Parenting Kids With Anxiety
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We want to help our kids with their anxiety, but how? Sissy Goff talks about when our children might need counseling, the voices that speak into their lives, and the hope we have in the Lord.
Parenting Kids With Anxiety
Ann: I feel like you have never been anxious. I feel like you’re one of the most laid-back, easygoing people I know. Is that true?
Dave: Yes; let’s close in prayer, and we’ll be done. [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: We have Sissy Goff with us, again, back on FamilyLife Today. Glad you’re with us again.
Sissy: Me too! I could do ten of these! It’s just so fun to talk to you.
Ann: Oh, don’t tempt us! We totally could! [Laughter]
I like where we’re going today. We’re going to get into some real practical things. And we have been doing that, Sissy—you’ve given us some real tools; you’ve given us help with our daughters, with our sons, and really with us as parents, of knowing what to do—so we want to dive deeper into that today.
Dave: Yes; Sissy’s a therapist, and she’s been counseling us for the last/for this whole week! [Laughter]
Ann: If you haven’t listened to our earlier podcasts this week, go back and listen to them; because they’re really helpful.
Dave: Her latest book is called Brave: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Beating Worry and Anxiety. We’ve had a great time this week talking about all kinds of things.
I thought it was just going to be adolescent girls or boys, but it’s also us. I mean, we’re talking about the places we live; right?
Sissy: That’s been one of the most fun kinds of feedback I’ve gotten from folks when they’ve read the books, especially the parent book, Raising Worry-Free Girls. So many parents have said, “I started reading, for my daughter, and realized that I have anxiety, and it’s been so helpful for me.” I love that; because anything’s going to trickle down, any way we’re learning and growing as grown-ups.
Ann: We’re learning more and more about anxiety now—aren’t we?—than ever before.
Ann: Why didn’t we know about it before? What happened?!
Sissy: We didn’t know about so many things before.
Ann: Yes, even how the brain functions, and what’s happening neurologically has been really helpful and opened a lot of doors of understanding.
It’s been interesting; this past month, I’ve had two friends sit with me, talking about their teenage daughters, who have been this joy to raise; they’ve been great girls. But now, both moms have 16-year-old daughters—and they are, the first time, struggling really horribly with anxiety and depression—the one mom said, “I don’t know what to do,” and the mom was in tears. As parents, if we’ve walked through this, you know what is creating in your own life, the worry, the fear, and the anxiety in yourself.
But she [mom] was saying she’s [daughter] dropped out of all of her sports; she no longer wants to do anything as a family; she’s holed up in her bedroom, won’t come out. The mom was saying, “And then the other night, she said, ‘I don’t see any purpose for me even being here anymore,’” which then, as a parent, that escalates all of our fear and anxiety.
The other one said, “My daughter just found out that she has a learning disability. She’s struggling being back in school now;”—after the pandemic—“and this anxiety has risen, and we don’t know what to do,”—again—“She doesn’t want to do anything, and she doesn’t talk to us.”
I have felt ill-equipped in the past, other than saying, “Man, I’m going to be praying; I’m going to be fasting for your daughter.” I’ve heard of some resources, but I feel like today we can really give some great resources.
As parents, I think we all have the question: “When should we take our kids to a therapist? How do we know?”
Sissy: I think my answer today would be different than it would have been pre-pandemic.
Sissy: What we saw—we talked about this a little bit before—going into the pandemic, I was most worried about elementary-age girls, because they were the ones who were feeling so much anxiety. Then, as it started [pandemic]—adolescents—anxiety just skyrocketed in them; and then they ended up being isolated. As we all know, for teenagers, I think what brings them to life are their peers so much of the time. So all of this has done such a number on these kids. So many of the girls that I see have been through exactly the same process that you described.
Sissy: Yes; it started as anxiety, and then it went on long enough that it’s bled over into depression.
I think, if you’re listening today, and you’re thinking, “Should I take my child to counseling?”—honestly, I wrote all these anxiety books as kind of a first pass—life if you’re wondering, “Could my child have anxiety?—could this be what’s going on?” then buy the book. I jokingly talk about, in the books, that they’re meant to work people, like me, out of a job. [Laughter] I mean, my hope—it really is.
