Do you feel pressure to protect your child from disappointment? You aren't the only one. Our guest, Dr. Karen Cassiday, clinical psychologist and owner and managing director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago, says that's a common experience for parents these days and comes with real consequences, especially when anxiety is part of the picture. In this episode, she talks with our hosts, Amy O. and Dr. Lisa, about another perspective on parenting and how her new book, The No Worries Guide to Raising your Anxious Child, can guide families through living an imperfectly OKAY life, with anxiety and all of our daily ups and downs. Dr. Cassiday is also the host of a radio show and podcast, Moms Without Worry.
This is the conversation you aren’t having with your kids' doctors and teachers because time doesn’t allow it. Or, with your friends, because they just don’t get it. So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation because mental health matters.
Amy O. (aka the mom) is the founder and Dr. Lisa (aka the psychologist) is an active board member of CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health a 501(c)(3) organization based in Chicago's Northern Suburbs.
In addition to her own book, The No Worries Guide to Raising your Anxious Child, Dr. Karen Cassiday also recommends:
Brave Parenting by Krissy Pozatek
The Choice: Embrace the Possible by Dr. Edith Eva Eger
© CATCH 2022
To find all of the resources CATCH provides to caregivers of young people struggling with their mental health, go to www.catchiscommunity.org.
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CATCH, Community Action Together for Children's Health, is a 501(c)3 that provides support and education for families around mental health topics. Original content and materials from CATCH and its collaborators are for informational purposes only. They are provided as a general resource and are not specific to any person or circumstance.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (00:00):
When parents came in and I asked them, you know, what do you want for your kid? And this would be in the eighties and early nineties. What I'd hear was I don't want anymore tantrums because of their anxiety. I want them to get on the bus and go to school. I want them to get their homework done and it would just be the straightforward. I just want them to cope better. That answer has changed. And the most frequent answer that I get from parents now is I want my child to be happy. I cringe when I hear that answer.
Amy O. (00:29):
On today's Parenting the Mental Health Generation, we will gain invaluable tips and a better understanding of parenting an anxious kid by accepting imperfection and having a few laughs along the way.
Dr. Lisa (00:42):
Today we are speaking with Dr. Karen Cassiday, clinical psychologist and owner and managing director of the Anxiety Treatment Center of Greater Chicago. She is also an author and a host of a radio show and podcast "Moms Without Worry."
Amy O. (00:58):
You will feel hopeful and competent about parenting your child with anxiety after hearing this conversation with Karen Cassiday, where she discusses her book, The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child. Welcome I'm Amy O the Founder and Executive Director of CATCH Community Action Together for Children's Health based in Chicago's northern suburbs.
Dr. Lisa (01:23):
And I'm Dr. Lisa, I'm a licensed clinical psychologist, a CATCH board member and the liaison between CATCH and the mental health providers in our community.
Amy O. (01:33):
Together, we are the hosts of Parenting the Mental Health Generation..
Dr. Lisa (01:37):
So put in your earbuds, take this 30 minutes for you and join our conversation with Dr. Cassiday.
Amy O. (01:48):
Welcome back to Parenting the Mental Health Generation. We are very excited to have Dr. Karen Cassiday joining us today.
Dr. Lisa (01:58):
We can all agree that our world is turned upside down right now. We are seeing an alarming increase in anxiety and depression in our children. Parenting an anxious child is extremely difficult and can feel very overwhelming. Dr. Cassiday's book is a straightforward, completely relatable, and even humorous at times guide to understanding our children's anxiety and raising our kids to thrive despite it. Welcome, Karen, thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (02:28):
Thank you so much. I am really glad to be here. This is something I've been looking forward to for quite a while.
Amy O. (02:35):
So to set this stage for our conversation today, I just want to start out by asking you Karen, why did you write this book now? What are you seeing in your practice that pushed you to want to write a handbook like this for parents?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (02:50):
My big inspiration for this was when I went into mental health, I thought, you know, 30 years after I began practice that what I was going to see was fewer kids, fewer disorders. It would just be a better world because during the past 30 years there's been this plethora of research and understanding about parenting kids, brains, um, anxiety disorders. And about 10 years ago, it really started hitting me. We're going backwards. And that the data we were getting about the prevalence of anxiety and depression and suicide and suicide completions was actually increasing despite improved assessment, awareness, intervention. And then, the other thing that really hit me was I started to see more and more parents who were feeling outrageously pressured to try and raise their kids the right way and really doubting themselves feeling alone. And then seeing around me more and more evidence that just feeling like there's, we're just in this pressure cooker to raise perfect children that don't have mental health problems. And it really made me feel like, okay, it's not enough for me to just be seeing people at my office after a problem has developed that I really want to do something that prevents problems. And this book is part of it. And volunteering with the Anxiety and Depression Association is part of it. With this book I was hoping to get families before they got to me and perhaps send them on a better path so that they don't end up feeling so bad about the fact that there's anxiety.
