Helping your kids when they feel anxious about their decisions
June 12, 2023
[Kyle]: In today's episode we're going to talk about the anxiety of making choices and how we tend to approach that in some unhelpful ways, and I'm going to give you some new tips on how to help yourself and your kid come at that differently.
[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 76 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.
[Sara]: And I’m Sara.
[Kyle]: And today we want to talk about the anxiety about decision making, you know?
[Kyle]: There's a lot of decisions going on in people's lives this summer. I know this episode is coming out somewhere in June, and I know-- So, summer. The families right now who are listening are full into summer. Hopefully summer fun.
[Sara]: A lot of kids just graduated.
[Kyle]: That's right. So, we've been seeing a lot of on social media, you know, kids with parents our age. We had kids a little later.
[Kyle]: So, a lot of parents our age, their kids are graduating and they're making some big decisions, you know? But also, even just people I'm seeing in the practice, Sara, a lot of kids who are just teenagers in general, are making a lot of decisions about what school to go to next year.
[Kyle]: [Unintelligible] “do I go to private school? Do I go to public school?”, but a lot of parents too, there's a lot of anxiety in the air around the end of school and going into the new school year, you know?
[Kyle]: And the world in general just seems to be a more anxious place right now, you know?
[Sara]: Feels like it.
[Kyle]: Why is there so much anxiety do you feel like?
[Sara]: We're all very aware of the whole world, which we haven't been, and there's a lot of stuff going on.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, but I think it's also you're looking on social media, a lot of these kids are and parents. “Look, that kid knows exactly where they're going to go”; “Look, that kid--”, it seems like everybody else has a plan. They're-- I mean, going to graduate, they're going to go to that college, and that's for sure going to help them get a degree that's going to get them success, right? Or even kids who are younger, 12, 13, 14, they wish they could go to that other school, because they know friends who go there and they know that would definitely be a better school, you know? So, there's a lot of gripping, you know? Like, really-- Tension about “are we making the right choices as we're going into this next year, this next school year?”.
[Sara]: Yeah. We even personally feel some of that with sports or whatever their extracurricular stuff are, and you think “oh, this could lead to a scholarship someday” or “if you don't get them in early and while they're young, they won't be able to go as far”, you know? So, even just that thinking “do we enroll them in this?”; “Do we start this?” Or “how serious should we be about that?”
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: And you know, your kids might be six, eight years old.
[Kyle]: Yes, I know.
[Sara]: Four years old.
[Kyle]: And it seems so important right now, and even we have to struggle with that a little bit too.
[Sara]: Yes, yeah. We have some decisions on our plate that, you know, hear all this “well, you'd better do it now because it's going to impact ten years from now”.
[Kyle]: Well, and just so listeners know the way Sara and I decide the topics that we're going to speak on, sometimes it is stuff that we're personally dealing with, with our own parenting, within ourselves as parents, but also, we get it from people who tell us “hey, this would be a great topic, I'd love to hear about that” or it's a topic that keeps coming up when we're helping coach parents or I'm helping kids at the private practice, called Parenting Legacy. I'm seeing a lot of things coming up and in that, Sara, there'll be certain ways of thinking about it that come to me and I would-- You and I talk about it together and I'm just seeing a lot of relief on parents and kids when they just change how they're looking at this decision-making process, you know?
[Kyle]: So, then I think “man, we should share this. We should go and talk about it on the podcast” and before we dive into it, I want to make sure, you know, please, if this is helping you, if you're enjoying these podcasts, we'd love for you to give us a review on whatever platform you're looking at it. The more stars we get, the more comments we get, the more likely people are to see the podcast and we'd love so many parents throughout the world to have access to this. So, please leave us those comments, give us the five stars, all those things are great and if you have ideas for future podcasts as well, throw those out to us. So, you can reach us. You can go to our website at parentinglegacy.com and you can email us there or go to Facebook, Instagram. We're always getting messages from there about different ideas people have or things they like or things that help them. So, we'd love to get that feedback. Okay, so let's dive into it.
[Kyle]: Okay. Something I found, Sara, that I kind of took it from this angle was, lots of times when kids come in, it may not be something that the parents and kids really understand or think about. That they're trying to manage their anxiety and the way they're trying to do that is by making the right choice, you know?
[Kyle]: For the parents it may look like making the right choice to put them in that sport, or the right choice to, you know, demand they do homework or the right choices to “do I pay them for chores?”. Whatever the choice is, the parent is anxious and I'm sure listeners, you go “am I making the right choice? Are we taking the right path?”. So, a lot of times parents come to us just for that reassurance. They want to know “am I making the right choice?” or the kids like “am I picking the right college, am I picking the right degree?” or you know, all those kinds of things.
