we're all in a state of loneliness.
The third one is self-control. Obviously, we're all edgy and our stress is building. How do we keep the stress down without going into high levels of anxiety? The fourth one is integrity. Interestingly enough, for some of our kids, particularly middle school and high school. The challenge is peer pressure. Going against the grain of your values. You’ve got to know what you stand for so you know when to say no to. Then comes curiosity, which is mind-boggling.Resilient children are problem solvers. They don't wait for mommy and daddy to solve it for them. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
Resilient children are problem solvers. They don't wait for mommy and daddy to solve it for them. We have made a mistake by helicoptering, hovering, and doing it for them. Instead, these kids go, “OK, this is what I'm going to do instead.” They're practicing brainstorming. Then comes perseverance. They don't give up, they keep on going, but you can't persevere unless you've got some of those other traits going for you, right?We're living in a very fear-based, pessimistic time, but thrivers find some kind of a silver lining. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
The seventh one is no surprise: optimism. We're living in a very fear-based, pessimistic time, but thrivers find some kind of a silver lining. They’re reality-based, but they don't let pessimism erode their thinking. Depression rises, they know how to counter it. All that stuff is teachable, Chris.
How do we spot when our kids are not having the confidence, social connections, self-control, integrity, curiosity, perseverance, and optimism? How do we spot those things in them from their behavior?
Number one is we listen to the other teachers who know the kids well. We connect with people who know our children. We honor their opinions. The reason for it, Chris, is our kids act differently in different social settings. When the teacher says, “Hey, he's really risk-averse.” And you're going, “But he's not at home.” That's an issue to say, “Hmm.”
The second thing is watch your child, watch your toddler a little carefully in different situations and watch your own radar go up. I use “too.” Is your child too different from his normal? Is it spilling over into too many other areas? Are you seeing too much of a dramatic change? Are you seeing that this is raising your radar too much? Then that means something's going on.
Every kid has a bad day, Chris, every one of us has a bad day. What I also would suggest to a parent is track it without the kid watching you. Take a calendar and just track where you are seeing these overt new changes or these behavior patterns. We're seeing, for instance, right now, teachers are saying that kids are more irritable. They are frustrated more easily. They're more cautious.
There is separation anxiety. Not all of those, but are you noticing those. Track it on a calendar, and I swear to you, what you'll see is a pattern. It doesn't happen all the time, but you'll go, “Oh my gosh, it's 3:00 PM only on Thursday.” What's going on at 3:00 PM on Thursday? Maybe it's the daycare or maybe it's that soccer coach. You can sometimes prevent some of this, but if it's all the time, pick up the phone and get some mental health immediately.
I think it's one of the things that has changed significantly since you and I were children, is that getting mental health help is now very socially acceptable in many communities. Saying I need some help is much different than it was when we were children.
Oh, that's probably a saving grace that's going on right now. Unfortunately, it's still a little bit too stigmatized. The worst thing I hear from a parent: “If only. If only I'd picked up the phone.” Don't be the “if only” parent. Our children are hurting. It's predictable that they will be more anxious. All we need to do is be the parent and be proactive. How great for the doctor to say everything's fine.7 Ways to Reduce Anxiety with Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
Even if it's just, “Well, let me give you and your child some tools to help. There's nothing major going on, but let's help with some tools to pique their curiosity or help their self-control.”
You know what, Chris, it doesn't make any difference to the kid, whether they are knee-deep in a mental health crisis or they look like they're fine. Every child needs protective buffers; we have got to get them those tools. What I tried to do in Thrivers is give you dozens of them. Each idea is age-related. Don't do them all or your kid will never read another book again.
Find what works for your kid and what your child needs, and don't give up because that is the grace of resilience. It’s that the child has different kinds of adversity hitting him. So one, it's not a cookie-cutter approach. It's not one thing that's going to help. You’ve got to give your kid a range of ideas. This is not an overnight process. This is your new parenting toolkit that's going to last from toddler to teen or however long it is that they're with you until they finally can thrive without you.
What are some of the buffers that we need to help the kids build in? Are there particular scenarios where one buffer is better than another?
