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Why rigidity is the bellwether of anxiety in children

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Show Notes

0:34 Lynn and Robin discuss the new season of Flusterclux and describe who the podcast is for. Lynn describes emotional management as a goal for her therapy clients and her own family and why it is such a critical skill to strengthen relationships and prevent loneliness.

6:10 Robin and Lynn discuss the reason behind the name change from A Mom’s Retreat to Flusterclux.

8:46 Robin asks Lynn how families can tell if anxiety and anxious patterns are creeping into a household as a result of the stress of 2020. Lynn talks about rigidity and routine and explains the critical importance of flexibility within a routine for children and teens.

19:06 Robin asks Lynn how parents should be talking to their children about fall schedules to make room for its possibilities of changing.

21:53 Robin asks Lynn if there are better ways to talk to teens about school this fall than others to promote flexibility and adaptability.

Lynn asks listeners a critical question she suggests all families ask themselves about the pandemic.

24:19 Lynn answers a listener question about a child who gets anxious being on camera and needs a reassurance that remote learning cannot provide.

Lynn talks about the skill to develop around accepting criticism and social anxiety’s fear of judgement.

30:12 Lynn shares stories of her husband’s past whistling  and then shows off her own whistling talents.

32:10 Join our Facebook group so that you can submit a question for a future episode with Lynn.

We thank our sponsor Milestones Pediatric Therapy Center located in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Show music by Peter Sandberg.

Episode Transcript

Lynn Lyons  0:01 

In a year full of anxiety, we talk about the early signs of anxiety in children and what you can do about them. And we have a listener question from a mom who’s worried about the anxiety her son is showing during remote learning and difficulty being on camera.

Hi, everybody. This is Lynn Lyons. I’m an anxiety expert, psychotherapist, author. And we’re here to welcome you to season two of our podcast in the debut episode as fluster clocks. I’m here with my sister in law, Robin. Hi, Robin.

Robin Hutson  0:31 

Hi, Lynn.

Lynn Lyons  0:31 

How are you?

Robin Hutson  0:32 

Good. It’s our new season,

Lynn Lyons  0:34 

Our new season. So, we thought that maybe if we have some new listeners, they’d like to hear a little bit about what we’re about and what we do on this podcast.

Robin Hutson  0:41 

You’re an anxiety expert, but people who don’t have anxious children are still huge fans of your work. Because your work actually is relevant to every family. Why is that?

Lynn Lyons  0:11 

Well, for one, it’s hard to get through life without having any worry or anxiety. Because life is so uncertain as we’ve discovered in the last year. And we’ll continue to discover. The term that I use all the time is emotional management. When you have a big feeling, knowing what to do with it, knowing how to talk about it, knowing how to manage it yourself. And also, it’s such a big part of relationships, being able to convey what you’re feeling. It’s such a critical skill.

Robin Hutson  0:40 

It’s so true, because recording the first season with you has been such a powerful learning experience for me. To just stay within your method, hear you respond to listeners. But as I think about what you’re saying in every episode, and then I bring it to my own life.

Learning Emotional Management is key

Emotional management, whether it’s worry, anger, whether it’s sadness, shame regardless of what emotion you’re feeling,  to take all these tools that you so carefully outlined for externalizing and identifying and becoming self-aware and interrupting a pattern of worry, you can use that for every emotion. It’s really powerful.

Lynn Lyons  1:17 

Oh, well, thanks.  I think one of the goals of this and when I think about the people that are listening to this, and I do a lot of talks in front of big audiences. And it’s not just people who are coming because they have anxious kids. My goal is to take something that can feel so complicated and overwhelming and our field likes to do that. I really feel like there’s this whole language that we sort of like.

My goal is to make it as simple and as understandable and as versatile as possible. So for you to say that you can listen to what I’m saying and then apply it to your family and you can see how broadly these skills are able to be used, that makes me feel great because that’s really what I want to do. I just want to simplify it and make it accessible.

Robin Hutson  2:06 

These are things every parent should be thinking about and every child should learn for emotional management.

Lynn Lyons  2:13 

I always think about raising boys. But I used to say, as simply as I could, I don’t know what I used to say. It was something like I just want to raise kind, sweet boys. And then jokingly I would say that my daughters-in-law will really like me and let me see the grandchildren. So, I feel like I’ve always thought about what’s most important in relationships and connecting.

