Calorie-Counting Grandma

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S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate plus membership, the following podcast contains explicit language.

S2: Hello and welcome to Mom and Dad are fighting Slate’s parenting podcast for Thursday, August 6th. The Calorie Counting Grandma Edition. I’m Dan Cos I’m a writer at Slate Dotcom. I’m the author of the book How to Be a Family Man, the dad of Lyra, who’s 15, and Harper, who’s 12, but only for a few days more. We live in Arlington, Virginia.

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S3: Hi, I’m Jamilah Lemieux, a writer, cultural critic and contributor to Slate’s parent beating parenting column, as well as the host of Slate’s The Kids are Asleep Evening Chat Show. I’m also mom to Nyima, who is seven, and we live in Los Angeles, California, and Elizabeth New Kampai. Write the Home School and Family Travel Blog that such fouth and the mom to three little Henry eight, all of her six and Teddy three. And we live in Nevada, Florida.

S2: Today on the show we’ve got a question about a grandma obsessed with body image.

S4: Plus, we’re responding to a letter about a four year old’s anxiety. And as always, we have triumphs and fails and recommendations. We’re going to start with triumphs and fail this week. Djamila, what do you have for us this week, a triumph or fail?

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S5: Well, this week I have once again something that is in process. I don’t know whether to label it a triumph or fail. It feels like both my daughter is transferring schools. She’s going from a primarily black public school to a public school that is more racially diverse than any I attended at her age. And there’s no reason that we’ve made this change. And it has a lot to do with the quality of distance learning that is going to be available to her during this new normal or temporary normal, hopefully, or whatever the school year will be. It was a decision that was made with a lot of thought and care and ultimately one that was made with her input. And she has agreed and she feels that this is going to be a new experience for her, but it was the right choice to make her at this time in history. And she’s going to be attending her brother’s school, I should note. But I’m grieving and a lot of ways I went to a mixed race preschool and my parents, despite all their efforts to make sure that was super clear on who I was and where I came from, saw some things that serve them a bit. And I ended up going to black elementary schools. And I was lucky enough to graduate from a high performing black magnet school and was in the gifted program. And my daughter is in a gifted program. I was in a gifted program at a black school, and I was very happy about that and intentional about making that decision. And I know it sounds awful. I’m certain to a lot of people in 2020 to be hand-wringing over the idea of sending one child to an integrated school. But I think that what most people in this country can relate to is not having to send their child to an institution of which they are not the default. Right, that most kids go to school with kids primarily who look like them, and outcomes for black girls in academic and social situations where they’re the minority are at times not quite great, even though this is going to be a nontraditional schooling experience for the foreseeable future. I worry about. Everything that comes with this, and I’ve just been a wreck over and I’m very emotional about it and I feel guilty and I feel conflicted, even though I was a part of this decision and I wasn’t just simply overruled by her dad and her stepmom, we agreed to this. I was the holdout. But I did agree to this. So that’s my I suppose I’d call it a triumph for making a decision. That wasn’t the decision that I wanted to make, because I felt it was in many ways in the best interest of my daughter. And then there’s a part of me that feels like I failed because if I were able to commit to a more involved. Approach to distance learning, if I could become a homeschooling parent, then maybe I wouldn’t have to send my child into an environment that I’m not necessarily enthusiastic about some a ball of emotions.

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S6: This is really hard. I think it’s fair to call it neither a triumph nor a fail, but a decision at twenty twenty to twenty twenty decision.

S4: You’ve talked a lot on the show about the things that you’ve loved about the school and Naima has been in. And I know how hard making a decision like this must have been for you. Have you thought about or talked about with NamUs father and with Nyima what happens a year or two years down the road when distance learning is no longer the default? Whether a return to her old school is something you guys would consider or whether you feel like you want to be in this for the long haul, or is that not a thing you’ve even discussed yet?

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S7: We haven’t gotten that far because nightime is stepmother words that a really great school that begins at 5th grade and it’s a private school and a school that she and her brother would be able to attend because they have a parent who works there. If, of course, she was to remain happy at her school and stay there for the next three academic years. I was cool with the idea of Nyima then entering a more diverse learning environment around families that didn’t all necessarily share our values, our experiences. And so I don’t know that. If, say, second grade is completely a wash and is done almost entirely remote and then third grade, we’re entering back into a classroom. I haven’t thought through what trying to switch out for two years would be like there would be able to get back into her old school because it is somewhat competitive. I wouldn’t be opposed to adjusting again based on her happiness and her success, but I don’t necessarily know that I can say, OK, I have a plan now for how we get back to what I value the most about the three schools that she’s attended thus far.

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S8: Well, I’m proud of you for making this decision, even though it was hard to make and for how certain I am that you were very clear with NamUs father about what it was you valued about that school and what it was you’re worried about with this new school. And so you all, I do think, have benchmarks to be looking for and things to be cautious about over the course of the next year. And it seems like that’s a conversation you can all enter into next spring or next summer from a place of all knowing how each other feels about the situation and knowing what to have been looking for for the for the next year.

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S9: I agree with Dan and I think to being able to assess what your ability to homeschool or assist with virtual learning and having a really honest look at that is is really good. And being able to have that be part of the conversation, because I think had you thought, like, well, I can make up for all these things knowing that that’s not something you really want to do or you feel qualified or however you feel about that, you could have been in a situation where you pushed for something and then the whole year is kind of a mess because now you’re doing something you don’t really want to do. You don’t feel comfortable with, you know, like what are you getting? So I, I think you did a nice job, like just assessing the situation and making a choice. And sometimes I feel like in twenty 20, making a choice is difficult.

