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7 Expert Tips to Handle Difficult School Drop-offs

You can help your kids feel safe and secure about school.

Day one of school came, and we were ready to rock. Excited to see friends, make new friends, and launch into a new adventure. But then we got to the front door, and our kindergartener lost it. She didn’t want to go, and the tears flowed. We made it through days one, two and three, and then we were a week in. As we figured out routines for a successful school morning drop-off, each day was better than the one before.

Then, quarantines hit, and school closed for a time. We had to start the process all over again. School drop-offs can be difficult for many kids (my 5-year-old despises it). It becomes more challenging when you have to alter routines due to things out of your control, like a pandemic. 

It’s important to recognize and validate your children’s feelings. They may be anxious about a new place, new people, or the ever-changing schedule.

These tips from experts can help you  navigate school drop-offs like a pro:

1. Talk about what’s going to happen.

Know your school’s drop-off policy and where your child will go. Create a morning routine that works for your family. Also, let your child know when you’ll be back to pick them up. The more comfortable they are with the daily routine, the more likely they’ll be able to accept and even look forward to the morning drop-off.

2. Make sure everyone is rested.

Good sleep goes a long way in preparing for the day. When you’re crafting the morning routine, give yourself plenty of time to get ready too. We’ve found that we need to get up at least 30 minutes before our kindergartner to make the morning less stressful. 

3. Create a goodbye ritual.

When my son started school, we came up with a secret handshake. He looked forward to it every day, and it helped him mentally transition. My daughter has crafted her own goodbye ritual. Work with your child and come up with a goodbye ritual that makes them feel more comfortable. Maybe it’s a secret handshake or a hug at a specific spot on the way to school. 

4. Offer a comfort object.

A source of comfort can be helpful if your little one is anxious about going to school. Check with their teacher to see what they can and can’t have. Maybe it’s a small stuffed animal in their backpack they know they can’t take out during the day. Perhaps a keychain clipped onto their bag or a family picture can remind them of home.

5. Arrive early.

School mornings are stressful, and that stress level can go through the roof when you’re running late. Plan to arrive early. Schedule in a buffer time so your child isn’t feeling rushed. Whether that’s getting to the car line early, arriving at school in plenty of time to walk them to the door, or getting to the bus stop in time to talk for a few minutes. Arriving early can lower everyone’s stress levels.

6. Make it quick.

I had a friend tell me recently that when she dropped her son off for his first day of daycare, the teacher said the best thing you can do is say bye and leave. This is so true; painful, but true. The longer you linger, the harder it is on them. Often, when a child enters school, they are mentally transitioning to the day ahead. My daughter’s emotional drop-off on the first day of school only lasted a couple of minutes, and then she got busy with her day.

7. Stay positive.

Another thing you can do to help your child have a successful drop-off is to stay positive. Our stress and anxiety can quickly transfer to them. If you’re confident and optimistic, they are more likely to do the same. 

This school year looks to be full of unknowns. Each week, we don’t know how many days we’ll be in school or how our routine will be thrown off. We may experience that first-day drop-off anxiety numerous times, and we can help by being upbeat and positive. It may not be easy, but our kids don’t need easy; they need safety and security, and we can help them feel safe about school.

Sources:

How to handle difficult school drop-offs, according to a maternal wellness expert

Crying at Drop-Off – Perfecting the Preschool Separation

Other blogs:

How to Help My Child Handle Anxiety

8 Back to School Parenting Tips

Back to School Tips

How to Start School Routines

4 Ways Having a Routine Contributes to a Happy, Healthy Family

How To Find a Counselor for Your Teen

Here's what you need to know to make a great choice for your teen.

If your teen is struggling, you want to fix whatever’s wrong and try to help. And maybe they need help, but chances are, they’re going to talk to someone else before they talk to you. Right? Well, if they need to talk and they won’t talk to you, you’ll want to do everything in your power to find someone who will lead them in the right direction and encourage them to make good choices. That’s why finding a counselor for your teen just may be the answer you’re looking for. 

A counselor can be a great resource to help your teen manage any number of issues they may be dealing with. But the process doesn’t have to be overwhelming. 

Think about this: finding a counselor is a lot like interviewing folks to fill a job position. When hiring someone, you want to find the right fit. 

It’s the same with choosing a counselor for your teen. You wouldn’t want to hire the first person to walk into a job interview. It’s the same with choosing a counselor; it’s wise to “shop around” and find the best fit for your teen. 