Yes, there are always scenarios. The problem is we don't know which scenario the kid’s going to need it for, so there's the problem. The first one is to aim for the kid’s strengths. Does he have a hobby? One of the most fascinating things came out from the studies by Amy Matson, a phenomenal researcher, again, in resilience and she said, “We're missing something.” It's ordinary things that are making extraordinary differences like magic in our kids’ lives—hobbies.Find what works for your kid and build it in or carve in that time, because the hobby becomes a decompressor. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
I don't care if it's guitar, books, walking, exercising, or meditation. Kids say, “Give us a repertoire of stuff.” Meditation works for some kids, but not for others. Find what works for your kid and build it in or carve in that time, because the hobby becomes a decompressor. He's going to be able to use it in college and she can use it when she comes home from school. So watch that child.
I can see for some kids that might be non-competitive sports. But I can see that competitive sports could actually work against you, in some cases, if you've got too many of them going on or it just becomes overwhelming on the competition aspect.
Well, we can watch the Olympians right now who said, “I got overwhelmed because of the competition.” What our kids need when you talk about a hobby, it doesn't mean it's a sport or an activity that is something that's on his agenda. It means he's choosing it. It gives him a sense of eagerness. There's a need for it. He's the one pushing you for it, not you pushing him for it. He can use it wherever.
For instance, don't overlook the simple stuff. I asked Natalie, a 14-year-old, “What are you doing to get rid of the stress that you say is mounting?” She says, “Music. My mom started playing music around the house. I didn't realize it works.” I said, “So what do you do?” She says, “Well, Mozart's amazing.” I said, “Really?” She said, “Go figure. I started loading it into my iPad, and that's what I use whenever I start getting jittery.”
I said, “So what do you do when you're doing a good job?” She says, “Got that covered, it's Elton John. I'm still standing and I started pulsing around the house.” One kid said it was his goldfish. “I start watching my goldfish go round and around and around and it soothes me.” Glitter jars work for other kids. A calm down corner in your house that your kid can put together, like I don't care what it is. It could be nothing more than for some kids, it's books. Getting into a problem of another character is bibliotherapy. But it's finding what works for your child, so that would be one.
Or adults. I love taking my dog for a walk.
Exactly. Thank gosh for dogs. We finally realize that they're wonderful. Pets can be glorious for your kids. Most kids say their pet is fabulous. One girl says, “It’s my hamster.” Hobbies can be one on that confidence level. How about self-control? The best things I ever learned in my life, Chris, I worked on 18 army bases and the commander said, “You should be talking to the Navy SEALs. We're retraining them to prepare them for real tough adversity.”
They're the most elite forces we have. When I talked to Navy SEALs, I said, “What do you guys do?” He says, “Oh, simple stuff you should be teaching kids because it keeps the adversity down and our stress down. The first thing we do is start identifying our stress signs. We start looking for each other and we can point it out. You’re starting to get stressed because you're doing this to your hands, you're gritting your teeth, or you can feel it in your heartbeat.”
It's different for every child. Maybe the first couple of weeks is to watch each of your kids and figure out what their stress sign is, because they need to be able to immediately then when they feel it, tell themselves, “When a Navy SEAL does chill, relax, or I got it inside their head.” Then they say, “Teach your kid a one-two breath. You can do it anywhere in the world. It is the fastest way to calm down, getting oxygen into your brain.”
You take a deep slow breath from your abdomen. Tell your kid like you're riding up an elevator, then you keep focusing on the breath, you hold it. I'm so relaxed with that one breath it's amazing. I hold my breath. Then they say, “Now keep focusing. Slowly let it out and keep thinking of the breath.” It'll take a kid a long time to practice it right, but the exhale needs to be twice as long as they inhale. You will then maximize your relaxation process. Why not practice that around the house with your kids as a family? We're just as stressed as the kids if not more so, so let's do it together.
I use that technique for helping to go to sleep, just very controlled breathing, bringing in the calm, exhaling the anxiety, letting the stress go, and just focusing on the movement of the air. To me, it doesn't seem like that should work. Thinking about breathing, how could that destress me? But somehow it really does.
It really does. You know what? They've actually put monks—they brought them over—can you imagine this—from Tibet. They've been practicing meditation for years. They put them in MRIs and discovered that the part of their brain where compassion is, is five times larger than the rest of ours because of the practice. There goes the biggest problem we do as parents: we teach the kid, but we don't have them practice it.When adversity hits, what goes fastest is your cognitive capacity. You can't think when you're stressed. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
You find simple little ways to keep exercising whatever works for their kid until they can do it wherever, because when adversity hits, what goes fastest is your cognitive capacity. You can't think when you're stressed, so get rid of the stress. I don't care for whatever the situation is, whether it's bullying, you're up against in the process of an accident, you're up against a major situation of a school shooting, you've got to be able to think, and you’ve got to practice in the here and now.