Amy O. (04:34):
So when you say that you see parents who are feeling so much additional pressure, what kinds of parental expectations are you seeing that you think have changed over the years? Like are kids aspiring to be something different than they used to be? Are parents putting different parameters on what they feel is success?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (04:58):
Yeah, I I'm going to say yes to all those questions. And let me explain, um, you know, when I started training and practice, when parents came in and I asked them, you know, what do you want for your kid? And this would be in the eighties and early nineties. What I'd hear was I want them to stop being so annoying. They didn't say it exactly like that, but it'd be like, I don't want anymore tantrums because of their anxiety. I want them to get on the bus and go to school. I want them to get their homework done and it would just be this straightforward I just want them to cope better. And then that answer has changed. And the most frequent answer that I get from parents now is I want my child to be happy. And I cringe when I hear that answer because I realize that happiness is not the goal of life and that we see from research.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (05:49):
When we look at research that, you know, college kids now expect to be happy and we see younger kids expect to be happy and that they think then when they have all those inevitable, normal days where you feel crappy or you're disappointed in yourself, or you're disappointed in your friends or your family, then if the goal is happy, it means somehow you're off target as opposed to your normal. And the other thing we see is that parents want their kids to not feel stressed. And so I hear parents saying, I want my kid to not feel stressed. And we've seen from Kristen McGonigal's research that unfortunately people have come to believe that stress is bad as opposed to stress is inevitable. You know, and that's something that's really changed. And so I see that the other thing that parents are expecting now and the way they explain it to me, they say is, I want to give my kid the advantage because life feels so competitive. So I want them to have enrichment. I'm going to get them tutors if they don't do well. And then what they mean by don't do well is not my child. Isn't living to their potential. It's they're not doing well compared to other kids. They're not in that super advanced class. They're not in that level one class. They're not taking APS their freshman year. They're not on the travel team. And, and I see parents truly believing that this is going to help my child's self-esteem if I have them do all these things and, and it's it doesn't
Dr. Lisa (07:22):
Can I ask what reframe you offer instead to parents who are coming in saying, I want my child to be happy. I want my child to never feel stressed. What is the better reframe there?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (07:35):
The phrase that we like to use at our practice and that I love to use with parents is I want my child to become an effective adult. And that's a different goal because when I think of an effective adult, I think of someone who can form their own community. Who can manage their own problems. Who can be as independent, um, as possible, including if someone's disabled. Who's able to handle bad things, trauma, difficult things and overcome it. And, and for me personally, leaving the world in a better place. That they care about the greater good. And
Amy O. (08:10):
How do you reconcile that though with living in the moment? You know, making sure that your kid mm-hmm <affirmative> is a junior high schooler is a high schooler isn't living toward being a better adult or a more functional adult. Yeah. But is just in the moment.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (08:28):
Yeah. Well we see that part of good mental health is being able to be absorbed in the moment and not be worrying about what will happen or what if you make a mistake or ruminating about the past, where you're getting all, you know, thinking about what was the better thing I should have done that that's part of it. But part of that living in the moment means accepting the moment for what it is. And then if you're really going to be present in the moment, then it means you have to, nonjudgmentally take the moment for what it is and not superimpose some special meaning. And quite frankly, a lot of moments aren't necessarily fun. You know, when I floss my teeth in the morning, I, I do it or at night actually I do it because it prevents a bad outcome, but I can't say I've ever liked it.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (09:17):
<laugh> um, you know, maybe if there's a bad piece of popcorn, it feels good <laugh> but um, there's an awful lot of life that, um, is repetitious, tedious, not necessarily fun, but if you handle it well, it leads to good things. And I think the problem is when we talk about happiness, we're talking about this ephemeral feeling that everything's hunky dory and it misguides us. And, and the word I like to use is joy instead. So when I'm talking to parents and patience and friends and my kids, I say the real goal is joy and joy is something deeper and more different. And joy is where you're fulfilled because you know, you're living on purpose. And we see from research that the purpose actually has to be something that has to do with love and compassion and service and that you don't get satisfaction from materialism, from competition. And I'm not saying it's bad to be competitive, but winning, you know, feels good for a few moments. And then it's over. That you really have to have something enduring. You have to be focusing on relationships and, um, building things for other people in the future and the relationship. And that isn't necessarily a happy thing. It doesn't feel happy when you hold your temper and you decide you're going to listen to someone when you're feeling very justified in yelling at them.
