A Big Kid in A Grown Up Body

Do we ever grow up? As a ‘grown woman’ with a husband, two kids and a dog I should be grown up, but I don’t feel like I am. When I’m dressed for work I tell people ‘I’m wearing my ‘grown up’ clothes’ and if my children scream, unable to cope with being the one in charge, I often just join in.

A study asked 2000, twenty somethings what life events would make them feel like an adult and 63% answered, “having a child.” On the other side of the coin there are those of us who have passed through that critical life stage and still feel like we’re 18.

I recently spent a weekend in the Alps for the wedding of a close friend who captures the essence of childlike charm (see photo): referring to kids as her little buddies, as a snowboarding instructor her job is the epitome of fun and her life in general is quirky and colourful. But she didn’t want kids at her wedding. Not because she doesn’t like them, but because (although I am presuming as I haven’t asked) they would take away the fun. When children are around we have to be more sensible, watching what we say and how we behave. With no distractions everyone could let their hair down without having to worry about the consequences. The result was a weekend full of laughter!

I came back down to earth with a thud on my return home. Relieved about school starting: a release from the constant need to referee, the opportunity to get on with my work and the chance to just ‘be myself’, in reality it brought the reminder that having kids is not just about ‘behaving ourselves’ when they are there. It’s about a myriad of other responsibilities: how they behave, curriculum events that need to be attended, teachers to talk to, forms to be filled in, homework to be completed (I never enjoyed doing my own let alone coaching someone else to do theirs), items to be remembered: piano music, hockey sticks, pencils, dictionaries, water bottles…… The stark contrast with my weekend away led me to ask my husband if I could resign, he told me that wasn’t an option.

Maybe the need to be a big kid is exaggerated in me; I’m the youngest by 5 years growing up with a big brother who let me get away with more than the average little sister. Add in 4 stepsiblings and I’m the youngest of 6, which inevitably embedded the expectation that I was never ‘the responsible one’. I also report as ‘mischievous’ and ‘excitable’ on one well-used measure of personality, neither of which point toward particularly adult behaviour. To that ends I probably also associate with friends who are also a little more ‘child like’ in nature, so maybe I just don’t fit the norm.

From a theoretical perspective I’m not considered normal – ‘feeling like a child inside an adult’s body’ is explained as “various ‘child parts’ not being fully integrated into our adult self.” Dr. Leon Seltzer, a clinical psychologist from California says that “when present-day circumstances tap into old, unresolved doubts or fears….we’ll experience ourselves in the same way we did in the past.”

But as a psychologist focused on ‘normal’ as opposed to ‘abnormal’ psychology, my professional opinion differs. While there are people who suffer from traumatic experiences, the childlike nature I’m referring to is more about curiosity, awe and well, just fun. I don’t believe I’m alone in feeling like I’m years younger than reality would suggest and resent having to let go of that.

But although everyone sometimes feels like a ‘Big Kid’, there is a helpful and an unhelpful version of this, being childlike or childish has its differences. I see numerous senior leaders behaving childishly: unable to manage their feelings (e.g. joining in when your kids are screaming – oops), emotionally unaware, selfish and narrow-minded. Where as I encourage leaders to be more childlike because having an open mind, curiosity and wonder enables far better outcomes. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon said:

 “You have to say, ‘Wait a second. Why are we doing it this way? Could it be better? Could it be different?’ That kind of curiosity, that explorer’s mind, that childlike wonder – that’s what makes an inventor.”

And this doesn’t prevent being adult, leaders noted for their wisdom, such as Nelson Mandela are also known as people who encapsulate this e.g. Mandela’s cousin said he “had a childlike spirit, even in his old age” (Nozolile Mtirara).

The positive outcomes of a childlike nature don’t just apply to leaders. Aside from the fun of being childlike, a youthful outlook has been shown to ward off cardiovascular disease and results in health habits that prolong life. Besides – it generally just makes life an awful lot more enjoyable. So while I personally span a bit of both childish and childlike – there’s nothing wrong with feeling like a Big Kid in a Grown Up Body.