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S4: Yeah. It’s not a fail to to look at the situation and say I can’t do this. It’s a fail to fool yourself into thinking you can do this and then not be able to just like you probably should have known you couldn’t go along. Well Elizabeth, how about you? Do you have a triumph or a fail this week?

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S9: I have a fail that has left me basically unable to sleep. So I was tucking Oliver into bed and he’s my little little lovely weirdo. And he just said, Mom, is the house haunted? And I was like, no. And he’s like, are you are you sure? And I was like, pretty clear. Like, why do you ask? He’s like, no reason. And then he looks straight over my shoulder towards the door and says, see, not haunted. And then just like tucks himself in and goes to bed. And I mean, I’m basically never sleeping again. I, I tried to like address them later, but I also don’t want to scare him and I definitely don’t want to do it in front of his brothers like he shares a room with his brothers. So now their house is haunted by me wandering around at night wondering what he saw over my shoulder and why he felt the need to say so on top of other things, to worry about those ghosts or whatever. I mean, how do I know what he saw? I don’t know.

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S4: My understanding is that the latest research is that ghosts cannot spread the coronavirus. So overall, I think you’re fine.

S9: Right. And I guess like we’ve been here a while, you know, but if any of my children were going to be in touch with the spirit of the spirit, it would be all over. Yeah. Like if you your kids had done this, I would have been like, ha ha. But all of like, what is that? You might be onto something here. Yeah. So if anyone needs anything late night, I’m available.

S4: I’m not sleeping. Good. That’s insane and horrifying. Great job, Oliver. Thumbs up to you, buddy. I have a triumph this week. My triumph is that Lyra mentioned in passing during a conversation that she liked reading poetry. That was something she was interested in. She has always been a big reader, but poetry has never really been on her menu. And my triumph is that I waited twenty four full hours before I hold ten or fifteen different books of poetry from my shells and dump them on to her bed and said, What about these Lyra and the additional Trivers that she has been reading them? She has been reading all of them. Like basically every time I’ve looked into a room and seen her reading in the last couple of weeks, it has been her looking through Adriaan Richer Harvey or Claudia Rankine or Dennis Smith or researcher Lockwood and all these great books that I brought up. And I think she’s like some of them and hasn’t liked others, but has found interesting things in all of them. And I asked her today, which was her favorite and the two, my total and absolute joy, she brought up a book that was a hugely meaningful book for me when I was in high school, the Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology, which is an anthology published in the nineties by the Before Columbus Foundation, which focuses on native, indigenous, Latino, Latina and black poetry. And it’s just an incredible collection that like, blew my mind when I first read it and introduced me to a million writers who I never read before, but who have continued being a part of my life. And she loves it and has been paging through it. It’s like this. It’s like a treasure chest of wonders for people who are looking for new and interesting writing, or at least new interesting writing as of nineteen ninety four, which is when it was published. But it’s still pretty fresh, so I’m really happy about that. It’s a big triumph for me both that I didn’t scare her away by freaking out instantly and that she has responded to a bunch of the books that I’ve given her and that has been a real joy.

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S9: That’s great. So the waiting was key to the success?

S4: I think so. I think that if I had immediately brought up all those books would be like, Jesus Christ, dad, can I not say one fucking thing without you immediately jumping up like a reading list on me? I mean, she could see that I was itchy, but I think she respected you for waiting it out.

S8: All right. Before we move on. Let’s talk some business. The first order of business is to remind you that all through August and in fact, a little bit beyond for the next five Tuesdays, we have mom and dad are fighting bonus episodes, two episodes a week instead of just one.

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S4: Thanks to our fine friends at Target for the next five Tuesdays, Elizabeth and Jamile will be discussing all kinds of topics about the return to school. Last week, they talked to Ruth Graham from Slate about redshirting kindergartners. This week, they’ll be discussing how to create a studio space for your At Home Learn. The episodes will appear every Tuesday in the regular mom and dad are fighting feed and the plus feed. Find them in either place where you consume your weekly. Mom and dad are fighting two episodes. It’s very exciting. We’re having a great time with them. Jamila’s is excellent late night talk show. The Kids Are Asleep, is on hiatus, but only this week. She returns next week, Thursday night at 7:00 Pacific with a very special guest who y’all are going to really want to turn into here. The one and only the great Karvelas, beloved former mom and dad are fighting co-host rest in peace. He is coming back to the kids are asleep with your Mealamu at 7:00 Pacific next week, Thursday. Find it on Slate’s Facebook page. You can also find all the old episodes, all of which have been delightful. They are super fun and Djamila is a match, a natural as a host, I’m loving it to stay up to date on all of Slate’s parenting content and our shows sign up for the parenting newsletter. It’s the best place to be notified about all our parenting stuff, including care and feeding. Mom and dad are fighting and much, much more. Plus, it’s just a letter I write every week that comes to you in a bespoke, beautiful envelope with a stamp on it. Now it’s an email that comes to your inbox, but it’s still a great sign up at Slate Dotcom Slash Parenting email. And if you’re looking for even more parenting advice, you can join the parenting group on Facebook. It’s very active. It’s very moderated. So it doesn’t get you out of control. And it is full of both great questions and great advice, not only from us, but from your fellow parents, almost none of whom are crazy, like in every other parenting Facebook group.