Amy O. (10:43):
I have goosebumps right now. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and I think I can't get the words out of my head about what you said earlier that we judge ourselves based on whether or not we feel happy or maybe I'm not saying that quite right. Yeah. But in other words, if we're not happy, we look down on ourselves and what you're suggesting is there's a lot of times that we're not going to be happy mm-hmm <affirmative> but that we're moving.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (11:13):
Yeah. There's um, it's interesting. There's uh, different people that talk about, uh, toxic positivity in our culture. It's become sort of a buzzword. And what they're talking about is that belief that if I really tried hard enough, I could be whatever I want to be. It would all go, well, my dreams would come true. And, and that actually is a normal way that an adolescent thinks, but it shouldn't be the way a mature adult thinks <laugh>. And, and I hear this from kids all the time, and this is a thing that has become very common in the last 10 years in my practice is kids telling me I don't want to disappoint my parents. That's why I'm not quitting travel team. Or I'm taking these APs because my parents or my guidance counselor really wants me to, but I don't really like it. And I'm a freshman or a sophomore or a junior.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (12:09):
And, and then when we dig into it, what they're really telling me is I don't want to disappoint them. I know that my job is to try and be special, to be someone you can brag about, to be someone that you can feel good about because look compared to everybody else. I'm pretty cool. And I have other kids who tell me, you know, I don't want to let my parent know how bad I feel or how suicidal I feel or how anxious I feel, because I know they'll cry. I know they won't be able to handle it. And so I'm telling you, but please don't tell them. And that is sad because that's really telling me is they're telling me, my parents are not resilient. They don't know how to think about or how to frame my ordinary human experience of suffering. And part of what I want families to know and parents to know is suffering comes with being human.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (13:06):
The greatest gift you can give your kids is to show them how to be human. Which means how do you handle suffering? How do you overcome it? What does it mean? And it doesn't mean something bad. And then the other thing I see is parents feeling very ashamed that their child is in my office. They're scared and right away, when I ask them, you know, what are you afraid of? The first things out of their mouths? Are will they be able to go to college? Will they be able to get married? Will they be able to have a good job? Um, will they be able to move out? You know, and, and this is kids and teens and young adults with ordinary anxiety disorders. And I, I'd never heard that 30 years ago, 20 years ago, but I hear this all the time. And, and to me, what it means is parents have gotten really perfectionistic. They've come up this overly narrow definition of what my family should be, what success is for my kid. And they don't allow for the fact that a quarter of the human population gets anxiety disorders, 25% of us, or 23% to be exact around the world are going to develop an anxiety disorder in our lifetime.
Amy O. (14:19):
And when you say anxiety disorder, you mean it, it gets in the way of your life. Yeah. It's not, it's not regular old. I'm feeling nervous or stressed. Yeah. It's, it's in your life's way.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (14:30):
Yeah. It's actually interfering with your ability to do ordinary things and you're miserable and you really ought to see someone, you know, so if we look at that alone, we're going, okay, how abnormal is it that people have mental health problems? Actually, not that abnormal. You know, if you go to the National Institute of Health and you look under their prevalence data and you analyze it, you'll find out that about 65% of kids, at some point in their lifetime are going to have a diagnosable mental health disorder, something that's in, you know, the manual of diagnostics. It really, you know, challenge us to say, wait, what's normal. And, and how do I think about it? You know, one thing I share in my book is the two kids I gave birth to are complicated. One has disabilities and cognitive impairment and Tourette's and has had anxiety.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (15:23):
And the other one has had selective mutism, social anxiety, bipolar. And then of the kids I inherited my marriage. One is quadriplegic with cerebral palsy and then the other two seem so utterly average. And the, all the only specialists they've ever needed is an allergist. And I almost can't believe how easy they are. Uh, because of that, I think what it's done to me is just look at us like, you know, this is just an ordinary thing to raise a kid where something isn't perfectly right. And why do we get all bent out of shape about it? It's just part of dealing with life.