[Sara]: Because we kind of all learn the message in the world. The message-- I don't know, I feel like I encountered all the time. There's a right and wrong to all these choices and while we want to know there's consequences for choices, it also does create this huge anxiety, because you feel like “I've got to find my one path”.
[Sara]: And even religion can tie into that a lot.
[Kyle]: Uh huh, sure. Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: There's one path, and you need to do this one path, and you better get it right.
[Kyle]: You need to do it this way, yes.
[Sara]: You better get it right or it's going to be terrible.
[Kyle]: Yes. So, I'll use the word going into a religion kind of-- I'll use the word faith lots of times and talk about, you know, talk about faith, and we can supplement that word with trust, okay? So, it really kind of goes down to what the parent or the kid where they're putting their faith or trust and then, what I'd ask them-- I'd love for listeners to be thinking about this. “What do you see as the opposite of faith or trust?”, you know? And I want them to think about that for a minute and wrestle with it, okay? So, what do you think, Sara, more often than not they say is the opposite of faith and trust?
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, many of them will quickly say that. They'll say it's doubt, and because they see faith or trust as it's absent of doubt.
[Sara]: Yeah, yes.
[Kyle]: But really, when I'm helping them and I think even in counseling, we know this working with humans, that that's not how faith and trust works, that doubt is actually an integral component of faith and trust. You know, faith and trust by its very definition, is me believing in something I cannot see, you know? That I actually can't grasp or necessarily even quantify, you know?
[Kyle]: I like to say a lot, Sara, to the clients. I'd like to say to them “I have faith that my wife loves me. I have trust that you love me”, you know? And yes, there's always doubt there. I think in every relationship you have, there's doubt. But really the opposite of the faith and trust isn't doubt. I would contend its certainty, that it's believing it's certain. So, when I start to believe that your love for me is a certainty, what's a possible outcome to that? When I start to believe there's no doubt.
[Sara]: You might be wrong.
[Kyle]: You can't help yourself. You have to love me.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah.
[Kyle]: Right? It really takes away your free will, doesn't it?
[Kyle]: And then it also, I think it makes me take it for granted, you know? Because I think you have to love me.
[Sara]: Because sometimes you see that in relationships where people do act like it’s a certainty.
[Kyle]: Yes, yeah. Well, and obviously--
[Sara]: You do start to take that person, that relationship for granted.
[Kyle]: And they start to-- I mean, that's where we know marriages all over the world, they end in affairs, there's divorces. I mean, 50% of the-- At least in America end in divorce and I'm sure a lot of those people thought the love they had was a certainty, you know? And so, I'd like to think of your love for me not as a certainty, but as an act of faith or trust on my part. Now, I always tell them that you make it really easy to trust it, because you act very loving towards me. So, the doubt is minimal. I have minimal doubt. But to say that there's never times where we aren't acting loving towards each other and a little doubt can't creep in is just not being honest, you know? Because it can be there and same, I think, it's true with kids, you know? I think we as parents want to think it's a certainty that our kids know that we love them, right?
[Sara]: We hope.
[Kyle]: Yeah, but what is it kids--? Even our own kids at times say back to us when we've yelled at them or got mad.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah, they feel like you don't love-- “You don't love me!”. They feel like it.
[Kyle]: Yeah, and lots of times we and the parents that we help will say “that's ridiculous! Like, of course I love you!” and I know I think it too. “That's ridiculous! Do you know all the things I've done for you!? How can you not know that!?”.
[Sara]: “I love you so much!”. Yeah.
[Kyle]: But the kid is basically saying “you're making it harder for me to believe that when you act so unloving towards me in these moments”, right?
[Kyle]: And obviously, if I was yelling at you, it would also feel unloving towards you.
[Kyle]: And you could have this doubt in there of “if he loved me, why would he talk to me this way?”, right? Now, as adults, we have a little more understanding of that nuance, but I think kids, their almost black and white concrete thinking is very helpful in this because it is really honest. I know our son in particular, he gets real sensitive if we yell at him or get upset with him.
[Sara]: Right, right.
[Kyle]: And then, he'll come back with tears in his eyes and say “I just don't feel like you love me” and it is kind of a wrestling thing of like “that's nonsense”, but then also saying “yeah, I could see why he'd feel that way”, you know?
[Sara]: Rather we can understand it or not, they feel that way.
[Sara]: They're seeing the situation like that.