Sissy: It’s like we’ve talked about the first few months of counseling; it’s what I do in my office.
If your child has anxiety—I would start there—or you think they might. Then, if you’re using these strategies—because there are some real practical things—if you’re doing that for three months, and it feels like you’re making no progress, that’s when I would call somebody.
Sissy: But if it feels like it’s spilling over into depression, especially—the times I get most concerned about adolescents is when they’re isolating—let me give a caveat to that, because teenagers are tricky. You all know; you’ve raised them.
Dave: They’re pulling away.
Sissy: They’re pulling away; and they want more privacy than they’ve ever wanted, and they’re less responsive at home than anywhere else.
Sissy: They look depressed when they’re with you, just by nature of being teenagers. We have a book called Raising Girls. We call girls in those years “the narcissistic years”—[Laughter]—I mean, they just are; they’re difficult. A lot of that’s happening inside of them—and they feel it too—it’s not just on us.
But when I get concerned about a teenager is when it’s not just at home:—
Sissy: —when their sadness/when their sullenness exists among their friends; when the things that they have loved don’t feel like they bring them pleasure anymore; when they’re pulling out of activities; and especially, if they say anything like, “I don’t want to be here anymore; life doesn’t feel worth it”; if they’re hurting themselves in any way—I would immediately pick up the phone and call a counselor.
Ann: Okay; how do we know?—what’s the difference between anxiety and depression?
Sissy: Depression often is more of that kind of lifelessness—it’s a withdrawal from a lot of things—it’s sadness that they just can’t shake.
Sissy: Whereas, anxiety will really kind of ramp them up more, typically, and they’re more agitated; it’s going to come out as anger. You’re hearing them talk about certain themes over, and over, and over, like we talked about that loop. There are certain things that you can tell are making them more anxious.
Dave: As you’re sitting, either with a parent or with a/let’s go with an adolescent girl—we’re on teenage girls; so let’s talk about a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old girl—and it doesn’t seem to be getting through—I mean, do you ever find like it’s getting blocked?
I know, as parents, sometimes we feel that: “I’m saying the right things,” “I’m getting around the right people, and it just seems to be blocked.” What do you do? At least, help us understand what’s happening. Why can’t we seem to make progress in the anxiety, and the worry, and the fear, and maybe even depression?
Sissy: I think, often, it’s simply because of development. Our voices get quieter and other voices get louder for them, particularly their peers. I think adolescence is when we want them to have other voices that we trust in their lives. It’s such an important time to pull in—which is where coaches have so much impact, teachers, youth group leaders—any other grown-ups that you trust that can speak truth into their life.
I think that’s where a counselor—I mean, it’s in the thousands the amount of times, over the years, that I have said something to a child—that their parent comes back to me and says: “Well, they said you told them, ‘Blah, blah, blah,’” and “I have told them that
400 times in the last year.” But, because I’m a new voice, they’ll hear it differently.
Ann: We’ve said that about our kids over and over again—where they’ll be teenagers and they have mentors in their life—and they come home with this profound thing their mentor has said. [Laughter] We’re like, “Are you kidding me?”—we said this alone in our bedroom—“We have said that a million times, and they never even heard it; but this person…” But we are thrilled—
Ann: —because we don’t care who it’s coming from—we just want them to get it and to hear it.
Sissy: I love that you would say that you’re thrilled, because I think it’s painful sometimes for parents.
Ann: Yes; you feel rejected.
Sissy: Right; developmentally, they’re pulling away from you, as they are supposed to; they’re individuating. And then, all of a sudden, they’re coming home, talking about this teacher all the time; or their best friend’s mom, who they think is the coolest mom that’s ever been on the face of the earth! And you don’t want to hear another word about her!
Sissy: I actually had a mom say this to me one time—I thought it was so fascinating—because I think it’s intuitively what I have felt, and I’ve never heard anybody put words to.
