Episode Show Notes
In this episode, Mike sits down with Sissy Goff and David Thomas, child and adolescent development experts to talk about helping children deal with feelings of anxiety, disappointment, anger, and perfectionism.
Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.
Sissy Goff, M.Ed., LPC-MHSP is the Director of Child and Adolescent Counseling at Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Tennessee, where she works alongside her counseling assistant/pet therapist, Lucy the Havanese. Since 1993, she has been helping girls and their parents find confidence in who they are and hope in who God is making them to be, both as individuals and families. Sissy is a sought-after speaker for parenting events and the author of twelve books, including the bestselling Raising Worry-Free Girls and Braver, Stronger, Smarter (for elementary-aged girls) and her new release for teenage girls, Brave. Sissy is a regular contributor to various podcasts and publications as well as her own podcast called Raising Boys and Girls.
David Thomas, L.M.S.W., is the Director of Family Counseling at Daystar Counseling (daystarcounseling.com) in Nashville, TN, the co-author of eight books, including the best-selling Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys and Are My Kids on Track? The 12 Emotional, Social & Spiritual Milestones Your Child Needs to Reach. He is a frequent guest on national television and podcasts, including his own called Raising Boys and Girls, has been featured in publications like The Washington Post and USA Today, and speaks across the country. He and his wife, Connie, have a daughter, twin sons and a yellow lab named Owen.
00:00:00 – Practical ways parents can help their children who experience anxiety
00:08:27 – Anxiety is never about the present; it’s always about the past or the future
00:08:36 – How parents can help their children manage anger
00:15:59 – How parents can help their children deal with disappointment
00:18:44 – Why parents should not attempt to shield children from disappointment
00:21:49 – Discussion about whether or not it is healthy for parents to share their own disappointments with their children
00:25:12 – The role and backing of scripture with these ideas
00:27:07 – Tips for parents to help their children deal with perfectionism
Mike Siciliano [00:00:00] Welcome back to part two of our podcasts with Sissy Goff and David Thomas, child and adolescent development experts. Man, this has been so much fun already. Let’s jump back into some of the things we’ve been talking about. We’ve touched on anxiety a bunch so far. Maybe let’s get a little more practical. For parents who are struggling with kids who have anxiety, what are some practical ways in which they can help?
David Thomas [00:00:31] Do you want me to start?
Sissy Goff [00:00:32] Sure.
David Thomas [00:00:33] We talked a lot about beginning the anxiety journey with understanding and then moving toward help and hope, and that all three are equally important. It’s not like one outweighs the others. But you did such great education a few minutes ago talking about understanding. I think in terms of the health piece, one of the things that Sissy does in raising worry-free girls that I love, she breaks down help into help for the body, help for the heart, and help for the brain. I think that’s a great, clear way for parents to think about leaning in those different ways. We start with help for the body to first just educate ourselves and kids on what’s happening in our bodies when any of us is emotionally charged, whether it’s anxiety, whether it’s anger, any number of emotions. What happens is that our heart rate increases, our pupils dilate so that we can see danger farther away, and blood flow moves to the larger muscles so we’re tensed and ready to fight. Even our stomachs jump on board with less digestive activity so we can shore up more energy. If you think about it, that’s a great biological state if you’re going to encounter a rattlesnake or a grizzly bear. It’s not a great state…
Mike Siciliano [00:01:43] Not if you have the SAT on Saturday.
David Thomas [00:01:45] No, not if you’re about to take the SAT or make a shot from the free-throw line, all these different moments, kids at the starting block of a track race or cross-country race. We love starting with educating kids and parents on okay, here’s what’s going on; what can we do to reset the brain and body in those moments when our bodies are amped up. We start with our beginning—point 101 is just what we call square breathing—and just teaching kids the rhythm and the pace of some deep breathing. I laughingly say I had a little seven-year-old guy in my office who came in for his first appointment. He was like, “My mom told me breathing would work, but it’s not working at all.” I said, “Well, show me how you’re doing it.” He was like [loud, forced breathing]. I was like, “Okay, that’s labor and delivery breathing. You’re going to work on a different kind of breathing.” We have kids trace the shape of a square. You breathe in on one line, pause for four seconds, breathe out on the second line, pause again, breathe in on the third line, breathe out on the fourth line. That square is just a great concrete tool that allows kids to get the accurate rhythm and pace. We’ll have them draw it on their legs. We’ll have kids come back and tell us, “I was doing that under my desk right before I took a timed test, and it was calming me down.” I had a little boy say, “I did it at the free-throw line right before the referee threw me the ball.” We love those stories where kids are attaching to okay, this is something that can help that reset process in my body and brain. Research would tell us that at least 20 seconds of deep breathing will reset the amygdala and begin that process. That would be 101. What other help for the body would you layer in?
