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How Family Laughter & Silliness Are Our Most Powerful Tonics

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Family laughter is seriously critical for a family to have levity for mental health. Silliness has never been a more a critical parenting tool than in 2020. Here’s how to use it to make manage your anxiety and make your kids feel safe. And we answer a listener question about remote learning with high school students at home. How much do you hover?

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Show Notes

Lynn references the three prior episodes on the arc of diagnosis in anxiety and depression and what to notice in your child and what to do if you have a diagnosis and helping your child get the best treatment.

3:02 

Robin mentioned in one of our first episodes the powerful that when children see us being playful, it’s telling them that they are safe— that the world is okay.

3:45 

Lynn references an amazing podcast on bias with Jordan Harbinger and mentions Paul Eckman’s work on micro-expressions.

14:41 

Robin talks about blogger Tania Lamb and her Halloween costumes, and I think she has a Facebook Live show, and her website is called Lola Lambchops.

20:58 

Lynn shows the family culture of comedy giving James Corden and his parents as examples of two people who love to laugh.

22:30 

We talk about teasing being toxic and not to exploit a child’s suffering, referencing Jimmy Kimmel’s annual Halloween candy prank as something not to do. But we are all for pranking adults like young woman who got her wisdom teeth out and her brothers picked her up and convinced her there was a zombie apocalypse.

LISTENER QUESTION

23:03

This listener question is from a mom of three teens who are home with remote learning. She wants to know how to keep her kids engaged with work, and wonders how much nagging it acceptable to keep everyone on track while also working from home.

MANAGE YOUR INTERNET WITH A CIRCLE

34:13

It lets you set daily limits for different apps and social media. It also controls your kids’ Wi Fi schedules, and you can adjust age appropriate filters for searches from little kids to teens.

Our affiliate link will get you $20 off of a Circle. I love it.

34:30

Lynn brings up the discussion of fears from the week prior and explains why she is afraid of rats and the role the movies in our heads play in conjuring fear. Robin is afraid of sharks.

36:53 

Join the Flusterclux Facebook group so that you can ask your question on a future episode.

Episode Transcript

Lynn Lyons  0:00 

So, in our last three episodes, we discussed the arc of diagnosis in anxiety and depression and what to notice in your child and what to do if you have a diagnosis and helping your child get the best treatment. And it was pretty heavy stuff.

But we’re gonna lighten it up this time, because I really want to talk about the importance of silliness and play. I want to talk about how critical it is in a family to have levity, and what is it like in a family that’s playful. How do you incorporate that? How do you bring it in?

Hi, I’m Lynn Lyons. I’m a psychotherapist and anxiety expert and author, and I’m here with my sister in law and producer, Robin, for another episode of Flusterclux.

Hi, Robin.

Robin Hutson  0:44 

Hi, Lynn.

Lynn Lyons  0:46 

Some of you might be sitting here thinking and saying, “Gosh, I’m so serious,” or “How do you do that? or “We take life seriously in my family.”

Some of you may have been brought up in families where you cannot remember your parents joking or laughing. And I also want to talk about the difference between fun and silliness in playing and teasing, because there’s a fine line there. And so, I want to make sure I make that distinction as well.

Why Family Laughter?

So why am I talking about this? Why am I saying it’s so important for us to think about play and fun and silliness? The reason I’m talking about it is because I always want to do the opposite of what these disorders demand.

So, when I talk about anxiety, anxiety wants things to be taken seriously, of course, right? It’s got that catastrophic flair to it. It demands that we that we go into that emergency urgent state, it wants us to look at the worst-case scenario; it wants us to focus on safety above all else.

And depression of course, right. That’s where you one of the one of the main symptoms of depression is called anhedonia, where you actually lose the ability to enjoy things that were previously enjoyable.

So, when we’re talking about mental health, being playful and silly and laughing is a way to connect. And it really is doing the opposite of what these mental health issues demand from us. We always want to figure out how to how to offer the offer the opposite, offer the balance to it.

The other reason I want to talk about it is because as parents, we can get pretty internally focused. And we can lose track of our playfulness, particularly when we’re dealing with all the responsibilities of life, and we’ve got our jobs, and it’s so exhausting.

Now many of you are trying to be in charge of your kids remote learning at the same time that you’re trying to figure out your own jobs.

I really want to talk about this because I want you to get back in touch with your playfulness. In you being able to participate with your kids in fun and playfulness and silliness and even in your relationship, too, is so so important to your own mental health. Because, man, life can feel pretty serious. Right now, there’s a lot of big stuff going on.

