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School Anxiety: How to Help Your Child
Episode 316th September 2022 • Roadmap to Joy: A Mental Health Podcast • Embark Behavioral Heatlh
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Does your child or teenager experience school anxiety? How can you encourage them to stay engaged in school without making their anxiety worse? Join our hosts, Ginger Nicholson and Jake Sparks, LMFT, as they discuss how to identify the signs of school anxiety and if your child’s nervous system is dysregulated. Jake advises on how to respond with empathy, provide emotional support, and co-regulate with your child. 

Blogs for Parents:

https://bit.ly/fear-of-school-in-teens

https://bit.ly/teenager-refuses-to-go-to-school

https://bit.ly/teen-school-shooting-trauma

https://bit.ly/does-school-cause-depression

https://bit.ly/how-to-parent-a-teen-with-anxiety

Books for Parents:

https://monadelahooke.com/brain-body-parenting/

Videos for Parents:

Eating Disorders: Tips for Supporting Teens and Young Adults

How to Eat for Mental Health

Taming the Shame Within

Gratitude Journal With Me

How to Improve Teen Mental Health

Yoga for Teen and Adolescent Mental Health

About our Hosts:

Jake Sparks is a Marriage and Family Therapist who has spent the last decade working with often suicidal adolescents and their parents in their journey toward health and healing. During this time, Jake has been a clinician and Clinical Director of several adolescent programs, and is currently the Treatment Director at Embark BH, where he gets to work with the some of the nation’s best and brightest clinicians. Jake’s approach to therapy is centered on the role of relationship and attachment in the context of families. He believes that when authenticity and vulnerability are met with acceptance and empathy people thrive!

Ginger Nicholson, MBA, is the Director of Sales Enablement at Embark Behavioral Health. She is a parent to one 20-year-old daughter.

Connect with Embark on Social Media:

Have a question for our experts? We want to hear from you!

Submit your questions to: askatherapist@embarkbh.com

Transcripts

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Welcome to Roadmap to Joy. I'm Ginger, I'm coming to you from

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Arizona. I'm a parent and with me today is my counterpart,

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Jake.

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That's right. I'm Jake Sparks. I'm the Embark treatment

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director. I've been working with clients and their mostly

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adolescents and their families for about 12 years now, and

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really excited to be here

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being a parent. today. I'm really excited about this topic

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we're going to be talking about back to school anxiety. So I'm

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super excited to talk with you about this today.

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Yeah.

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Yeah, it is back to school anxiety season.

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Which is not the most magical time of the year for students.

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And therefore, it's not the most magical time of the year for

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their parents. Yeah, very stressful for families. 31.9% of

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all school aged kids have some form of anxiety, two to 5% of

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those, that anxiety manifests as some form of school refusal, it

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really is fairly common. And it's it's something that we need

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to be aware of and understand the warning signs that we as

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parents, we know how to help our kids. And as teachers or mental

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health professionals, we are able to see it meet that.

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So when you say school refusal, like what would that look like

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in my daughter?

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How old's your daughter?

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Well, she's in her 20s. She's 20 right now.

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Yeah

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So So the funny thing is, so as we talk, I always like to talk

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I don't know if you still make her go to school right now?

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about a small children. Because for some reason, as parents we

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have, it's really easy to have empathy for a small child. And

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the smaller the child easier they have empathy is when they

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get to look more like adults, it's easier to stop having as

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much empathy for them. So when you ask about what a school

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refusal usually look like, it can be a handful of things. So

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sometimes it's just outright refusal. I'm not going I'm not

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getting in the car. You can't make me go. Well, this is like

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the quintessential adolescent version.

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No, that's her choice.

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Okay. Fair enough. Oh, yes. So some more subtle types So we

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don't often see as clients with school anxiety, or students with

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school anxiety will show up. And they have a really difficult

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time paying attention. They have a really difficult time

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concentrating, they maybe they fall asleep. Maybe they go to

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school, and they can hold it together. And then they get

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home. And then their whole world just melts down. I have a six

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year old first grade. Yeah. And our teachers like she's such a

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great student, and she's so well behaved. But the second she

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walks in that door after school, it's like, all hell's broken,

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loose, sometimes. So it can look different based on age. But what

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is what is important for people to realize is where that anxiety

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is coming from, and what's happening physiologically, and

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when we say school anxiety, it's not necessarily like there's no

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like diagnosis. This is school anxiety. And school anxiety is

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not necessarily different than, like, home anxiety, or I don't

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want to go to grandma's house. So I have grandma's house

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anxiety, does that makes sense? It's not like a specific thing.

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Really, what we talked about school anxiety is this lump of

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emotions and feelings, and difficulty that just feels so

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yucky inside. And so we just couch that all together as

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anxiety. But really, there's so much more happening underneath

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the surface.

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What is some of those reasons that that would be happening?