Mike Siciliano [00:03:25] Just to be clear, too, when you say drawing it under the desk—just because we may have students listening—we don’t mean actually with pens drawing it on your leg?
David Thomas [00:03:33] No…
Mike Siciliano [00:03:34] I’m just thinking of our maintenance crew and our teachers.
David Thomas [00:03:38] I will comment that with boys I have to dress up square breathing a little bit. I call it combat breathing.
Mike Siciliano [00:03:44] Oh, I love it.
David Thomas [00:03:45] I know.
Mike Siciliano [00:03:45] Now I’m in.
David Thomas [00:03:46] You’re brought in. It is actually something I learned from some work I did years ago with Navy Seals and is a skill they’re required to demonstrate. Think about it. These individuals are in life-or-death situations, and they’ve got to be able to reset themselves in ways where they can make the most thoughtful, intentional decisions as possible. I dress it up and call it combat breathing with the boys, and there’s a little more buy-in.
Sissy Goff [00:04:11] I’ve been talking to parents more and more about preventatively doing some of the work, too, because what happens, we create these neural pathways in our minds that are well-worn paths. The more often the amygdala is triggered, the more likely it is to trigger. It actually enlarges in anxious kids and develops a hair-trigger response. The more we can preventatively… Driving to school all together, “We’re going to take five deep breaths right now, or I’m going to pull out my phone where I have it sitting here and get on Headspace or CalmKids”—those are two of our favorite apps—”and we’re going to practice some of this together.” It is preventative for them in such a really important, healthy way. I would add that, for sure. Our first three go-to’s are breathing, and then we move to what is a cognitive behavioral therapy technique called grounding strategies. With anxiety, we talk about it like a one-loop roller coaster at the fair. You mentioned this. There’s a continuum from worry to anxiety. All kids pass through different stages of fear. All kids worry to some degree. When we get concerned is… We all have these intrusive thoughts. Maybe my intrusive thought is, “I hope my car doesn’t go off the road right now.” Well, then, if all of a sudden I think, “Oh, no, my car is about to go off the road. Am I too close to the road? I’m too close to the road,” I’m stuck in a loop. That’s what, to me, characterizes anxiety. With that, I think we’ve got to calm their body back down so they’re capable of it, and then we’ve got to pull them out of the loop. Anything that requires focus pulls them out of the loop. Sensory information is one of the most helpful places we can go. Anxiety does not exist in the present moment. It’s always in the past or the future. We’ve got to pull them back to the present, which is what the sensory data helps with. One of our favorite games is 5,4,3,2,1. A child in my office is really anxious. I practice the breathing, and then I say, “Okay, we’re going to play our 5,4,3,2,1 game. Tell me five things you see.” I let them look around the room and say—I have a lot of pigs because I’m from Arkansas—”I see that pig.” They pick five objects…
Mike Siciliano [00:06:19] We’re in Rod’s office. Books would be most…
Sissy Goff [00:06:22] Right. Books, yes. I see way more than five books. Five things you see, four things you hear, and then you have to get quiet to listen. Tell me three things you feel, not emotionally but from a tactile sense. Tell me two things you smell. Tell me one thing you taste. All five senses. Especially the smell and taste, we have to really dial in to get to that. I can’t think about looping about my car going off the road and thinking about the sensory data. That’s usually the second thing we do. You want to do the third? We’ll just keep going back and forth?