But how do you go about doing that?

Here are some helpful tips for finding a counselor for your teen: 

Do a search.

Finding a counselor in your area can be as easy as an internet search. But be sure to look at reviews. Check over their website, and ask around about counselors you may be interested in. 

Don’t underestimate the power of a good recommendation. Ask people you know who have used counselors. Therapists often specialize in adults and adolescents, so don’t discount the ones adult friends have seen. 

Pay attention to the credentials. 

You wouldn’t want to hire a person without the right qualifications, and it’s the same with choosing a counselor. Except this is your teen who needs help. Here’s a simple breakdown of what counselor credentials look like:

  • Counselors are either licensed or unlicensed by the state where they practice. Licensed counselors have initials after their names, like LPC, LPCC, LCPC, or LMHC. They hold a master’s degree or higher, have completed a certain number of supervised training hours, and have passed a licensure exam. Ideally, you should seek out a licensed counselor.
  • Some unlicensed counselors are working toward either their advanced counseling degree or licensure. They usually offer cheaper rates and must disclose the status of their services. Because they work under the direct supervision of experienced therapists, these counselors can also be very helpful. 
  • Some counselors are psychiatrists (PsyD or MD). This means they hold a medical doctorate, can diagnose mental illnesses, and can prescribe medication.
  • Some people advertise themselves as counselors but are not licensed. These professionals may or may not hold advanced degrees in areas of counseling or psychology. When seeking the services of unlicensed counselors, it’s wise to use caution. 

Ask a potential counselor questions before the first session. 

Consider questions such as: 

  • Do you specialize in child and adolescent therapy? 
  • How long have you been in practice? Are you licensed by the state? Is your license current? 
  • What issues do you specialize in? (Counselors will typically specialize in depression, LGBQT+ issues, addiction, or other issues that may pertain to your teen’s situation. These are usually spelled out on their website if they have one. Be sure to ask if you don’t see an issue that pertains to your teen.) 
  • What kind of approach do you use with your teen clients? (Most counselors have theoretic approaches they use, but don’t let the psycho-babble throw you off. Get a sense of how the counselor relates to their clients in a way that’s understandable to you.)

Consider the financial aspect.

Check to see whether a counselor accepts insurance and, if so, whether they are in-network. Some counselors base client fees on household incomes (called a sliding scale). Fee payment schedules can also vary from counselor to counselor. Some require payment at the time of each session, while others allow a certain number of sessions to go by. Be sure to ask about how the counselor handles their client fees. I understand that many parents don’t plan for the expense of counseling, but it’s well worth the investment. Mental health is that important.

Ask what to expect with confidentiality. 

If a counselor chooses to conduct sessions privately with your teen, ask how they handle confidentiality. Don’t assume the counselor will share everything your teen says in the counseling room. Counselors work under the state laws and codes of ethics that direct them as to how to handle client confidentiality. Ask the counselor about this before the first session so you will know what to expect. 

As a parent, your teen’s mental health is a top priority. And you want their counselor to be effective. Good counselors are out there; it takes a little digging to figure out who can best be helpful. If you feel there’s no connection between the counselor and your teen after a few sessions, keep looking for a counselor who will be a better fit. Your teen will be more open and make better progress if they feel comfortable with their counselor.  It’s worth it! 

Other resources:

How You Can Help Prevent Suicide

How to Prevent Depression in Teens

Five Strategies to Help Your Teen Deal with Post-Pandemic Anxiety

*If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, there are a number of websites and organizations with excellent resources for you. HelpGuide is a great place to start, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

“Why am I so bad at this?” 

“I don’t know if I can do this.” 

“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”

These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother. 

But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.

Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you. 

And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.

Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New

After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.

I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family. 

Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.

Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be

There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.

For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.

*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*

I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal. 

But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”

I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through. 

But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.

Other Resources:

What They Don’t Tell You About Postpartum Depression

6 Ways A Husband Can Support His Wife Through Postpartum Depression

How To Feel Confident As A New Mom

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

7 Strategies to Help Your Child Deal With Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Demonstrate your love, compassion, and care while walking them through their challenges.

Children, like adults, were struck with a sudden bombshell when COVID-19 arrived on the scene. Everything changed abruptly. Think about it. One day, they’re at school and seeing their friends. The next day, they’re home for an extended period. They’re isolated. Their world changed: masks, loneliness, increased family time, canceled activities, etc. The structure, predictability, and consistency kids need to thrive: gone. That’s a tough experience for a child to live through. It was even hard for adults.