I've talked with some Navy SEALs and people in the military. Some of their training is so much about repetition and doing things such that it just becomes muscle memory. Even if it's cognitive stuff, it's just so ingrained in who they are that they don't even think that they're doing it because it's just built in. So if we teach our kids how to do these things when it's not in a crisis, then when the crisis happens, they have it as kind of a muscle memory skill.
You nailed it. And in fact, I've been doing dozens of focus groups with kids on what works, what doesn't work, what do you need. He said, “The most important thing every kid needs is ways to manage stress that we can use anywhere, any place.” But he said, “The biggest problem is you guys are teaching us as a health unit. We can't just remember that stuff if you do it like one semester in freshman year.”
We've got to keep figuring out how to keep practicing it over and over again. We’ve got to practice the thing that works best for each of us personally. That's certainly number three as a chapter in Thrivers, and that's highly correlated. Thrivers can think straight because they can put the brakes on impulses, and that allows them to get through the process.Thrivers can think straight because they can put the brakes on impulses, and that allows them to get through the process. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
Number five would be curiosity, problem-solving. That's another one that's pretty darn simple if we start doing this at a very early age. Thrivers can think outside the box. When a challenge comes, they don't raise the white flag. Instead, they say, “OK, here's what the problem is.” They identify it. “Here's what I'm going to do to storm my brain of thinking what else I can do for possibilities.”Thrivers can think outside the box. When a challenge comes, they don't raise the white flag. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
Many of our kids are giving up, and one of the reasons is we've been rescuing them. From this moment on, you do a whole reboot as a parent. When your kid comes home or you see him at home and he's struggling and he's obviously got a problem, be non-judgmental. Be calm yourself. Sit down and say, “What's bugging you, sweetie?” As soon as he says it, “OK, thank you for telling me. Now let's figure out what you could do differently next time. What you can do, not mommy telling you?”
If you brainstorm it for kids, they go, “How long do I have to do this?” Get a one-minute sand timer there then until the sand runs out, if you keep doing it and you keep doing it, what happens is they practice it. I heard one kid say, “I'm just storming my brain. I know the answer is in there, I’ve just got to figure out what else I can do.” Yes, that's exactly it. That's what a thriver does.
He's got access to these protective buffers that they're practicing over and over again. Maybe the big thing a parent should say is, “Which of these does he already have or which of these am I modeling to my child?” Because chances are, he's got them.
Or we need to start doing these ourselves as adults that way we actually can coach our kids on these things.
Well, here's another one that's really simple. Once again, simple stuff, optimism, hope. In a pessimistic world where our kids have been seeing a daily death count for the last two years, they begin to erode that sense of, “Gee, the world is a good place and there's hope out there.” So what do you do?
The simplest one, actually, is from the University of Pennsylvania. It's called readjusting and reappraising a situation so that you don't always say, “Oh, gosh, it's all going to be bad. I can't get out of it.” The doom and gloom. If pessimism keeps on, it erodes your optimism and hope. Then pretty soon, it becomes permanent. But they've discovered that one of the fastest ways is that the parent actually starts modeling it.If pessimism keeps on, it erodes your optimism and hope. Then pretty soon, it becomes permanent. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
For instance, legitimate, “I'm really frustrated. That's OK. I'm strong, I can get through it.” Come up with one mantra and you say it out loud so that it doesn't look like you're trying to teach your kid, but you're authentically trying to do it. What happens is mind-boggling. As you say it enough, your voice becomes your kid's inner voice. He picks it up and does it and says, “It's OK, I can get through it.” Or come up with a family mantra yourself. “We got this. We're strong together.”
Many families have done that over the last two years, and it really works. Many parents say, “Our kids are now saying, ‘We got it, mom. Don't worry about it. We can get through it.’”
Do things like volunteering for charity, things like that, does that help build optimism?
Yes. Oh, I love it. It is one of the best, untapped ways to not only build empathy, but also reduce stress. If it is relevant and meaningful to the kid, not like it's going to look good on the service-learning project. Example of that: a group of Glenbard kids from Illinois said they were so worried during COVID about some of their friends who didn't have access to counselors.