David Thomas [00:06:53] Yes, we absolutely will. We also introduce what we call the color game or the counting game. “Pick a color. Okay, the color red. I want you to tell me everything red in the room that you see right now.” Then we shift to green. The objective, again, as she was saying, worry takes up a lot of mental real estate. When we’re doing this kind of cognitive work, there’s no room left over for worry to be occupying the space, because we’re engaging the mind in amazing ways. Counting is another one that we use with kids who are really young. Say, “Okay, start at 10 and count backwards.” “Ten, nine, eight.” With kids who are more advanced with math, “All right, let’s start at 50, and then count backwards by 5; one hundred, count backwards by seven.” I could never do that one, but a lot of adolescents could. Figuring out, again, how we can ground them in that space. I want to also say I love to see when you talked a few minutes ago about the preventative piece of this because I don’t think we could be talking enough with kids about that. Studies show that after prolonged periods of stress, the adult brain can bounce back in about 10 days, but the adolescent brain takes 3 weeks. If we’re doing a lot of this work on the front side, there is so much gain for kids and adolescents in terms of just developing a healthier brain.
Mike Siciliano [00:08:09] I’m just thinking about for our kids who are very involved in lots of things. In three weeks there’s a lot that happens. They’re trying to do all that with their brain in that state. That’s going to be difficult.
Sissy Goff [00:08:22] They don’t even know their brain’s trying to recover, and they’re not getting enough sleep and all the different things that are going on.
Mike Siciliano [00:08:27] I love what you said. I just want to make sure I got it right. Anxiety is never about the present; it’s always about the past or the future?
Sissy Goff [00:08:33] Yes
Mike Siciliano [00:08:34] Okay. That’s good. Can I steal that one?
Sissy Goff [00:08:36] Sure.
Mike Siciliano [00:08:36] I’ll credit you when I use it with our kids. There’s a couple other emotions I think that are pretty common in kids and adolescents, which maybe as parents we’d love to have some more practical tools, as well. Let’s talk about anger. Kids get angry. Sometimes my instinct is, “Hey, you don’t need to be angry about that,” which clearly doesn’t work, because they are angry about it. What kind of practical skills can you give parents for dealing with kids who are having anger for the first time and figuring out how to manage that?
David Thomas [00:09:12] I would say first it is super common for boys. That’s not to say it’s not for girls. I think research would tell us at around 9 to 10 a boy’s brain will begin to channel all primary emotions into anger. It’ll show up as that, but it’s often… We talk about how anger is a secondary emotion. There’s always something underneath. Underneath that presentation of anger with boys is often fear, or often sadness, or often I’m embarrassed, whatever it may be, but its presentation looks angry, volatile. Sissy mentioned a little bit earlier that boys have a lot of physicality to their emotion. That anger can be—I call it outward movement—a lot with boys. It’s why toddler-age boys are more prone to hitting, biting, kicking, screaming in classrooms. Teenage boys are a bit more prone to punching holes in drywall. It’s that presentation of the physicality of the emotion and needing a release. That’s another place where I love educating boys and parents on that. That’s normal. That’s a part of how God hardwired you. That energy and intensity is a gift and can be used in so many amazing ways. It can also be something you turn on yourself and on relationships that are really important to you. It’s vital that you figure out what’s underneath. But I don’t think that boys can do that work of figuring out what’s underneath until they’ve done some releasing of the physicality of it.
Mike Siciliano [00:10:37] I already said I have girls. But that’s something that as a parent I can just imagine. Your four-year-old, five-year-old, eight-year-old needs this physical release and is being violent, is hitting somebody, or your 12-year-old punches a hole through the wall. As a parent you might wonder, “Oh, my gosh, is this some sign of I have some deviant in my house that is destined for…?” What you’re saying is that’s a part of a boy’s natural development of figuring out what to do with that.