As always – any thoughts or comments are welcomed…How old do you feel?

 

Links and References

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bailey-gaddis/i-dont-feel-like-an-adult_b_8913658.html

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolution-the-self/200812/the-i-feel-child-syndrome

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/the-average-brit-doesn-t-feel-like-a-grown-up-until-they-re-29-study-finds-10482689.html

Feeling young at heart may help you live longer

Terracciano, A., McCrae, R. R., Brant, L. J., & Costa, P. r. (2005). Hierarchical linear modeling analyses of the NEO-PI-R Scales in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Psychology and Aging, 20(3), 493-506. doi:10.1037/0882-7974.20.3.493

Protecting Our Daughters’ Happiness

Having two girls, today’s headline ‘UK Girls Are Becoming More Miserable’ grabbed my attention. It turns out that this ‘misery’ stems from issues with body image and poor self-esteem. The Children’s Society ‘Good Childhood Report’ gives evidence that girls as young as five worry about their size and appearance, and hearing parents talk about ‘dieting’ really doesn’t help.

I have a huge issue with my body image. Although I don’t disclose the true depth of my feelings I, like anyone will chat to friends about ‘feeling fat’ and ‘needing to go on a diet’. This is part of the social dance that we women play. But, understanding the complexity of body image (from personal and professional experience) I’m so careful to steer conversation away from even ‘light-hearted banter’ when little ears are listening.

While body image has been an issue for women across time, in our supposedly advanced and equal world these problems are exacerbated by one prevalent source – mass media.

Research carried out by Dr. Anne Becker, a Professor at Harvard Medical School, studied a population of young Fijian girls who had never been exposed to media. She compared their attitudes to body image before and after Western media was introduced. The results: the key factors associated with eating disorders increased significantly and the girls reported a much greater interest in losing weight and modeling themselves on celebrities. Broader research confirms that children and adolescents are particularly vulnerable to messages and images conveyed through media.

Mass media affects us all, but as adults we have the knowledge and experience to step back from information rather than let it saturate our thinking. Social media isn’t something we learnt to interact on as teenagers; it’s something we just ‘use’. For young people today it is part of their social infrastructure, it is intertwined with who they are and how they operate. They are in effect drowning in it.

MP Caroline Nokes, who fronts a campaign called ‘Be Real’ says young girls “can make decisions not to look at magazines and TV, but social media networks are the primary way they communicate and their main channel to the outside world.”

It’s a tall order protecting youngsters from the distorted world we live in. At only 9, I find that simply ‘watching what I say’ isn’t enough to protect my eldest. For example:

  1. People Compliment Her – why is this a problem? –I certainly don’t want people to stop telling her she’s beautiful (it makes me feel good too) but it worries me that outer beauty will become something she depends on. Looks are so fleeting and their judgement so subjective. It’s like watching my child balancing on a knife’s edge and I don’t want to see her fall.
  1. Peer Group Pressure – we’ve just been on holiday and she’s worrying that she hasn’t ‘got enough of a tan’. The girls at school will be sharing tan lines and comparing who got the most sun. I slather her in SPF50 but consequently have to reassure her that ‘getting a tan’ is dangerous for her skin, not something to be proud of. I fear this is just a slippery slope of judgments, evaluations and comparisons.

When these two ancient psychological drivers, looks and a need to belong, become entangled with social and mass media the results are toxic and potentially lethal.

What Can We Do?

Given the reality of our world, there are some pragmatic interventions (I ultimately believe a larger scale solution to this problem needs to be sought which I talk about in my book, but for now):

  • We can encourage schools to run media literacy programs – research shows that these enable youngsters to evaluate the content of programs and advertising more objectively rather than being drawn into it.
  • We can expose our youngsters to positive campaigns – such as ‘Be Real’ which aims to ‘change attitudes to body image and help all of us put health above appearance and be confident in our bodies.’
  • We should urge schools to empower young girls – providing them with realistic role-models and helping them understand how to appreciate their individuality, their unique talents and their contribution to the world.
  • We need to watch what we say – ‘praising children for acts of kindness rather than for their looks’, not talking about our own body woes or commenting on the appearance of other people carelessly. This may sound too ‘nanny state’, but whilst we have mass media to contend with our comments carry more weight than they have in any other generation.