[Kyle]: 100%. Okay. So, the premise I'm trying to put out there that I think is helpful is, instead of looking at the way to move away from anxiety is to move away-- Is to move towards certainty, which I think is what a lot of people want, okay? They want to know-- I think it's even some people-- Maybe people who are listening to this podcast, right? Some people pick up parenting books, they're like “tell me the certain way to do this. What is the right way to parent?”
[Sara]: “And then I'll have a great relationship with my child. My child will grow up to be a successful, wonderful human if I just know these five steps” and that's sold a lot.
[Kyle]: It is sold a lot, yes and even we might even give that off, you know?
[Kyle]: Like, with a reel we're doing or so, it might seem like it's that simple. But actually, our goal isn't that, our goal isn't to make this thing certain for you. It's really to help build your trust in yourself and with your kid, okay? And that's the thing you're working towards. That none of this, even what we're doing. I mean, you and I both are licensed counselors. We've been trained by some really great people. We are very intentional, but we don't take it for granted that the relationship we have with our kids is so good, you know? We don't believe it's a given. The kids don't have to have a great relationship with us, you know?
[Kyle]: And I think that's always in the back of my mind, it's something that you have to work at.
[Sara]: It is. Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: And my mind is just going to all the places we look for certainty, you know? Diets, vitamins. You know, “this will guarantee my health forever”. Money, “if I work or go get this education or this training, or do this thing or invest in this certain way--”. But time and time history will show us. You know, stock market crashes or--
[Kyle]: Yes, you never know. Pandemic hits.
[Sara]: This certainty--
[Kyle]: Yes, yeah.
[Sara]: We seek it to feel safe and secure and guarantee our future, but that certainty just really doesn't fully exist.
[Kyle]: Well, and in this age of information, I think even more so, Sara, we think that certainty is within our grasp. I can just find--
[Sara]: If I can just search-- I can Google it enough.
[Kyle]: I can Google it, and then I know for certain, right? So, a lot of parents actually, I think their frustration and that we work with them on, is we're not selling that. I'm not selling certainty to them. I’m actually-- We're trying to help them get to a healthier place with their relationship with their kid, where it makes that outcome more likely, but it doesn't make it certain and anybody who sells you that is not being honest with you, because it's not certain, okay? So, with the kids, though, I think the kids in particular, they're feeling so anxious because most of these kids have been raised now in the information age their entire lives. They have been sold that whatever answer they need, they can just go Google it, or they can find an expert who will tell them.
[Sara]: “You can get certainty. Don't worry”.
[Sara]: “Look right here”.
[Kyle]: And it's not even to say, Sara, there aren't things that are certain. There are, right? Like, I don't trust gravity. I just believe it's certain, you know?
[Kyle]: I don't trust in my breathing. I believe I will breathe; I'll--. So, there's a lot of things that actually are certain, but the thing I want to draw a distinction to is relationships aren't, okay? That with human beings it's always going to take work, it's never certain, you know?
[Kyle]: I mean, even like animals to some extent, there is some certainty with animals, you know? I mean, if we train our dog this and this way, but even then, you have moments where “we're doing everything we thought--”
[Kyle]: I know. The dog does its own thing. So, with everything that has a brain and can do its own thing, there is always going to be a measure of trust that's needed to keep that relationship healthy and strong, okay? So, the kids are coming, and the kids are saying “how do I make these choices?” and they've seen their parents many times pursue this idea “if you're anxious, lean into certainty”, okay? So, the thing that blows these kids minds is when you reveal to them that's actually not how anxiety goes away. You know, anxiety, in just a simple definition, is me fast forwarding to the future and it's actually-- It’s a good feeling. I mean, it's not negative, it's not bad. You may not like it. It may feel, you know, kind of uncomfortable, but anxiety is there to say--
[Sara]: It’s a service.
[Kyle]: “Study for that test”, you know?
[Kyle]: But once again, it's not to say “study for that test and make sure you get 100”. It's just saying “if you study for that test, you're more likely to succeed”, you know? So, the anxiety says “I don't want a bad outcome, so I'm going to do something to try to make a better outcome”.
[Kyle]: Correct? So, that anxiety, I'm glad it's there. Kids who aren't anxious about their future, I'm kind of like, a little dumbfounded. Like, why wouldn't you be? Because you don’t-- The future is uncertain for you, son. So, there should be a little bit of anxiety about what's coming next.
[Sara]: Yeah. So, the anxiety is a natural thing. The anxiety is there to serve you in some way, give you messages and be a voice as you choose your path.