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Yeah, great, great question. And that's, that's the right

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question to be asking is what's actually going on? Whenever I

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have a parent that's bringing their adolescent to me for

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therapy, and they say school refusal, I'll ask a parent,

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well, why are you bringing them in, and 99 times out of 100, I

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hear things like, well, they're refusing to go to school, they

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won't do their homework, they're skipping classes. They're

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oppositional, defiant to their teachers. And they start listing

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all these things. But if you notice about that list, all of

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those are behaviors. They're all just things the student or the

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child is doing. And the parent is like, I don't want you doing

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those things. So essentially, they're saying, where's the off

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button on my kid? Can I flip it to easy mode? And that's really

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what they want to do is like, oh, there's dysfunction is

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malfunctioning, can we just flip it to functioning, and that's

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what they want. But what parents are not realizing is now if you

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if you were to Google school anxiety, what you'll get is a

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list of tips and techniques and strategies that can help your

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kid however, there are almost always going to be wrong and

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almost always going to make the situation worse.

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And what do you mean by that like wrong?

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Yeah.

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So what we have to understand is, our were the more the

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research when more we learn, the more we're seeing this, we

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talked about the brain body connection, and we used to talk

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about them as separate. I have my body and I have my brain.

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Well, now we realize that our brains actually exist inside of

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our bodies. Right, yeah, now the separation comes if I get an

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appendicitis, no amount of mental willpower or

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psychological energy is going to resolve that. appendicitis,

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right? and yeah, medical intervention. But what parents

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and even adolescents themselves or young children don't realize

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is all of the ways that their body is actually priming them

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for the anxiety. This comes out of decades of research from

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Bruce Perry, Steven Porges, Lisa Feldman-Barrett, you can Google

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all those names Dan Siegel, what we're learning is about how your

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body's nervous system response to stress. So you here in this

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room, you have what's called a neuro receptivity. Have you ever

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heard that term before? It's a new one, jot it down neuro

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receptivity, which is this idea that consciously or

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subconsciously, your body is able to identify and respond to

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threats? Okay, someone doesn't have to tell you. Yeah, you just

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can feel it. So if I sit here, and I start getting really

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weird, or awkward, or like, you're gonna be like, what's

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Jake doing his? Like, you'll feel my threat? Yeah. And you'll

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start having this anxiety? Yeah, thing that occurs, you're like,

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Yes, I'm having it now.

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That totally makes sense.

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So think about a brand new baby. There's no amount of like logic

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or reasoning or explanation you can give to a baby, the only way

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a baby learns about its environment is through all of

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these sensory inputs. How does it feel in here? How does it

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sound? What am I seeing all of those things, and none of those

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are factual words, cognition, right? It's just as to us, it's,

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what it actually is, is its central nervous system, and

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these other nervous systems to interpret what's happening. And

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when all of these nervous systems, when things are online,

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and they're safe, and they're good, that we say that body is

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fully integrated, they're able to use their resources, problems

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can arise, particularly with an anxiety when our body's

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responding to these threats, maybe even below our

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consciousness. And it's putting us in this activated state. So

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like panic flight, or fight mode. So if you think of a kid

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who's refusing to go to school, it's not that they have a bad

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attitude. And they're just too lazy, or it's none of that those

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that actually refusing to go to school is actually a very

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healthy adaptive response to panic and fear and stress.

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Right, so if your body, your central nervous system is

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activated, and you're in this constant state of you better

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fight for your life, that's no time to go sit in math class,

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that's this, this stimulus is harmful and scary, and I need to

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avoid it. So what parents sometimes do is they force their

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kid to go sit in that dangerous environment, it's not actually

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dangerous, but to the client to the student that can feel that

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way can feel shocking and scary. And or they'll give them tips or

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tricks or say, well, you're just too lazy, you need to work

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harder to start doing all of these things. But what they're

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not doing is recognizing physiologically, what's

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happening for their child. And so it's this total mismatch,

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where we're trying to actually your body's working excellently,

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that's when there's an alarm, you're supposed to have these

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warning signs, the warning signs are helpful, helpful, good

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things. They're just, they're just overactive. They're just

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responding to things that aren't actually actually dangerous.

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Does that make sense?

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Yeah. Is there anything else in school you are aware of like

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that would be stressful for my child that we should be aware

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of some of the literature they talk about these body budgets?

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Okay, have you ever heard that term body budget, so what this

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is, is this relationship between all the things that are

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stressing you out is like a negative, like a withdrawal, and

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then all of the things that help bolster you up is like a

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deposit. Okay, so what scope things are going good and some

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things are going bad, and in theory is fear. Like in the

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past, plus, if you got money in the bank, you're going to be

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regulated, you'll be able to better adapt to life stresses,

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does that make sense? You're like, on good ground, it's when

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you get into the negative, there's too much the stress is,

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or the environment is too stressful, it has now exceeded

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your ability to cope. So now you're in the negative not so

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they say your body budgets negative. What school becomes

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particularly hard, especially for an adolescent is because

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there's so many various stressors, okay, so

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academically, it's like my full time job, I gotta show up, and I

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gotta get good grades, and I don't quite understand this

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material. So those are all withdrawals, withdrawals,

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withdrawals. And then I got to deal with my peers, my, my

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friends, and by my all the normal social interactions of

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being an adolescent. Those are all withdrawals, withdrawals,

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withdrawals. Yeah. And then I got to just sit and focus in a

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class all day when actually developmentally it might be more