She sat down—and her son was seeing David Thomas, who I’ve talked about before, kind of my counterpart—she said/the first time I ever met her, she said, “Okay, Sissy, I just need to tell you the deal.” She said: “My son is seeing David Thomas and has seen him for a couple years,” and “I am so grateful for David in his life, because my ex-husband does not know how to talk about feelings. So he needs a man that can talk about feelings with him.”
She said, “I am now bringing my 13-year-old daughter to you, because I know she needs other voices; but let me tell you that you threaten me.”
Sissy: She said, “Because right at the time in her life that she’s going to stop talking to me, I’m bringing her to you so she’ll start talking to you; and I’m paying you for it.” [Laughter] That’s so true! You’re getting a bummer of a deal in a lot of ways!
Ann: But that’s a brave parent.
Sissy: It’s a brave parent.
Ann: You talk about two things that are required to break free of anxiety in your book—you say persistence and determination—talk about those. What does that mean?
Sissy: Often, kids will come back, or parents will come back, and say, “The tools didn’t work.” It’s because they tried it for a week or two weeks. Like we talked about before—about how the amygdala becomes hyper-responsive—also, our brains create these well-worn pathways/neural pathways; so it takes a long time to change behavior and to change the way that our brains think. It is not an easy/you don’t just think, “I’m going to get over this anxiety. I’m going to do this two times, and I’m going to be better; it’s over.”
Ann: Oh, that’s good to hear, parents. Did you hear that?
Sissy: Yes, it takes a lot of determination, which is where I think—when we can reward kids; when we can praise kids; when we can have other voices, who are helping echo/cheering them on—I think all of that is so important, because they’re going to have to hang with it for a long enough period of time to start to see the difference.
Ann: Give us a number.
Sissy: I usually will say—I mean, when families will start in counseling, I will usually say to plan on, at least, three months—if not six months—before you can start to see a difference.
Ann: Okay; that’s good to hear.
Dave: It is interesting. One of our—you maybe/maybe don’t know this—one of our taglines for FamilyLife Today is we offer: “Help for today, hope for tomorrow.” Two of the three parts of your book are “Help” and “Hope.”
Sissy: That’s so true!
Ann: I thought that, too, Dave.
Sissy: I love that!
Dave: I think we’ve talked a lot about help.
Dave: Let’s talk a little bit about hope—because after days, or weeks, or maybe even months, and you’re not seeing progress with your child/maybe your daughter or your son, and you sit in that chair with these kids—you lose hope. How do you keep hope when you’re not seeing what you’re hoping to see?
Sissy: I think, “Pray a lot. Pray that God would keep refreshing your vision for where they can be and who they can be.”
I think having—we’re talking about kids having other voices—I think, as parents, you need other voices. You need other people/friends you can sit with that are cheering you on along the way. I think that’s a huge piece of it.
And just being connected to God yourself. I mean, I think you have to—I have always felt like self-care was important for parents—I’ve never felt like it was as important [as] particularly spiritually. If we’re not receiving, spiritually, we’re not going to have anything to give; and we’re going to run really short on hope. So being connected in that way, I think, is really important, that we just anchor to a lot of truth.
I think that’s where, too, circling back to the kids and saying: “Hey, I know you have to be frustrated. I can tell it doesn’t feel like things are shifting. What can I do to help?” “What would that look like, for me to step in? Would it help for us to create some kind of incentive? Like, when you really feel like you’re past this, differently than you are now”—I don’t mean 100 percent free of it—“when you’ve made some real progress, what can we do to celebrate that’s something you can look forward to?” I think kids need things to look forward to.
In the book, I talk about John 16:33, about: “In this world you will have trouble; but take heart, I have overcome the world.” When I wrote the first two books, one of the things I talked is how I felt like we were seeing this thing happen with kids, where their emotional life—I felt like kids were talking about their emotions more; they understood their emotions more than in almost three decades that I’ve been counseling kids—I felt like they were better versed than I’d ever seen them be.
But I felt like their faith—the two were running parallel—their faith was not intersecting with their emotional lives at all. I didn’t feel the sense of hope in kids—or I felt less of a sense of hope—than I’d ever felt, which really concerned me. I think, when I went back to what might be at the root of it, I felt like part of it was partly because of the social media world that we live in. You know—you think about pre-pandemic—how many hashtags of “Living my best life”; and how many “Best day ever”—all that stuff. I don’t see that anymore. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, you’re right!