How do we get along with other people? How can I create human beings that other people enjoy being around? And I think if I were to sort of think about my job as a therapist, the hardest thing for me the thing that makes me the most, you know, sort of verklempt, even as I’m saying this now, is loneliness.

I just feel like emotional management allows you to connect with other people and allows you to be vulnerable and honest with other people so that you’re not lonely. And I feel like that’s just so critical for our kids as they grow up into teenagers and into adults. How do you connect with other people? Because loneliness, loneliness is just too much for people to manage. And it’s just at the root of so much suffering.

Robin Hutson  3:29 

Learning how to connect with different types of people and remaining in an authentic space means that you will never have loneliness. Right.

Lynn Lyons  3:46 

Yeah, I mean, I just think that’s what it comes down to. for me. I mean, I can either say it in that really positive way. I want to create kids that are kind and loving and can have positive relationships.

And then when the heaviness of this job is sort of getting to me it’s about the loneliness.  That’s the thing that nips at my heels, that’s the heavy weight that I feel as I’m working with families. That’s what I want to prevent.

And that’s what I want to stay ahead of. You know, life is gonna throw all sorts of things at us. And you can get through all sorts of things if you feel like you have connections and people that support you.

Robin Hutson  4:32 

Yes, I’ve learned from you that anxiety, depression, are internalizing disorders where people get caught up in their thoughts and they remain inside and they’re not connecting outward.

Lynn Lyons  4:42 

 Yes.

Robin Hutson  4:42 

If we know how to go and switch modes and begin external connection, that is how we prevent ourselves from falling into serious patterns of anxiety and depression. So that connection is the magic potion to keep us solid.

Lynn Lyons  4:57 

Absolutely. And during this pandemic, you know, the research is coming out and the data is coming out. And when they’re looking at what people are struggling with, the thing that we’re seeing over and over again that comes up is loneliness and isolation. That’s what we see people struggling with. And then on the flip side of it is that we can revel in the connections that we have and how wonderfully creative and loving people have been as a as a way to connect. But you’re right. That’s the magic. That’s the glue. Because that’s what sustains us even during the most tragic of times. When we feel loved and connected and when we reach out to other people, too.

A Mom’s Retreat is now Flusterclux

Robin Hutson  6:10 

So, this is our first episode under our new name. It’s our first episode of season two, and we changed our name because we launched the podcast rather in a reaction from the pandemic, Lynn and I had been working on parenting retreats in person. So, the idea of a podcast really made sense for us to continue connecting with parents.  And Lynn, you came up with the name Flusterclux, which I really adore. Tell me what that means to you.

Lynn Lyons  6:39 

Obviously, it is a play on the other phrase that describes 2020.

Robin Hutson  6:44 

Totally.

Lynn Lyons  6:45 

Because we’re all living in this environment. So, I think about Flusterclux. It makes me think of how we all we’re just sort of running around like chickens with our heads cut off that expression. And even as we started this podcast, you were like, all right. Let’s, let’s get this thing up and running. And as I’ve said a gazillion times, everybody, it was amazing what Robin did to pull this off.

But I feel like we all made this shift from in school to remote learning to working at your job to working at home and Flusterclux, to me, just sounded like we were all just sort of figuring it out. And then also, it reminds me of just this idea that, you know, it’s got a little mother hen to it. I like that image as well, but that it’s so easy to sort of get flustered by things. And it’s so easy to sort of talk too much and just get into these patterns of saying things. I say to parents all the time, “I need you to talk 85% less,” so it’s just accepting.

Robin Hutson  7:41 

That’s totally what it means to me. We fill the air too much.

Lynn Lyons  7:46 

Yes, it’s just a reminder that parenting has all this energy to it, which is sometimes great and sometimes feels a little Flusterclucky. So that’s what it means to me.

Robin Hutson  7:55 

And the other thing I know both of us really like is that when we had the name A Mom’s Retreat, it was specifically because Lynn was hosting retreats before this. And the retreats were open to men and women. But we obviously never wanted dads to feel excluded.

Spotting The Early Signs of Anxiety in Children

So, Lynn, what I want to ask you is that as we are starting a new school year in 2020, with all of these conditions and everything that we have been through in the last several months, many families might be seeing more anxiety in their daily diet.