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S8: Just search for sleep, parenting on Facebook and give it a try. All right. Let’s get into our first listener question being read by the fabulous Shasha Lanard.

S10: Hi. Mom and dad are fighting. My mother passed away three years ago and my father has remarried a woman. I’ll call Nancy. Nancy is kind and I’m grateful she and my dad found each other. But Nancy is obsessed with body weight, she’s always talking about calories or how she shouldn’t eat that or how she is going to be bad and eat a cookie, she frequently says she needs to lose weight. And to make matters worse, she makes comments to my kids, ages one and four, as well as my sister’s kids, ages 14, 12 and 10. She’ll say things like, should you be having sugar again? Or How about you have carrot sticks instead of those chips? I was face timing with her and my dad and told them about how my baby wasn’t that interested in eating. And she said, at least you won’t have to worry about him being overweight. In our house, we talk about food and our bodies differently. We talk about how it’s important to eat a variety of foods to make our bodies stronger or how fun it is to try new foods we’ve never had before. Or we’ll talk about what kind of foods and activities give us energy or what kinds can make us tired. Nancy’s comments feel loaded because I’m obese, as is my sister and was my mother. My father is not. I eat a variety of healthy foods sometimes indulge in treats and exercise regularly. And that’s the behavior I want to model for my children. While I would love to lose weight, I have accepted my body and every year grow more comfortable in my own skin. I haven’t said anything to Nancy yet for a couple of reasons. One, she and my dad have only been married for a year and I didn’t want to upset him or offend her as we were just getting to know her too. They live flying distance away, so even pre pandemic, my sister and I only saw her once or twice a year. Now we probably won’t see them until there’s a vaccine. I am also sympathetic to her. She is a woman who has lived on this planet for 70 years and is absorbed as much damaging messaging about body image and dieting as anyone else. So when I say something, I want to say it with compassion, but be clear and firm. How can I best approach this and when should I do it?

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S11: This letter touches on so many things and many of them are deeply familiar. I’ll even admit that I, in addition to having a lifelong battle with body image and with weight and eating disorders, that I have a very fit body builder, father to siblings that would be considered obese, two sisters and a mother who has also struggled with her weight and their mother has struggled with with her weight. I’m sorry. And for many years, I had a super fit and healthy stepmother. And so even though I don’t have stories of her making comments like that to us, just simply having my father certainly was the one making that commentary and just having the juxtaposition of this woman’s late mother who battled with weight and having this battle herself with this person who may very well be in the midst of her own 70 year battle with weight and with body image and with food. It just brings to mind so many deeply uncomfortable feelings. And I’m so empathetic to you. Letter writer. I also appreciate the level of empathy that you have for Nancy and your willingness to consider that she has also been subject to damaging messaging about body image and food throughout her life. And ostensibly, I mean, she’s 70, so there was no body pozzi moment for her to connect herself to, most likely when she was a very young person. There’s a very difficult leap that is being asked of us to pivot from a culture of fat loathing and fat shaming to body positivity, embody acceptance and to negotiate that while still having regard for health. Right. And so as we disabuse ourselves of the myth that thin is a worthy aspiration, regardless of what it takes to get there, we have to release our shaming and hatred for larger bodies while still being OK with wanting to make good decisions about what we eat and how often we work out in the service of our bodies. It sounds like you have found a way to be at peace with your own body while still being committed to encouraging your children to make healthy decisions about how they eat and to indulge in moderation. I would say not to want to prevent Nancy from having any commentary whatsoever about food in their presence, because, again, this does sound like. I would imagine I think back to my grandmother, who was diet obsessed and at times made comments in front of the children about what we were eating or what she was eating or choosing not to eat in order to stay thin and watching her do Weight Watchers for many years and watching her continue to use cigarettes, perhaps because weight gain oftentimes follows quitting tobacco.

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S12: I think that you should let Nancy know that you are very keenly aware of the complicated nature of weight and body image and how it is impacting you, how it impacted your mother and how it may. Inform the lives of your children and your nieces and nephews and that you want to continue to encourage them to have healthy habits and you appreciate her encouraging them to have healthy habits that you don’t want to create a feeling or an attitude around indulgent foods that makes them all the more compelling because they’re being posed as the bad guy. Well, carrots are the good guy or that a child is being made to feel bad because they’re eating a food that is incredibly appealing and delicious to a child or to a person of any age, but that you’re wary of anything that would create an unhealthy relationship to food. And I’ve said a lot, but I guess my focus here would be, how can Nancy be your partner in helping to create a healthy attitude about body weight and about eating and exercise as opposed to one that poses a good guy versus a bad guy assigning value judgments to diet and exercise?