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appropriate for me to be out are running and exercising or doing

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these at creativity, all these other outlets that maybe meet so

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those are all withdrawals, withdrawals, withdrawals, does

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that make sense? There's all these small little things. And

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if those are not met with deposits, then it's there, the

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stressors are going to exceed their ability to cope. And

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that's why if you Google like tips to help my team better

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manage their anxiety. Most people get it wrong. Because if

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you if I have if I have if I go to my six year old, and she's

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really stressed about school, and she's refusing to get out of

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the car and having these meltdowns, and I'm like, you

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just need to do some breathing exercise. Why don't you just

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breathe better? Is that gonna be a deposit? No, that's just one

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more expectation that she can't measure up to Yeah. And then

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maybe if I'm really dysregulated parent, I might say, You're just

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too lazy. You just don't want it. You don't want it enough? In

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my day, we did. Is that make sense? So just continuing to

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make those withdrawals.

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Yeah. So you're talking about withdrawal so much. So as a

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parent, what should I be doing then correctly? That would

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actually make a deposit that would make a difference? So

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like, relieve some of those things?

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Yeah. So the best well intentioned parents sometimes

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have the hardest time with this, because they want their kid to

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be successful, because they care so much. And they know what's at

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stake. So what they struggle with is seeing their child's

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behaviors appropriately. So what I mean by that is, I we always

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talk about behaviors are the like, the fire alarm, not the

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fire. Gotcha. So and that's can be really hard. I've worked with

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a family where like, yeah, my 15 year old, I say, hey, get to

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school, and they say, fu I'm never doing what you want me to

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do. That feels like a problem. And I'm saying no, that's

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actually not the problem. The problem is, their nervous system

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is so escalated, so activated, they can't tolerate school, your

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daughter saying, leave me alone, I don't want to go to school

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actually makes sense in the context of what's happening

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physiologically with so what we need to do is understand, on a

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on a nervous system level, what's actually happening

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organically for her, and then we can attune to that we always

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talk about the pyramid, or not the pyramid the iceberg. So the

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behavior is just the tip of the iceberg. And that's the thing

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that we can see. And that's the thing we want to intervene on,

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like stop that or build that up. But really, we need to pay

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attention to all this stuff happening below the surface. So

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really, your question is, what can parents do? It should be?

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Well, how do we the appropriate question is how do we use that

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behavior to recognize when something's going wrong, right?

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On a neurobiological nervous system level? And how do I as a

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parent, meet them and resolve that issue. And that's a process

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we call co regulation. In co regulation is all about if I

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have again, we empathize really easy with small children and I

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have small children at home. Yeah, so it's easy. So if I have

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this six year old, that's really panicked about school. And her

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nervous system is just fire, she's in flight or fight mode,

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there's no blood going to her frontal cortex, all of logic is

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out the window reasoning is out the window, cause cause and

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effect is out the window. So there's no amount of if you get

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in the car, I'll give you a cookie when you get home. That

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does not work. Gotcha. Right? Because that's like thinking and

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logic and reasoning. If I say, if you don't go to school, you

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won't get into a good college that has no meaning to her.

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Because that's again, logic and reasoning and future, I need to

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respond. So that CO regulation is me coming in, sitting by her

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and letting my dysregulated six year old utilize my centered,

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structured nervous system that's intact. So she's literally

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borrowing my healthy, centered, emotionally regulated. Wow.

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Yeah. And there's

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a sitting with them. It's as simple as that sometimes.

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Yeah, it's really it's not about the doing, it's about sitting

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and connecting and being there. And there's three examples that

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I always bring up because parents, especially great, well

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intentioned parents, they want to do something, they want to

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nip that behavior in the bud. Right? So three examples I

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always bring up is that CO regulation is bi directional. So

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communications happening both both ways. So one example I

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bring up, if you have a newborn baby, and a mother who's

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nursing, somehow, that mother's body is producing milk that is

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custom tailored to meet that needs of that baby, both in

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terms of quantity and nutrition value, right? Like there's

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something about the baby and the mom, they there's this like,

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invisible interaction that they're having and they can just

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sync up another example. They did a study that said newborns

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learn to cry at the exact frequency their parents find

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them Most annoying,

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right? Yeah, that is true.

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Yeah, you're gonna make sense because like, I really need my

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caregiver to respond to me. Yeah, so I'm gonna find that

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right pitch. So by the parents responded like there's this

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really great sync up that happens. A third example there

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is my my, I don't want to butcher butcher the details, but

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they gave these young children3, 4, 5 years old, put them in a

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room with a really complicated puzzle. And it was kind of

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impossible to solve. And they wanted to see how long how

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resilient the kids could be. And then they brought a caregiver

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and the parent usually and said, don't do anything, don't help

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them with the puzzle don't really interact, just be there.

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And they found that those small age children could stay with the

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task three to four times longer, three to four times more

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resilient, just with a safe caregiver sitting there. Didn't

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have to say or do anything just being there. So I always tell

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families, like your presence, it's like Bluetooth, like you

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just sync up to each other. And you just and so that's really

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what co regulation is about is just sitting there. It's not,

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you don't just sit there, but it's a process of letting that

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child utilize your internal resources. Wow, that's amazing.