Because how could we not be worrying a little more? There’s a lot of uncertainty that is unprecedented. So, what I want to ask you, and what I think is very interesting is obviously as an anxiety expert and therapist, families seek you out because they have children that have anxiety that’s preventing them from doing activities.

Lynn Lyons  8:46 

Right.

Robin Hutson  8:47 

That are important to them or other things that create an avoidance. Between the very beginning of anxious patterns to the time they end up on your sofa in your office. What should we be thinking about and looking at as parents of how we’re all doing?

Lynn Lyons  9:04 

That is such a great question because it really goes after something near and dear to my heart, which is the idea that we can pay attention to these things and normalize them. And then we can prevent them from becoming big, huge problems that get in the way of kids doing things that we want them to do.

And right now, because we know that anxiety is all about certainty and comfort, and this is a time of uncertainty, if you haven’t noticed, there are patterns that we can pay attention to.

So, I’ll just tell you, because there are certainly some ones that that are really the heavy hitters.

Robin Hutson  9:37 

That’s actually a way I always describe it. I’ve mentioned this in like student-teacher conferences, but I think of asteroids, not specifically the one that’s predicted to hit our planet, potentially on election day, if you’ve read that headline.

Lynn Lyons  9:51  

Oh! Well, that’ll either be good news or bad news. It depends.

Robin Hutson  9:56 

But the thing is, they say that actually there’s less than a point percentage chance that the trajectory of the asteroid would hit the Earth. But what I think about this philosophically is that when we do a little bit of modification, or we’re aware of certain patterns that you give us advice of how to tweak a little bit, it can change the trajectory of that habit so that it doesn’t have a collision.

Lynn Lyons  10:18 

It’s that same metaphor, where they say like, if you’re flying a plane across the country, and you turn one degree, you end up in a completely different part of the world. So yeah, and that’s a good way to think about it. Because sometimes people get intimidated or overwhelmed, like, they think they’re going to have to do a total parenting overhaul. L like, you’re just gonna have to start from scratch. And the idea of just tweaking a little something or changing a pattern and just shifting it in another direction is a really great way to think about it.

Robin Hutson  10:46 

Well, that’s what you’re all about.

Lynn Lyons  10:47 

That’s what I’m all about. Yeah, just a little tweak here and there, including talking 85% less, which sometimes for some people, that’s more than a little tweak, but it’s very effective.

Rigidity is the bellwether of anxiety

The first thing I want to sort of bring out is a pattern, and this this sort of encompasses a lot. It’s actually patterns of rigidity. This covers a lot of ground, but it’s really important is in general, looking at flexibility versus rigidity. So, anybody that’s heard me speak or anybody that’s come to see me in my office will hear me beating this drum, because rigidity is really an attempt to gain control, to make sure that everything is going as planned, to make sure that everything is certain. And it really can become pretty big if left unattended over a period of time.

Robin Hutson  11:34 

I want to stop you there because the rigidity piece of it when kids start manifesting rigidity, isn’t often your perception is that a parent doesn’t realize that they’re modeling that, too? And that has to be a part of it.

Lynn Lyons  11:49 

Of course. And when we look at patterns being passed down, people like to talk about like they say, “Oh, she comes by it honestly.” Or “Oh, it runs in the family,” and sometimes they think they’re talking about, you know, freckles and red hair genetically running in the family.

But we know that modeling actually has a huge impact. And so when parents model rigidity, and when parents want things to go exactly as planned, and when parents have a really hard time showing flexibility and modeling flexibility, then we know that kids, of course, because that’s what they learn, they begin to believe that that’s the way that things have to go.

Now, let me just say this, because lots of times when I’m talking about flexibility and rigidity, particularly during this time, when you’re hearing a lot about the importance of routine and the importance of schedule, and how as our kids are doing remote learning, or they’re going to be in this hybrid thing, or they have to go to school and wear a mask all day that this idea of getting kids in a routine is really important.

That having a schedule this is what was happening during the lockdown is that you know, things were sort of going to hell in a handbasket. And so, the important thing to think about is that I am talking about flexibility. within routine. So, it is great for your kids to have a routine where they know what to expect. There’s a bedtime that you consistently shoot for. There is a routine in the morning that helps everybody get up out of bed and get ready for school on time.