S9: I totally agree. I also thought about the idea of bringing her onto the team instead of necessarily making it about, like you said, these things and these particular things you said are offensive. I mean, it seems like the letter writer is so empathetic already that that is kind of what she’s struggling with is how do I address this without, you know, also like opening up whatever is happening for Nancy or judging Nancy. Right. So being able to say, like, I’d love it if we’d work together on building body positivity with our children. I think you can say things like, I’ve made a commitment to do my best, to think about my body with kindness and compassion. And I would love if you would help me instill that with the children. I think the hard question is kind of like when do you have this conversation? Because given covid like, is this something that you can just, like, drop in on a, hey, these are kind of the things that our children are going through. And as a result, we’re emphasizing like healthy eating, all of that. And we love it when you are talking to them, if you could either share in this view or just not bring it up, like if you’re not capable of engaging in this kind of discussion that we have about food that gives us energy and give her examples. Otherwise, it would just be helpful if you weren’t a part of that. And I think that there is this level of which you can talk about it, but not like have it be a nauseum in this conversation of which you can then move on to a subject that you choose that is very positive so that you walk away from the conversation feeling like, OK, she knows I’m not mad about this. This is just something that we’re trying to do and we’re asking them to join our team in this way. I think if it continues that you have to just have kind of a hard line about this in the same way that you draw other boundaries when a conversation is happening about something that you don’t talk about or you don’t want talked about in that way, you can just ask them to stop and again, change the conversation. I think eventually it will just become a topic that it’s uncomfortable for everyone to talk about. So it stops getting talked about in that way. Nancy may not be capable of making the switch to body positivity for all the reasons that I think Djamila list it out like it. It can just be so ingrained. But to invite her to do this other thing or just sort of make it such that that’s not a topic that you really talk about or that you tolerate. But I also just think what a writer like this letter is so empathetic that however you choose to have this conversation, I think it is likely to go well, because I think you are the type of person that really thinks about where the person who is saying this is coming from. And that gives you a better perspective to be able to to lay down these boundaries in a healthy way. I don’t know. Dan, what do you think?

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S8: I think you’re right that the quality of this letter suggests that this person is not going to botch this conversation. They’re going to approach it sensitively.

S4: A fun thing about having done this podcast for a really long time. As I can hearken back to old episodes when we have talked about subjects before.

S8: And back in twenty sixteen, I was struggling with basically this question with a relative who just talked a lot about, well, I’m being so bad, I ate this today or whatever in front of our girls, and we were struggling with how to tell her to please just stop doing that. And so Alison and I brought in an expert in that episode, and it was a therapist named Dr. Catherine Steiner Adair. She’s a therapist and author.

S4: And we had a really great conversation in that episode about a bunch of questions around how you talk about food and health and nutrition with your kids and then how you talk about it with other people in your life. If people want to find that episode and listen to it, we’ll put it in the show notes. It was in July 2016. But one thing that she said in that episode that has stuck with me ever since was, you know, we. Her, how do you talk to a teenager, tween girl about. Issues of healthiness and weight and how you should treat your body and how you should think about your body and her advice honestly was the goal isn’t to talk about it. The goal is to do it. It’s to model healthy behavior and give the child an example to follow when they’re living their lives. And I bring this up not because I think the letter writer doesn’t know this. I think it’s very clear from the letter writers letter that she already does know this. I bring it up because I also think this is a way to think about how you should be addressing this with Nancy, which is why my advice in terms of when to have this discussion with Nancy would be, if possible, wait it out until you can be in the same place with her, because the way you want this conversation to happen is you want it to follow a couple of days in which she sees you and your children behaving in the way you always behave around the house with food, talking about it in the way you always talk about it, interacting in the way you always interact and not dwelling on it in the way that you don’t dwell on it. So that then when the time comes to have this conversation with her, you have very specific examples to point out for the last few days. So you have just been modeling healthy behavior with your children for her as well? That would be my suggestion. If it’s at all possible to wait this out until the next time you actually see them and visit them or they visit you, I would do so. The one caveat to that and the one thing that we haven’t talked about yet in this letter is that you’re not the only parent who is dealing with this. There’s your sister and her kids, her kids who are teens and tweens and who therefore, I think are in potentially even more delicate places with regards to their feelings about their bodies than your children potentially are who are much younger, some of whom can’t even speak yet. And so I also think this is worth having a conversation with your sister about to see how she feels about this, to see if she feels like it’s a dire enough situation in her Zoome or FaceTime calls with your dad and Nancy that she needs to bring it up sooner rather than later and also to talk about how the conversation should take place. I think in general, the best advice in a situation like this is even if you both agree to not have you both call and deliver this message together because you’ll definitely feel ganged up on if you do. But I also think it’s worth it to know that the other sibling has your back and to be able to cite the other sibling support over the course of this conversation, if it comes down to the conversation evolving from Jameelah is very good recommendation of we want you on our team to what that sometimes still has to turn into, which is I just got to lay down the law about. You need to talk in a nutshell. That’s my advice. Talk to your sister, figure out if it can wait until twenty, twenty two or whatever it is that you see in your dad in person, and then have that conversation after a couple of days of modeling as best as you can, the behavior that you guys are exhibiting every day in your homes.

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S13: I like to the advice about modeling, because I think that even though in this case, this is someone that you can talk to about this, you’re obviously like we live in a world in which even if you deal with this case, like our children get these messages from all over. So making sure that, like what they’re receiving the majority of the time at home is this body positivity. So even if you can’t fix Nancy or fix whoever else or stop the conversations despite your best efforts, that you’re also growing kids who what they see at home is this body positivity. And they know that that is the message. And these other people are the outliers. So I think that’s also great advice.

S14: I agree. And I would just that I think it’s important to try and help Nancy understand if, in fact, what she’s reacting to is the size of the letter writer and her late mother.