Robin Hutson  3:02 

You talked about this in one of our first episodes. And it was a very powerful message to learn and remember that when children see us being playful, it’s telling them that they are safe— that the world is okay.

Especially in the first few months when things were still harder to adapt to. And, frankly, things in the next few months could get there as well. When I find that I might be talking out loud about any of the world events, I would just stop in that I would just dance out of the room and dance back in or something just like as simple as interrupting what I was expressing and modeling in terms of worry about our uncertain future and just shifting the energy.

Lynn Lyons  3:45 

You know, one of the things we know with depression in families is that (and it’s with anxiety, too, both with anxiety and depression) is that when parents are depressed, and when parents are anxious, they’re showing their kids how to react to things. And, of course, it’s not on purpose. But if you’re sitting there watching your parent look depressed and feel depressed and talk depressed or it could be rage, it could be anything. They’re taking their cues from us. There’s such a primitive thing that goes on in terms of the way that we read facial expressions.

I was just listening to this amazing podcast on bias. And the woman was talking about the little part of our faces right between our eyebrows. I call that my listening face.

So, when you’re sort of scrunching up your eyebrows and you make those lines in between your eyebrows, when baby see adults do that, because that’s an angry face, they recoil. Their faces get big. Their eyes get wide; they’re reading us there. It’s just part of our human connection. So, when they see you laughing, when they see you being silly, when they see you enjoying something, they’re reading that, too.

Robin Hutson  4:53 

That’s fascinating.

Lynn Lyons  4:54 

Learning about resting bitchface was so helpful to me because I would be— as I’m speaking— when I used to speak in front of people, I’d look out into the audience. And there would be somebody with this really serious face on. Like, I would just sort of focus in. I could always find that face in the audience. And then in my head, I’d be sort of like, “Oh, they’re not, they’re not enjoying this,” or “They’re not laughing at my jokes.”

And then afterwards, the person would come up to me and be like, that was the funniest talk I ever heard. There’s so much that we read into those expressions, but it is it is true when you’re sitting there think of think of little kids, right? They don’t understand that we’re looking at our laptop, and we’re, you know, engaged in something or we’re trying to figure out what to say in this email. They’re just seeing these primitive expressions on our face, which are very telling. We are designed to read expressions.

There’s this guy named Paul Eckman, E-C-K-M-A-N, who does this really cool stuff with micro-expressions. And that’s all sort of the sciencey stuff about why you need to be silly and have fun with your kids. It’s real. Like I’m not just saying like, “Hey, have more fun.” It really does help with the emotional connection between you and your kids.

Robin Hutson  6:00 

So, I’ll never forget this. I was cooking dinner when you have a child who is two or three, I just remember having a shift because they have a lot of playful energy. And we’re often trying to shut it down because we have other things we need to be doing, or we don’t participate. Frankly, they’re in a much better energetic place than we are, right? And we should be taking our cues from them.

So, my daughter comes up to me, and I’m in the middle of pulling stuff out of the oven and she’s like, “Mommy, let’s dance.” And I remember in that moment, getting ready to say to her, “Sorry, honey. I’m cooking dinner. Maybe later,” right? Just like that reactive thing. And instead, I remember, like a newfound skill and I said, “Great. Let’s dance.”

I put the pan down, and we just danced in the kitchen to some song. Yeah. That enabled me to continue practicing that aspect of engaging in play when I was absolutely not trained to. You know, maybe other parents can relate to that. I could imagine maybe you didn’t have to learn that. You have kind of more of a silliness culture about you and your boys that I didn’t have modeled for me.

Lynn Lyons  7:09 

Yeah, we’re definitely very silly in our house, for sure. And that’s such a wonderful story, right? Because you just it all suddenly, in that moment, you just took what you were learning in your mindfulness classes, and you just you just put it into place, and you got an immediate reward from it, right? Like immediately that felt like the right thing for you to do. And then you were just gonna, you’re just going to do it again and again and again.

Yeah, I think that one of the things I have paid attention to, and when my kids were a little, too, I’m an observer, I think. That’s part of me being in my job is that I would pay attention to parents who seem to be able to be silly and playful, and I also paid attention to parents who seem to not be able to do that.

And I certainly beat myself up plenty for not parenting— I think I’ve told the story of sort of, you know, my friend who had like her melon cut up in nice cubes, and I had like a bag of bread. Somebody thought I was going to feed the ducks with it. It was really the snack that I brought to the park because we only had bread. And so, I did plenty of sort of beating myself up for not doing it right.