They said, “We were really worried, we knew they were depressed. So we decided as a group, we did social distancing, but each one of us took a task and we decided we were going to make some quarantine gift bags.” I said, “What's in the gift bag?” “Well, one kid is good at baking so she made homemade cookies, another kid is good at making a note so she'd always write the note, and another kid decorated the outside. I just took my bike and dropped off the bag each day for a different kid’s house in their driveway.”
I said, “How did it work?” He said, “It was unbelievable, Dr. Borba. Every day, the kid would call up crying, thanking us, and saying, ‘I didn't know anybody cared.’ Every day we cry because we realized we've made a difference and we'd have to make another quarantine gift bag. We started to realize we could make a difference and our hope started to rise up.”One of the best ways right now is if you've gone through suffering, turn it into altruistic suffering. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
That's exactly what it is. One of the best ways right now is if you've gone through suffering, turn it into altruistic suffering. So you find a way to give back, not get. It actually starts reducing your stress and opening up your empathy, and you find hope.
Yeah, I love hope as a motivational tool of refocusing and resetting through hope and serving. That resonates with me.
Oh, good. One point.
Gosh, now I'm emotional from that one.
Me too. I usually have to have Kleenex to get through. The best ideas during all of this from the last two years have come from kids. When I asked the kids what is working for you and they come up with simple ordinary things like putting Mozart on my iPad, or we do driveway drop-offs, or those kinds of things, sidewalk chalk.
“I was really concerned about my brothers. So my little brothers and sisters saw a group of us around the neighborhood started doing sidewalk chalk markers and just nice things outside that said about kindness. Our brothers and sisters that were in kindergarten would come out and smile and then they started making the hearts too. It made us feel better.”
I definitely saw a lot of that in our neighborhood—people writing on their driveways and things like that. They tried to encourage one another, particularly early on in the pandemic, there was a lot of that.
Well, you know what that is? That's empathy, because instead of helping the kids think about me and be overwhelmed with what you're doing, you stretch the kid to think we. What a difference that makes. That's an intentional parenting moment. That will be chapter two on dozens of ways to build empathy.
Watch the kinds of images that your children see. Be very intentional in selecting good stuff or a simple thing that NYU would say to go to the back page of the newspaper every day and find real-life, good stuff that kids are doing; it's usually in paragraph form. So blow it up, paste it on an index card, and start good news reports every night.
What happens is kids start looking for the good stuff. Right now, it's in dormant mode, and they don't see it nearly enough. But wow, when they see that, they start seeing the world as a better place, their hope starts to come alive, and their empathy goes up.
I think it was John Krasinski doing his good news.
Yes. I love what Lester Holt is doing at the end of most NBC nightly hour—“Here’s the good news today.” That's what we need to do. We need to amplify the good news for our children.
I suppose the opposite of that would be to turn off the news. Turn off social media. Turn off these things that cause anxiety, that cause strife. Focus on others, take a pause from that kind of stuff.
Well, you want empathy, you want social connection. The way you learn that, the gateway is a face-to-face connection. I’ve got to see your face in order to see, “Oh, you're looking good today. Are you looking happy today? You sounded bad today? How will you empathize? How would you feel if that were me, unless you can read emotions?”
Another simple thing is start talking emotions more naturally with your kids. Not like, “At 6:00 PM, we're doing emotional literacy.” Watch the movie Inside Out. As you're watching a show with your kid, “Wow, she looks really upset. Look at how she's holding her body.”
We discovered that emotional literacy is not only the gateway to reducing stress, because now the kid can come up to you with the words and say, “I'm feeling stressed, mom” or, “I'm feeling frustrated.” Boy, that's wonderful. But the second thing, it opens his heart up to another child. You can also do something. Our children have been so in front of a screen that they haven't been exercising their social skills.
The three most highly correlated traits of kids who are socially competent, they wave and say hello. You can still wear a mask and smile with your eyes. But if you model that parent, you're helping your child regain that sense of, what they now have, is social anxiety. Be encouraging. Watch the Olympic Games and how teammates encourage each other or watch the football games on how everybody at that Super Bowl, the teammates were saying “Good job” and hugging each other.