S11: As opposed to simply just being a person who has her own thoughts and feelings and perhaps issues around thinness and weight, that it isn’t shaming that helps children to develop healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship to their body image and to food. Young people aren’t obese because they were made to feel that they’re beautiful no matter what size they are. And we absolutely should make them feel that they’re beautiful and valuable no matter what size they are and not beautiful in spite of their size, but regardless of their size. That is not a factor. But I think that the ways in which young people are penalized socially and at times amongst family members and made to feel badly because of having what might be considered over indulgent eating habits or being what would be considered overweight, that there’s a thin line between being made to feel bad about that and seeking out food as a coping mechanism or adopting other deeply unhealthy behaviors as it relates to food such as starving themselves or bingeing and purging. And with her being 70, there’s also the possibility that disordered eating has long since been a part of her life that went undiagnosed or without recognition. Because if your body was not considered a problem to be solved, then it’s easy to go have some unhealthy habits, lie under the radar without compelling any sort of concern or reaction from your loved ones.

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S8: Yeah, it’s worth possibly in this conversation, whatever it happens, like pointing out the science, the science that shows that the more you talk to kids about eating in the way that Nancy talks to them about it, the more likely you are to introduce disordered her problem eating into their lives like that’s that’s just what the science says. And if Nancy’s a devoted calorie counter, maybe she’s a mathematically inclined enough mind that that might also help make the case. All right, listen. Thank you so much for the question. We hope this is helpful. Good luck. Whatever this conversation happens, you sound great. And so I think that you’re going to be OK if you are out there in the listening audience. I have a question for us that you would like us to answer. Send it in, email us at mom and dad at Slate dot com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group. We would love to answer your question. Let’s move on to our second question once again, being read by the fantabulous shatteringly in our Hi, I’m Dead.

S10: In the past few weeks, both Jamila and Elisabeth have mentioned their child has anxiety. My four year old child has been dealing with school related anxiety and I’m not sure how to help. We ordered How to Train Your Dragon to deal with anxiety on Jamila’s recommendation, and it was a good conversation starter. I’m hoping that you can offer more. In the last few weeks, my son has been fixated on a trivial task, preparing his court for naptime. As in most Montessori schools, the teachers want children to do as much as they can on their own. My son struggles to put the fitted sheet on the court. And let’s be honest, don’t we? All the teachers will help him if he gets stuck, but insist that he try on his own first. My son has become paralyzed even though he has successfully completed this task several times in the past. He also talks about it all day long. Over the Fourth of July weekend. We had a great time swimming and barbecuing, but he spent the entire weekend stressed out about his court. He wanted to talk about it over and over and over again. We try to distract him, but he wouldn’t allow it. He even talked about it nonstop during his favorite movie. It’s the first thing he says in the morning and the last thing he talks about a night at school. He refuses to play with his friends. He just cries and frets about his mat and talking to the school. I realized this is not the only time he’s fixated and stressed about a mundane task. Last year, he worried about having time to finish his lunch. The school insisted that he had plenty of time and they never rushed him. They also told me of a recent incident in which my son started crying because he didn’t know how much water to drink that day. They told him not to worry about it, but to simply drink when he was thirsty. But he wouldn’t let it go. I’ve also noticed he indicates his stomach is bothering him when he’s really stressed and he refuses to eat. I know that particularly in children, psychosomatic symptoms like stomach pain is common. I’m treated for generalized anxiety disorder and it runs in my and my husband’s families. We try really hard not to expose our children to our own anxiety attacks and regularly do deep breathing exercises, yoga and mindfulness meditation with him. Those work really well outside of his anxiety attacks, but when he’s in it, he resists participating in any type of coping exercise. How common is this? Does he need to see a therapist? And what works for parents who have young children with anxiety? I try to be compassionate and patient with him, but often he goes on so long about something it triggers my own anxiety. Sometimes I wonder if I’m indulging him too much instead of helping him to think about something else. But it’s so hard to get him to think about or do something else. It also feels insensitive to tell him I’m not going to talk about his worries anymore, but it feels like we’re just going in circles and not making any progress.