[Kyle]: Well, the anxiety is even saying that kid or that parent is aware that this outcome is not a certainty. That's what it's saying.
[Kyle]: So, we want to get rid of that feeling by becoming more certain, but I don't want you to do that. I would rather the kid or the parent lean into trust. Trust is what helps alleviate the anxiety. So, then that question would be then “where am I putting my trust?”, you know? So, even when a kid goes “okay, I could see that” or an adult says “oh, I get that”. Where am I putting my trust? Or some people might say “where should I put my trust?” and I'd just be more curious. Instead of throw the should out, just “where are you putting your trust?”. So, where are some places, Sara, that people tend to put their trust?
[Sara]: In knowledge.
[Kyle]: Okay, great. Yeah.
[Kyle]: Yeah. So, it's like accumulating information. Yes.
[Sara]: Yeah. Experts. Themselves. Their friends, advice.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Maybe mentors, right? They may go to a parenting coach, or they may go towards a counselor to kind of help them, you know? So, there's all different ways we pursue that trust, okay? I just think it's important for every listener to go “where am I putting my trust?”.
[Kyle]: “Where am I putting my trust?”
[Sara]: That self-awareness always helps.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Because then I can better understand maybe where I'm not putting my trust, you know?
[Sara]: Right. “Why I'm putting it here? Why am I putting it there? Is that serving me? Is there somewhere else I might want to look?”
[Kyle]: Yeah, and maybe I'm anxious because I'm putting my trust in something that's not that trustworthy, right? So, that's a good sign too. Maybe I'm anxious and it's not that I'm wanting certainty, it's just that thing I've been trusting is unreliable, you know? So, it's not that trustworthy I keep trusting in it, you know? It's very much similar to a lot of parents can feel that when your kid has a boyfriend or girlfriend and you're like “why do you keep trusting in what they say? They seem to keep giving you wrong answers”, you know? So, you can see that where kids sometimes put their trust in sources that aren't that reliable, you know? So, it goes back to “where am I putting my trust and why am I putting it there?”, you know?
[Kyle]: So, I find, Sara, whenever I do this with kids, some kids who are kids who've grown up with faith homes, they'll say they do trust God. That's a place they put trust. They might even say they trust their parents, okay? And lots of them have mistakenly learned to only trust those two sources, right? And they haven't expanded that trust because this isn't about them just trusting one source. You're wanting your kid to have multiple places where they can put their trust to then make the best decision, you know? So, it might even be some kids say “I don't trust my parents, so I trust my friends” and I'd be like “well, I mean, is there something you can trust with your parents?” and I try to point them back to that too, because I think there is a lot there they can glean from their parents, you know?
[Kyle]: But I think the one they most struggle with, Sara, almost every time is trusting themselves.
[Kyle]: Okay? And why do you think that is? Why would that be so hard for them to trust themselves?
[Sara]: You're told not to trust yourself.
[Kyle]: How so?
[Sara]: Most of your life-- Well, even just-- Even from a little age, kids are told with their feelings, you know, “oh, don't worry about that”.
[Sara]: Or “You're fine. You're fine. That’s not a big deal”.
[Kyle]: “Don't be scared, go back to bed. There's nothing there”.
[Sara]: Yeah. So, they get the message “oh, this thing inside of me that's saying--" Whatever it might be “I'm hurt, I'm sad. Oh, no, I'm fine. Okay. Okay, I'm fine”. So, they learn to just disregard and that inner voice is wrong. It's just wrong. So, I need to look outside to know what I am--.
[Kyle]: “People outside of me always know better than I know myself”, right?
[Kyle]: And I think there's a flip side to it. Some kids I do run into that do trust themselves, they disregard everybody else. They only trust themselves. So, I hope what everyone's-- The listeners are hearing, I'm not advocating for either of those, but I find more often than not it is the kid not trusting themselves.
[Sara]: Yeah. Well, and obviously, if you have a four-year-old who's terrified of thunder in a storm and you know they're safe, they're safe. But they feel not safe, so it’s more-- I mean, this is a whole different conversation, but it is that we're not saying “oh, you need to say ‘you're right, you're not safe! You're not safe!’”.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah.
[Sara]: Right? But it's that honoring what they're feeling inside of their body and then helping them connect.
[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, I would say it's honoring, it's also helping them tune into it, right?
[Kyle]: Because sometimes they are giving more weight to it than is necessary, right? But to give no weight to it at all is detrimental, right?
