Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

What a long strange trip it’s been. Time for a breathing break…

October 22, 2016

Don't forget to breathe

Don’t forget to breathe

I’ve done a crazy amount of breathing since Trump won the GOP nomination. Had to. I mean really, the way this guy talks reflects so much scary stuff it would challenge the Dalai Lama’s equilibrium. (OK, maybe not the Dalai Lama, but my sanity for sure.) So I breathe. Doesn’t always help. At best it provides only a few seconds of relief from catastrophic thinking, but even so… it’s all I’ve got when my stress response spins out of control.

With the debates over and fivethirtyeight.com now reflecting a sizable advantage for Hillary Clinton, my blood pressure has returned to normal. But breathing still comes in handy to help deal with day-to-day frustrations.

Last week I visited a Bay Area middle school to talk with 6th-8th graders about healthy ways to manage stress. I finished the student sessions with a Breathing Challenge. It goes like this: Sometime during today, you will experience at least one situation that triggers a strong emotion. When it happens, catch yourself in the middle of a freak-out, take a slow deep breath (or three or four) and think about your next best move. Email me and let me know what happened.

I told the students their email would be their entry into a contest to win a free copy of my book Too Stressed to Think: The teen guide to staying sane when life makes you CRAZY.  I would award one book to one student in each of the three grades.

Twelve of the 1200 students entered the contest. Their experiences were so transformative I couldn’t resist sharing them with you. (For the record, I’m guessing many more of them used the breathing technique I taught, they just didn’t follow through with the email part.) OK… here we go. Be inspired.

1. Today, my siblings started talking to my friends leaving me to walk alone all by myself. Usually I would run up to my brother and punch him in the face. But instead, I breathed in and called him. He said that he had simply thought that I was with them the whole time so, it wasn’t intentional. After hearing that I just ran ahead and caught up to the group completely calm.

2. Today my brother did something and I got blamed for it… like always. I did the breath in then out and that helped to calm down. Now instead of talking back I could just accept it.

3. Today my chorus teacher was being SUPER hard on us because we are trying to learn a song. I did the breathing exercise. It worked completely thank you so much, I felt great for next period in PE and I ran my mile super fast.

4. Tonight when I wanted to keep messing around with my volleyball, my dad asked me to do the dishes. I REALLY didn’t want to do. I started getting mad when he said I had to but I took a deep breath and I did the dishes, and that made me feel good so I continued to help my parents make dinner. I was so glad I knew that breathing trick!

5. Today when I was taking my math test, I came across a difficult problem. Instead of not doing the problem like I normally do, I took a deep breath and tried to do the problem. And you know what? I actually solved the problem.

6. Earlier today my dad and I were eating lunch when he told me that I had to clean everything up when we were done. I told him I didn’t really feel like doing it because I was having a really bad headache from all of my school work. He yelled at me for not doing what he asked and I was feeling really stressed, so I inhaled and exhaled just like you told us to. That was the way I got my headache to hurt less and for me to calm down a little.

7. I saw my best friend laughing with someone who is mean to me. It bothered me. I did a breath and asked my friend about it. She explained that she was not laughing about something the mean girl had said. It turned out that she was laughing with one of my other friends and not the mean girl. The mean girl had just joined in to the laughing.

8. My brother was really stressing me out in the car today when he was singing and stomping his feet when our parents were in the store and being really annoying!!! So, I did what you told me to do- inhale slowly and exhale out. It really worked.

9. I used my breathing tool when my friend in cross country practice kept trying to pass me. I got really annoyed, but once I did the breathing, I felt much better.

10. Today I wasn’t able to remember my homework. This made me stress. “What is my homework? How can I find out????!!!!” I thought in my head. I couldn’t think because I was so frantic. I then thought about you. I took a long deep breath and went to my binder. My memory started to flow and I remembered it was #102-104. That doesn’t matter, but the point is that I used your method to solve my problem.

11. Today I was doing homework and my little sister came in and started stepping on it. I started to get really mad until I realized what I was doing and used the breathing technique you talked about. I calmly led my little sister out of my room instead of doing something that would have made it worse.

12. Today my dad said that I could hang out with friends but then he changed his mind after I told my friends I could go. So I got REALLY MAD! But then I talked it out with him and took breaths and calmed down. Your advice really helped me, thank you so much!!

That’s it for today. Enjoy your weekend. And don’t forget to breathe.

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Guest blogger: It’s Probably Not Hormones

April 16, 2015

by Jeannie Burlowski

Jeannie Burlowski is a full time author, consultant, and conference speaker.  Learn more about her services at JeannieBurlowski.com.

