How to Talk to Kids about being Mentally Strong

This podcast episode focuses on 13 things mentally strong kids can do to help themselves think big, feel good and act brave. Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews Amy Morin, LCSW, about tools and strategies they can use to ensure they don’t get stuck in a negative thought cycle or in negative feelings that don’t serve them. How can our kids take actions that bring them closer to what they want in life? This podcast episode on How to Talk to Kids about Anything provides the answers.

Special Guest: Amy Morin, LCSW

Do your tweens worry that they don’t fit in sometimes? Feel insecure? Wish that their lives looked as person as everyone else’s on social media? Being a tween can be tough in today’s world- especially during the past year of ups, downs, changes and question marks. Your tween is balancing a lot on their shoulders- homework, extracurricular activities, chores, friendship drama, family and all that growth and development—all while trying to the impression that they have it all together and they know what they are doing! Sometimes while they attempt to look perfect on the outside, they feel rotten on the inside- and today’s podcast episode is all about strengthening that inner person- becoming a better and stronger person takes some brain training and brain training takes tools so that they can develop healthy habits, build mental strength and take actions towards becoming their best selves.

This week’s guest is someone who has been on the How to Talk to Kids about Anything podcast 3 times already- so this is her fourth- and that’s because she’s one of my favorites and definite a fan favorite as well. I am finding as I write my book, How to Talk to Kids about Anything, and write my chapters on talking to kids about mistakes and failure and dealing with big feelings, responsibility and self-reliance and coping with anxiety- the conversations that I’ve had with Amy Morin have come up again and again. So you will absolutely see Amy quoted in my book once it’s released- and she even wrote a very supportive comment about my forthcoming book in my proposal, for which I am extremely grateful.

Bio

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist and the editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind, the biggest mental health website in the world. Her TEDx talk, The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong, is one of the most viewed talks of all time with more than 16 million views. She’s also an international bestselling author whose books on mental strength, including 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her new book is entitled 13 Things Strong Kids Do: Think Big, Feel Good, Act Brave.

The podcast provides:

  • How to help kids drop negative habits and adopt positive habits that allow them to exercise their mental strength
  • How to regulate emotions that allow kids to feel good
  • How to manage thoughts so they can think big and go after goals
  • How to take positive actions and act brave so they can move forward
  • How to think differently and challenge thoughts to realistic thoughts (not inflated thoughts or negative thoughts).

Important Messages:

  • Tweens need to know: Your brain lies to you sometimes. Just because your brain tells you that you are the worst soccer player on the field, doesn’t make that statement true.
  • Emotions: It’s ok to feel whatever you are feeling.  It’s okay to feel angry, sad or embarrassed but you don’t have to stay stuck in those emotions.
  • Sometimes your feelings are a friend and sometimes your feelings are an enemy. We can change how we feel if they are being an enemy! Pick a mood buster when feelings are being an enemy! What makes you happy (i.e. pet your dog, draw, bake cookies, etc)
  • Thoughts- how can you fake it until you make it?
  • Act: You can either solve a problem or solve how you feel about a problem.
  • If kids struggle with depression- studies show that they lack problem-solving skills. When kids are sad, frustrated, make a mistake—we want to teach them that they can DO something about it. They can feel empowered. What can they DO? Forgot math book at school they can call a friend, ask for extension, go back to the school to pick it up, etc. VS “I’m going to fail. There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • Sad thoughts vs self-pity thoughts. Self-pity- when you exaggerate the severity and the specificity and you underestimate your ability to cope. Sad- “Ugh- I didn’t do well on my science test. My friends did better. I’m really bummed- now I need to get extra help and that’s not fun.” Vs “I’m so stupid, I’m going to fail, I always do awful, I can’t go to school, I’ll never get a job, I won’t pass 6th grade, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Become helpless and hopeless. Throwing a pity party. Look for excuses so that you don’t have to do anything about it. “It’s not fair, It’s not my fault, there’s nothing I can do about it.” Someone who is in self-pity can’t even hear suggestions from a friend- they shoot them down. They might blame others.
  • PITY: Self-pity- looking for why it’s not fair, why it’s not my fault and why I don’t have to take any responsibility or action or do anything about it.
  • FRIENDSHIP: Drama of friendships. Changes. People have changed and yet you are still hanging out with them because you started hanging out with them in kindergarten!
  • LANGUAGE: “My friend “makes me feel…” Actually, your friend doesn’t force you to feel bad about yourself. Or angry. You have choices. You have choices of how you respond. Skill- think before you feel. Take a moment. “How am I feeling right now?” Take a minute- you are in control with how you behave. What are the words that should come out of my mouth? You can empower yourself. You can sometimes speak up- but you don’t have to do that either. You can confront. You can “not talk” to them for a few days. You can make new friends. Middle school- friendship issues. Disruptive. Friends are their world. When someone doesn’t like them- someone is not talking to them. Give skills. Empower to ask for what they want. Empower them to make choices and not just settle.
  • STEPS: Problem solving steps- When I’m uncomfortable with something, I can use these steps. S: State the problem, T- Think about possible solutions. (Talk to a parent, ask questions, 5 potential solutions), E- Evaluate- what’s good and what’s bad about each scenario, P- Pick one. S- See if it works! If it doesn’t work- try a different one! Empowered to take action. Feel better when you can plan or create change.
  • RUMINATING VS GAINING CONTROL: Focus on things they have control over. For the worrying child- shift them out of ruminating cycle. What if it rains and I can’t have my outdoor party? What can you control? Can’t control other people. Can’t control the weather. What can you control? Your attitude, your effort, your own behavior. If your child replays stuck thoughts. Change the channel. Play game. Point out when you were sitting on couch, your thoughts were _______ but when you were playing a game, you changed the channel and thought _______. It can’t just be “just don’t think about…” That’s not helpful. Create a list of 5 things that change the channel. Do something. Go towards something instead of running away. Keep list handy. When perseverating- write name with non-dominant hand, go outside an pick 3 yellow flowers…
  • RISKS Taking healthy risks. Don’t shy away of healthy risks. Don’t take unhealthy risks! Same kid might do crazy risks on skateboard but too scared to join the soccer team! Need to learn how to calculate risks. Anxiety alarms- we all have false alarms. Heart beats fast. Palms sweaty. For example, when about to give a speech. We think we can’t do it. But we can drive to work going 60 miles an hour but not think it’s scary. Meeting new people. Trying new things. Sometimes anxiety alarm should kick in “jump off this roof” but doesn’t—and sometimes anxiety alarm kids in when it shouldn’t “go to fabulous new camp, meet like-minded people.” Sometimes ring a little too loudly. Standing in front of class to give report is not life or death but alarm bells say it is. Ask; is it a safe situation? Body is reacting as if it’s life or death. Calculate risk. Even though it feels scary, doesn’t mean it’s actually risky.
  • ARGUING THE OPPOSITE: Sometimes kids become reliant on us- when they say things like “I’m going to embarrass myself in front of other people at my dance recital” and we say “oh no, honey, you’ll be great!”. When alarms go off, we don’t want them to come to us to regulate. Instead, teach them to argue the opposite. What might be the opposite? “I’m going to do great at my recital.” Brain was dwelling on the worst case scenario. What are the other options? Friend didn’t answer text back- might go straight to “she doesn’t like me anymore” when it could be many things. Phone died, phone taken away, out of range, etc.
  • When we provide the argument- they can fight against it. When it comes out of their own mouths, it feels much more like the truth!
  • We want the “other voice” come from them. How do I talk back to this voice myself? They need these skills, tools and strategies to use when you aren’t there to calm them down.
  • Research- “say your name” along with encouragement, can stick more. Takes emotion out of it- triggers brains- cheers ourselves on. Lebron James- “Lebron needs to do what’s best for Lebron.” Grabs attention. As if someone else is cheering you on. Pep talk. Comes from within.
  • COMPARING SELVES: Body image, friendship quantity, how good at sport, academically inclined, artistic. How do we talk to kids about these comparisons? Social media- so easy to compare. Fake so often. Buying it. Educate them. Not necessarily real or true or accurate. Look at people as opinion-holders rather than competitors. If someone did well, doesn’t mean you can’t- doesn’t mean they are better than you- maybe you can learn from them! You can do better the next time. You can be happy for others and celebrate their success.
  • “I want to be confident”- doesn’t just happen by sitting on the couch. You have to act confident first! Shake someone’s hand. Look them in the eye. Say “it’s nice to see you!” Feelings often follow. Who do you want to be? How do you want to be your best self? Keep eyes on own lane.
  • Thinking when someone has it all together- but they been falling apart in other ways. That person has struggles too.
  • Celebrities with problems. Mental health. Tween celebrity who has gotten a divorce. Look at IG together. Based on what you are seeing here- would you ever know that this person has struggles? Behind the social media, there are issues.
  • Many kids have the same struggles. Talk about it! Often kids think they are the only one!
  • Ask questions: Do you think X has never felt secure? What would happen if they were happy all the time? Have to be sad to be grateful to be happy. Think kids might feel the same as you? Unrealistic to think others are happy all the time. We know all our feelings but not everyone else’s!
  • Shoebox idea: Put in the shoebox how they see themselves. Put on the outside how they show themselves to the outside world. Magazines. Photos. Words. Draw. Poems. Would your classmates be surprised by what they see in the shoebox? Differences between the inside and outside. Who wouldn’t be surprised about what they see on the inside? What if OTHER people had a shoebox- do you think you’d be surprised by what others have in “their shoebox?”
  • Polled parents- kids struggling the most with persistence. Worse since pandemic. So important. Hard living in an Amazon world where everything comes in 24 hours- but if we want to become better in math or better in soccer- that doesn’t happen unless we do it for a longer period of time. Kids need to learn how to work hard- they should always be doing something that’s kind of hard and takes a while to do. Quitting is okay when they’ve gotten some perspective, tried it for an agreed amount of time, and then want to move on to something else. It’s hard to put in the work to get good. If it were easy- then we’d all do it. Have the conversation- “it’s hard to keep working on something when it’s tough. Lots of emotions. Normal to feel XYZ.”
  • Exercise: Write yourself a kind letter. “Life is tough, you can do this.” Have it come from their words. Pull out their letter. When it comes from their words- they know they can motivate themselves. When it’s in their own words, it’s the truth!
  • Treat mental strength like physical strength. It’s an exercise. You’ve got to keep practicing.
  • Try new exercises each month. Kids will build their own tool box. Tools they can rely on. Go through ages.
  • “I can think differently. I can feel differently and I have the power to take positive action no matter what life throws at me.”