David Thomas [00:11:09] I think it’s an invitation to… We talk in “Are My Kids on Track?” about a milestone we call resourcefulness, of just taking the emotion to something constructive. It’s an invitation to say, “Okay, we need to develop more resourcefulness. Let’s figure out how to do that.” I talk a lot in that book about creating an actual space for kids to go when they’re feeling that intensity and they need a release, and putting some tactile and movement experiences in that space where they learn that’s where I go when I’m struggling. Not where I go when I’m in trouble, but where I go when I have these big emotions welling up inside of me. The journey of going there is as important as ending up there, because learning I don’t need to use another person, someone or something, to help me work through my emotions. I have the resources inside of me to do that. I think that’s key. Otherwise, I think a lot of boys turn their moms into their primary resource, and they work out a lot of their frustration, anger, fear, those things within that relationship. That’s not saying I don’t want them to experience the safety of that relationship. I certainly do. Their mom’s helping them do a lot of great brainstorming. I don’t want them to become their coping skills. I want them to be developing those skills on their own. For anyone listening who has kids 12 and under, those kids in terms of their cognitive development are in what we call concrete thinking. The world is very black-and-white. When we have an actual space for them to go to, it’s a great fit for the way they learn and the way they experience life, a concrete experience. Yes, I go to this part of the house when I’m struggling, and I use these tools to help me when I feel a lot of that anger. I don’t know what else you’d say.
Sissy Goff [00:12:48] It’s so interesting to hear you talk because my experience around girls and anger is just so incredibly different than what you experience with boys. I talk to a lot of parents of younger girls who are angry at home. As David talked about anger being a secondary emotion, most of the time I would say it’s about anxiety, especially if it’s an oldest girl. I am at the point where I think most oldest girls have some degree of anxiety. For a lot of them, they don’t know how to process it yet, so the only option they have is to get angry. It’s the only way…
Mike Siciliano [00:13:24] They’re mad that it’s there.
Sissy Goff [00:13:26] Right. I think most of those girls will come back and say, “I’m sorry.” They’ll end up saying, “I don’t like to act that way. I feel bad about how I treated you,” maybe not in that language. Girls, I think so much more than boys, typically have such a desire to please that I feel like for a girl’s anger to supersede her desire to please makes me think there’s more to the story, and there’s something else going on that I want to figure out what it is. It can be anxiety. It can be ADHD that we talked about before. Girls with ADHD, I think it manifests differently than boys. As you all know, boys are going to be acting out in the classroom. They’re going to be disruptive. We’re going to start to see those ways girls maintain during the classroom. They can fly underneath the radar at school because they want to please. They’re going to use every ounce of energy they have during the day, and then it’s going to come out with their parents at night. But I think that lack of self-regulation can be a picture of that. But what I see most often for girls is I feel like—I don’t even know what I would say—maybe under the age of fifth grade I hear about angry girls, and then it stops.
Mike Siciliano [00:14:37] Really?
Sissy Goff [00:14:37] What I think is, the anger turns inward. They know it’s not acceptable anymore unless they have a really hard time regulating, or they’re a mean girl, and that’s a whole other thing we could talk about. But for the majority of girls, I think it turns inward, which is why when I sit with parents of little girls who are acting out and explosive with their anger, I usually will say, “It’s great she’s doing it because that same ferocity that you’re experiencing is going to be turned on her later. For you to be able to work it through with her now is a gift for the rest of her life for her.”
Mike Siciliano [00:15:10] Wow. What a perspective changer.
Sissy Goff [00:15:12] Girls are so hard on themselves. I have always felt that, but it is exponentially worse than it’s ever been. I think the earlier we can get them the tools, the better.
David Thomas [00:15:23] I was thinking as you were talking, too, that, to me, feels like another answer to your earlier question about the differences between boys and girls right there, where it wouldn’t be acceptable for a girl and is culturally acceptable for a boy. In fact, I don’t think we give boys much space to feel fear or sadness at that point. Anger is fine. We see that on any professional app like on ESPN on any given day, but not the fear and sadness. I think there’s another significant difference right there. We are going to have to work harder unique to gender in those spaces.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:59] Here’s an emotion that I think is especially applicable for a child school experience—we deal with this a lot—disappointment. What advice, what practical tools do you have for parents? Their child comes home and is experiencing disappointment about something. What should we be doing as parents?
Sissy Goff [00:16:21] I’ll tell you my favorite. Because we could talk about emotions on a 1 to 10 scale. I think we have mentioned this. More kids are…
Mike Siciliano [00:16:29] Before you say that, if your favorite is to call the school and complain, I might have feelings.