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And then as as you build these co regulatory process, that's

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the avenue for self regulation. Right? That's, that's ultimately

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where we want to go.

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Oh, it's so fascinating to me, just your presence alone. You

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know, what, what a power that is?

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Yeah. The trick to that is it. It only works if you can be

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present. not distracted, and not. So we talked about the

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child might be flipping her lid. And we actually use, you'll see

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us do this a lot. Have you seen this. So this is part of your

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this is actually a great model for your brain. So if you hold

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up your hand here, this is, this is like your brainstem. Okay,

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and what's so important to learn is that it grows from the bottom

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up. So here's your brainstem. And if you take your thumb here,

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this midsection is your midbrain. And this is your

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amygdala. And this is where all your emotion comes from. The

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brainstem is like, make sure your heart's beating, I'm sure

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your lungs work. And on top of that is build the hardware for

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emotion. And then on top of that is your top of your brain is

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logic reasoning, all of this more advanced kind of thinking,

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right? Does that make sense? When we get dysregulated,

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literally, the blood stops flowing to the top of our brain.

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So it comes offline, and then becomes disconnected. And now

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we're just acting on pure emotion. Yeah. So when a

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caregiver is regulated, they can come down and they can just be

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present. It's unregulated. But if I as a parent am not

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regulated, if my toddler is driving me nuts, and I'm

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enraged, because there's been screaming for 30 minutes about

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how the blue popsicles too blue, and they wanted the red, white

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or whatever, you know what I mean? And I, all of a sudden,

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now I'm flipped my ability to be a co regulating force. Is

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is? So that's what it means about being

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present. Yeah, you have to find a way to be regulated yourself.

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So if you're my mom, I can't borrow your working nervous

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system, if yours is offline, too. We're going to have to

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find someone else. Yeah.

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And your point is, cuz though, if if I'm dysregulated, they're

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gonna probably borrow that dysregulation. So yeah.

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Yeah, that's Yes, exactly. And that's actually what we see

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happen there are within our brain these what are called

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mirror neurons. So just like our nervous system can respond to

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threats. If you're in a room and someone walks in, everyone just

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looks over at who's Whoa, who's walking in that room, like, we

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just respond to all these, oh, this is happening, this is new.

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We just absorb that same thing with mirror neurons. I can walk

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home at night, and walk in the front door after work. And the

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energy that I bring into the room will greatly influence how

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my kids respond to me. So we can use that for our advantage. And

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when we're not intentional, we'll be using it for our

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disadvantage. Totally.

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Yeah. So thinking back to my daughter when she was younger,

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you know, these milestones when she would transition from like

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primary school to middle school, and like as a parent, how can I

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support like these big like transitions? Yeah, right. For

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like, from an anxiety perspective? Yeah.

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Great. So recognize, especially the smaller the kid the easier

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the more there are those called about those disruptors, those

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those withdrawals. So a big change in school, change in

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teacher, change in structure, if you move and have to go to a new

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school. Those are all really small, or maybe even big

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withdrawals. So what that means is the deposits will have to be

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able to mitigate the withdrawals. So some helpful

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things is when your child is in a regulated state, so a couple

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of weeks beforehand are used To start talking and prepping and

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saying, Hey, this is going to happen, this is will be, this

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will be tough. And here's how we'll mitigate. Does that make

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sense? Yeah, we'll try to help and coach and prepare

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emotionally for that knowing that there'll be some, some

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withdrawals. There are also lots of things that can be done to

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depending on the age of the kid, if I had a small I like going to

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kindergarten, or first grade, I might say, I'm gonna walk you to

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your teachers door. And I'm going to be with you and your

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teacher, and we're going to spend three minutes in a soft,

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calm place, I'll take your hand at the end of it, your teacher

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will take your and we'll just make that transition. I thought

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so you're painting a picture almost ahead of time, is that

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what you're saying? Yeah,

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you're painting, what we're trying to do is really, we're

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mitigating the withdrawals and amplifying the deposits. But if

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I know, Hey, she's got to go to a new school, this is gonna be a

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big withdrawal. I need to be able to afford that withdrawal.

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So what can I do to help build in deposits? Yeah, that's a lot

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of school students. Now, before your first day of first grade,

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come tour the school, come meet your teacher, come go through

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all those things. So when you get there to do it live in

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person for the first time, it's not as big of a withdrawal?

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What are the best questions as a parent that I could ask like my

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daughter, just around anxiety and any stressors that she's

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having at school? Just how can I like dig into that so that I

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support her the best way?

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Yeah. So the first thing I always say, so the behaviors

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that we see are really valuable indicators. So I would first

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want to be really aware of is she going to bed on time, if she

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waking up? How will I know if she comes home from school and

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she runs into her room and doesn't come out for two hours?

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I'm like, Oh, that's not like her. Does that make sense? Yeah,

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I might look for these behaviors to start to tell me I should be

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more curious. Yeah, I should be more curious. I should not be.