Dr. Lisa (15:59):
And we started today by talking about kids and their anxiety disorders and how they're so much more prevalent now, but what I'm hearing and, and what I've seen in many ways is that there's a lot of anxiety coming down straight from those parents. I mean, when you talk about this fear of imperfection and what's driving parents to want to make sure their kids go to that good college and stay on that travel team and get those good grades, it feels so fear based to me. And,
Amy O. (16:30):
Does it feel to you guys as though the word comparison is a really important word when we're talking about this? Yeah. Like I agree with you, Lisa. So much of what we're seeing I think is coming from parents and pushing on down. And I think it comes so often from comparing you or your child or your family to what you see either on social media or in your neighborhood or at your school rather than somehow digging in there and figuring out that what we are like, you were just expressing Karen. Yeah. Is what we are. Yeah. Imperfect in all of its ways. Right?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (17:13):
Yeah. I mean, one thing that I think is so hard as a parent is, you know, these days with the internet, it's so easy to get all kinds of information. And I think what's tough is our mind is hardwired to pay attention to negative information or frightening information. We can't help it. And it actually takes a good bit of persistent self training to not give into that. And especially if you have anxiety disorders in your family, then you're going to have to work harder. And that's one reason. I think that, you know, we hear all this stuff about gratitude and good humor being so important for our mental health is it takes us out of that zone. But what I see is parents anxiously go to the internet and they send out a little blurb. Has anyone's kid ever done that or done this? And then there's all this sort of worrying about what if it's something bad?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (18:10):
And I think one of the focuses that has changed on parenting instead of, you know, make your kid be effective to make sure nothing bad happens is the parent's role has now become defined by preventing terrible things, even if there low risk or no risk. And so parents are afraid to do all kinds of things that help their child grow. And so it's very common for me to have parents who help their kids with homework. My professional belief and personal belief is that should never happen. You know? And I'll give you an example of how strongly I take this is my kids hated homework and would complain about homework. And what they would complain is like, you need to help me. You should help me. And I'd be like, no, this is your homework. I've already been to school. Um, I'm not doing it again.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (18:57):
And then they would go like, you're so mean other people's parents will help them. This is terrible. Uh, you know, they get better grades because their parents are helping them. And I'm like, well, I don't care. You need to get your grade and you need to get to college on your own. And then when it came time for college, they had heard me tell stories about how many of my patients hire special tutors and special college entrance people. And they work on their essay. And so my youngest came to me and said, well, you going to help me with my essay mom. And I was like, no way, you have to get yourself into college. And so he wrote his essay and he told me after he sent it, would you like to read it? And I read it and it was fantastic. And it had a few typos, but I was, I was like, gosh, I, I had no idea he had this in him, but what's so wonderful for my kid is he has pride of ownership. And I also know like he got himself into college and I'm not worried about, is it too much for him?
Amy O. (20:03):
Can I just interject here that
Dr. Karen Cassiday (20:05):
Amy O. (20:06):
I think as a parent of a child who struggles with anxiety and depression, I think one of the hardest lessons that I've learned, or maybe I'm still learning actually is exactly what you're outlining. And that is the power of watching her struggle. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, it's the most difficult thing to do for me as a parent because my yes initial thought is to just CATCH her and make it okay. Because then I feel better actually. <laugh> yeah. So at least temporarily, right.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (20:45):
Well it helps your worry because then you're like, oh good. This is taken care of, but it's not asking the long term question, which is where does this lead? Because you know, when I'm working with kids, the thing I'm always trying to figure out is how can I create an experience that shows them they're more than they think they are? How can I put them in a situation that I know is going to be tough, but not overwhelming. If I can control it, that's not always the case and push them to where they have to jump off the cliff by themselves. And I feel like actually that's our job as parents is that some of our parenting has to be geared toward that. Not just, I'm going to comfort you when you're upset, but I'm also comfortable sending you back out to try again. And that I'm going to accept that, um, mistakes are your best way of learning and your best way of becoming gritty.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (21:44):
And, and that's one thing actually, that's kind of tough sometimes when I'm working with parents is, you know, oftentimes what I do is I work with the family and the kid at the same time. Because I want the, the parent to learn how to become a good coach. And I see them there and they're crying and they've got tears in their eyes where their kid is, you know, shaking and upset, but starting to do the thing. And I know they're thinking tragedy in their head as opposed to what I'm thinking, which is, oh my God, this is so cool. This kid is doing it. And I don't care that they're yelling at me that they're upset or they're crying. They're actually doing something they've never done before. This is so awesome. And that's how I'm talking to them. And then they're sitting there all teary eyed because of the fact that this is how their child feels.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (22:29):