Sissy Goff [00:16:36] I know. That does happen. We get those calls sometimes, too, ourselves. No, that is not my favorite. But if we were going to think about emotions on a 1 to 10 scale, we are seeing more kids live at 10 than ever before—anger, sadness, anxiety, disappointment—and they don’t have a sense of how to regulate. We know sitting here as adults, most of life happens in the 3 to 7, but everything feels like a 10 for them. There’s no distinction of someone hurt my feelings or had a family member die. They just can’t tell the difference. Every disappointment carries this intense weight. What I have started calling it in my office, because I work primarily with girls, is a drama-meter. Not that I call it that with the girls, but with the parents I’ll explain this. With kids I will say, “Tell me the hardest thing you can imagine happening.” We’ll talk about what a 10 is for them. It’s typically losing someone that they really love. If as a parent you have that conversation in a calmer moment, then, when you pick your child up from school… You’re one who lives at a lot of 10 with disappointment or whatever, and you start with empathy. I think we’ve always got to start with a whole lot of empathy. “Yes, that sounds so hard. I can tell you’re really disappointed, and I can’t imagine what that feels like. What number do you think it was on your scale?” Then, I have so many kids who will say to me, “It felt like a nine, but you’re right; it was a three.” Which is so good for them to have that automatic perspective. They’re still expressing their disappointment. We certainly want them to talk about it, but we want them to talk about it with the milestone—we consider it a milestone—of perspective. What would you add?
David Thomas [00:18:22] I was thinking as we were talking, we go so quickly to the place of the downside of disappointment. We talk so much about resilience. It’s the birthplace of growth. If we don’t bump up against disappointment, struggle, failure, those are the places where every one of us knows we grow the most.
Mike Siciliano [00:18:44] It sounds so easy until it’s your kid that has… Even as a parent, maybe you see the logic in why they’re disappointed about it, and you just have this instinct of I got to take this away from them. How do I not do that, speaking hypothetically for all the people listening?
David Thomas [00:19:06] I think it is that constant reminder that we know that to be true, but living out that truth is a whole other thing. But I think I have to go back to that over and over again or else… We teach on the deficits of avoidance, and stepping into these places, and not letting kids experience. I know that; I teach it; and yet I can forget it in those moments with my own kids when I see them in those places. I have a good friend in Nashville who’s an administrator at a school. He was telling me just this week that one of his sons was trying out for a sport. He said, “You know, I’m just aware that he’s on the bottom tier of the kids who are trying out and might make the team possibly because he’s my son and I work at the school, and probably didn’t earn that place. I went to the coach and just said, ‘Please don’t do that.'” I was listening. I just had chills as he was telling me that. He said, “I felt both grateful and sick in saying that.” I thought, “Of course. Grateful because you know there’s opportunity for his good and growth in that space and sick because you’re thinking they’ll probably take me up on that.” Rightly so. I thought, “Gosh, what a courageous step to make.” This kid is a fifth-grader right now. What an opportunity to learn at a tender age before the stakes are higher to taste, and feel, and experience disappointment before kids are getting college acceptance letters, applying for internships, and first jobs. I love when you talk about families sitting around the table, and just talking about failure, and making that a regular part of your conversation so that kids see evidence of that on the grown-ups they trust the most in this world, whether it’s something silly like, “This is a ridiculous thing I did today, too. I got passed for a promotion today. Here’s what it felt like.” I think for any dads listening, I would say as we think about boys… I think boys so quickly because we as males value competence so much. We equate disappointment with failure. It’s not like it was a loss or something. It’s like, “I failed, and I’m bad.” We connected to that competence piece in ways that I don’t think boys can hear enough adult men speak to the dailiness of disappointment or the experience of loss in a way that is part of our human experience.
Sissy Goff [00:21:20] In the Bible, in the book of James it says, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” As two therapists who have been doing this for this many years, the strongest kids that we have ever met are the kids who’ve been through a lot of pain.
Mike Siciliano [00:21:35] James wasn’t lying to us?
Sissy Goff [00:21:37] No, he was not lying to us. We see evidence of it every single day. If your kids are in a season, to know that good things are growing inside of them even in this moment.