Notable Quotables:

  • “It’s ok to feel whatever you are feeling.  It’s okay to be angry, it’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be embarrassed but you don’t have to stay stuck in those emotions when they aren’t serving you well.”
  • “Kids have the ability to solve a problem or solve how they feel about a problem.”
  • “When we have a self-pity party, we look for more evidence of why it’s not fair, why it’s not your fault and why you don’t have to do anything about it.”
  • “You want to teach kids- ‘what can you control?’ Your attitude. Your effort. Your own behavior.”
  • “We need to teach kids at a young age that just because something might feel scary, doesn’t actually mean that it’s actually risky.”
  • “We want that ‘other’ voice to come from the kids themselves so they can learn; ‘how can I reframe my own negative thoughts?’ ‘how do I talk back to this voice myself?’ so that they have those skills, tools and strategies so that later on in life, when you’re not there to calm them down or to tell them ‘no, honey, you’ll be fine’ you want them to know; ‘how do I tell that to myself?’ or “what are some other things I can come up with?’”
  • “Look at other people as opinion-holders rather than competitors.”
  • “Treat mental strength like physical strength. It takes exercise! We have to keep practicing at it and we have to keep improving.”
  • “Kids need to know that they can be empowered. They can say to themselves; “I can think differently. I can feel differently and I have the power to take positive action no matter what life throws my way.”

Resources:

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