Turn that frown upside down! Fix your attitude! Stop crying! We do a lot to prompt our kids to feel better, and it makes sense: we don’t want our loved ones to hurt. But, could it be that when we try to “fix” what we think of as negative emotions, we make them more intense and long-lasting? This Pep Talk is for any kid who’s had a rough day, week, or school experience. It’s for parents and teachers who feel like they are never good enough. It’s a pep talk for humans, and it starts with this truth: Kid, You’re Gonna Fail!!
This Week’s Pep Talk:
This whole episode is for you. It’s a pep talk straight from my heart. Because you just might need it.
Kid, you’re gonna fail. (Wait? I thought this was a pep talk, Sarah! What are you doing??) Ok, ok, hang in there with me.
Kid, you will fail. You will not get the grade you want on a test, even after you study really hard. Your crush won’t like you back. You’ll miss the shot in the game.
Understanding this is actually helpful. Expecting that things will be tough sometimes will help you feel a lot better when life gets lifey. But, if you try to run from or fight our pain and frustration, you might end up multiplying it.
Think back to a time you’ve been really disappointed or mad at yourself or in trouble. Remember how your thoughts raced and your mind said things like, “You suck,” or “You’re never going to get better,” or “This is why no one likes you?” Maybe you even stopped trying for a while.
I’m not listening in on the thoughts in your brain, I promise. It’s just that I really, really understand.
I’ll tell you some top secret, well, not anymore once it’s on the show, background info on me. I was born with a disease called Charcot Marie Tooth. It’s named after the scientists who discovered it. One of them was named “Dr. Tooth” and he wasn’t even a dentist! I think he missed his calling, but that’s not the point… The disease I have makes the insulation, the protective layer, around my nerves go away. When the protection is gone, the nerves end up dying. That means my brain can’t tell my body to move in the same ways because the nerves aren’t there to get the message.
Charcot Marie Tooth mostly affects my hands, feet, and legs. It makes me feel pain all the time. And, it makes moving difficult. When I was little, I was always falling because CMT (that’s the short name for the disease) makes my balance wonky. I was always the last one picked for PE teams because I was a very slow runner. And, when the PE state testing came around, I still had to run the mile. That means my whole class had to sit in a line, on the grass, and wait for me to hobble around the track four times on my very sore feet.
After those days, I would feel horrible about myself. I would try to get away from the bad feelings by eating lots of feel-better foods, and I would try to fight feeling bad. I started avoiding doing physical activities because I thought I’d be bad at all of them (even though deep down I wanted to be part of the fun). It always made me feel worse. I would tell myself that I was horrible and useless and deserved bad things. Saying it now, it doesn’t make sense, right? I mean, I didn’t choose this challenge, and I did for sure try my best! But, when I was little, I expected life to be perfect (and I thought other people’s lives were perfect), so I just didn’t know how to hang when things were tough.
I thought I was doing something wrong when I would feel really bad. And when we feel like we’re doing something wrong when we feel bad, it makes feeling bad last so much longer. If we spend so much time thinking about why we failed and why that means we’re horrible, we make things so much harder for ourselves.
I wish I knew that it was okay to feel bad (because it is) and that even people who seem happy all the time go through challenges too.
Life isn’t perfect. It’s lifey. There are tough times and there are great times. You can expect a mix of great and awful, pretty much every day. Sometimes the good times last a long time, and sometimes bad times also last a long time.
If you’re feeling bad sometimes, you’re not doing anything wrong.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you feel down or angry or upset sometimes (even when you can’t totally figure out why).
So, when life gets, ahem, a little lifey, what can you do?
Well, you can say hello to the feeling. You can say, “I feel ____” right now and not try to “fix” the feeling. Just feel it. If you feel like you need a way to let it out, you can draw, talk, exercise…anything that helps you process what you’re feeling without hurting others or yourself.
You can notice how it feels in your body. You can say, “this feels hot or cold,” or, “this makes my muscles feel tense or my breathing speed up.” Again, you don’t have to fix anything. Just notice.
Here’s the magic: when your feeling-brain knows that you heard what it was trying to tell you, it will turn the volume down on the feeling or will let it go, softly. If you say, “Oh, hi disappointed. I feel you,” then your brain says, “Nice. You hear me,” and it might stop sending or slow down the disappointed messages.
But, if you try to distract yourself or ignore or fight the feelings, your feeling-brain will start yelling at you. It will turn up the volume and the amount of feelings it’s sending to you, making the feeling last longer and feel worse. (I’m calling it feeling-brain to make it easier to understand. You don’t have a separate brain for your feelings. In fact, lots of areas and processes in your brain are involved when you have an emotion. But, to make it easy, we’ll call it a feeling-brain).
Back when our brains were more like caveman brains, this made sense. Our feeling-brains had to have a way to get our attention so that we would react to danger or to things that would help us survive. But now, our brains tend to be more dramatic than we need them to be; our brains still alert us in big levels to what are now smaller problems (like missing a spelling word or a friend not texting back right away).
So, when you fail or when you have an emotion that you don’t like, remember a few things:
Nothing is wrong with you for not feeling perfect all the time.
You can say hello to the feeling in your mind. Notice what it feels like in your body.
Everyone feels yucky from time to time.
You don’t need to distract yourself or try to “fix” the feeling right away.
You will fail lots because you are human, and you are learning.
Kid, life will get easier. Not because it sucks any less when you grow up (trust me and your grown up on that one!), but because you’ll be more okay with yourself as you get older. You’ll realize that feeling icky is part of life and not something you’re doing wrong. You’ll kind of even start to enjoy being you and realize that being different is actually a great thing—but more on that later.
You got this. Will it be easy? Nope? Will it be fun all the time? Uh, no way.
But, you are strong and wise and fun and kind and flexible and clever enough to handle this business of being a young human.
Sending all of my love to you!