As kids come out of the pandemic, it’s no wonder that so many are experiencing anxiety. Recent studies suggest the pandemic may be having a more adverse effect on adolescents than on adults.1 According to Dr. Bradley S. Jerson,2 your child may be dealing with post-pandemic anxiety if they are…

  • Spending a lot more time alone
  • Sleeping a lot more or less
  • Withdrawing from family or friends
  • Not interested in their favorite activities
  • Having changes in their overall mood
  • More irritated or angry
  • Stuck on negative thoughts
  • Hopeless about the future

As their parent, you want to help them manage their anxiety and adjust to normalcy.

These strategies can help your child deal with post-pandemic anxiety.

1. Be aware of your own mental health.

The Child Mind Institute states “that dealing with your own anxiety can be the most powerful way to make sure your kids feel secure.”3 Your children take a lot of their cues from you. So do whatever is necessary for you to be in a good space mentally. Practicing good self-care will equip you to help your child.

2. Give your child space and freedom to talk through their emotions.

What young child can do that by themselves? Not many. Try to ask questions in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Try, “What do you feel when we make plans to go to the supermarket or back to school?” This lets them know that whatever they’re feeling is acceptable and even normal. Studies show that after an event like a pandemic, mental health issues such as anxiety are common.4 Child expert Dr. Gene Beresin recommends that parents consistently listen and validate their child’s thoughts and emotions. This can help them transition to post-pandemic life.5

3. Create some routines, predictability, and consistency.

Children thrive when they know what’s coming. And it helps them adjust and know who to turn to for the things they can’t foresee. Morning or nighttime routines are helpful. Picking them up from school at a consistent time is also good. Several studies have shown that eating family meals together is beneficial for kids’ mental state.

4. Ease them back into their norms when possible .

Dr. Jill Ehrenreich-May and Dominique A. Phillips recommend taking smaller, manageable steps to move forward.6 Instead of going to an indoor birthday party, have your child choose a friend for an outdoor play date. Pick people and places that are most comfortable for your child, and use those spaces to help them overcome the paralyzing effects of their post-pandemic anxiety.

5. Talk them through what’s being done to keep them safe.

Young children look to their parents for security, safety, and protection. Asking your child what would make them feel safe can help them address their anxiety. Explaining what makes a situation safe helps build their trust in you as their parent to protect them. 

6. Get support for your child.

If your child continues to struggle, talk to their pediatrician, a school counselor, or find a therapist. Don’t hesitate to ask your child if they’ve had thoughts of self-harm. **If they have, call or text the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (24/7).**

7. Celebrate the positives.

Dr. Jerry Bubrick, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, encourages parents to look for anything positive they can celebrate.7 Sometimes, we spend so much time focusing on what our kids won’t do. Instead, highlight the good stuff they’re doing: the family time you’re spending together, the books they’re reading. This can help shift their mentality and calm their uneasiness.

Each child responds differently to change. Your love, compassion, and care in walking them through their challenges are often the most crucial ingredients to helping your child deal with change, fear, uncertainty, and post-pandemic anxiety. You got this!

Sources:

1 The psychiatric sequelae of the COVID-19 pandemic in adolescents, adults, and health care workers.

2 Connecticut Children’s

3 The Child Mind Institute Anxiety and Coping With the Coronavirus

4 Life in a post-pandemic world: What to expect of anxiety-related conditions and their treatment

5 Gene Beresin, Executive Director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, Full professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School

6 Here’s How to Help Your Kids Break Out of Their Pandemic Bubble and Transition Back to Being With Others

7 Jerry Bubrick, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute

Dear Dad,

Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?

It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know. 

Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes. 

And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.

Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.” 

So what do you do?

You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.

One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away. 

Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.

It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

How to Be a Supportive Parent

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became A Dad

How to Feel Confident as a New Mom

It may take some time, but you will find your way.

JUMP TO:

• Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?
• How to Shift Your Mindset And Become What You Believe
• It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information
• How to Stop Comparing Everything
• Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial
• The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence
• Other helpful resources

Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?

“I can’t believe it…. We have a baby!” I half laughed-half cried in the moments right after giving birth to my daughter. I was exhausted and barely able to register how my life had just been forever changed in that instant. The next 24 hours were a blur of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (ugh), and constant check-ups. And even though the hospital room was cold, the bed was uncomfortable, and we really just wanted to be at home with our new little love, a slight wave of panic washed over both my husband and me when they announced that we could be discharged. We caught each other’s eyes, wide and questioning, silently asking, “Wait, what do we do now?”