And when I get back to that thing, we were talking about being in the present moment and accepting it, you know, the best way I can describe being a parent coach is like this is like, I want you to picture, like if you were in the middle of Ukraine right now, and you had a platoon of Ukrainian soldiers and you could be the master sergeant and the master sergeant's the one that leads tells you what to do. And if you were the emotional validation, uh, I want you to be happy master sergeant you'd be talking like this. Like, okay, Ooh, that was a bad one. You know, it's okay. If you pee in your pants, I've done it before. Oh my God, this is so scary. Oh, well look at that. Well, if you're going to be the effective master sergeant, you're going to say, aim your weapon over there, pull the trigger, throw the grenade, take the pin out before you throw it.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (23:17):
And then as soon as they do it going good way to go. And that's because once there's a difficult moment, you can't change that you're in that moment, but you sure can change how you respond to it. The most effective thing for helping your child is letting them know whatever your moment is. You can learn to handle it. And so one of the things I think of for my, when I'm working with my patients and with my own kids is I want them to have self-worth versus self-esteem. And self-esteem is where you feel good about your self based on your accomplishments, but self-worth is different and it's deeper. And it's where you know that you have good character and by good character, meaning, you know, you can learn, you're the person that's up for the job. You can live in consonants with your values, with your morals and the culture, and you can adapt. And that's what I really want for youth, rather than this happy. I'm not anxious. I'm not depressed kind of thing.
Dr. Lisa (24:21):
Karen, I have about 700 questions for you right now. Um, but the one I want to start with is what you're describing. You know, and as, as I hear you talking about your hands off approach with your own kids and doing their homework, it feels so far on the other side of where a lot of our parents and listeners are right now. I mean, not only are they helping their kids with their homework, but they're emailing the teachers and getting the extra tutors and all of the additional pieces. And I'm wondering what the middle ground might look like, where we, we do know that our, our kids are not adults yet and do need some support, but we don't want to over support them. And we still want to let them flail. It's it's such a hard balance to strike. How can we help parents feel more confident and comfortable doing that?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (25:17):
Yeah, well, I, I think the first thing that I would want to tell any parent is to, to ask yourself, what's the real reason your kids doing what they're doing. Um, and I don't mean like a weird psychological thing, but I mean, okay, if they have a tutor, why do they have a tutor? Is this something where they have a learning disability or it's just going to take extra intervention in order to help them, you know, learn some basics that they just have to have by the time they graduate high school, is it something the child asked for? Um, and I'd want to know why do they ask for it? But I would want to ask, you know, why am I doing this? Or why is my kid on the travel team? And what effect does it have on our family? Because one of the things we do see is it's not just money that it costs doing all these things.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (26:09):
It's time and effort. And one thing that I hear from so many parents is I'm exhausted. I'm exhausted getting my kids everywhere. I'm exhausted trying to keep up with all this stuff. And so what I'd love to tell parents is, you know, have you ever thought about the idea of ask yourself what really makes our life good? What allows us to enjoy each other? What allows us to have times of spontaneous joy or good humor and that if I'm shepherding my through everything, how much do I really want to do it? How much do they really want to do it? What's the real reason we're doing that or doing because we're supposed to, or because I have this fantasy that I want my child to be in advanced placement, because then they'll get a better college and I hate saying it but if the answer is it'll get, them a better college, then I'd want to say, okay, who's agenda is this?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (27:05):
Is it yours? Or is it really your child's? And some kids who are academically gifted are naturally going to go for more and the parents going to be running to keep up with them. They'll ask for that enrichment thing. They'll love it. They'll easily do it. Well, the second question would be like, is this making me pull out my hair or making my kid pull out their hair? So if we're having tons of crying all the time about getting there, doing it practicing, then I'd say, is this really worth it? And I'm not talking about an anxiety disorder. I'm just saying, okay, what if a kid has realized I don't want to be in this super competitive thing, or I don't like soccer anymore. I want to do piano. As a parent, I would insist that a kid has activities, but also they have free play time. And then the other thing I'd want to say, is there a way I could gradually pair back to help them be more independent?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (27:59):
Is there a way I could step down and we do this with lots of families and say, okay, if your kid is asking you all the time to check in to say, well, I want you to tell me your opinion first and to not give your opinion, say, what do you think of this essay? What do you think you got your math problems, right? Have you checked them? And then if they give an opinion and they say, okay, cool. And just affirm their opinion. And one of the mistakes we see current parents making is they give their opinion too fast. And too often in the mistaken idea that I'm going to affirm my child. And one thing that I tell parents of teenagers is stop giving advice and start asking what they think they should do, make them think, and then only give their advice after they beg you for it.