Like when my husband used to go to ski races, he had this thing where he would start at his head and he would go “Hat, goggles, coat,” but what he did go right down to make sure he had everything. All of that kind of routine is really helpful. But where rigidity comes in, because routine and rigidity are not the same thing, where rigidity comes in is that it has to go a certain way no matter what. And if it doesn’t, then somebody loses their mind.

And so, you say you have a routine in the morning where you do this. You do this. And the routine is that you go and you get your socks, and then you put your shoes on. And what happens if the cat has eaten your favorite sock? Or what happens if, in your head, you are going to wear your blue shirt, and that actually didn’t come out of the dryer yet? And then all bets are off.

So, we really want to help kids— you parents, too— differentiate between flexibility within a routine and then that rigidity that demands that things go a certain way. Because there’s a big difference between those two things.

Robin Hutson  14:29 

What really comes to me is say you have a three-year-old and there is a ritual where the three-year-old has a certain blue cup that they like, and then the blue cup becomes a ritual. But one day the blue cup either was misplaced or is still dirty, and if that child says I won’t drink without my blue cup, then that obviously then that child isn’t flexible. But promoting that routine of always giving that blue cup is also modeling predictability and consistency. When you could also be modeling, “It doesn’t matter what cup we drink.”

Lynn Lyons  15:04 

Right. And the thing about little kids is that they like predictability. And they like routine, right? So, anybody who’s got a toddler now or is, you know, remembers having a toddler, they like the same books to be read to them over and over and over again. So, there’s something very comforting about that kind of routine and that kind of predictability. And developmentally, there’s really nothing wrong with that.

But you want to look for opportunities to insert flexibility. You want to look for opportunities to say that, you know, “That cup is in the dishwasher. So luckily, we have the standby cup.”

Or “We have our first best cup and our second-best cup,” so that you’re always giving them language that says, sure you have a preference, but it’s not set in stone.

That’s sort of what happens, right? So, I’ll only eat one shape of pasta, or I’ll only eat the macaroni and cheese that’s in this color box. Even though if you change the macaroni and cheese they wouldn’t even notice. So being able to find that balance between flexibility and rigidity is really helpful. Knowing all along that routine is fine. It’s just when it gets over rigid. And that’s something if we’re talking about warning signs, or we’re talking about the way that worry can show up, that’s what you want to look for.

The thing that I asked kids all the time is I’ll say, “Well, what’s a situation in which rigidity is really important, and that we don’t have flexibility?” because I want them to understand that that exists as well. They will say “Whenever I get in the car, I always have to fasten my seatbelt.” Or “I always have to buckle up my car seat,” and I say, “Well, whenever I ride my road bike out on the road, I always wear my helmet,” and so I’m very rigid about that.

And then I say, “Okay, so what would be something where we definitely have routine and there might be a rule that we like to follow, but there are some times where you can imagine being flexible?”

And you can ask your kids this, and then they can come up, you can come up with the family about all sorts of times where a little flexibility was really helpful.

Like, you know, maybe you’ve done a really good job of getting your four or five-year-old to sleep in their own bed. But you make a rule if there’s a storm and all the lights are out in the house, when you go to bed that everybody sleeps in mommy and daddy’s room, because it’s scary, or you have a bedtime of eight o’clock, but your favorite cousin is visiting. And so, we’re going to let the bedtime go until nine o’clock because this is a fun family event.

So, it’s working on that spectrum of recognizing the value of routine, the necessity of rigidity in some places. And then, where do we inject flexibility so that life can move along in a pleasant way?

Robin Hutson  17:45 

You know, what phrase keeps popping into my head as like a dangerous phrase for a mom or a dad to think: “This is what we do.” If you are a parent who sort of embraces that phrase “Because this is our routine,” there’s probably a chance that the parent has a really strong attachment to the way things have to go, then they’re feeding that adherence to the routine, you know, to the kids, too.

Balancing Flexibility and Routine

Lynn Lyons  18:08 

Yeah, exactly. And what happens when a parent says this is the way we do things, and this is the way it has to go, then what happens inside a child (and then it happens inside a teenager) is they begin to question like, “Why do we always have to do it this way?”

So, you might get some rebellion from that. But also, there’s a fear of what will happen if we can’t do it the way we’re supposed to do it? When you think about rigidity and anxiety and anxiety’s a lot about fear, there’s a lot of fear, a lot of anxiety about what happens if we can’t do the routine, like we’re supposed to do it?