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S9: Help, obviously. I’ve talked about Henry having massive anxiety and OCD and all of that. So first I want to say, like, we have a bunch of therapists that help us with a lot of this, too, because it can get to the point at which it is like damaging and just problematic for the child as well for the adult. So, like, he get therapy. We also seek therapy to help us be better at helping him with his anxiety. But I think that the letter writer has really honed in on this idea of like, you can’t eliminate a child’s anxiety, so you have to kind of focus on helping them manage it. And as someone who I don’t personally suffer from anxiety, so I have a hard time sometimes understanding how this this thing is making him so anxious. But to realize, like, my job is not to make this situation go away, but is to teach him how to manage this and how to deal with the anxiety in hopes that each time we deal with it, it becomes a little bit less. So you can’t avoid the things that cause anxiety. If you always remove the thing that’s causing them problems, then that can become the coping mechanism is like, well, if I cry because of this, then my mom will make sure that I don’t have to have to deal with this ever again. So you have to be in the place to confront the anxiety. And I find that it’s best to be positive but have realistic expectations. So like to let him know that I’m not going to remove the thing that’s causing the anxiety, but that we are going to get through this together. And that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be painful or not going to be whatever one for us that causes kind of the biggest amount of problems are medical procedures, particularly shots. And I find that first, not giving him too much time to anticipate this thing that is causing problems is important. So if I know we have a doctor’s appointment, he doesn’t really need to know that this doctor’s appointment is going to have blood draws, are going to have shots or any of these things until we are there. Because if I tell him, like three days in advance or a month in advance, he is thinking about that all the time. And that just like breeds this anxiety. So I think in that way, I’m managing that for him so that we’re only dealing with the thing we’re going to have to do when we’re going to have to do it. At least to me, not having that, it feels like if I know it’s coming. But I have just learned through therapy and through dealing with Henry that that is something that now he’s just like playing that situation over and over and over again and dreading it. And then I think saying to him, like, it’s OK to be scared, but we still have to do this thing, get the shot, do whatever. But I’m going to be here to help you and I’m going to be here with you for this. If you always tell them it’s going to be OK or if you always sort of counter the anxiety, some of the anxiety is like completely nonsensical and like it’s real to him. But it’s not real. Like he is worried about you, like bleeding out from getting a shot. It’s like, well, that is not something that happens, know. But if I tell him that, then what happens is he gets into this situation where he’s going to ask me the question. I’m going to tell him why that isn’t true. And that becomes what is the anxiety? He’s not doing it himself. I’m becoming the tool that stops the anxiety. And that’s what we don’t want. I want him to be able to say when faced with an anxious situation, this is scary. It’s OK that I feel scared, but I’m going to do it anyway. And on the other end, I will be right. Like I might still be scared and it might still have not been fun. But I am like here and present and we got through it, so I. Think that in each time you’re encountering the anxiety, oh, there’s one more thing I find that if you ask too many questions about it, you’re only going to make the situation worse because you guessing what the anxiety is, is going to give them 40 more things to be anxious about. So I also try to let the child tell me so I can say, like, I see that you’re scared and I’m here with you. But I’m not going to say like, oh, are you scared because everyone here is in white coats? Are you scared because there’s probably going to be a shot? Are you scared because we’re going to the doctor? Are you scared because covid are you scared because of this? Because now you’re giving them things? What about global warming? Because of global warming? If you have a truly anxious child, these things just spiral. They completely spiral one thing after the next. And it’s like now they’re dealing with all of us. And now, yeah, you need extra therapy because you can’t unpack it all at once. So I just find that my job is to be like mirroring. I see that you’re having this behavior. It seems to me like you’re scared or it seems to me sometimes our anxiety comes out as anger. I see that you’re angry. I’m here with you and letting them explain to me. And if they don’t explain to me just being present and when he says, like, I’m angry because I don’t want to do this, it’s like I completely understand that. So trying to be empathetic with the feeling, but also saying, like, we’re going to have to go through this so that you are that person. And at the beginning it takes forever. And it just feels like I just want to tell him something so that he will stop asking. But again, I try to keep in mind that the goal is that down the road, he is going to be able to do this, like the things that I am saying are going to be the voices in his head. And when I’m in that mindset, it’s very easy for me to think about what I’m going to say. This next thing I’m going to say is going to be what cycles through his head for the next twenty five years. So I need to make sure that that this is purposeful and it is guiding us towards the goal of curing this anxiety. Now, that being said, that doesn’t always happen. I make the situation worse. A lot of times I get frustrated a lot of times. So I also try to just like I’m only human, I’m not a therapist. I did not get any special training to have a child that has massive anxiety. And I do it wrong a lot. So I think also giving yourself grace and a lot of times have to say, like, it’s just going to take us longer to do this thing or get through this moment so that we can get through it and proceed on with the goal being not necessarily to do this one thing. So if, like, if the anxiety is about schoolwork or about, you know, making the cot or whatever that is to say, like, this is not necessarily about getting this done right away or getting it done at all. This is about managing the anxiety and then on the other side dealing with the task. And I think also if you notice that it is just like influencing the ability of your life or of your child’s life, that that’s a time that you you need professional help. So, Jamila, what I mean, does any of that ring true to your experience?

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S11: Absolutely. And I really just want to add that, you know, you raise the question, letter writer, you know, therapy. What you know, is that the right approach at this point?

S15: And, yes, you yourself have been in treatment for anxiety disorder. And you say that it runs in both sides of the family. You’ve done so many things. You’ve been incredibly proactive and you think you should be really proud of yourself and really gentle with yourself, as Elizabeth said, and acknowledge just how many steps you’ve taken to try and address this. And as you know, anxiety very well could be something that your child was living with for the rest of their life. Hopefully you would say that therapy has been of great benefit to you and has helped you to come up with ways in which you are able to function and deal with your own anxiety. And certainly I would imagine that your therapy has informed some of the approaches that you’ve taken thus far in terms of trying to help your child to manage their own anxiety.

S11: But, yes, I think that if you’re seeing these things at four years old, you know, I’d wager that you probably were not getting that sort of support for your own issues at four and how much different your own experiences may have been if you’re particularly thinking of your experiences during adolescence and young adulthood, had you had that level of professional intervention and support from a very early age. So, yes, therapy go for it. That is but one of the things in your toolkit that already seems quite full. And I think that you will find success in helping your child to breathe easier.