I can't do this anymore!

I can’t do this anymore!

15-year-old Luke had been in a dark, angry mood, starting from the moment his mother wished him a cheerful “Good morning!” and set hot scrambled eggs in front of him. Luke ate in broody silence and his mother felt momentarily thankful for the quiet. If Luke could just get off to school without his typical screaming and door slamming, it would be a good day.  “It’s probably just hormones,” she rationalized after her sulky son left for school. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Actually, Mom, it’s probably not “just hormones.” Your teen’s dark moods, depression symptoms, mood swings, blunted, flat emotional responses, and hair-trigger anger are more likely to be linked to a psychological condition called “launch anxiety.”  That’s good news since there’s a lot parents can do to help teens feel better.

Psychologists Laura Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. have defined launch anxiety as: “The near constant feeling of indecision, doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, and fretting that accompanies the transitioning of teens in late high school, and extending through college. It’s experienced by teens, but it’s also experienced by parents, who feel tied in knots by uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, worry, and fretting about this next step in their children’s lives.”

Recent research finds a near epidemic of anxiety among 21st century high school and college age students. Is your child one of them?

5 Action Items for Combatting Launch Anxiety

1.  Take this short quiz.  

To gauge whether your son or daughter might be experiencing launch anxiety, take a look at the symptom list below, excerpted from www.anxietycentre.com. Do these symptoms sound familiar?

____Continual feelings of anger, impatience                            ____Feeling “down in the dumps”

____Depression                                                                               ____Emotionally blunted, flat, or numb

____Emotional “flipping” (dramatic mood swings)                 ____Everything seems scary, frightening

____Frequently being on edge or ‘grouchy’                               ____Feeling like crying for no apparent reason

____Not feeling like yourself, emotionally numb                    ____Feeling anxious, apprehensive, or fearful

____Feeling you are under constant pressure                         ____Feeling detached from loved ones

If these symptoms sound familiar there’s a good chance your child has some form of anxiety.  Next steps…

2.  Quit telling your child that if s/he “doesn’t get into a good school, s/he won’t be able to get a good job after college.”  This is patently untrue, and the message is harmful.

3.  Ease up on your kids’ schedules. Exhausted students who’ve been run ragged by every club, extracurricular activity, and sport can build up layers of anxiety, making them less attractive to colleges. Don’t believe it?  Read this New York Times article where a Harvard admissions officer laments that student applicants “seem like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.”  Ease up.  Please.

4.  Spend at least one hour per week with your child outside the house doing an activity you both enjoy. No nagging allowed.  No anxious questions about homework, grades, college applications, etc.  One of the greatest antidotes to anxiety is caring, face-to-face, human connection. So schedule time to simply enjoy your child for who s/he is, not for how he or she is currently performing in school, sports, extracurricular activities, or college preparation.

5.  If the anxiety becomes severe, seek professional help. Are feelings of anxiety just part of growing up?  Should we just stand back and let our kids deal with it?  Not if anxiety symptoms are constant and debilitating. If that’s the case, please seek help from a school psychologist or other licensed professional who specializes is working with teens.

Have you seen any anxiety symptoms in your teens or college students?  What remedies have you seen work?

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I have to be perfect in everything!

April 8, 2014

I'm trying hard, Dad, but I'm not perfect

I’m trying hard, Dad, but I’m just not perfect

All parents want their kids to succeed in school. But what does the word “success” mean to you, as a student? Do you know? Is it all about getting a 4.0 GPA? Being accepted into a top-tier college? Getting a high-paying job so you can buy great clothes, an awesome car and (some day ) and equally amazing house? When it comes to actually defining “success” are you and your parents on the same page? If there’s a possibility you’re not and/or that you and your parents might need to to e-x-p-a-n-d your definitions, check out Challenge Success, where students, parents and schools are learning there are many many ways to be successful in life.

But when a parent’s definition of success equals: “All A’s and nothing less,” life can become way more stressful than it needs to be. Take, for example, this email from a high school student who seems to be cracking up under the strain of his parents’ pressure to be “perfect.”