So, then the worry starts to get bigger and bigger, and they start planning things out. And then they want to know exactly what’s going to happen at the birthday party. You can see this mentality of things always need to go as planned, really sort of bleeds out. And then we have an anxiety disorder that gets in the way of kids doing what they want to do. Because they’ll avoid stuff rather than go into something in which there’s a lot of flexibility.

Robin Hutson  19:06 

Well, so we’re starting a new school year that has all of these unprecedented circumstances around it.  Never have we started a school year where it’s quite predictably going to change a month from now, two months from now, if perhaps caseloads increase in a specific area, etc.

So, as the takeaway, when parents are thinking about presenting a family schedule for remote, hybrid, and in-person learning this school year, how should we be talking about our schedule and making room for it changing?

Lynn Lyons  19:38 

So, there’s a few ways, particularly if kids are going back into school, there are going to be a lot of rules that they’re going to have to follow. If you’re talking to your kids saying, “Let’s talk about the things that are non-negotiable right now.” And it might be you have to wear a mask, or you have to do this you have to do that.

So, you want to let kids know as they go into school, that there are things, that even if they’re uncomfortable, and even if they’re new, and even if they’re weird. That there are rules that they’re going to have to abide by just like the fastening the seatbelt rule. So, we want to put that out front.

I would just be really upfront and say, “This is the plan right now. And the plan can change based on all sorts of things. And we don’t really know.” And I would put changing and evolving and adjusting in very normal terms. Even though this is a very abnormal situation. 

And come up with your family about ways in which things change. You and I live in New England, right? And the leaves are always already starting to turn a little bit and fall off my birch trees. And you say so one of the things we know is that we know that the seasons are going to change. But we don’t know exactly when that’s going to happen. We don’t know exactly what this winter is going to look like. We don’t know exactly how hot it’s going to be into the fall. And so even though we know there’s a routine of the seasons changing, we just don’t know all the details. And you know, you can come up with all sorts of metaphors for that.

We know that you’re going to get bigger. We know that you’re going to grow. And we know that the sneakers you’re wearing now are probably not going to fit when you’re 15. But we don’t know exactly how those changes are going to happen. And so, we’re going to have to be a family of flexibility. We’re going to have to be a family that adapts. And this would also be a really good time to have a little meeting with your family and talk about and just sort of review the ways that you have been adaptable already, the ways you’ve been flexible already.

So, having, you know, like, “Oh, my gosh, remember in March when we had to do this, and remember in April, and then remember when we did this, and we had to do this?” So, you are just working this idea of adaptability into the oxygen they’re breathing, so that it really becomes a part of what they expect. I mean, it sounds a little paradoxical, but we’re teaching them to actually expect that things are going to change and that they’re not going to have probably the same routine at the end of the school year as they’re having now.

Talking to Teens about Change

Robin Hutson  21:53 

What would you say to parents who have slightly older children, teens, for example, and you don’t feel like you have to sort of perform that lesson to the same degree? Are there still cautionary words you would give? Say that school situation changes, or it’s a schedule change that is very worrisome for some families? Aren’t there still boundaries to talk about your teen’s schooling in a way that is a healthier way than others?

Lynn Lyons 21:30

So, one of the things I’ve got that I’ve been doing all these virtual presentations, and I’ve got this slide I’ve been showing at the end, and it basically says, we’re going to have to adjust our goals this year. And maybe in meeting these different goals, we’re going to discover things we never expected.

I think that the message that I want to give families is that although this has been thrust upon us, this is a really unique, and not so great, but unique opportunity to talk to your kids about how we’re were going to have to adjust our goals and work together as a family. And one of the things I was talking to a client of mine the other day, and she’s going off for her freshman year in college. I have several of my clients that are going off for their freshman year in college.

And I kept doing this, this sort of visual for her, which you can’t see me doing. But I’m doing right now as if she is sitting in a big raft going down the rapids in the river. And I kept sort of rocking back and forth. So, every time she would say, but I don’t even know how long I’m going to be at college. And I would just put my arms out. And so, go back and forth in the river.

I said, You’re, you’re in the river, you’re going down the river, and you can’t really control a lot of what’s happening. But I want you to sit in the raft, and I want you to just go with it a little bit. And I think that for older kids, the idea that we have to keep reevaluating our goals and figuring out what’s most important in this family is going to be a message that you’re going to want to give them.