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If there's things that aren't specifically concerning to you,

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you're just wanting to know. We're always encouraged to find

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age appropriate ways to ask and talk. So for again, my six year

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old if I just say, how was your day, she's gonna say good,

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because the her day was just huge, giant thing. She doesn't

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even know how to break that down. But if I say, who was the

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person? Or what was the person sitting next to you eating for

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lunch? She'll be oh, I sat next to so and so. And he had this

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hot bologna sandwich or whatever it was right. So then if I give

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her that she can talk now if I have a 16 year old? That would

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probably not be the right question. Yeah. But I would

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still look for those behaviors and and look for, how is our

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body budget doing? How is she? Is there enough deposits to

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mitigate all of the withdrawals?

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So like for high school? Age, you know, is there anything that

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you recommend to make those deposits and engage those

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conversations with our high schoolers?

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Yeah, regular experience of Kim's all comes back to that CO

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regulation process? Because what, what we need to remember

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is that stress is actually great. Kids need stress that

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Yeah, I know, you're like, I must be doing awesome, then

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because of stress. Yeah. No, it is great. That's how we learn.

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And that's how we grow. So think about if you want to, like get

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stronger, the only real like physically, like I want to be a

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better runner, or I want to climb a mountain or whatever,

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the only way to do it is to do this exercise, which is going to

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stress out your body. Even on a cellular level, we know there's

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a process called hormesis work, or we talked about hormetic

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effects of a specific protocol or exercise, which is stressing

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out your body for short periods of time for the purpose of

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making them wrong. So stress is actually really good. We should

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encourage stress, if we're not in some level of stress, we're

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probably not growing. Now, most of us, we don't have the problem

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of not enough stress. Most of us just normal everyday life and

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expectation. But we do see this sometimes with kids, if they've

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not had the appropriate stressors, they might be

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developmentally behind because they haven't haven't been if I

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take my new brand new baby and I never let her touch the floor.

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She's never going to learn to sit up or crawl or walk right if

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I just always hold and carry her everywhere. She needs the stress

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of sitting on her belly and trying to find her way to to

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push up so she can learn to crawl. Does that make sense?

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Yeah. So where it becomes a problem is when our our level of

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stress exceeds our ability to cope. So as a parent, that's

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what you really need to be looking for is Is this an

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appropriate? And is this an appropriate level of stress of

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stress? And they're coping? In the thing I always talk about,

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again, is that CO regulation if I have a kid, or if my daughter

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comes home, and is stressed and she's telling me she's stressed,

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but we come home and we sit together and we can have this CO

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regulatory process and I know All that we're co regulating,

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then I feel like yeah, we're actually meeting that level of

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stress. It's when I'm not seeing indicators of poor regulation.

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Like she can't co-regulate, she's weighed her lid way too

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flipped. That means we've we're now exceeding, we're exceeding

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the level of stress that she, that becomes a problem.

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Gotcha. So how can I encourage my daughter to go to school be

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involved in school without like, increasing her anxiety around

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school? Does that make sense?

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Uh huh. Yeah. Like, if you're just like, you gotta go and be

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there.

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Yeah. But not amp up that anxiety? Yeah, we're

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not like, how do you not put all the pressure on? Yeah, I always

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believe that. Kids do well when they can. So what I mean by that

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is, I think this of all humans too, when we have the option to

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choose to for help, and healing and growth. That's what we

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choose. So most kids want, they don't love doing homework. And

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then I love being in class all day, I get those all those

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bummer things. But they have this inherent sense of growth, I

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do want to get better, I want to be, I want to be a human, I want

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to be responsible adult. And depending on what developmental

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they are developmentally advanced, they are delayed they

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are for their age that will come and go, in theory shouldn't be a

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parent's job to constantly nudge their kid to go to school.

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Right? There's, there's some level of they're left to their

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own devices. We want them to make healthy decisions on their

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own, not because their mom's, or their dad's waving a finger at

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them. Now all kids will need some help and some reminders and

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to have a structure built and did you do your homework not

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most kids don't like rush home to I can't wait. I'm self, self

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actualized human, I can't wait to do all my homework. The

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second I get home, most of us are not that way. Right? And

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that's okay. So what as long as we can, again, come back to

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experiences of CO regulation. Prior to the discussion, or

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parents, if you if you Google Online, that will be like talk

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to your kids. But if your kid'ss lid is flipped, and their

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nervous system's freaking out, and they're in flight or fight

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mode, and you're like, hey, go to school, or let's do this, or

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let's talk about it, you're just gonna freak them out more. So

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what our talking is great. Once they're here, can once you're

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both here, then you can sit and talk and like, how is it going?

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What is going on? What help do you need? So I realize we

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haven't said this is one of the questions that I get asked a lot

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is okay, co regulation, I get that anxiety is all this

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physical stuff. How do I know? If I'm correctly? How do I know

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if that process is working? Right? So there are five things

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to look for five indicators that your nervous system is helping

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manage your child's nervous system. So the first one is

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proximity, and you get close, and you sit by them. Or if

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you're like, Hey, come here, and they like run away. Or like I

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want to be left alone. Like don't even get close to me.

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That's a sign there. Let's flip but they allow you to get close.