Hey Terra,

My parents are super successful and push me to be like them. Not only do I have get straight A’s, I also have to get 100% on all tests. If I don’t they take everything from me till I get them. It’s impossible to get 100% in everything. Now all I do is obsess about schoolwork. In fact, everything I do has to be perfect. If there’s a stain on my shirt I spend the entire day trying to get it out. If I have a zit I can barely stand being out in public. I think I’ve become a perfectionist and I hate it. I have no friends any more because I’m just soooo focused on everything else. My parents think I’ve got a great attitude, but it’s a curse to have to have everything be absolutely perfect. Can I change? – Too Perfect

Dear Too Perfect,

You’re right, it is impossible to get 100% in everything. Human make mistakes. It’s how we learn. Your parents are holding you to unrealistic expectations. They have good intentions, but you seem to have reached a point in your life where you are a) unhappy with your need to be perfect and b) would like to make some changes in yourself. The good news is that you can. Talk with a counselor because these behaviors (the compulsion to “spend the whole day trying to remove a stain on your shirt”) are deeply rooted and hard to change without help from a trained professional. Either you can talk honestly with your parents and tell them what you think and feel or you can just walk into the school counselor’s office and be honest with him or her.

 Hey Terra,

My parents are fully aware of my perfectionism and they have told me that’s it’s good for me. That there’s nothing wrong with striving to be perfect. So they’re in another world. I don’t want to see a counselor because I can’t have a flaw and needing to see a counselor is a flaw. You know, I used to be a normal guy who had fun and friends. It’s just gotten out of control. I’m a neat freak now and constantly find flaws with myself. That with a need to get 100% on everything. This just sucks. I literally cried one day when I got home because I got a 98 on a test. – Too Perfect

Dear Too Perfect,

Your level of perfectionism is not a “good thing.” It’s unhealthy. This much stress will continue to make you unhappy. To get healthier talk to your parents about seeing a counselor or talk to them about lightening up or take yourself in to talk with the school counselor. btw, needing counseling doesn’t mean you are “flawed.” It simply means that you (like all humans) feel a bit overwhelmed at times (like now!) and you need some help understanding your behavior so you can lower your stress levels and be healthier. Not flawed… smart!

Hey Terra,

I’ll go and see the counselor.

Dear Too Perfect,

Smart move! Good luck.

In friendship,

Terra

PS If you want to find out more about how stress can work on your body and your brain (in good ways and not so much) check out my book for teens, Too Stressed to Think? It can help!

 

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Three things parents should stop doing in 2014

January 5, 2014

Self-improvment New Year’s resolutions usually fade after Week 2 because they require us to do things we’re not used to. Most people aren’t wired that way. So I’m thinking it might be easier to stop doing something unhealthy rather than to start a whole new regime. So here’s my list of three common things parents should stop doing this year.

That's it! I've had it!!!!

That’s it! I’ve had it!

1. Yelling. Parenting is messy and stressful. With everything that’s expected of you it’s easy to get frustrated or overwhelmed. If yelling has become your go-to place, you need to stop. When you lash out at your kids, your spouse, or your dog, you are polluting your home and hurting your family. If you don’t have at least one stress-management tool in your toolkit (alcohol and tobacco do not count), you aren’t fully equipped for your parenting job so you’ll be less effective. I recommend breathing. It will help you learn the relaxation response. Breathing requires no gym membership or special shoes. It’s free and always available. Yes, it’s habit-forming, but in a very good way. Stop yelling and start breathing and your kids will give you less to yell about. Guaranteed.

2. Tuning out. Parents, teachers, coaches… adults in general are always telling kids what to do, how to act, and what to believe. When kids take the bold step of opening up to us (because they need to be heard), we often aren’t listening… not one hundred percent. And if we are listening, as soon as we hear something that indicates a “problem” we may well jump to invalidate it (“You don’t really feel that way.”) And yet, we want our kids to stand up for themselves amongst their peers – whether they’re being overpowered in the kindergarten playground or in a teen relationship. But how are they going to learn to be speak up if we don’t give them practice by respectfully listening to what they have to say? Stop tuning out and start listening with a more open heart and mind and your kids will feel more confident in themselves.

 3. Rushing around. Every family needs down time, and hopefully you all got some during the holidays. But most of us need and deserve daily down time… together… as a family. If your kids are still young enough for story time, what a great chance to cuddle and reconnect each evening. If your children are past being read to you can still make it a nightly ritual to check in with them for a quiet talk about how the day went for each of you. (This is a great way to teach kids that conversations are a two-way street. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean you’re always the one asking “How’s it going?”) And let’s not forget meal time. Maybe you’ve heard this before but the research findings are so amazing they’re worth repeating: Kids whose families sit down and eat dinner together at least three times a week get all kinds of benefits. Have dinner together and your kids are more likely to do better in school, less likely to use alcohol or illegal drugs, and less likely to be overweight. They’re even less likely to have friends who do drugs! Don’t you love it?

Happy New Year from my family to yours.

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