But I think I was pretty consciously aware of how wonderful wonderfully messy that childhood could be. I’ve heard so many stories and talked to so many parents about not letting your kids make playdough or not letting your kids cook, or not letting your kids do finger painting, or not letting your kids take out your makeup and put makeup on your face or their face because they’re worried about the mess.

And I think that the line that I have a lot of times to parents is that you’re going to have a mess now that’s easier to clean up. If you don’t let your children play and experience you as playful, there are going to be some bigger messes later on that are going to be far more intractable than lipstick everywhere.

And I think that’s kind of sometimes we have to remind ourselves of what kind of messes do we want? The messes of stuff, the messes of Legos, the messes of lipstick.

My son got into my lipstick and painted his entire face red with lipstick. I mean I was in admiration of his thoroughness. It was inside his ears it was up it was like around like you know like the nostril part like the connecting part of your nostril. He did not miss a speck of his little face with the red lipstick. And it was it was so hard to get off him. It took three weeks before we could get it all off him.

And then another time I was gone somewhere. And my husband and my two boys went into the basement. But I don’t think you’ve seen this, Robin. They went into the basement, and they opened all the cans of unused paint that everybody has in their basement. They took paint brushes, and they just painted all of the walls in the basement Jackson Pollock style like the walls. I mean even my washer and dryer had paint on it. It was insane.

I came home they were covered in paint. And talk about joy. They had had the most joyful two hours that you could imagine like a seven and a nine-year-old having. And the grown up was pretty pleased with himself, too.

And again, like not all playfulness has to be messy. I’m just giving these examples. And the way I differentiate between the messiness of life when they’re little and not getting so caught up in the fact that your house is a mess, or your kids are a mass or their hair is a mess, because the later on messes are so much harder to deal with. Those big scary messes. And I really think the little messes early on help you create a connection that helps you have some tools and some humor and some joy that even when you’re going through those big messes, you can still pull on and still have them a part of your family culture.

Robin Hutson  10:45 

I was raised by a mom who did not want mess. And even as she was a grandmother, and she, you know, it’s like, oh, I have this new sand toy for you. She literally lined a dining room with plastic in order for that to happen. One little three-year-old girl and a 10 by 10 square of sand, you know, so she was that way.

So, I’m thinking of her and then I’m thinking of you two women I love so much as influences. But there is an extreme. And I do recall there was an I don’t know the specifics, because it’s been too long. It’s not that there was one time you came home, and your husband and two sons had made an extraordinary mess, and it did bum you out. So, it’s not like you’re like, “Hey, great kids! I love this mess!” all the time. And that’s not what you’re saying we have to be.

Lynn Lyons  11:34 

Yeah, right.

Robin Hutson  11:35 

 Like, we don’t have to be tolerant of complete chaos.

Lynn Lyons  11:38 

Admittedly, like when I saw the basement, I was like, “Oh my God, what did you guys do?” It was just that there was no way. It was three against one there was no way that I was going to put the paint back in the can, right? So, I just had to go with it.

I came home once from teaching something, and the living room rug was out in the front yard. That’s always a bad sign. I Gosh, one time they emptied the entire …how heavy is a big bag of cat food? Like the 40-pound bag of cat food?

Robin Hutson  12:10 

That’s what it was.

Lynn Lyons  12:10 

Yeah,

Robin Hutson  12:11 

That’s the story I remember. That bummed you out.

Lynn Lyons  12:13 

Yeah.  Think of it. Like you’re, you’re five and three, and you need some material to use with your dump trucks and your excavators and stuff. 40 pounds of cat food is spectacular. Yeah, there’s always that part where I step in, I go like, oh my god, and then I just have to pull it back a little bit.

My friend has an amazing story where her boys— she has two boys also— they were upstairs and they were quiet. And that’s always a bad sign. And so, she went up, she was trying to get something done. She went upstairs. The two of them were filling up buckets of water, running down the hall, and dumping them onto their mattresses and jumping up and down on the bed, and the water was going everywhere because they had heard such thing as a waterbed.

So, and she said to them, this is the best line ever. She said to them, “Oh my God! What are you doing?” and her son said, “Having the time of our lives!”

She had to drag the mattresses out of the house, you know, weighed 400 pounds. So, she tells that story now, and there was such a joy, right? so of course we have to you know, she was not thrilled that they had ruined the mattresses and that she had to drag it out of the house. But I guess when you look back on that, and not all fun has to be a mess, right?