Because they’re missing sports; they’re missing activities. Some kids aren’t even going back to school. It’s going to be fully remote. There are plans for them to go in this day and not this day, I think you really want to focus on the value of flexibility and collaboration and adaptability. I think that’s how you want to talk to older kids about it.

As you’re starting this new school year, one of the questions I would really love for you to ask your kids of all ages, and you know what parents, ask yourself the same question.

What are you proud of? How did you handle what we’ve been through in a way that makes you proud?

It doesn’t mean that it was a great experience. It doesn’t mean that everything was fabulous, or that you, you know, had some wonderful times this summer, which I hope you did. But I really want kids to be able to talk about and even brag a little bit about how adaptable they’ve already been.

Because connecting you to your past successes is one of the key elements to preventing anxiety moving forward.

Anxiety wants you to forget about the past. It wants you to disregard what you’ve done. It wants to disconnect you from your skills and your confidence, and it wants to freak you out about the future.

So, ask your family that question, what are you proud of? What have you handled in a way that made you proud? It makes them bring up their skills, it brings up their accomplishments in a way that can be really helpful as you’re stepping into the school year.

Social Anxiety in Children About Remote Learning

Robin Hutson  24:19 

So, Lynn I have a listener question, I’m going to ask.

How can I help my child with his anxieties around distance education? He has a difficult time with criticism normally, but that seems to be exacerbated by remote learning since there’s not an encouraging voice to soften things. He also does not like the thought of other people watching him on the screen, and he gets revved up before any video class time and stays in that hyper sensory state long after the video class has ended. What can I do to help him?

Lynn Lyons  24:46 

Okay, so there are a few things going on here. And these are really good skills to work on because being able to take criticism is a really helpful skill to develop. Because it comes at you all the time. And when kids are oversensitive to criticism, that’s actually a sign sometimes of some social anxiety because it’s a fear of judgment. Social anxiety is all about worrying about what people are thinking of you and if they’re judging you harshly.

And it also is a little bit of a sign sometimes of perfectionism. I’m picking up from this question, and I’m always just having to make some assumptions, but I’m picking up from this question that this is an anxious kid who has a really hard time feeling as if he’s being judged or as if he’s going to screw up, and he really needs a lot of reassurance that he’s doing things okay.

So, one of the things you want to do is you want to talk to him about handling criticism and what that means. Criticism is different than correction. And being able to do something wrong and be corrected is really important for him, and it’s really important for you, Mom, to know that you do not want to have him depend on a consistent diet of reassurance, and that he’s doing okay and that he’s great and that he’s okay if he makes a mistake. Because then that becomes his background noise that he depends on.

So, I would really talk to him about how one of the things that’s really hard in school is that when you’re learning new things, sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you don’t know the answer. Sometimes you screw up. And sometimes you think you did a great job, and you think you had the right answer. And then the teacher says, “Oh, well, let’s change this a little bit.”

Because as we move into life, and we’re trying to get better at things, you know, Robin and I write things back and forth to each other all the time. And Robin always edits what I give her. When I write books, the editor says, change this and do this. When my sister is riding her horse, the person watching her says, “Adjust this, adjust that.”

So, we really want to get him used to the idea that correction is okay. And that he doesn’t have to take it personally in a way that it impacts who he is.

So even being able to talk to him about that part of him that thinks he’s not supposed to make a mistake or that part of him that thinks he’s supposed to do everything perfectly or that part of him that worries about being judged and be able to recognize and help them get a little bit of distance from it would be great.

And I would acknowledge to him also that “It seems like it’s hard for you, when you don’t have somebody right there, that warm, encouraging voice. And so, this is going to be a little practice for you of how are you going to talk yourself through this? What are you going to say to yourself? What do you say back to yourself when you’ve made a mistake?”

I don’t like to make a mistake. You don’t like to make a mistake, but how are you going to talk yourself through it. So, what you’re doing is trying to replace his dependence on that external encouraging voice. Have him create his own internal encouraging voice. That would be a wonderful skill for him to develop as he’s going through remote learning. You can say to him, “I’ve noticed that before you’re going to go on for a zoom call your worry really shows up and starts going. And I wonder what it says.”