When you're playing Chutes and Ladders, what are your rules? You’ve got to encourage dad at least three times. Pretty soon, your child will be able to use that in real life. Introduction: “Hi, my name is.…” Those skills our kids had a couple of years ago, most counselors and teachers are saying it's sort of in dormant mode. We can take it up by just being a little more natural ourselves with it.
Yeah, kind of reminding ourselves. If we want our kids to be more socially adept, we have to be more socially adept. We've got to make a conscious effort. We're all working from home. We can't just assume that. Our social skills have atrophied as well because we haven't been around people as much.
Hey, we all have. We're in social skill atrophy mode and we're in loneliness mode, but there's a solution to it. As soon as we can, we reinstate the playdate. That's OK, you can still do them at a safe distance, but your kids have got to see each other. That's why they say that they're so lonely at school because they're so anxious about “How do I say hi?”
Do you think some of the anxiety is not so much that the kids themselves are anxious but they're feeding off the parent's anxiety?
Oh, yes. This is back to science. The American Academy of Pediatrics wanted to know what are the most effective things we can do as parents to get the best turnarounds for our kids, and they looked at thousands of data on parenting. They came up with 10. Number one is a no-brainer. We love the kid and we get the structure.The second most highly correlated skill of effective parenting is the parent has stress management themselves. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
The second most highly correlated skill of effective parenting is the parent has stress management themselves. If you don't, your stress mirrors over to the kids. What they're doing is picking up on our stress. They need a mirror of calmness. I know it's hard, but we've got to practice that one-two breathing for our kids' sake. They're going to be reminding you, “Take that one-two breath, mom,” and that's absolutely cool.
Right now, our children are saying that one of the reasons that they are anxious is they desperately want to please us. Oh my gosh, they don't want to disappoint us and they're worried. They want approval. “Tell me that I'm a good person for just who I am. Don't just comment on my grades, mom. I'm really worried about my grades right now, but just say you love me for who I am” is another simple little thing we can do
People are not their performance. I think particularly in the Western culture, we're very performance-driven, that we are our results.
Well, we want our kids to be victors, not victims. That's what happens with adversity. Many kids will raise the white flag and succumb, and that is an immense tragedy that will jeopardize their health, happiness, and well-being, and put them up for trauma. We do know we can't protect them who's going to get a traumatic event hitting their lives. But all of the research and the science says if we give kids protective buffers along the way, we can help.
Here's another one: we also need to help our kids learn to be assertive. That's positively assertive. That doesn't mean you're bullying another kid. It means you're sticking up for yourself or for others. When we look at assertive kids and skills, it's back to empathy, fascinating first.
Here's another simple little skill you can do. I teach CALM to help kids be less likely to become a victim or be bullied. We now know that bullies are selective in who they choose. They look for kids who look more vulnerable. So the first thing is if you cry, you whine, you pout, you hold your head over, you look like you're a victim, you're going to be an easier target. The fastest way is to take the flow graph, not in front of the bully. Take a moment. Do you need to walk? Do you need to turn? Get yourself calm so you look calm.
The second thing is to hold your head up high. Look at the color of the talker's eyes. Look at the bully. In your own home, when your child is talking because they're looking down not up, they've been facing a screen forever, you'll never look confident. You'll never look like you can hold your own if you look down. Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes.You'll never look like you can hold your own if you look down. Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes. -Dr. Michele Borba Click To Tweet
For a shy kid, tell him to look right here at the bridge of the kid’s nose. L is just look. A is assert yourself. C is calm, A is assert. That means maybe brainstorm some assertive lines at home over and over again like stop it, cut it out, or move on. If you're really shy, you just put up your hand and move on and say no.
M is if you're going to assert yourself, practice what a strong voice sounds like. It isn’t whiny, it isn't pouty, it’s stop it. Stop it. Which one do you think your friend is going to listen to or a bully would listen to? What we discovered is all the strategies I teach kids—and I do a lot of middle school assemblies—that’s the one. Stay cool, be assertive, or say a couple of lines. Look like you mean it and make your voice sound like you mean it. Kids say thank you. I didn't know what to do, that makes sense.
I think that will be particularly useful, because coming back to school with parents modeling all this crazy behavior on planes and in neighborhoods, some kids are going to come to school like, “OK, well, I guess that's just how you behave as a boy.” The kids need to be prepared to deal with people who don't know how to function in the community.