Robin Hutson  13:33 

Yeah, I like the non-mess fun myself.

Lynn Lyons  13:35 

Yeah, we did this thing once. I don’t know if you remember this. But we went up to my parents’ house. And we were there was some comment. I think my sister, she’ll remember this. She made a comment about the fact that a few of us were wearing orange, but she said it in sort of a way like “Oh, you guys really like orange,” or something like that.

And so, we scoured the house, and we found every orange piece of clothing we could find which included like hunting vests. And it was amazing. We actually happened to have a lot of orange. And the four of us got dressed completely in orange clothes from head to toe. And when we went back up to my parents’ house, we walked in and didn’t say a word. Just the four of us just walked in, completely dressed in orange and just waited for people to notice.

And you know, I mean, it was funny when people saw us dressed at all orange, but the amount of time that we spent, the four of us, collecting orange things and creating our orange outfits. It was just so much fun.

Robin Hutson  14:30 

Yeah, no, that’s fabulous.

Lynn Lyons  14:32 

I always think about it. Maybe you have this this memory to like the parents who really get dressed up for Halloween. The parents who really go all out.

Robin Hutson  14:41 

I know a woman she is a blogger, and I think she has a podcast, too. Her website is called Lola Lambchops, but she takes the Halloween costume tradition to a whole new level, and she’s legendary. So, every day in the month of October, she and her husband put on the most elaborate costumes to go wait at the bus stop. But if you were to see the photographs, they were not simple costumes.  We were friends on social media. So that’s when I’d seen them. I said to her, I want you to know that you’re such an inspiration to me with that. And I think that she’s like, looking at me very puzzled, because maybe she just grew up in a family. We’re doing something like that was completely normal, you know, but I was like the what you’re modeling and what you’re doing with the fun and the creativity. I think that’s just one of the best things you could be doing as a parent.

Lynn Lyons  15:51 

So that’s her skill, I would never be able to do that we can dress all up in orange. But that’s, you know. And so, it is thinking about how can you be playful in a way that really works for you, too.

There are probably some people that are thinking, oh my God, I cannot believe that she let her husband and her sons paint their basement, Jackson Pollack style. And then there are other people who are saying, Oh my gosh, I could never come up with a Halloween costume every day.

And it really is finding that fun way of whether it’s playing a game together or baking together or whatever your strength is, how do you take that and make it fun?

A really important part of being silly is just that. Those silly, spontaneous moments of ridiculousness that you insert in because one of the ways that we delight our children is through the unexpected, the silly, unexpected. So that sort of the surprise of being playful.

Like one of the best memories I have of my mom is she went to the apple orchard up the street when we were little, and she came home with two kittens. I know. That’s pretty big, but like it was just so unexpected and so playful and so wonderful that she would just come home with two kittens. We had no idea she was bringing them home.

Saying to your kids, “We’re having ice cream sundaes for dinner tonight, or “It’s a Tuesday night we’re gonna all watch a movie and have popcorn for dinner,” or the small things really matter a lot, too. It doesn’t have to be this huge, momentous thing if that feels overwhelming to you right now based on your circumstance.

Robin Hutson  18:37 

My husband and daughter and my son was an infant at the time, and my mom had just died. And we were in Woodstock, Vermont. I think it was the fall and we were enjoying the foliage and we saw a sign pointing to a simple building, and it said “Family Community Square Dance”.

And as we walked by, we realized it was occurring in that moment. And I said, “Hell, yeah!” Which is what I would have done before but here I was, a grieving new mom, totally sleep deprived.

So, we go into this room, and everyone just dancing together in such a beautiful picture. And a woman came up and even said, you know, can I hold your baby while you go dance? So, we’re like joining in this square dance.

And I think that those types of moments that involved play and celebration are being open to Yes. And so being open to Yes, as you live your lives will enable these really incredible family memories that you didn’t have to work, right? It’s about having that right mindset in the moment that if there is an opportunity, take it.

Lynn Lyons  19:51 

Yep, I think that’s so true. And we are quick to say no, aren’t we? Because we’ve got this to do, we’ve got that to do. Those are such memorable things like just think of the memory we’re sharing that these moments of play and these moments of spontaneity. They just stick with us, don’t they? Laughing and stepping into something and feeling connected.

Robin Hutson  20:10 

I grew up in a home that definitely embraced a sense of humor. So, it’s not that we were serious, but there was never any silliness. So, it was like everyone was having a chat. And people would laugh if something witty happened, but nobody was. Right. Like everyone was chuckling.