Dave: “Best year ever!” [Laughter]
Sissy: Right; yes, exactly. I think that was part of the problem. I think we had stopped—I’ll call myself out—I don’t think I was doing a very good job of teaching kids what it looks like to live in a fallen world. So I think, when their life felt fallen/when they were feeling the effects of sin and pain, I think they felt like: “Something’s wrong with me,” or “It’s only me.”
Ann: Because the rest of the world seems happy, and beautiful, and wonderful.
Sissy: The rest of the world’s living their best life; right.
Ann: “But my life looks so dreary and normal.”
Sissy: “Something is wrong.”
Dave: The truth is: “The rest of the world isn’t.”
Ann: They’re just pretending.
Dave: It’s just a façade.
Sissy: Right; but even the church, it’s what we have been doing, I think, on social media, the way we present things.
I’ll never forget—at Daystar—we have individual counseling; we have groups; and then we have a little summer program called Hopetown for the kids, who are coming to counseling; it’s a little camp. Our director does most of the teaching and devotionals with the kids. She looked at this group of seventh and eighth graders, and said to them, “I don’t know who told you your life wasn’t going to be hard, but they were wrong. It is; we want to expect trouble. That’s part of that verse: ‘In this world you’re going to have trouble, but we have hope, because He overcame the world [emphasis added].’”
I think they just weren’t grasping that. I really think, leading into it, I felt like it was the least resilient generation of kids I had ever seen. I want to say, very strongly, that I think these kids, [who] have lived through this pandemic, are going to be the most resilient kids we’ve seen in decades.
Ann: I am with you.
Sissy: I think they’re going to have more strength and more hope, because they have faced trouble.
Sissy: They have had to lean on Jesus. I think their faith will have been strengthened in really profound ways.
Dave: The truth we all know—and yet, it’s hard to let your child go through it, as a parent—is: “Adversity builds character.”
Dave: It just does!
Sissy: “Suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character…” and then it ends with “hope”!
Dave: Romans 5!
Ann: “Consider it joy, my brothers”—and sisters—“when you encounter various trials.”
I want to echo that: one, God knows exactly when they were going to be born, why they were going to be born; He has a purpose and a plan. And our God wins!—like we win! Ultimately, to speak into our kids, “Man, I can’t wait to see all that God has for you.”
Dave: That’s hope—
Ann: Yes, it is hope.
Dave: —and help.
Sissy: Yes, both.
Dave: I would say this—wrapping up a week with you, Sissy—it’s been awesome.
Ann: —a joy.
Sissy: Oh, for me, too, y’all!
Dave: I mean, you haven’t just helped us, you’ve helped thousands; you really have.
I was thinking, “If you’re a parent, and you’re really struggling—maybe it’s anxiety; maybe it’s anxiety about your children, which we all—
Dave: —boy, we have it every night as a parent; you’re just so gripped with anxiety—I think of Matthew 11:28, which is one of my favorite passages, where Jesus says, ‘Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden’—that’s like anxiety, that’s worry, that’s carrying burdens for ourselves or for our children—‘and I will give you rest.’”
There’s part of me that thinks the parent has to lead there first. You can’t expect your child to go there if you’ve never. So, man, if you’re struggling, this is your moment to say, “You know what? I need to lay this down. I need to go to—I am in a world that’s going to be hard and troubled—but there is a Victor, and there is One I can find rest in.” Then I need to model that for my child. Lie in bed at night, put my head on the pillow, and go, “God, You have her,”/”You have him. In fact, You love them and care about them even more than I do; and that’s how I’m going to lead.”
Here’s the last thing I’ll say: as I was listening this week, I thought, “Oh, this is great for parents”; but I thought, “I think it’d be really good for a parent to grab his adolescent daughter, or teenage son or daughter, and listen to these programs together; and then say, “Let’s talk.”
Sissy: I love that idea.
Ann: It’s a great idea, Dave.