Fast forward 5 years and 2 more daughters, and life is still a whirlwind of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (“Mom, your belly is so squishy!”), and constant check-ups. (Those boo-boo’s ain’t gonna kiss themselves!) Although I suppose having three kids makes me a veteran when it comes to motherhood, I still vividly remember how it felt to be a first-time mom. The uncertainty, the sleep deprivation (still struggling with that one, unfortunately), the unsolicited advice from everyone (thanks random stranger in the grocery store), the fear of failure, the mom guilt, and most of all, the lack of confidence in myself.

I’d like to give you some free unsolicited advice. (No, I’m not going to say “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” although if you can, go for it!) But let me first preface these insights with a pill that might be hard to swallow: You won’t feel confident as a new mom. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but hear me out. You CAN absolutely fake it ’til you make it. It’s gonna take time… but you WILL make it. You WILL find your confidence. Here’s how.

How to Shift Your Mindset and Become What You Believe

Our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for. When you hit a major transition in life, like creating a tiny human, your mind is doing some pretty heavy lifting trying to navigate all the newness. You’re in the trenches, as I like to call it. It’s do-or-die survival mode. And that puts tremendous stress on your brain. It’s easy for negative, intrusive thoughts to slide into your mental DMs. Especially when the learning curve is so high, you are so tired, and the baby is soooo fussy. It’s easy to feel like you have no clue what you’re doing, which, as we know, is pretty much a confidence-killer.

But there’s this really cool little thing called experience-dependent neuroplasticity, which is just a fancy way to say we can change our brain through our experiences. Our brains are designed to be malleable and constantly rewire themselves. Basically, everything you experience WILL alter the physical nature of your brain. 

So, take those pesky negative thoughts: If you constantly focus on your worry, mom guilt, fear, self-criticism… your brain will reshape itself to make you more vulnerable to worry, anxiety, and depression. You’ll find yourself only seeing the negatives of a situation and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, if you focus your thoughts on giving yourself grace, believing you are a good mom, and knowing it will get easier in time, your brain strengthens those neural connections. You’ll become more resilient, optimistic and have higher self-esteem in the long run. In the wise words of Oprah, “You don’t become what you want; you become what you believe.”

Try this right now: 

  1. Think about something you did well as a mom today. But don’t just notice it; really feel it too. 
  2. Take that thought and dwell on all the goodness in it for at least 20 seconds. (No fleeting thoughts here! And absolutely NO BUTS, unless, of course, your happy thought is that you cleaned a poopy butt really well…) This gives your brain time to fire those neurons and hardwire that belief into your brain. 
  3. Let the confidence boost commence.

It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information

Have you ever googled some seemingly harmless symptoms (albeit worrisome enough to google) and ended up convinced you were dying of cancer? With all the conflicting parenting advice/opinions/facts/hullabaloo out there, it’s no wonder we parents think we are ruining our children for life if we don’t do the RIGHT thing at ALL TIMES. Confidence goes out the window when your best friend says one thing, your mother says another, the internet, best-selling authors, pediatricians, or statistics all say yet another. And then, there’s your gut feeling. It’s so easy to second guess what we feel deeply in our gut because a trusted friend or family member disagrees. So my advice to cultivate confidence as a new mama? Dig into the latest research AND trust your mama instincts at the same time. 

When my oldest daughter was going into her terrible terrific twos, I had no idea how to handle her meltdowns. I didn’t feel comfortable punishing her for having big emotions. Yet, I watched others around me telling their kids to “stop crying” or sending them to timeout when they acted out or wouldn’t calm down quickly enough. I wondered if I was being too permissive by not following suit. I frantically searched the internet for information on whether I was screwing up my child by lack of discipline. Did I need to toughen up? Implement consequences? Or maybe, just maybe… was my gut telling me something that other parents weren’t aware of? 

Enter: Positive Parenting, a parenting style I had never heard of that I immediately embraced wholeheartedly. It presented exactly what I felt on a deeper level, and it had the research and neuroscience of child development to back it up! It taught me things I hadn’t even considered, and I’ve been a better parent for it. 