Lynn Lyons  20:58 

Have you ever watched James Corden? He does these interviews where he has his two parents sort of assess something. And these two people, not surprisingly, they’re his parents are just laughing and just enjoying things. You think, okay, so here’s where he got his ability to laugh.

We cannot underestimate the importance of modeling joy and playfulness and silliness for our kids.

Boy, we need it now more than ever, and even in times of great suffering human beings are good at bringing up moments of joy. It’s so important for us to just embrace that and to just laugh and to just be connected in that silly way.

I just want to make sure that we make a differentiation between being silly and joyful and teasing. And because that’s a pattern that might be enjoyable to some people, but not enjoyable to the person who’s being teased. Really makes sure, in terms of your laughter and your silliness and your playfulness, that it’s not at somebody else’s expense. Because that’s easy to fall into as well.

It’s easy sometimes for siblings to get into a pattern of teasing, and it feels fun for a while. And there’s laughter, but just make sure that it’s not at somebody else’s expense. Some families I’ve talked to they say, Oh yeah, we have a great time laughing and because we’re making fun of this, or we’re making fun of that. But not humor and playfulness at the expense of somebody else.

Robin Hutson  22:12 

We’re probably not the only people that feel this way. But that’s like, why I detest the funny video experiences that are often shared. And if you see a child who’s suffering, but it’s someone some way presented as something funny, yeah, and you’re laughing while they’re suffering.

Lynn Lyons  22:30 

That’s not good. I know. And it’s so easy like it reminds me I mean, I love Jimmy Kimmel, but that whole thing where they tell little kids that the parents have eaten all their Halloween candy, and there’s just this moment of the child just being so distraught, and then everybody’s laughing at that ha look at that four year old is so upset.

And that is a that is really emotionally to me. That is just I never enjoyed that. I thought that’s so mean. You know, it’s easy sometimes for humor to venture into that meanness. America’s Funniest Videos unlike a lot of them are not so funny to me.

Robin Hutson  23:02 

The young woman who got her wisdom teeth out and her brothers picked her up and convinced her there was a zombie apocalypse. And they were to drive to Mexico, That, that I’m all for.

But if we see a child who’s suffering and we’re, we’re finding it funny. I think there are a cost to that.

Lynn Lyons  23:17 

Yeah, I agree.

Robin Hutson  23:22 

As I think about my friends on the west coast, who are facing unprecedented restrictions with windows closed because of their air quality, and they could have young kids under six and they’re stuck in it looks like Mars outside their window now. So, you have so many ideas of silliness in play. So, what’s one or two ways even for those parents to help break themselves out of a pretty challenging moment and bring silliness in?

Lynn Lyons  23:51 

Yeah, well, the first thing that pops into my head is water is soapy water, filling up the bathtub, getting some ivory, dish soap or whatever. And just making lots of bubbles and playing in the water. Don’t worry about the fact that your bathroom is going to get all wet. Put some towels down, letting them stand in the sink and pour water from one thing to another thing that’ll keep your kids entertained forever.

Let them take everything out of the kitchen cabinets and create some sort of structure in the kitchen with the pots and the pans, not the glasses, but anything plastic or metal or wood and let them create forts, let them take all of the sheets and blankets they can find in the house, you’re going to have to just let go of the house being messy and create some sort of magical place in your house. Bake cookies in the shapes of letters.

This is what my friend Christine who sons dumped all the water in her mattresses. We used to call it the killing time years because there was so much time that we had to fill. So, think of things that take a long time.

That’s why taking everything out of the kitchen cabinets and building some great structure. You want to have activities that can not only tire them out, but that expand over periods of time. And that they can come back to again and again, those are the kinds of things that used to save me during those killing time years as we used to call it.

We’re talking about silliness and play and humor. And then we’re just reminded that right now, the world is overwhelming in so many ways. The world is too much with us, as that poet said. So being able to find those moments of joy for your kids, because they don’t understand what’s going on. They just need you to be present.

When you’re worrying, it is very hard to be present for your children. And so, you owe it to yourself and to them to say I don’t have to worry about this right now.

Worrying doesn’t solve problems. ruminating doesn’t get you somewhere. So being able to give yourself permission to say that we don’t have to worry about this right now. Now there’s nothing we can do.

So, I’m going to let it go, and I’m going to turn it. I’m going to connect with my kids, and I’m going to lose myself in this wonderful connection and playfulness.