Mike Siciliano [00:21:49] That’s a great biblical reminder. Is it healthy for us to share our own disappointments with our kids? It seems like the obvious answer is yes, but I’m just realizing I don’t know that I do that yet. Does that help them?
David Thomas [00:22:05] Yes. In moments where you feel afraid and moments where you felt worried, all of those things. We talked a little bit with parents earlier today about mirror neurons that are firing with our kids all the time that are part of how they learn to tie their shoes, and water ski, and shoot hoops, and how much kids learn from observation more than information. When they can sit front row to the people they trust the most in this world talking about those things, it just gives so much permission and space to say, “This is normal.”
Mike Siciliano [00:22:34] I feel like I’m always trying to model not being disappointed or just rolling with it like, “Well, I guess this is how it is, and that’s okay,” but I’m not actually sharing in that I am feeling disappointment. That may be a key step that I’m missing, I guess.
Sissy Goff [00:22:52] I went and saw an author and priest named Richard Rohr speak. I don’t know how many years ago now—12. I should be able to say the math. I can’t get there. But he said, “You become an adult at the age of 32.” Well, I was 32 at the time, so I latched onto it. He said, “Because you realize two things: one is, life doesn’t work the way you thought it would, and the second is that you don’t work the way you thought you would.” Honestly, I would be curious what you would say about this, David. I think if I had to think about the biggest shift in parents in the last 10 years that has been the most detrimental to kids is that parents are rescuing kids more than ever, and preventing the disappointment, and stopping them from feeling anxious by fixing it for them. I can think of a family that I know. She did not get the office that she hoped to get at her school. Her parents sued the school. That is saying life should work the way you think it should. It always will, and if it doesn’t, then you storm the gates and do something about it. What a handicapping message for kids. I can’t even imagine what her adulthood is going to be like when she hits suffering that doesn’t produce perseverance because she gets stuck.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:15] I struggle quite a bit with that in the very beginning of James, where it talks about, “Consider it pure joy when you have trials.” I’m not very good at modeling feeling joyful when I have those trials. But part of what you’re saying feels very biblical in that we should celebrate our kids’ disappointment, because that is what is actually going to make them more godly and, honestly, also more happy people.
David Thomas [00:24:41] Yes. Well, and you think if we want to live the truth of that scripture out to the two stories that we told, there’s not a lot of space to sue the school when your kid didn’t win the class office versus the wisdom of that dad I was talking to, him saying I want him to experience this because I believe not making the team could be a fifth-grade boy’s way of experiencing suffering that would give way to building his character, that would give way to hope. That’s going to lead to these rich conversations they’re going to have together as a family.
Mike Siciliano [00:25:12] It’s a good segue to another thing I’ve been thinking about. We’re talking about a lot of these practical skills. But in your experience as believers, these skills are matching with the Bible, and with what Jesus is telling us, and what God has told us. I don’t know. Maybe you can talk more about the role of scripture and the backing of scripture in some of this stuff.
David Thomas [00:25:33] I’m so glad you asked because it reminded me we were talking about help for the body a little bit earlier. I wanted to mention one of the skills that we teach kids is scripture meditation. For kids who are experiencing worry, we love having them memorize, for example, II Timothy 1:7—”God did not give me a spirit of fear but a power of love and a sound mind.” There’s dual benefit, I think, for kids in that one. They’re speaking the scripture out loud to themselves, combating those worried or looping thoughts, as we’ve talked about. The second, they’re hiding God’s word in their hearts. I think about that with anger. When boys have released some of that physicality and intensity to memorize Ephesians 4:26—”In your anger do not sin.” We’re going to experience anger. That’s a normal human emotion. Don’t sin. Don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt other people when that happens. What does it look like, as we were saying a few minutes ago, to live out those truths with kids in those ways and making those scriptures real and come alive for them in their daily lives?
Sissy Goff [00:26:41] I think so much of what we’re talking about is the concept of II Corinthians 10:5 that talks about taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. We’re talking about anxiety, even. One of the things that the research says is that anxiety always distorts, and our feelings do, that living life at a 10. Grounding in truth, I think, takes all of us back to a place where we can get to more hope and more freedom.