Last but not least, it’s important to remember that while girls are more likely to be affected boys are also impacted, particularly given the increasing prevalence of mass media.

What are your thoughts on this – I’d be really interested to hear?

 

Links and References: 

http://www.berealcampaign.co.uk 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-37223063 

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792687/

Becker AE, Burwell RA, Gilman SE, Herzog DB, Hamburg P. Eating behaviours and attitudes following exposure to television among ethnic Fijian adolescent girls. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002;180:509–14.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education Media Education (RE9911) Policy Statement. Pediatrics. 1999;104:341–3

‘Bounce-Back-Ability’ Part 2 – Building Emotional Resilience

“How to Build Bounce-Back-Ability aka Emotional Resilience”

“Resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life. Everyone faces adversities; no one is exempt.” The International Resilience Project

While some people are born more Emotionally Resilient than others, it is something we’re able to learn and I’ll use the same headings as the last blog to discuss how. A number of people have contacted me asking how this can be developed in children, so this blog has a bent toward that. It does however apply to anyone, of any age.

 

  1. Positive Self Concept & Outlook – a belief that whatever is going on, you’re still in control of the situation rather than it being something that is ‘done to you’.

Having a positive self-concept isn’t something you can suddenly acquire but it can be nurtured. The elements involved are complex but can be broken down as follows:

Self Talk

The way we talk to ourselves is critical, yet we don’t often notice what we’re saying or how we’re saying it.

Just out of interest try observing the words you use to speak to yourself. Are you kind? Probably not, we tend to talk to ourselves in a way we would never dream of speaking to anyone else e.g. “You idiot, why did you do that?”

We put effort into thinking through ways of positioning things more gently with others e.g. “That’s OK it just didn’t work out this time.”

When we’re stressed or annoyed it takes effort to step back and think through how we’re saying things, but it’s worth it. The stories we tell ourselves become our reality, and the words we say to our children become their own internal dialogue for life.

Mindfulness can be very helpful for nurturing a kinder form of self-talk. For kids over 7 years try this free app:

http://smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app/

View of the Future

If you or your children are pessimistic about the future, gently challenge the thinking. Is it really going to be that bad? Are there really no other solutions?

Ask children how they’d like things to turn out and what they can do to make that happen (to divert thinking away from worrying about what they fear most). Encourage them to paint a picture with words or in a drawing of what they want things to look like.

Taking Responsibility

We tend to want to go in and ‘rescue’ children or people we love when things go wrong but that doesn’t help build their tolerance and capability for coping. Children, in particular, need to know what they are responsible for. Learning to accept the consequences of their behaviour helps them to understand the limit of their control and enables them to see that they can make a difference, whether good or bad, to the outcome. In turn this builds a sense of self-efficacy, a belief that they are in control of outcomes rather than things being ‘done to them’.

Problem Solving

It’s all too easy to become passive when things are tough but it’s important to help children, or whoever is struggling, to take decisive action. This prevents them from feeling that something is being ‘done to them’.

Encourage them to talk to people: to bounce ideas around, to ask a person who’s been in the same situation what they did. Help them understand how to get information on the situation.

Enabling someone to make a decision on what to do is empowering and builds a more positive self-concept.

Celebrate Success

Make a point of recognizing when your children have done a good job. Celebrate it. We all, grown ups included, need to feel like we’re important, that we can be proud of what we’ve achieved. It helps us keep going when things aren’t so great.

 

  1. Growth Mindset – a flexibility and openness, adjusting personal expectations depending on what is thrown your way and constantly being willing to learn and develop.