Family Laughter

Listener Question

Robin Hutson  26:11 

Okay, so we have a listener question that I think most of us can relate to with our kids and fall schooling. Here’s what the listener writes.

“My kids are 13 in eighth grade, 17 in 12th grade, and 20, home (taking leave from college). Prior to the pandemic, adults in schools have planned each moment of my kids’ days and kept them accountable for participating in the daily plan. I think our kids don’t even recognize how this structure helps them. Our school district decided to continue with fully online learning for this fall. So, creating a daily schedule and rhythm for my family would fall much more on my shoulders. Again, this was really a challenge for me during the pandemic.

My plan was to leave them on their own, trying to emphasize coaching and creating their own schedules and plans, but it ended up feeling like my older kids stayed up later and later. My youngest checked out of work for four weeks and struggled to catch up. And I’d like to avoid a repeat performance. I think the upcoming year is another great opportunity to practice more independence. But the stakes will be higher this year because the grades and credits count. The low structure environment and low motivation seemed to create a bad feedback loop for their mental health.

How can I get my kids to buy into sticking to a structure or schedule that will support their higher level of executive functioning? And is this even my job? I value staying connected to them emotionally above all else and want to take the long view, and I have my own work to do, so I also need to create an efficient plan and clear boundary.”

Lynn Lyons  27:40 

I bet a lot of people can relate to that question, because here we are. It’s round two. So, the first thing I think that is so great about this question is well— it’s sort of great and sad at the same time, actually— is we’re doing this again now.

During the pandemic during the during phase one when the first shutdown happened, everybody had to figure out how to do this. And then most people had the summer off from school. And now it’s like, Oh, yay, we get to do it again. So, what I hear in this question is this mom has really learned something from the first go around, which is fabulous.

And here are the things that she learned. One, she learned that Jeez, it really is amazing how much adults structure our kids time. And that’s true. She learned that it is really hard to do your own job, and also be the life coach and executive functioning for your children all day long. And that’s pretty exhausting.

She also learned that it is easy for kids to fall into this habit or these habits like staying up too late or procrastinating and checking out of work. And then how difficult that is emotionally once kids sort of spiral down into that place because now, we’ve got to get them back out. If we look at those three things, so many parents had that exact same experience.

So, now we have round two. So, she’s thinking ahead, and do a little post game analysis with your kids. Don’t over talk it; don’t over explain it. But just maybe even point out those three things that you discovered. And maybe, Mom, asked them what they discovered about themselves during this and what they want to do differently this second time around. Because it’s a bit of a redo whether we like it or not.

The other thing is, and I love that this mom said her goal is to stay emotionally connected above all else. And so when you become the structure, the scheduler, the  nagger, you on track all the time, you have a sense of how much that interferes with your emotional connection, because that’s all you feel like you’re doing and that’s all they feel like they’re hearing from you.

I would give them some accountability, depending on how your kids are in terms of scheduling things, being able to have them create a schedule on their own. So, look and see what their class schedule looks like. I would have them put it on a whiteboard or put it on a piece of paper so that they have a visual and have them talk to you and have them think about themselves.

What are the ways that they will know, what are going to be the warning signs that maybe they’re getting a little off track, that they’re moving into these patterns again? And I would really talk about how they can ask you for help.

Because that is an enormously helpful skill for them to develop, so that you are not standing over them waiting for them to screw up. They are recognizing that they’re falling behind or having trouble getting something done. And they come to you for help. That makes them more proactive, rather than more passive, and it allows you to step back a little bit and teach them the skill of recognizing their issues.

And I know, Robin, you’re sort of in the middle of this with your two kids, aren’t you? I mean, you’re trying to figure out this very thing.

Robin Hutson  30:54 

It’s true. Yeah, I have a fourth grader and a ninth grader. So, I still have kids at home. We had them draft their schedules on their own whiteboards. And then after classes were over, because classes are ending, you know, sooner in this type of environment. So, then we’ve we had ideas as a family, what structure could look like so that my husband and I could both tend to our work. And we’re meeting at 4:30 for a family walk or some sort of physical activity each day.

I think that what I learned in the spring and how I’m approaching it now is if one day is bad, I’m not jumping in because maybe it’s a bad day. I’m sort of taking analysis of how the week as a whole looks, because I think days are going to vary between how they, how they feel about the schoolwork that’s presented to them or other social factors that, you know, I can’t predict.

So, we’re looking at it on a week by week basis, and we just sort of check in with them and say, “What do you need?” otherwise, we’re not going to go looking for “What should we be doing?”

