The other morning, we sat outside on our porch and I gave Madi a notebook to write in. She sat down willingly but then began to shut down and I could see her anxiety building. Writing comes easily and naturally to me, it always has but Madi struggles with both reading and writing. Writing is an instant stressor for her and often creates feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. Knowing this, I decided to use soft music, a tool that has worked with her before, to help her feel relaxed and focused. At first she sat there stuck and frustrated then I told her that she didn’t need to write anything in particular and she didn’t need to spell everything correctly. I encouraged her to write whatever came into her mind and as an English teacher I once knew said, “throw up on the paper and edit later.” So she began to write …
She finished writing and handed this to me and I cried. I was so proud of her for processing her big emotions and not giving up. I gave her a hug and told her that I appreciated that she stuck with it even though it was hard. Then I said, “Look! Do you see how your mood changed as you wrote?” She smiled and nodded. Then we sat down together and edited the words she misspelled and she was open and receptive, feeling completely positive. It was a beautiful thing.
I have always found writing therapeutic, especially in terms of processing difficult emotion and anxiety. I struggled with anxiety from the time I was a child but did not know what I was dealing with until I was an adult. Because of this, I lacked the tools I needed to successfully and effectively process through my anxiety and this negatively effected many areas of my life and relationships. To this day, I am continually navigating this aspect of myself and learning to channel it in a positive way instead of allowing it to process through me as a destructive force.
Now as a parent, I have a child who deals with anxiety as well. Often, my own experiences with anxiety have helped me to model and facilitate the use of effective coping strategies for her. However, there are times that our anxiety bounces off each other and I struggle to maintain the calm composure she needs to learn how to process these heavy and challenging emotions. We have begun to refer to this as “crashing cars,” because sometimes when we are both struggling our emotional responses “crash” into each other.
Parenting has challenged me on every level of personal growth and development. It has made me aware of the areas in my life that are not so pretty and require intentional work to heal and create new path ways for negative emotions to become positive growth.
Recently, I’ve begun to use Carol Dweck’s Fixed vs. Growth Mindset research with Madi – the goal is to change the “I can’t” headspace to the “I can’t yet but if I keep trying, I will succeed.” In her book Dweck states, “For students with the growth mindset, it doesn’t make sense to stop trying … working harder was not something that made you vulnerable, but something that made you smarter.”
I am working to help Madi build a growth mindset while also giving her effective coping skills to help her process through the anxiety she experiences when things become challenging. When challenges become a positive rather than a negative, it releases the pressure of perfection and allows for creativity to flourish. Fear of failure causes the brain to shut down and stifles the ability to process. We remove the fear of failure when we allow for mistakes and see them as stepping stones to growth and success. When we operate from a growth mindset, we can step back and take our anxiety for what it is – a feeling. No matter how genuine, difficult, and valid a feeling it is, we do not have to allow it to control us and dictate our life. We can simply sit with it, allow it, and know it will pass. Then move forward and tackle the challenge head on.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
— Carol S. Dweck