Mike Siciliano [00:27:07] I have one more thing that I’m seeing that I want to ask you about. I confess, I’m totally guilty of this one. It’s been a lifelong journey for me. It’s also an antibiblical thing that I have struggled with—perfectionism. I see that a lot with our kids and, like I said, with myself. I don’t know if you have any practical tips for parents of kids if they’re starting to see that at an early age and maybe some skills that parents could help develop there.
Sissy Goff [00:27:44] I see it a lot with girls. There are a lot of girls who are perfectionistic. I think a lot of the conversation we’re having… One of the things I do with girls a lot is have them name their worries, calling it, for little ones, the worry monster; for high school kids, I’ll have them call it the worry whisper. I think with perfectionists they don’t necessarily attach so much to the worry monster, because it doesn’t feel like I’m worried about a storm or a tornado if you lived in Tennessee, but it’s more that I’m worried things aren’t going to look the way I thought they were going to look. I’m worried my schedule is going to get disrupted, something like that. I’m worried I’m not going to do it right. For them, a lot of times I’ll call it the control monster and have them talk about the control monster’s going to tell you if your brother comes in and messes up your room, you’re not going to be okay. What do you want to tell him differently? Back to taking every thought captive. What do you want to tell him differently, because that’s not true? Helping, I think, reinforce in them that they’re stronger than any lie that the control monster, their worry monster tells them. Also, I think—we talked about this a little bit—that idea of talking about failure as a family I think is so helpful for little perfectionists to hear their parents fail, mess up, feel like they didn’t measure up. I’m telling perfectionist families a lot, “I want y’all to go do something together that no one does well, where everybody is wrestling together, whether it’s a batting cage or…” I had a family two weeks ago that said, “Well, we’re all really athletic,” and I said, “Go pick pottery.” Whatever it is, do something that no one does well so you’re all strengthening that muscle together, and you can laugh. I’m a perfectionist, too. We don’t laugh at ourselves very much, and I think kids need to see us do that. What would you add?
David Thomas [00:29:27] It’s interesting. I was thinking even as you were asking that question, “I have lost count over the years with how many boys I’ve worked with whose perfectionism is on full display when playing golf.”
Mike Siciliano [00:29:42] Oh, man. It’s a tell.
David Thomas [00:29:43] Oh, my goodness. They lose their minds. Boys who are super compliant, great students, amazing in the classroom, and go off the rails on the golf course. I think, again, it’s often that athletic context is where it’s going to show up. I think, to Sissy’s great point, there is always a power and control phenomenon at play with anxiety for any one of us. To the degree that we feel out of control on the inside, we are going to try to control and manage something on the outside, whether it’s my golf game or any number of things. I want to say to you, too, your question makes a lot of sense to us. We are both firstborns and so we bend toward perfectionism. It’s a default setting. All of that makes sense. But I love when Sissy talks about that it wasn’t until she was further in life that she realized, “What is that accomplishing, exactly, for me?” It just looks high achieving, and I value excellence, and I want to do my best. And waking up to the reality, “Oh, no, it is about something else.”
Mike Siciliano [00:30:48] Biblically, we know there’s only one perfection, one perfect person. That was Jesus. It’s an impossible standard to meet, but it feels hard to internalize that. It’s taken me a lifetime to internalize that. I see it in our kids sometimes, too. Gosh, I have learned a ton today. I hope our listeners have, too. I know they have. Thank you so much for being here. We can’t say thank you enough for all the wisdom that you’ve brought to our community over the past couple days.
Sissy Goff [00:31:17] Thank you for having us. You’re so fun to talk to.
David Thomas [00:31:20] You really are. It’s been a rich conversation. Thank you.
Mike Siciliano [00:31:23] Who told you that you had to say that? Well, thank you again to both of you, and thanks to our listeners. It was great to have you back for another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. If this is your first episode, we’re glad you joined us. We have a number of others. You can find us on Apple Music, Spotify, and other places where podcasts are found. If you want to see the video podcast, you can check us out on YouTube, as well. We’ll be back with you with another episode soon.