Try this right now:

  1. Think of an aspect of parenting that you’re second-guessing yourself in.
  2. Take some time to really look into what research says.
  3. Take into account what works for YOUR unique situation. It may not feel right or align with your values, or it could add more stress to your family dynamic. That’s why considering what your intuition says is crucial. 
  4. Find a balance between the two and choose the best solution for YOU. (Not your mom, or friend, or pediatrician, or… you get my point.) 

** Not sure where to start? I highly recommend reading Parenting Right From the Start by Dr. Vanessa LaPointe or Cribsheet by Emily Oster. 

How to Stop Comparing Everything

The more we worry, the less we get to enjoy motherhood. Falling into the comparison trap is hands-down the easiest way to lose confidence in yourself. Her baby is already crawling! Why isn’t mine? She pureés her own organic baby food. She must be a better parent than I am. Her Instagram photos are picture-perfect. My life feels like a hot mess right now. Why can’t I lose the baby weight like she did? You get it. Listen, we’ve all been there. 

So my advice? Figure out the things that trigger feelings of comparison, a “compare-snare,” if you will. (Social media, anyone?) Once you’re aware of what’s happening and how it makes you feel, try to minimize your exposure to it. And if that’s not possible because you’re addicted to the dopamine hit of a new like, when you do get triggered, remember that everybody has insecurities. (Even Beyoncé! Or Kate Middleton! Or Michelle Obama!) No one is perfect. Even the “perfect mom” has bad days. So stop believing the highlight reel of people’s lives. (Psst… Their highlight reel is not real life.) It’s only 1% (…maybe 2%) of their life. It’s not fair to compare the worst of yourself to the best of another. Even if it’s really easy to do.

Try this right now: 

  1. Create a mama-mantra that will help you overcome those moments when you’re being held captive by comparison. Something like, “I am enough,” or “A bad day does not make me a bad mom,” or “I’m still learning, and that’s okay.” Something short and easy to remember on the fly. 
  2. Write it down on a Post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror for a daily reminder to repeat it often, in good and bad times. 
  3. In moments of stress, simply repeat your mama-mantra and you’ll feel your heart rate slowing, your breathing becoming steady, and your confidence building up.

Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial

Chances are, the people you already surround yourself with probably look similar to you, have a similar upbringing or lifestyle, and have a similar belief system. That’s because we tend to like being around people who are similar to us. However, there may be people in your life who only diminish your self-confidence by questioning your decisions or flat-out disagreeing with them. When it’s a stranger, it’s easier to brush it off. When it’s your own family member, it’s a wee bit harder. 

So, for my last but certainly not least piece of advice, I highly suggest that you confide in another supportive and like-minded mama who shares your attitude toward motherhood and all the decisions surrounding it. This is what psych-nerds call consensual validation, and it will absolutely boost your confidence in your own attitude and the decisions you’re making! 

Having just any ol’ mama friend/sister or literally your own mother is sometimes not enough. Even though they get motherhood because they are indeed mothers, they’re contributing to your lack of confidence in a big way if they’re opposing rather than supporting your decisions. 

Find the mama who has been there and also totally listens to you, encourages you, supports you, builds you up, and pushes you to be the best version of yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree on everything, but it does mean that she won’t hurt your confidence in the process if she doesn’t agree. Plus, you’ll likely agree on way more than you disagree on anyway (remember that consensual validation)!

Try this right now:

  1. Think about a mama who just gets you and accepts you for who you are.
  2. Go ahead and send her a quick text thanking her for being so supportive. If she doesn’t already know, tell her how you’ve been struggling with a lack of self-confidence in this season of life.
  3. Ask if she has any tried and true suggestions for your specific situation.
  4. Lean on her.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If she’s a true friend, she’ll be honored to guide you through the trenches.  

The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence

It is completely normal to have a lack of confidence in something you’ve never done before. Even if you’ve babysat or worked with kids, motherhood is a whole new ballgame. It’s the difference between sitting in the stands, maybe catching a fly ball every once in a while, and being up to bat in a sport you barely know the rules to. 

So, give yourself permission to:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Trust your intuition.
  • Ask for help or support.
  • Know that you’re the best mama for the job.

Confidence will come when your decisions yield positive outcomes. You won’t always choose the right thing. Remember, there’s a big learning curve. When you feel like you’re failing, acknowledge and validate your own feelings. Repeat that mama-mantra until you believe it, and confide in your supportive mama friend for a little extra encouragement. You got this.