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Second one. Safe touch. Are they okay? With the touch on the arm,

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if you put their arm they like wiggle away? There's a lot of

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shame happening. A lot of this. They're not able, they're not co

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regulating, can they make eye contact? If they won't look at

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you, their headis up, or they're all over, they're distressed. We

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say congruency have an effect, meaning does their face match

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their voice. So if you ask, Hey, how's it going? I'm fine.

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Everything's going great. Right? Okay. Is it really though? Yeah,

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or VISEART? We see this a lot of like, how was your day? Oh, it

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was only the worst day I've ever had in my whole life. Like, oh,

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okay, like, that's a pretty good indicator, they're flipped. And

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then the last one we look for is are they receptive to empathy?

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So when you express empathy to them, like, ah, tell me about

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it. That sounds that sounds so hard. If I'm you I'd be so I'd

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feel so abandoned, so alone, or I can't believe your friends

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that when you express empathy, can they receive that and soak

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into it? Or they're like, Well, you don't know me? You don't

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care? That's a pretty good sign that they're dysregulated. So I

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wouldn't try to do any poking or prodding, or why don't you go to

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school or what's going on here until I know I have those five

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markers of regulation, because again, there's the iceberg and

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there's all that stuff underneath and all this body

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stuffs going on. And we can't just peek at the iceberg and

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start chipping away at the top without understanding what's

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happening. Just as the brain develops from the bottom up, our

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interventions have to be developed from the bottom up.

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And if none of none of this is online, your logic and reasoning

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all of that's not connected. No amount of talk and logic and

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reasoning is really going to get to the issue. And what it

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actually does is it makes it worse because when we have a

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misattuned approach, I tell my daughter, why aren't you going

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to school you should be doing this. Don't you know that if you

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don't go to class, you're gonna not get into college and her lid

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is flipped? That's a total misattunement. I'm giving her

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logic and reasoning when she needs emotional support. And

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what I am actually doing is creating an experience of shame.

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Oh, yeah, she that could, potentially will provide her an

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opportunity to incorporate more shame into her schema, into

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herself. Conversely, when you can meet someone and co-regulate

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that is actually an antidote to shame.

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So, I always encourage parents to be careful. And when they

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Google like, it'll give you all the tips and tricks, have your

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child do breathing exercises, and this and this, and those are

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fine. Once we have the core regulation, once we know their

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nervous systems onboard, gotcha. Then we can start employing all

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those strategies.

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So at what point should I be concerned about, you know, my

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child and school around school anxiety and really get, you

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know, maybe some help from school? Or from the teacher or,

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you know, engage people outside of just me? You know, the

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parent? Yeah.

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Yeah. So I don't think it's ever, I think you can always

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keep those options open and those lines of communication. So

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even if I have a seemingly healthy, happy, normal, love

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school, no school issues, I would still want to have some

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connection to her teachers, and to those resources,

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just communicating letting them know. Yes, seeing what they're

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seeing.

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Yeah, exactly. And then when something does happen, we're not

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so reactive, like, Oh, crap, what happened? Now? I got them.

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So you're asking them, what, what behaviors would I start to

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see that I'm like, okay, maybe I need to do more or beyond. So

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again, the behaviors are the warning sign that something's

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going on. So if we start to see the warning signs start to hear

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the fire alarm, absolutely that's the sign that we should

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be doing something. So again, some of the warning signs would

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be I saw my child come home. And if they can, if they can talk to

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me about I feel stressed, overwhelmed, I'm not getting

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these things done. I see major behavior changes, isolating in

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their room when they weren't before. They're spending a lot

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more time out of the house when they weren't before, or they're

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spending a lot more time in the house. When they weren't before

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they're not going out and being with their friends. So those

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major behavior changes would be concerning for me. The other

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great thing about many adolescents is that it's usually

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not domain specific. I don't want to go to football practice

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anymore. Like if relationships or school are tough, they're

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probably also tough at church, or Yeah, football camp, or what

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does that make sense? So you're gonna see this kind of more

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global change in their thinking, and the way they're acting? If

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it's not global, it's like, I feel great. But they you hear

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them complaining about their math teacher every day, they

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seem to be doing well, but what's going on in the math

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class? Let's see if we can target that. That might lead me

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to,

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do you think I need to get specific with any accommodations

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that the school that teachers that, you know, they should

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request? If I see a lot of anxiety, or what are your

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thoughts on that?

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Yeah, so certainly, our approach would always want to meet the

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meet, we always say meet the client where they are meet the

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student where they are. So we talked, we talked about stress

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is good. Too much is it's not good, right? So I always tell

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parents, yet we want to accommodate, but we don't want

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to over accommodate, right? So when, again, we have empathy for

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babies. So always use them, when you have a baby that likes to be

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held, but you never put them down and never let them go

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through the discomfort, then they never learned to walk. So

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we have to brush up against that challenge. Right? So I would not

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ever want to accommodate all things away. So some parents who

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said they really don't like going to school, so I'm just

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going to pull them out and homeschool. And maybe that's

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what each kid needs. Or maybe that's what this one kid needs.

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But that's can be dangerous, because now you've just removed

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the the stress for them to work on. Does that make sense? Yeah,

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they, they need something to brush up against so they can be

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in that growth zone. So there's your comfort zone growth zone.