Amy O. (28:47):
Can I interject here, Karen? Yeah. I want to remind folks that Karen's book is really super reader friendly and there are a lot of tips and helpful, um, ideas in the book to get parents to focus on some of the things that we're talking about today. And I just wanted to remind everyone that it's out there as a terrific resource and it takes it one step and one concept at a time.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (29:15):
Yeah. Thank you, Amy.
Amy O. (29:17):
Dr. Karen Cassiday (29:18):
I guess the other thing I wanted to reply to Lisa's question is the other big question that I want to ask parents is, is my lifestyle with my child, allowing any time for fun. I know when I thought of having kids before I knew I had complicated kids, I of course pictured what every parent picture is. I pictured kind of reading to them fun times, doing stuff, outdoors, having fun. And I did what I see so many of my parents do is when I got a diagnosis for my, um, oldest, that he had cerebral palsy and all these other things going on. I, I went into "thera-mom" mode where I made sure everything we did was therapeutic because I knew that the earlier the intervention, the better, I felt like we'd lost time because we didn't find out at birth. And I put so much pressure on myself and I had this giant three inch binder with all the home practice, from all the different physical therapists, occupational therapist, speech therapist, developmental psychologist, developmental neurologist, there were more.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (30:26):
And I don't even remember who they were. I did it with a very good intention. I loved my son and I, I pictured that, okay. He was going to walk and talk and do all these amazing things and be like all the other kids. And I drove myself nuts and I drove my kid nuts. I mean, I wouldn't even let him like eat with his hands, which was the only way he could reliably get food in his mouth. I would insist he use his special little fork. I put on weight. I had all these stress related illnesses, which I'd never had before. I looked like a wreck. We got to go to Walt Disney World. You know, I of course worried about the fact that we were going to be gone for 10 days and have no therapy. So I was going to take this binder. And then I found out I couldn't fit it with all the stuff, because of course, when you have a little kid, you have all the, the pack and play and the stroller and the, this and the, that, and the thousand diapers and you name it.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (31:23):
And we got there and I was feeling awful about the fact that we'd done no therapy all day. We get to the hotel. And my first thought was we gotta do some therapy. And this is just like other parents, the minute they know something's wrong, like we gotta work on it. You gotta get this handwriting good because you have a problem with your handwriting. And I remember we had a room that was looking out over the kiddie pool and my son was patting on the door, going mama, mama, mama, mama. And I'm flipping through the binder and I look over and I realized, okay, that'd be more fun to go out to the pool. So I get our bathing suits on and I was feeling guilty the whole time. Like, oh God, I haven't made him sit properly. We haven't done the mouth exercises, a sitting exercises and we get in the water and he just started playing and laughing and, and you know, when your kid's little and they're just laughing and you can't help but laugh with them and I'm just laughing too.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (32:16):
And then all of a sudden I realized, oh my God, this is the first time I had fun in two years where I just had unbridled fun. And I wasn't thinking about making things better, which is perfectionism. And I started crying and, and I had an epiphany where I realized I have really messed it up. I've become the very thing that I don't want to be to my child. I've made his life a project. And what I did is I threw out the binder from that point forward, I realized that the problem is your attitude about it and what it means when something's wrong. And if you, as a parent are looking at your kid, like a project to be improved, then I can promise you that's off target. It's not allowing for fun. It's not allowing for good humor. It's not allowing for life. I have to accept my kids disabled. It's never going to be like everybody else. It's foolish for me to think that I am over going to overcome disability, just because I know so much and have a PhD and can be a really, you know, persistent parent. And it made me change how I did therapy with parents. I started giving them lots less homework. Uh <laugh>
Amy O. (33:28):