[Sara]: Right. We don’t
[Kyle]: So, I'm really wanting the kid to tune into that and learn how to take into account it's not the sole source of information, but it is a very vital source of information, you know? And many of these kids have been taught to only trust people outside of them, specifically their parents. Because, like you said, from a very young age, they've been taught to disregard it or to naturally have a suspicion for it, you know? Almost like the message has been sent to some kids that the thing within them is actually bad or evil, you know?
[Kyle]: So. don't listen to it at all, just listen to us. Always do what we say rather than actually listen to what you want to do and then advocate for that, right? So, I think it's really important with these big decisions, if you're seeing your kid anxious, if you as a parent-- I know, like I say, even with these decisions we're making, if there's this anxiousness in there, the first step I want to do is go “am I seeking certainty? Am I trying to seek out information just to make it to where I know for sure that's the right thing? Or am I leaning into trust?”, and what I mean by that, trusting myself, trusting my kid, trusting other people in my life that have been trustworthy and have wisdom to share with me, you know? And none of them are the sole source, you know? All of them have something to offer though, you know? And I think the more-- Not that you need like, 20 people, you know?
[Kyle]: But I think having three or four trusted voices that you can bring together to make a better decision, and I think that's one of the coolest skills you can teach your kid is how to do that, you know?
[Kyle]: And I really feel honored when parents bring their kid to me to let me be one of those voices, you know? But even then, I don't want to be the sole voice that's actually unhealthy. It'd be unhealthy if the kid thought I was the only one that knew what was best for them. I really do believe they know something about that too, you know?
[Sara]: Yes, yeah.
[Kyle]: So, this is why how we parent is so important, because inevitably we want to raise kids who trust themselves and have trustworthy people in their lives, because there is always going to be anxiety in this world, and they're always going to be facing anxiety. So, one of the things we can do as parents is really join hand in hand with them, to teach ourselves how to trust what's in them and also to teach them how to trust what's in them too, and how that we can trust each other on this journey. Because we want to do this. We want to co-create that future together and the more you're with me, Sara, the less anxious I am about it because I know it's going to be okay. Because even if we make a choice that sucks and it goes sideways, you're with me, you know?
[Sara]: Yeah. That’s what I was thinking, it's not guaranteeing that the future will be exactly what you want, that there will be no obstacles, there'll be no-- You know, even catastrophic things that come your way. But with that group of people, it's trusting that you can navigate those things and you might even change courses completely, you know?
[Sara]: Easy one is a degree. “I'm going to go and do this”, and you’re all-- Maybe you're all on board with it and then two years into that program, you realize that's not for you and you're going to change.
[Sara]: Maybe I'm go to a different school, but this is more knowing that I've got these people and I'm listening to myself, that I can navigate those waters.
[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, and so, I really hope this inspires parents to move towards trust, help your kids move towards that. Let's move away from just seeking certain answers about everything, okay? When that anxiety comes, “what am I trusting in? Where am I putting my trust? How are we leaning into trusting each other more in this decision-making process?”. Because they need to know they're not alone in this process and they need to know, even when you're not there, that there is a voice within themselves that they can trust and listen to, you know?
[Sara]: It's okay to do that.
[Kyle]: And I think-- Not okay, but vital.
[Sara]: Yeah, yeah.
[Kyle]: They need to listen to that, right?
[Kyle]: And I think sometimes we as parents, we overemphasize listening to our own voice, because we get afraid if they just listen to that, where it's going to take them, you know? And that's detrimental to them trusting it within themselves. So, I hope this helps you understand anxiety a little differently, that this isn't a podcast meant to answer all questions about anxiety, but it is to just give you a different framework of just shining a light on how we tend to want to get answers, so we can no longer feel anxious. But every relationship requires two important things: trust and risk, and you aren't going to get rid of those.
[Kyle]: Every decision has an element of trust and risk, and those aren't just going to go away and you actually should be a little suspicious when you're thinking it requires neither of those, you know? Because then I'm probably diluting myself on that decision, you know?
[Kyle]: So, I hope this was helpful for you today and helped you kind of come alongside your kids more and even, you know, maybe as a couple, to lean into each other more about these decisions you're making together as couples about your future, about your kids’ future, about the goals you're setting together. To lean more into that, to understanding each other more deeply and trusting each other more, and I hope it helps alleviate some of that anxiety a little bit on these big choices going forward.
[Kyle]: So, just want to say thank you for listening. We always appreciate you taking the time, and we love the feedback and please share this, especially with kids you know are going off to college and going into their senior year and need to make some choices. This has really been helpful to a lot of kids that I've seen in practice. So, I want to tell you, just have a great day.