 Learning is key. Keep encouraging your children to learn and explore the world around them, to read, to try different activities, to meet new people and generally be observant, curious and questioning about everything. This is something we should continue throughout life.

As well as taking proactive steps to learn, reflecting on bad experiences is also a helpful aid to growth. When something goes really wrong, writing down what’s happened can help an understanding of how it might be approached differently next time.

 Research has shown that writing about an experience can help us to assign meaning to what has happened and why. Writing actually helps us to create new understandings and insights simply through the ‘act of writing’ (Jackson, 2007).

 

  1. Persistence – the ability to keep on going whatever is thrown at you.

 Whatever a child is trying to do, encourage patience, explain things take time and persistence. Help them to understand the baby steps that need to be taken to get to a bigger target.

Sport is a great learning ground for both nurturing persistence and watching it in action. For example when Andrew Murray was playing Juan Martin del Potro in the Olympic final he refused to give up. Watch that game with a child (or on your own) and get them to notice what’s happening, how fed up Murray looked at times, how hard he had to work to win. When the going gets tough it’s all too easy to say I’ve had enough, but the rewards are much greater if we don’t.

N.B. Regardless of whether they are winning or losing, remember to always praise children for not giving up. The same is of course true for adults.

 

  1. Strong Social Network – having strong interpersonal relationships and being willing to ask for help.

A broad social network is critical for everyone. Research has time and again shown how this helps bolster emotional well-being and even physiological health (Ozbay et al, 2008).

 Having trusting relationships, adults and friends who will offer care and emotional support, is critical for children.

Encourage children to form relationships with different people. Support contact with people who really care about them (and do the same for yourself) and help them work through who is best to talk to about a particular problem. Foster the notion that ‘asking for help’ is a real strength (not a weakness).

But if nothing else simply offer a child love. Being responsive to a child can help to actually “reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress” helping to protect the child’s brain, body and immune system. The same applies to a friend or relative who you know who is distressed.

 

  1. Emotional Awareness – an ability to understand and accept emotions, to manage rather than deny, suppress or give in to them. This may mean being sad, but not letting the sadness linger.

It’s not always easy to put what we are feeling into words, especially when we’re little, so we need to help children to learn how to express their thoughts and feelings. Comparing the emotion to something else can help e.g. ‘it feels like a brick on my head’ or ‘I feel like I’m a big balloon waiting to explode’. Or giving the emotions names e.g. ‘sad’ may take on the name of a cartoon character such as ‘Eeyore’ from Winnie the Pooh.

One of my favourite ways of explaining emotions to kids is creating a mindful glitter jar:

http://www.mindful.org/how-to-create-a-glitter-jar-for-kids/

Letting children know that it’s OK to feel anxious, upset or angry at times is really important. Research shows that encouraging children to be gentle with themselves helps to nurture emotional resilience (Bright, 1997).

Encouraging children to notice what other people are feeling is also very helpful. It not only dramatically improves the ability to relate to others but also helps self-development, which improves emotional resilience (Giordano, 1997).

 

Is that it?

Like all these things it’s not that easy, nor is it black and white. This only scratches the surface of a very complex behavioural concept. If nothing else, remember: to take care of yourself and those you love, be gentle with your mind (even if you are aiming to achieve great things your journey there will be a lot easier if you are) and that the most emotionally resilient people of all will always ask for help.

 

Links and References:

www.headspace.com

http://www.bibalex.org/Search4Dev/files/283337/115519.pdf

http://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/

Bright J. (1997) Turning the Tide. Demos Publishers, London.

Giordano B. (1997) Resilience: a survival tool for the nineties. Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses Journal 65, 1032– 1036.

Jackson, D., Firtko, A. and Edenborough, M. (2007) Personal resilience as a strategy for surviving and thriving in the face of workplace adversity: A literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60; 1-9

Ozbay F, Johnson D.C, Dimoulas E, Morgan C.A, Charney D, Southwick S. Social support and resilience to stress: From neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont) 2007;4(5):35–40