And if he says, “You know” (I don’t know how old he is.) But if he says, “I don’t know,” or “It doesn’t say anything,” or “That’s a stupid question,” or “Stop talking to me about this,” I would say to him, Mom, “You know what, this is what happens to me when I’m about to go on to a zoom call. There’s a part of me that says, “Oh, people are going to be looking at you. What if you look funny? What if this happens? And what if that happens,” and that’s a normal part of putting yourself out there. That’s a normal part of having people look at you and observe you. And so, we’re just going to practice that.

But we know that we’re going to show up, externalize it, give it a name, and really help him just sort of expect it. Don’t try and talk him out of it. Don’t say “Oh, there’s nothing to be worried about, or everybody on the zoom call is fine.” You just want to say “Of course, that’s going to show up because people are looking at you and that can feel a little uncomfortable.”

So really normalizing it and not stepping in and doing what the worry wants. The worry wants the constant stream of encouragement, and the worry really wants you to say he doesn’t have to go on the Zoom call.

Robin Hutson  28:54 

One of the things that this makes me think of because this came up in another listener question is for the mother and the son to really go over the difference between criticism he’s imagining in his head and criticism he’s actually getting.

Because his anxiety is telling him stories probably. So, half of the criticism that he is worried about are those things that he’s creating in his own mind.

Lynn Lyons  29:16 

That’s such a great point to bring up because we all do that. And we like to go catastrophic, right? So, the teacher says, “Oh, so James, that’s really great. I need you to just move over a little bit,” or “James, you’re almost there. Let’s see. Now look and see what you did here.”

Or if it’s an older kid, you know, “Okay, so this paragraph is really great.” “I just want you to have a stronger first sentence.”

That’s all help versus what the worry might be saying is, you know, “Argh! You wrote a terrible paragraph!” or “You’ll never get this right!” or “She hates you!”

So really paying attention to what the story is, the worry is saying because you’re exactly right, Robin.

A critique or a comment or a suggestion, when it goes through the worry filter, turns into a catastrophic indictment. And it’s usually pretty global, right? “You suck.”

Robin Hutson  30:02 

Isn’t it even worse that it doesn’t even take a criticism to go through the anxiety filter? Silence goes through an anxiety filter…

Lynn Lyons  30:09 

Oh yeah.

Robin Hutson  30:10 

Where we project onto the silence that meaning.

Lynn Lyons  30:12 

So much when we worry, particularly as it shows up in social contexts is really about projection. It really is.

Whistling While Angry

So, my husband, when he would get mad, and when he was irritated long ago, he used to whistle. But he didn’t, like, whistle a happy tune. It was a very sort of like, you know, you could imagine, I’m not going to do it now. But you could imagine when somebody is mad and trying to whistle, and so I knew when he was upset that he was whistling. So of course, like it would just make me be like, “Oh my God, he’s whistling.”

And so finally I asked him, and I said, “How come when you get mad, you whistle?” and he said, “It just calms me down.” I think it was like his version of deep breathing. But now he doesn’t do it anymore. Because this is like 25 years ago. He doesn’t do it anymore. But now if he whistles, I’m always sorted like, “Are you mad?” He’s like, “No, just whistling.”

I mean, we create all of these stories in our head about things. And it’s just what our human brains do.

Robin Hutson  31:07 

I’m just laughing because since Lynn’s my sister in law. There’s a family story of our nephew when he was little said Lynn’s hobby was whistling.

Lynn Lyons  31:16 

I am a good whistler. I mean, that’s just like everyone knows that. There’s no debating that. So yeah, so maybe there was a part of me that was a little upset that he was taking my passion. How dare he?

Robin Hutson  31:27 

That’s right. Whistling is your territory.

Lynn Lyons  31:29 

Yeah, my territory, The Andy Griffith theme. I’ve got that down. Yeah. Whistles.

Lynn Lyons  31:45 

I don’t know if that’s my best work but you get the flavor.

Robin Hutson  31:48 

Try again.

Lynn Lyons  31:49 

Lynn whistles a few bars.

Robin Hutson  31:56 

It’s pretty good.

Yeah, totally your territory

Lynn Lyons  32:01 

After I brag about what a good whistler I am, I gotta bring it!

Robin Hutson  32:10 

And we encourage you to join our Facebook group so that you can submit a question for a future episode with Lynn.

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