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S8: There’s one other part of the question that I want to address, which is just the very simple question. Is this common? And the answer is yes. It’s it’s common enough that, for example, all three of the hosts of this show have kids who struggle with anxiety. According to the CDC, about seven point one percent of kids between ages three and 17 have diagnosed anxiety. So it’s not just they show symptoms of it, but they’ve had it diagnosed by a professional. That’s a lot of kids. That’s like over four million kids in the United States. And there’s some evidence that it’s on the rise in. Recent years, certainly anecdotally, in my experience among parents, I know it’s something that almost every family I know struggles with and has struggled with more this year, America’s most anxious year in quite some time. So, yes, it’s extremely common. And I back up everything Elizabeth said about, yes, therapy is a good idea. Your kid is losing whole weekends to worrying about his Kott therapy is a good idea. There’s one other suggestion I want to make, which is a little bit independent of the question of therapy or what your child can do or what you can do. I would urge you, you have got to get the teachers in his school to lay off a little bit. I know that the ghost of Amelia Montessori is looking down from heaven to make sure that your child makes hospital corners on his cot. But it is not helping him right now. And I don’t care how nice the teachers are being about this requirement, if they’re making him do this, try this thing that is keeping him up like at nights and ruining his weekends, they should lay off. And as someone who still remembers the battles that I had with my kids, Montessori teachers and what was fundamentally a child parent teaching philosophy mismatch, it is possible that you may want to consider moving him to a preschool where there may be a little less particular about things. It may be that down the road he’ll be fine in this situation. But right now it is not helping him at all to be in a place where the teachers are by design and by educational philosophy required to make your kid do things even if he is completely freaking out about it all day.

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S13: So I would also consider that because I definitely I was going to say mentioning it, I think mentioning it to the teachers is really good. We had a situation in the Netherlands where basically we were still undiagnosed with the big stuff, but we definitely knew we were dealing with some anxiety. But his teachers didn’t know because the anxiety and the OCD were really causing him to be a model student like he is a great student because he is so worried about getting things wrong. And so when we would notice stuff like this and we’re able to have those conversations like this is a huge deal. They took the initiative say like, oh, well, we don’t need to push him as hard then like from their perspective, pushing him was making him be better and be a better student. And once we were able to say, like, look, this this pushing is doing some damage at home, they were compassionate to say, like, OK, well, he doesn’t really need us to push him in this way or critique every last thing because that that is something he is doing on his own.

S9: So I think just letting as many people kind of into the loop, I think sometimes we’re afraid to tell people, you know, where our children are struggling or like asking for special permission, things like that. But I think when you can let the trusted people in your life that are dealing with your children and on what you’re struggling with or what you’re going through or what you’ve observed, that in general you will find that they try to be responsive to that. And like Dan said, if they aren’t, then you certainly know that your child is not in the right place.

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S8: Good job, Elizabeth. Finding Dutch teachers who are willing to bend a little bit for your unusual child. We did not have the same luck. All right. Listen, Erin, thank you so much for writing in. I’m hopeful that that helps. And everyone, if you want us to help you, please send in your questions and in your conundrum to mom and dad, it’s like dotcom or posted in the Slate parenting Facebook group. Let’s move on to recommendations before we wrap this episode up. Elizabeth, what are you recommending for us this week?

S16: All right. So I am recommending a website called Explore Dog, and it is full of nature web cams and it’s totally free. And they’re from all over the world. And we are currently enjoying the black bears in Alaska, catching the salmon. But there’s also like the African plains underwater. All of my kids love this. I weirdly really enjoy it. And it’s a great way, I think, when we’re feeling trapped and we feel like, well, we’re not traveling and we want to see these things, I bookmarked it. And just like it’s something that I’m like, let’s go see what these are doing by some time, let the kids scroll around and look at different things. There’s if you have a little one that’s like into puppies, there are ones of puppies. There are tons of cats. There are ones of just like every animal birds nests. So we’ve just been having a lot of fun on that Web site. Again, explore dog and you can check those out and see what animals around the world are doing.

S14: Since we’re not there, they’re having a great time as the answer. Yeah, yeah. Djamila, what are you recommending?

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S11: OK, this is super arbitrary, but I am recommending I’m a cat person. I know. Dan, are you. Are you.

S12: I had cats growing up, so I know a lot of other cat people.

S11: Uncle Cat, super soft, natural wood clumping litter. I know this is the most recent recommendation, but it is wouldn’t litter. And I had a woman tell me years ago that the combination of wooden litter and litter made from newspaper was the only thing that she’d ever found that kept her house from smelling like cat litter. I’ve tried that and it works pretty well. But the wood clumping litter by itself is a revelation, and I could not recommend a more cat litter. Smells very, very bad. Cat litter made with wood does not have the same smell it doesn’t carry through your house, so it’s OK. Oh, C.A.T. natural wood clumping litter. Thank me later.

S8: Oh you buy your cat litter. I grind my own cat litter out of artisanal forested cedar.

S4: I trained my cat to use the toilet. OK, I am recommending once again a great graphic novel for kids, a great comic for kids.

S1: This one is called Go with the Flow. It’s by Lily Williams and Kieran Schneeman. It just was released this year. The best way to explain what the story is, is to just give you the tagline that’s on the cover of the book, which is a friendship story, period. It’s about a group of four tween girls, all of whom are at different stages in their development, and one of whom the heroine of the story has just gotten her period. And so it follows her personal story as she’s sort of learning more about her body and about what this means as a moment in her growing up. She has a mom who does not really want to talk about it that much, and she’s lucky enough to have a group of friends who are happy to talk about it with her. But it’s also a fun political activism story because the group becomes devoted toward remedying the situation in their school, which is that there are never pads and tampons in the machines, in the bathrooms. And so they take action to fight against that. It is a super charming book. Harper really, really loved it and learned a little bit from it and also enjoyed the characters and enjoyed the art. It’s very cute. Once again, it’s called Go with the Flow by Lilly Williams and Karen.