Yeah I do. And did really appreciate the chapter in your book, Karen, where you urge parents to find the humor
Dr. Karen Cassiday (33:36):
Amy O. (33:36):
<affirmative> in anxiety, which trust me, I do not find anxiety, very hilarious in any way at all. However, it was refreshing to remind myself and I think it'll be really helpful for others that there is funny and there is humor in life.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (33:55):
Amy O. (33:56):
Even in the dark times. So I did appreciate that chapter a lot. And your anecdotes were priceless.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (34:04):
Yeah. Well I can tell you, I mean, one of the saddest things that anxiety does to people and worry does to people, it makes you very serious. And the reason it makes you serious is because you're zoning in on just the negative things and all the awful things that might happen. And you forget about the absurdity of life and you know, we know good humor is an essential component of good mental health. And one thing I started doing with patients and this is probably about 15 years ago, started trying to train them in good humor and bringing that in to treatment for several reasons. One is if you can laugh, it sure cuts into the anxiety. And if you can see how crazy it is. And, and for me, I have to say my job is really fun because it is also funny where we have stuff like kids who are screaming and yelling because they have to eat devil's food cake because they're scared of the devil.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (34:58):
And they're afraid that if they eat something that has devil on it, then what if they become possessed? And here you are trying to force a kid to eat chocolate cake with chocolate icing. That should be the ultimate kid trap, or I've had this happen where we're out doing social anxiety practice and we're going up and greeting people and saying hello to them. And uh, we had this happen once and then the mall cop comes up and says, some people are complaining. Are you trying to sell something? You know? And of course my little 12 year old, um, patient is mortified, you know? And I'm, and I'm kind of going, no, this is a great opportunity. Ask him how he's doing. Tell him hello. You know <laugh>. And so she then does that. And I said, no, we're just going around enjoying saying hi to people and asking them how their day is.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (35:49):
And then he kind of, you know, sort of reacted and it's like, oh, that's terrific. It is. And life is fun and absurd. And then if you think about it, it is kind of absurd to be a parent because here we are, we are human and we are so limited in our capacity. And then we're trying to teach someone how to do a better job than ourselves. And that is funny, you know? And I'm going to give you one story that you, you might appreciate because one things we try to teach parents when their kid is, um, anxious and yelling at them or upset or trying to get something from them that they're not going to give them is just agree with them in principle, you know, just say, yeah, I know you're upset. Yeah. You don't like this. Yeah, of course you don't like it. You've got an anxiety disorder and to just, and it, it just stops the fight.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (36:37):
And of course I use this with my kids and I can remember when my second born was 14 and I'm going to say that was the worst year of his life in terms of puberty and testosterone and nastiness and arguing. And he comes down to the table and he sees there's some food that he hates. He hated, used to hate quiche. And he's like, I can't believe you're giving us quiche. And I'm like, yeah, you're right. I, I did put the thing on the menu that you hate. And he's like, I hate this f'ing quiche and I said, I know you have mentioned that many times before he goes, I'm not eating it. I know you don't want to eat it. You're doing it to me again yet. I am doing something to you again. I, I made quiche and he goes, no, no you're agreeing with me again.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (37:23):
And I'm like, yeah, you're right, dude. I am agreeing with you. Uh <laugh>. He goes, you are such an effing therapist. And I'm like, I know I am <laugh> and he goes, I can't take it. You're such a effing therapist. Can't you be normal and lose your temper. And I'm like, no, honey, I can't right now. And then of course he sits down to the dinner and he starts eating the quiche and I win. And it's actually really funny. <laugh>, You know, it's like, yeah, that's parenting is sometimes we have to stand in and stand firm and just put up with the craziness and be able to laugh at it and realize don't take yourself so seriously or your kids so seriously.
