A number of weeks ago Dr. JoAnn Deak, international speaker, educator, and school psychologist spoke to both students and parents about the importance of building resiliency. As Dr. Deak stated in her presentation: “Parents and schools must help our girls overcome their fears and practice ‘hugging the monster’ all within an environment that provides not just a blanket of support but also empowerment. We have to encourage our girls to try hard things, feel the discomfort, and to recognize that sometimes the most lasting lessons come from learning from our failures and overcoming our fears.” This message resonated with me once again, when, more recently, we invited another renowned speaker, Lynn Lyons, to talk to our school community about “Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents.” In her presentation, she talked about changing the relationship with fear/doubt – both from a parent’s AND a child’s perspective.

In our desire to help our children cope with their fears, we sometimes validate their anxiety through our efforts to shield them from the discomfort of uncertainty. We try to protect them from disappointment by helping them avoid uncomfortable situations, minimizing their angst with promises we cannot guarantee, and finally intervening on their behalf in times of distress. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, we become enablers reinforcing the belief that our girls cannot manage or overcome their own fears. This does not build resilience or the skills to feel comfortable taking risks; it also leads to missed opportunities of learning and growth.

Dr. Lyons suggested that parents focus on the process of worrying and not focus on the content/type of worry. She explained it this way: we become anxious because we want certainty and comfort; yet there are many things in this world about which there are no guarantees and many other things that will make us uncomfortable. We will always worry. But understanding the worry cycle can reduce our sense of anxiety. Worry deserves respect as a protective system that signals danger eliciting the flight/fight response which is truly a survival skill. We also need to realize that anxiety is a reactive system that focuses on not being in control of our external world, and is fuelled by our feelings and thoughts. In its “positive” state, anxiety prepares the body to deal with a real threat; in its “negative” state, anxiety elicits a paralyzing response to a perceived threat. Dr. Lyons encourages us (both parents and students) to learn how to talk to our worry and to let “it” know who is in control. The ability to learn to talk positively to yourself builds internal reassurance and the confidence to move towards new and challenging situations that may be uncomfortable, unknown, and unpredictable. In fact, when you are learning new things or engaging in a new experience, a level of discomfort is part of the learning process. The only way to grow is to push yourself out of your comfort zone!

Our goal at SMS is to help our girls establish psychological autonomy through realizing the purpose of worrying – to expect it, to take care of it, and ultimately, to take control of it (“to boss it around”).  In the end, courage is equal to:

Be willing to feel unsure
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Be willing to feel uncomfortable
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Step into the unknown

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.”
– Deepak Chopra

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it. “
– Kahlil Gibran

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