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S17: All right. That’s our show. One more time. If you’ve got a question, email us Hamadan Telecom or post it to the Slate managing Facebook group. Just search for Slate parenting on Facebook dot com. And don’t forget to join us this coming Tuesday for our very own this episode. And don’t forget to join us next Thursday, a week from Thursday for the dramatic return of Carvelle to the kids. Mom and dad are fighting is produced by Rosemarie Bellson for Jimmy, a little of you and Elizabeth Decamp. Dan, thanks for listening.

S8: Hello, sleepless listeners, thank you so much for joining us. Your support means a lot to Slate, Dotcom and all the work that we do these days. We are all screaming into the void. In fact, the government of Iceland even just released an initiative in which you can record your scream and they will blast the sound of your scream across the lonely fjords of northern Iceland. But sometimes you need a little bit more than that. You need to know that someone out there hears you while we are here for you listeners plus listeners. Last week, one of our listeners, Theresa, posted on the Facebook group asking for us to just do a rapid fire rage session. On the show, she wrote, No advice needed, just a chance for us to cry out into the void and know that at least Shasha Leonhard has heard us. And we are here for you, Teresa, and everyone, we got so many replies from frustrated parents, so we picked a few to shout here on the show. And as promised, to listen to your cries is Slate’s own Shasha Lanard. Hey. Thank you so much for joining us. We’re also joined by Gus Châteaux adorable bird flitting around in the background. Gus, also, we’ll be hearing you. But let’s begin, Elizabeth Reed, one of the shouts we got from our listeners.

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S9: If I have to watch cars or Buzz and Woody one more time, I think my brain will melt out of my nose due to underuse. We own all the streaming services. Can we please just watch something else?

S18: Wow. That must be really difficult. I can feel your brain cells dying as we speak.

S8: Being mean on Facebook doesn’t make things better or help anyone grow. And frankly, I’m sick of reading it. Signed tired of your outrage.

S18: So social media is such a terrible thing because you need it more than ever now. But also it’s the worst thing right now for your mental health.

S14: Our baby sitter told us she was filing social distancing guidelines, but then I found out she’s been going to mass gatherings every weekend. My trust is violated.

S18: That’s terrible. And I hear you literally.

S9: Everything feels like the absolute last straw. I feel like a toddler flipping out because my sleeve is touching my hand and my actual toddler is off the charts. Sincerely area woman yelling at baby bird.

S18: What? Gus, Gus, don’t take it personally. My bird literally try to hide behind my hair at that comment. I can’t relate, but I feel for you and I’m sorry. I love birds.

S14: I’m about to drive my daughter nine hundred miles back to school when we all know a few weeks later they’re going to send them back home from campus again. College kids are worse to social distancing than preschoolers.

S18: Well, you know, that’s bullshit. That’s really bullshit that you have to drive your daughter nine hundred miles only to drive her back afterwards because no one knows what the hell is going on. I’m really sorry.

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S8: Hey, waking me up at four a.m. on a Saturday because you can’t wait to play Animal Crossing is not an emergency sign pandemic out in Princeton.

S18: I relate to this question. I was getting up at five to check turnup prices. And you know what? Just give your child the switch. I think that there’s nothing bad that they can do on that console, on that video game especially. And that would save you some sleep.

S4: That’s extremely good advice. Not only to Shasha here you she has the cure next kid.

S14: I’m tired of only spending time with you to find. Mom also misses her friends.

S18: That must be really hard. It seems like kids always get the, you know, the first everything. And you as a person, you need friends as well. Maybe you should call them and lock your child in a in a room for a bit. But you do that. I have no children, by the way. So that’s great. Great advice.

S9: You know what this pandemic is really highlighting? The patriarchy is not dead. Find I was always a feminist, but now I’m an angry one.

S18: I have so much to say to this. And it was only like a sentence. Oh my gosh. If the layers aren’t just peeling off of, like the proverbial wall and all the cracks and like, weird shit, not weird shit, terrible fucked up shit behind it appears it’s been there the entire time. But I mean, if this pandemic hasn’t opened, hopefully a lot of our eyes to all that bad shit happening, it’s the patriarchy most of all, because you knew it was there and it’s only worse, which, you know, I’m an optimist. I would like to believe that one day it’ll be better. But it’s kind of hard to imagine that right now. So I’m right there with you. I’m sorry. That was so good. I like my fist in the air.

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S14: Your bird flu. I know. Administrator on my school’s district, a call I’m not enjoying my staycation. Find quarantine isn’t a break.

S18: Oh, my God. No, it’s not. Some people still have to work. Some people like I work in service and so have to go in. Some people work from home and have to take care of their kids full time. I don’t love this branding of this pandemic like quarantine time as vacation or like a time for self care because the world is burning and no one is on vacation right now. Well, we’re not. I mean, the one percent always is. But, you know, anyway, I feel you screw them.

S4: This has been being heard by Shasha and also being instigated to riot by Shasha. What an amazing segment this was shot. Leonhard, thank you so much for being here and for hearing our feelings. We love you. Thank you.

S18: I love you all. I don’t deserve to be here.

S4: Oh, but you do. That’s it for this week’s Slate plus segment. Until next time. Folks, thanks for listening.