I think what parents are doing is exactly what you said. What teachers are seeing is incivility breaking down. Kids are ruder, bullying is going up. A lot of the time when they say where they're getting it, well, we need to step in and say, “Nope, that's not how you act in this house.” Or, “No, that's not how adults should be acting out there or around. This is how we act because we have got to take back civility.”
It breaks down our school culture. There goes the safe and caring place. There goes inclusivity. It's a tragedy that's happening. But again, we've got some control. You can also have control over other kids. It doesn't have to be just your kid. Get on board with other like-minded parents. You just get on the phone and say, “Hey, we're concerned about this, here's what we're doing.” Maybe there's one skill. Some of the coolest things I'm seeing are assertive skills, the one plus three, or anything that we've been talking about today. Parents are getting a couple of other parents with same-aged kids and they're working on it together.
Then I think the kids feel like, “I'm not the target.” Maybe it's we as opposed to me and they're not going to want to isolate. At least they have someone to go to another kid of like, “Hey, Billy is bullying me. Let's work together on it.”
The reason that I've centered so much on empathy is the best hope we have in our schools are upstanders, kids who stick up for one another. That's always based on empathy. You teach kids what things you can do if your friend is being treated unfairly, there's racial injustice, or he's being bullied, but kids say, “I don't like it. I get so upset. What can I do?”
They’re simple things. One of the simplest things that middle school kids go, “My gosh, I never thought about that.” Don't stand next to the bully. You're giving them power. He wants power. Stand over next to the victim. You will draw an audience from that kid just over there. You don't have to say a thing but the bully begins to see that power is over here, not there.
You can also tell your kid to always go up to the child who was victimized after the fact. “You didn't deserve that. Do you need help? What can I do for you?” Use your empathy and teach kids how to care. Don't assume they know the words or what they can do. But it's never too late after the fact to help somebody in distress
Even if it’s, “Let me walk with you to class.”
Exactly. “Do you need me to help? I can walk you to the teacher to report this. Would you like me to fill out a form with you? What do you need? I'll walk with you to the playground to have lunch with you.” Anything, but that's what empathy does. Well, I think it's a superpower.
I think it does more than help kids. It helps when adults are empathetic as well.
Oh my gosh, the whole society. It’s the glue that holds a society together.
Absolutely. Was there a particular motivation that got you to write Thrivers?
Kids. I was doing—and I've always done this—speeches across the country and around the world and to schools, but I began to do something that was interesting for me. In order to get a pulse on each school, I'd asked the staff if they would let me have a focus group before I went into the school and just listen to what the kids were saying. They're so open.
Do you really want a solution? Ask a kid, they'll tell you the solution. They'll tell you what it is. What I began to see is that the kids were really concerned. They felt empty. They were worried about themselves. They were worried about each other. They said their stress level is at an all-time high. I think it was at a middle school that I was sitting there doing a focus group. It happened to be on the table behind me, a puzzle.
I kept asking the kids, “What's the cause of all this anxiety that you're facing?” One kid looked at the puzzle and said, “That.” I said, “What?” He said, “Well, you see, there are some missing pieces on that puzzle?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Well, that's what's happening to us. We're missing some pieces. You know, the human stuff. How to stand up, how to be cool, not the stuff on how to be a good test taker. We’re really good at that.”
You need the other side. That's what's really making us stressed. We don't know how to read each other anymore. We've been looking down, not up. Oh my gosh, the kids were so eloquent.
The term I heard over and over that made me really write this book was that from kids to teachers to counselors to 2500 college counselors said they're empty. There's a new breed coming in. This is the smartest generation on record. They're actually more inclusive. They're granderful kids, but they're empty. We've got to revamp that if we want this pandemic generation to thrive, and we can.
I love it. We'll definitely make sure to link the book on Amazon. I'm sure it's available everywhere.
Michele, people want to find you online, where can they find you online?
Thank you. I'm micheleborba.com. Thrivers is in paperback but it's also in audio and Kindle form, if any of those you want on Amazon or anywhere else. I think the other thing that's really interesting is that across the country, book clubs are setting up and it could be wine and cheese, coffee, or just parents talking about, “How do we raise up a different generation? How are we going to help our kids thrive?” The starter point to all of this is just talking about the why, the need for it, and we will become intentional if we realize there are solutions to this.
That is absolutely perfect. We need to be intentional. Michele, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today.
You are so welcome. I enjoyed this, Chris.
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