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And then we say like the Oh crap, like panic zone. So we

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want to find ways to help them be in that growth zone. So

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accommodations can be helpful, depending on the underlying some

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of the underlying issues. One thing that we haven't talked

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about is some of the specific reasons why someone's might be

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dysregulated. So this is really where your accommodations

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question gets interesting, because if I have like a, maybe

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I have a learning disorder, dyslexia, so certain classes

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that were really difficult for me, and those were big

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withdrawals, so I might need some specific supports to manage

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my dyslexia or another learning disorder. We should understand

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that the CO regulation and the body, nervous system all of that

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still is in play, but we need To make sure we are understanding

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why those are stressing them, like what those stressors or

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withdrawals actually are, so that we can be targeted in

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ouraccommodation. Gotcha versus just a blanket accommodation?

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When should I consider seeking like therapy for my son or

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daughter? Regarding school anxiety? What At what point do

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you think I should really go to that outside help to a

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therapist.

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So I'm of the belief that most of us could benefit from some

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therapy, from time to time, I guess I'm biased as, as a

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therapist, so particularly when we see the level of stress,

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overwhelming their ability to cope. Okay, so we're continuing

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to see the same stressful behaviors. And then even once

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we've done some really basic accommodations, and we're still

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seeing that level of stress, that tells me that we probably

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need some outside help to mitigate the withdrawal,

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mitigate the stressors, and then to amplify and build the

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supports.

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And what would that look like? And, you know, my son or

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daughter, like, can you give me some, like specific examples of

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what that could look like, in terms of therapy?

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Now, in terms of like, what I should be looking for, you know,

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behavior wise, in order to seek, you know, like a therapist or an

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outside help for them. Does that make sense? Specific, maybe

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behaviors? Symptoms, if you will? Yeah, I would be seeing

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that I really should be like, ah, you know, maybe I need more

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help than just what I can provide? Yeah.

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Well, certainly, if we're starting to see more global

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mental health concern. So it's not just yeah, they're anxious

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about school, but they're also having a lot of depression.

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They're also have some global anxiety, maybe they're still a

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lot of separation anxiety. My 15 year old should want to go out

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with their friends. But it's hard for her to leave my side as

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a parent that does that make sense? So we start to look for

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those other things. There's ever instances of self harm,

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suicidal, suicidal thoughts, suicidal actions, those

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certainly would be red flags. This is not just school anxiety,

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there's a lot more mental health going on. The other thing I

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would say is, as a family, what is your ability to provide co

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regulatory experiences? And a lot of our families, we talked

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about this, and I'll ask like, when's the last time you two

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felt you could co-regulate together. And the mom, I've seen

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this where mom or dad just broke down in tears and say, the last

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time I held you, like the last time you were small enough to

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hold in my arms. And that's why sometimes we need a therapist,

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or we need someone else to how do we get our relationship back

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where parents aren't a liability, they can actually be

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the emotional asset they need to be and sometimes that requires a

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lot of therapy and communication. And more often

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than not, it's helping parents, as most of us everything I'm

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saying most of us were not raised this way. Right, right.

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This is they guessed that somewhere between 30 and 67% of

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anxiety is hereditablel, meaning it's like passed on

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generationally. But in the study, you can actually read it

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and says, it's really hard, though to separate. Is it that

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the mom, the parents are not able to provide co regulation

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because they themselves aren't co-regulated? Right? So it's not

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actually is it? purely genetic? Or is there all this

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environmental stuff? So you asked about therapy? I would,

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when I say when's the last time you were able to co-regulate?

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And then I'll ask the parents when's the last time you

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yourself could co-regulate with just with each other or with

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someone else in your life? And I'm like, Oh, actually, kind of

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always, like, my lid'ss always kind of flipped. Or maybe I'm

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like hanging on with two. Yeah, like, it's like ping, ping. And

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it's like falling off. So those certainly would be instances

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where I would want someone in therapy, if you're saying we're

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able to co-regulate, we have that, and we're making some

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accommodations, and we're seeing some growth, and we're able to

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manage stressors and the risks are low. Like we're not talking

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about self harm. We're not talking about suicidality, like

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we're just stumbling, kind of going through it. That's a good

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time to involve your support system. Gotcha. Everyone that

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you have. Gotcha.

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So when I'm looking for a therapist, for my son or

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daughter, you know, around school anxiety or anything in

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life, is there any tips you have on how to find like the best

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therapist for my son or daughter?

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Yeah, absolutely. So certainly, we at Embark have a lot of

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resources. So if we get help, we can help connect families to

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appropriate resources that meet their needs. We don't want to

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over intervene and we don't want to under intervene. I would also

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always encourage students to students or families to reach

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out to their local support network. So your high school has

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counselors, they have resources for people local in your area to

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get you connected to you also. I mean, look at the back of your

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insurance card. There's lots of ways to find the people what we

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Want to make sure as you can have a therapist that can help

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provide that safety and security relationally. A therapist that

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can understand the goal isn't to turn off the fire alarm. Right?