Other helpful resources:

3 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently After Having a Baby

Help! We Just Had a Baby and Now We Can’t Stop Fighting

5 Reasons Why Marriage Can Be Harder After Having A Baby

Dear Wife, This is What You Should Know About Your Husband After Having a Baby

OH, Baby! Online

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

You can lay the groundwork for bigger talks in the future.

Our children are exposed to more screens than ever, beginning at a very young age. They are bombarded with digital content and exposure to ads, friends, and family members sharing who knows what. Not to mention the sneaky ways tech experts entice viewers to look at inappropriate images. (Check out PARENTING COURSE | Parenting In The Brave New Digital World here!)

The sexual curiosity of many 6 and 7-year-olds is getting awakened earlier than you ever imagined. So whether porn pops up on their screen or a friend or family member shares something, you want to be ready to have the “porn talk” with your kids.

Talking with your young child about pornography doesn’t have to be terrifying. In fact, before the teen years, you have some advantages. 

1. At this age, the parent/child relationship is often still the most important influence for your child. 

2. Young school-aged children are probably more open about what they’ve seen, done, heard, or said, especially when they feel supported by their parents. Yes, some kids lie. However, a 15-year-old’s efforts to hide something are very different from a 7-year-old’s. 

3. Parents have more control over where they go, who they spend time with, and what they do. (When kids split time between parents, this can be challenging. But, if parents work together, they can both be more aware.)

Keep these things in mind as you consider how to talk to and protect your child. Perhaps they’ve already been exposed to porn. Or maybe you have a reason to think you should talk about what porn is with them. If you find out your child has seen stuff you don’t want them to see, try not to show them you’re overwhelmed.

Remember, they’re still young. Still forming right and wrong mentally. Learning the world outside of their bubble. Your child’s life isn’t ruined. 

What Not To Do:

  1. Don’t fly off the deep end. It’s disappointing when your young child has been robbed of a certain innocence. But if they’ve seen it, they can’t “unsee” it. If you’re overly emotional, it will make it harder for them to talk to you in the future. 
  2. Don’t dive super deep into the details. The goal is to help your child do the right thing if they see inappropriate content. 
  3. Don’t solely rely on parental controls on devices. Your parent-child relationship plays the biggest role in dealing with this issue and reducing the risk of exposure. 

Language

Don’t assume your child knows what the word pornography means. It may not mean what they think it means. How does your child identify inappropriate content? 

Try asking:

  • “Have you seen pictures or videos that you don’t feel comfortable looking at with me?” 
  • “Are there sometimes pictures on your screen of people without their clothes on?” 
  • “Has anyone shown you pics of things that made you feel weird or uncomfortable?” 
  • “Have you looked at stuff you don’t think we’d want you to see?” 

The word porn may not trigger the type of awareness for kids that it would for you. They will, however, know when they’ve seen something that’s not OK to you. 

Find out what they’ve seen and where.

Look at the internet browser, YouTube history, and some of the video games they play. Gently ask questions to gather info. Ask to see what they look at with friends. 

Set the standard of what’s OK and what’s not.

A 15 or 16-year-old clearly knows what they’re doing when looking at porn. A 5 or 6-year-old is learning about the outside world. You have to set the standard for appropriate and responsible technology use. You may say, “It’s not OK for you to look at anything online that we can’t look at together. That includes people who aren’t wearing clothes or who are doing things that only adults should be doing.” 

Try, “Anytime we go to someone’s house, doesn’t everyone have their clothes on? It should be the same way when you’re looking at a screen. Everyone should be dressed.”

Clearly say what you expect.

Ask your child to tell you (and the adult in charge) if someone shows them something inappropriate. Tell them it’s important to be honest with you, even if someone asks them to keep secrets or threatens them concerning what they are doing or showing him. 

Be a safe person he or she can come to without fear of getting in trouble, and don’t be shocked by what they show you. You want to encourage them and make it easy for them to talk to you. On the other hand, let them know they will get in trouble if they see something wrong and hide it. Make sure they understand the difference.

Standards and expectations don’t work without consequences.

If your child continues to view inappropriate content and fails to meet the standards and expectations you’ve set (see above), be consistent with consequences. Maybe they lose screen time. It may mean no sweets or an earlier bedtime for several days.

If the consequences don’t work, consulting a professional may help. If your child insists on looking at porn, something else may be going on.

Often the key to steering your child is the approach. Your kids need you to be gentle and supportive. Look for ways to appreciate and reward their good decisions. This will lay the groundwork for being an ally as they move into the teen years and beyond.

Other helpful blogs: 

When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography

Boys and Porn