Over the next several months, I will be sharing excerpts from my memoir that I'm writing, titled Digesting Life. The story of my struggle and recovery from an eating disorder is the basis for what led me to create the KARMA Method, the signature coaching and therapeutic method used by Bespoke Wellness Partners. My hope is that maybe some of these stories will resonate with you or make you more aware of where you are on your specific journey with whatever struggles you may be facing. Last week, I provided tips I’ve learned that can help you gain control over your thoughts.
Since the age of 10, hiding in the bathroom and reading the encyclopedia was one of my most favorite activities. I thought it was incredible that with a flip of a page, I was able to learn something small about almost any topic. At that age, I didn’t realize the power of education and that it would become the main vehicle that would eventually help me overcome my eating disorders. I read in secret because education wasn’t encouraged where I came from and I was embarrassed that anyone would find out and make fun of me. Deep inside, I knew that education would be my salvation, and as I matured and was surrounded by educated people at the kibbutz, I realized that if I wanted to break the cycle of poverty I had to get proper education. This realization helped me keep my head up and motivated me to stay alive and push myself as hard as I could.
By the end of 10th grade, I was maintaining a GPA of 93, but only when I got a perfect score, was I truly satisfied… By 12th grade, with the stress of all the finals and projects I lost almost 10 pounds and when the counselors threatened to pull me out of school if I lost more weight, I promised to gain weight and go back to therapy. After I promised the group counselors that I would maintain my weight and do well in school, they agreed that I could stop therapy for the time being. I learned how to manipulate my therapist and tell her what she wanted to hear so that I could continue with my obsession of being skinny and escape to what made me feel so good, which is education. Looking back now, as a licensed psychotherapist and a mother to three teenage girls, I wish that someone else beside my therapist was there for me just to listen, care and guide me without being judgmental.
With the school year approaching (or having started for some), I thought it was a good time to discuss school-related stress and how it can affect everyone differently. A big part of Awareness (a crucial step in KARMA) is understanding your emotions and how stress can trigger certain emotions and actions. For some kids, school is a great outlet and a safe place. For others, even those who may like school, a sense of perfectionism like I had can contribute to unhealthy coping mechanisms. Below I want to share with you a few tips for helping your child/teen deal with school stress in a healthy way.
How can you help your children deal with the stress of school and adjustment to a whole new reality?
Tip 1: Just listen.
This one might sound obvious and simple, but in actuality, it is a very hard thing to implement and practice. If you think about the last conversation that you’ve had with someone and how you listened, what you will most likely find out is that when the other person is talking you are already busy thinking about what it is that you want to say or maybe thinking about any other number of things occupying your thoughts at the same moment. That’s why when I say listen, what I mean is that you have to really listen and pay attention to what the other person is saying. This is actually a very simple yet but extremely helpful tactic that can help the other person tremendously—particularly a teenager.
Tip 2: Validation
One important tactic that I can give any parent, and even the teens and college students I work with, is to first and foremost learn to validate. The concept of validation can be a little bit confusing, and even if you understand the meaning of validation, how to actually do it can be very challenging if you don’t have concrete steps. Learning this important skill will serve you and your loved ones well. Let’s use a very simple example to illustrate how to do it: Your child is telling you that they are very sad that they will not be seeing their friends and not going back to school. Our tendency sometimes is to try to solve the problem and give suggestions as to what our kids or loved ones should be doing. If you were to validate your child in this case, you would say the following, “It makes sense that you feel this way.”
Basically, what this means is that you connect to what the other person is saying by letting them know that you get what they were saying. Whether you agree with them or not doesn’t matter at this point because it is about the other person and making them feel like you get where they are coming from.
Tip 3: Seek support from a professional.
As parents and caregivers/friends, we often have the best intentions to help someone, but in some cases. the individual requires additional support by a licensed professional who has the right skills and tools to help and support them. There are various ways for you to get support for your loved ones, and you want to make sure that the person that you are reaching out to has the right qualification and the right personality to work with your child. Finding the right therapist can be extremely challenging and often costly, but if you know what to look for, you can at least find someone who is qualified. Once you have identified the right therapist and verified their license, think about your teen’s personality and whether or not you think that he/she is a good fit. Most importantly, you want someone who you know will care about your teen and has the right attitude.
Sometimes it takes a trained professional to help you or your child work through their problems—I did not get here on my own! If you’re looking for help, it can never hurt to reach out.
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With much love,