And don’t get me wrong, my husband and I, routinely as we’re trying to juggle our work and we know that our children are sort of not, you know, doing something incredibly constructive every moment of the day, we definitely still feel it.

We’re thinking about it from an end game approach. And if and if we made every minute need to be a certain way, I think it would, it would interfere with our family vibe that we’re going for. And I think that it would also not give our kids the chance to learn that that autonomy that you talk about to talk about. You know, enough boredom leads to go good problem solving.

Lynn Lyons  32:36 

And failure leads to good problem solving, too. And so, I think, this year is different. This is not the same year. All the ways that we have measured things have been adjusted a little bit. And I have to say, they may have been adjusted for the better. Because this is a long game. Now we didn’t know it was going to be this long, but we’re in this for the duration.

There may be a lot of schools that don’t even go back at all this year. I hate to say that, but I think it might be true, depending on how we get through the winter. There are some really valuable lessons to be learned here that as this mom was saying, like you step back and you go, Gosh, I didn’t realize how absolutely scheduled my kids’ lives were. And how parents and adults and teachers and coaches, were all there to make sure that everything got done.

And so, there’s a bit of a learning curve here and letting your kids get into a little bit of a pickle.  If I had to say, Well, what would be a really valuable skill for children to learn and for teenagers to learn is that when you get into a little bit of a pickle, how do you get out? Who do you go to for help? When do you go for help? When is it gone too far?

That ability, think about how applicable that is in so many areas of your life. In taking care of your health, in taking care of your house, in taking care of your relationships, in taking care of your dog. When do you know when you’re in over your head and you need to reach out a little bit and how do you pay attention so that you don’t keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again?

That’s what learning is. Learning isn’t about making no mistakes. It’s about “Okay, so I’ve made this mistake three times. What’s the pattern that I keep getting sucked into? What’s the red flag that I keep ignoring? And who are the people around me that I need to reach out to for help?”

Because that’s autonomy right there. Autonomy isn’t doing things by yourself. It’s knowing your limits and knowing when you need to ask for help and knowing how to change your patterns. As hard as this is and you know, we’re either gonna use the opportunities or not.

Robin Hutson  34:40 

You know, both of us really value academic learning. We are both those types of parents, although I don’t think we push that as hard as maybe some of our friends when I think about participation awards, you know, like the Gen-X like you just show up and you get an award.

I feel like we need to be moving away from the merit finalists, and the honor rolls. And if our children in high school, middle school, elementary school, if they’re capable of adapting to all of these conditions and simply showing up, that’s a win right now.

Lynn Lyons  35:12 

Yeah.

Robin Hutson  35:12 

And I don’t really even care what the academic outcomes are so much as I would have before. If I know that my kids are simply able to participate in school. I’m good.

Yeah, I’m focusing as a parent more on the overall status they’re at in terms of being adaptable to this.

Lynn Lyons  35:30 

Right. And it’s funny because when I talk to schools, and I talk to teachers, one of the things that they’re struggling with is the kids that just don’t engage. So, they just tune off their zoom call. And so, it’s, it’s instead of a participation award, it’s almost like an engagement award.

You know, because I work with so many kids that are socially anxious, I don’t care if you got a hit during the baseball game. I care that you got there on time and you walked up to the plate or you sat on the bench the whole time with your teammates.

I think it’s important for us to recognize that engagement is really hard right now, because that requires a level of discipline.

When you’re on your own sitting in your home looking at a Zoom screen, the level of engagement is different. So yeah, sort of the engagement award, how do we how do we get kids? And of course, it comes back to connection, we have to change our standards a little bit. It’s hard. This is a big cultural shift for us.

Robin Hutson  36:24 

And I think that the parents who are struggling to adapt to that cultural shift and really hold on to the same academic expectations, I would imagine that’s not what you recommend.

Lynn Lyons  36:34 

No, it’s not what I recommend. It’s never what I recommend. Because I think that it is a recipe for kids valuing something that’s not really going to lead them where they want to be.

I think, Mom, I think you are looking at this in the right way. I think you are asking all the right questions. It’s the long game here, and what will your kids look back on this and remember?

So many different paths that kids are taking right now. And I think that that ultimately can be okay. To be able to be that adaptable and be that flexible. We got really locked into the way that things are supposed to go. This is shaking it up, isn’t it?

Robin Hutson  37:15 

It is there’s been a lot of throwing things out the window.

Lynn Lyons  37:18 

That’s right.