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So the behaviors are the fire alarm, we don't want someone

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that just turns off the fire alarm while the underground fire

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still burning. So we got to need to make sure we can really get

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to physiologically what's happening so that they're able

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to manage to have enough deposits manage all the

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withdrawals,

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are there any resources that you can recommend? You know, for me

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as a parent, when it comes to you know, just managing school

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anxiety or any, anything that I should be up to speed on with

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resources that can support my son or

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daughter? Yeah, of course, so against similar and so local

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agencies, your high school or other local health centers will

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have tips and things us at Embark we have, we can provide a

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lot of hope and a lot of support for a wide continuum of

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presenting issues and problems. And then all over the country.

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One book I always recommend is called Brain-Body Parenting by

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Mona Delahooke, who is a psychologist that talks a lot

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about what we've talked about today, done a lot of work again,

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with the last two decades of research around how our body

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creates and drives our emotion, and how we can mitigate our body

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sensations that drive our mental health.

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Is there any resources that you can recommend for my teenager,

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specifically, like books, websites, anything for that

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that's geared more? For them, that would be helpful,

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their biggest resource is going to be the people in their lives.

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So do they have coaches, church leaders, parents, neighbors, all

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of those other people, if they want to do some more research

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around specific health issues, or diagnoses or mental health

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concerns, I would encourage them or their parent to reach out to

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reach out to us here at Embark and we connect them to

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resources, local area, anxiety becomes such a just a catch all

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for everything. Yeah, I don't want to experience it feels so

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yucky. And so I'm stressed and I'm overwhelmed. I'm this. And

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what is important to remember is when we can find meaning and

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purpose in our struggles, our struggles become easier to

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overcome, we talk a lot about creating joy. Yeah, and it's

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actually a great opportunity to have these stressors, Stress

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makes us healthier, and makes us stronger. Too much stress can be

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difficult, but when I work with clients, and they can get to a

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point where they say, my brain is really fast, it's really

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overact...overreactive, my body's always hiding them always

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ready for something bad to happen. But that's been an

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incredible opportunity to to get to know myself. And I'm going to

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be a better student because of that, I'm going to be a better

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partner, I'm going to be a better parent, because of my

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opportunity to get to know myself. And I'm really excited

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for the next generation because there's a lot more of the youth

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of today that are doing this mental health work. Yeah, and

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knowing themselves better and finding joy and meaning and

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purpose in their difficulties, which I think really tremendous.

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I want everyone to know, if you're struggling with the

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anxiety, particularly around school, it's normal, you're not

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flawed, or broken. So to be nice to yourself, and make sure

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you're able to have people in your life that can be assets and

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help you and regulate with you to give you all the buffers that

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you love that.

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And is there any like quick tips tricks you have for me as a

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parent or even, you know, my teenager, my child to do to

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create joy? You know, is there any like easy, easy ways easy

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tips, tricks to create joy in our lives,

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one of the issues when your life becomes so symptomatic, like I'm

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stressed and I'm anxious, I'm worried about stuff and maybe

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doing these, like we just start running away from symptoms.

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That's all her life. Just keep that at bay. Just keep that

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away. And sometimes, well, well, we're always talking about is in

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order to find joy, it's that none of that's going to be joy

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even running away from it. Even if all that was gone, that's

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still not joy. Joy is about having purpose and meaning in

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your life. And I'll talk with a lot of a lot of students around

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even though you're anxious, what are you passionate about? And

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they'll say like, Well, I used to be really into astronomy.

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Yeah, but since my anxiety I can't and I said well, why can't

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you be anxious and have a strong? Do you have to get rid

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of all those symptoms in order to do the things that you love?

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Oh, I don't know to why. And then we start can start talking

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about well, I also want to be a great aunt. I want to be a great

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aunt, my nieces and nephews Okay, can you be anxious and a

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great aunt? Well, no. Okay, how come? Well, because I can't

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leave the house. Okay, so how can you be get you to be a great

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aunt what does that mean to you? And how do you get like, oh,

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actually, I can't, I can feel what I'm feeling and do what I

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want to do anyway. And kind of flipping that in their mind that

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I don't have to get rid of all these things I don't like about

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myself in order to live the life I want to live in actually, the

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more I just be who I want to be, regardless of my anxiety, or my

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fears, or my worries, the happier I am, and the joy and

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meaning and purpose I, I have the ultimate goal, we talk about

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co-regulation, the goal is to do self regulation, right, so kids

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learn to co-regulate with a parent, so they can be

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autonomous and launch into adulthood. But self regulation

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is not the actual goal. The actual goal is that you then

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become a co-regulator for other people. Hmm. Right, so that you

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can have friends. And you can be that strong, solid base that

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other people can come and lean to when when you're now the

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adult. And you're now the parent and you have your own kids. They

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can come and co-regulate you. That's the goal, where we are

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able to serve and create great meaning and purpose for the

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Yeah. Thank you, Jake. Thanks for joining us today on the

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people that mean the most.

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Roadmap to Joy and discussing back to school anxiety and tips

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and tricks as a parent that we can do to kind of navigate this

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these challenges. I would encourage everybody to be sure

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to subscribe to our podcast, and we appreciate you joining us

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today on this Roadmap to Joy. Thank you

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