Dave: Can you imagine what your teenage daughter may say? “Hey, could you hit pause there? Can we talk about that? Because I feel what Sissy said.”
Ann: Or maybe if you are not listening together—at least, you both listen—and then come together over a meal, or over a walk, or whatever, and just talk about those things.
Dave: Yes; or get the book and read it; or do both.
Bob: As Dave and Ann Wilson just suggested, if you’d like to re-listen to this series with Sissy Goff—listening with your teenage son or daughter, and pausing from time to time to say, “Is that something you’re feeling?”—all of the programs that you hear on FamilyLife Today are available for download, or you can access them as podcasts. You can do that for any series you hear on FamilyLife Today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and the information’s available there; or look for FamilyLife Today wherever you get podcasts, and subscribe to FamilyLife Today. That way, if you’re not able to hear us on air any day, you can always hear us whenever it’s convenient for you. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you have any questions, or just look for FamilyLife Today wherever you go to find podcasts.
If you’re interested in a copy of Sissy Goff’s book, Brave, it’s a book we have in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the book is titled Brave: A Teen Girl’s Guide to Beating Worry and Anxiety by Sissy Goff. It’s available to you online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can call to order: 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I know, for many of us, the rhythms of summer are starting to fade away; and the pace is picking up for us in life. That’s happening, here, at FamilyLife. David Robbins, who’s the president of FamilyLife, is here with me. David, we have a lot happening this fall that we’re really excited about.
David: Yes, the summer has been a great time to really take space with the Lord, and really seek Him, and trust Him for what He wants us to do in this upcoming fall season and beyond.
We are really in acceleration mode when it comes to new resources that we’re developing. You may have picked up on that we are really trying to provide great resources, that are rooted in Scriptures, to help you grow in community as couples or as families. You know, Bob’s recent resource, Love Like You Mean It, was a small group we did that couples are really enjoying growing together with and watching and processing together. Dave and Ann Wilson had a Vertical Marriage small group, and there’s one coming this fall called No Perfect Parents small group. I can’t wait for you to get exposed to that.
We have some other things cooking that we are really excited about when it comes to this year. All of these resources have one purpose in mind, and that is that homes/people in homes—moms and dads, fathers and sons, husbands and wives—can be anchored in Jesus, and who He is, and what He offers.
August ends our fiscal year. This is a very important week for us, because we want to end in the black. It’s really important that we do that so we can go and accelerate into these new projects that we have, so we would love to hear from you this week.
Bob: Here’s what we’ve been asking listeners to do to help support he ministry of FamilyLife. We’re asking that, in every city where FamilyLife Today is heard, that there would be two families, who would step forward and say, “We want to join with you as monthly supporters of the ministry/monthly Legacy Partners.” Legacy Partners pray for this ministry regularly; they make a monthly contribution to support the ongoing work of FamilyLife Today. You really are the people who make sure that FamilyLife Today is available in your community and in communities all around the world. You make it possible as a Legacy Partner.
To say, “Thank you for your support of the ministry,” we’d like to send you a few thank-you gifts. One is a copy of Dave and Ann Wilson’s brand-new book, which is called No Perfect Parents. In addition, we have a collection of messages from Dave and Ann that we’re making available to you: some of these are messages we’ve featured on FamilyLife Today; others are messages listeners have never heard before. And we’d like to send you a certificate so that either you and your spouse, or someone you know who you’d like to gift this to, can be our guest at an upcoming Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. We’re hosting about 30 of these events this fall in cities all across the country. You will be our guests as one of our new Legacy Partners; we’ll send you the certificate for that as a way of saying, “Thank you.”
To become a Legacy Partner, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’d just ask you to pray and ask the Lord, “Would You want us to be one of the two new partners in this city?” Then respond as the Lord leads you.
Now, we hope you can join us back tomorrow if you’re a baseball fan—or honestly, even if you’re not—we’re going to hear from a guy, who was at the top of his game, playing baseball for the New York Yankees; but his life was at the bottom. His name is Darryl Strawberry. He and his wife Tracy join us tomorrow with a riveting story of God’s intervention in their lives. I hope you can tune in for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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