Robin Hutson  37:19 

Personal grooming, academic expectations…

Lynn Lyons  37:22 

Hair color….personal grooming.

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Robin Hutson

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Our affiliate link will get you $20 off of a Circle. I love it.

Rats, and Spiders and Snakes, Oh My!

Lynn Lyons

Okay, so there’s one thing, Robin, that I was just thinking about that I just wanted to follow up from last time because I was talking about being afraid of rats, versus being afraid of snakes.

And so, I was thinking about this when I was out riding my bike. I was thinking, why are you so afraid of rats, but you’re not afraid of snakes? And how does the fear of rats get perpetuated, and I always talk about neural pathways, and I always talk also about the little movies that we play in our head. So, this is just a thing that I was thinking about for what it’s worth.

I don’t have a bad snake movie in my head. If you say rat to me, I can pull up a very quick and vivid little movie of a disgusting rat thing. And I remember what it was I was watching some show on rats in the city and they had like to see through toilet and he showed a rat coming up through the toilet, you could see it through the glass and swimming in the water and coming up.

I didn’t have this quick and immediate scary snake movie, but I absolutely have this quick and immediate scary rat movie. I’m telling you this because it’s just interesting in terms of what we say to our kids and how we talk about scary things.

And the movies that we create and the movies that we help our kids create. They sort of hang out there, and they’re the accessibility of that scary movie is oftentimes what keeps a phobia going. 

Robin Hutson  39:14 

So, what do you do with that information? What advice or what strategy comes from thinking about that?

Lynn Lyons  39:20 

Well, so to be honest, I have no desire nor do I think it’s at all worthwhile for me to get over my rat phobia. So, I don’t care. What if I decided in college that I was going to work in an animal lab, and I had to work with rats? I guess I’d have to deal with it.

I think the advice that that I give is when we’re thinking about what kids are afraid of, and for one, when we say why, you know, why are you afraid of that? You know, I don’t know.

But thinking about asking kids, what’s the movie that comes up? For me, it’s always sort of what’s the narrative? What’s the story that you’re telling yourself that’s applicable to a lot of anxiety disorders, because we go to that worst-case scenario.

And it is interesting and certainly, there’s a connection with that with trauma is that how the brain sort of gets this very vivid image that it creates. And that’s where those emotional responses and that fear live in your amygdala. So, it pulls it up really quickly. So how do we create some different pathways?

If I wanted to get over my fear of rats, I guess I could go about hanging out with somebody who had a pet rat. You might ask yourself, what’s that picture that comes up so quickly? What’s that image that comes up so quickly? That just immediately gets your body going.

Robin Hutson  40:28 

Well, I would say I definitely was affected by Jaws. I didn’t see it in the theater. And I heard you did see it in the theater. And you asked to leave, and your dad wouldn’t take you guys home, right?

Lynn Lyons  40:37 

Yes, I know. And so, Dad, if you’re listening to this, don’t feel guilty about that. We had to begged him to go, and I really feel like he probably thought it was not a good idea. But we really pushed to go see Jaws, so I think that once we got there and within you know, as soon as she got bitten in the leg, as soon as she went like, under the water, we were like “We’re done.” And I think he’s like “Oh no!”

I love watching it now. I’m not afraid of it anymore.

Robin Hutson  41:00 

Would you do that thing where they show a screening of it and you’re on a raft in a lake at night, like a swim-in movie? Have you heard about this?

Lynn Lyons  41:07 

No.

Robin Hutson  41:07 

So, you’re on like a raft. And then they show it on a jumbotron in a lake at night.

Lynn Lyons  41:13 

Well, see I love the movie now. And I’m not really afraid of getting eaten by a shark. If I had to watch a rat movie while sitting in that stairwell in that hotel in Washington, I would not.

Robin Hutson  41:23 

You’re getting a copy of Ratatouille for Christmas from me.

Lynn Lyons  41:27 

Well, I hope that all of you listening can find some moments of joy and play. And I don’t want you to take on silliness as your job as a parent, but boy fold it in. Because it’s really going to help you and it’s going to help your kids and boy, do we need it right now.

Robin Hutson  41:42 

This was a good, helpful reminder of a really easy solution that’s going to make these days so much better for all of us.

Lynn Lyons  41:51 

It really, it really is so important.

Robin Hutson  41:53 

Thank you so much, Lynn. Join the Flusterclux Facebook group so that you can ask your question on a future episode

Lynn Lyons  41:59 

Bye everybody! Bye, Robin!

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