Dr. Lisa (38:04):
And Karen, this idea of integrating and recognizing that humor just feels so in service with what you said at the beginning about how, you know, air quotes, happiness and success are not the goal, but that true, deeper joy is and, and what a better way to find it than that.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (38:24):
Yeah. You know, one of the things I love about good humor is it's way easier than learning a sophisticated therapy protocol. And <laugh> so I found that, you know, sometimes if you can teach kids to laugh at themselves, that alone is therapeutic, because it means they got out of that perfectionistic mindset without having to do a ton of cognitive therapy or acceptance and commitment and mindfulness training. And, and we know from research that a good belly laugh, even if it's fake is the same neurochemical effect on your body and your emotions as 20 minutes of compassion, mindfulness meditation, which is the highest form of meditation. And so one of the things I would do with my kids that really, really helped change the tone of things is we would have competitions to find the funniest cover of a toddler, singing frozen or toddler singing my way or finding, you know, what's the funniest animal video. And then also what I would do is ask my kids. What's the funniest thing that happened today at school or what's the funniest thing that's happened in your, your week, and then, uh,
Amy O. (39:39):
Instead of asking them how they did on their math test,
Dr. Karen Cassiday (39:41):
You mean absolutely. Yes, yes. You know, and, and, and I have to admit, I am the parent that has asked my child, how are you doing this week? You know, how's your medication working? And my children always get irritated as they should because to them, what that actually feels like is you don't trust me. And this is the thing I'd love for parents to know is when you ask too many questions about how you're doing or how your grades are, how it went on the test, it's actually not helpful for them. They know how they did. And it shows you don't trust me to do this or handle this and think of it this way. How many of you have had a parent or a grandparent who tells you now be sure and drive safely on the way home and how many of you actually go, thank you so much for telling me that I would've forgotten.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (40:34):
Um, I'm so glad you're here to remind me how to drive safely. Well, this is what, how our kids feel. And, and I have to admit when I'm asking my son, hey, how'd your test go in college. It's because I want a reminder that he's doing well and making progress and it's not actually helpful to him. He knows exactly how he's doing. And it'd be much better to ask questions to your kids like this. Like here's a question I love parents to ask besides what's the funniest thing, which would be, Hey, what went well today? And what did you do that made it go so well. And that's a question that's actually going to develop an orientation towards, okay, what makes me effective? And if you know that it's easier to replicate it. Uh, so that would be a great one.
Dr. LIsa (41:19):
Karen, I absolutely love all of this. I think these are phenomenal ideas and, and your book includes so many more of them. I know we're, we're running at a time here, but to all of our listeners who are probably chomping at the bit for more information from Dr. Cassiday, um, from just a reminder that her book, The No Worries Guide to Raising Your Anxious Child is available for purchase and is well worth it with all of these humorous anecdotes and a ton of helpful information. I just, I keep thinking about how everything you're describing. There are some parenting pitfalls here and they are all such well-intended mistakes. Parents who clearly love their kids so much and just want to do right by them. But don't always necessarily know the way to parent in, in support of, of their children's mental health. So thank you for your book and for your time with us, it's been phenomenal.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (42:15):
Oh, thank you so much, Lisa. You know, one thing I, I had to summarize what I want parents to know. It would be this I'd want them to know that if you can keep your eye on trying to have fun, trying to accept your kid as who they are and raise them according to who they are instead of who you wish they'd be, you're going to be doing great. And the other thing I'd want them to know is that if I had to summarize all the research on parenting, it would show me that two things, one would be when you show delight and the kind of person your kid is rather than who you wish they'd be, you create magic in terms of their self worth and their self understanding. And the other one is when you're willing to go to the effort to strategically, make them have difficult experiences and to get through it themselves, then you can guarantee they're going to grow up resilient.
Dr. Karen Cassiday (43:13):
And those are two such important principles. And you gotta throw out the idea of what you wish you could have and what you wish your kid could be and just figure out how to cope with it now and enjoy it. And then the other thing would be to say, laugh at yourself, don't take yourself so seriously. You really are enough. If you think about, you know, prior to the 21st century, people have been raising kids for millennia and somehow the human race has survived and people didn't worry about getting it right for a long, long time until the latter half of the 20th century. And so I think that means we can lighten up on that a little bit.
Dr. Lisa (43:55):
Well, well thank you so much, Karen. We wanted to, uh, come to an end here with just a, a couple of quick questions. The first of which is, are there any books other than your own, which we are very excited to put in the show notes for our listeners that you would recommend, um, that you've read recently related to our kiddos and their mental health?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (44:16):
Yeah. One that I absolutely love is called Brave Parenting and it's by Krissy Pozatek and it's a Buddhist inspired guide to raising emotionally resilient children. And I just love her perspective on how to simultaneously accepting and love your kids as they are and push them to be greater beings and to become their better selves. And I would recommend that book and then another one, and this isn't specifically about parenting, but it gives you the mindset you need to have as a parent. And I would have teenagers read this too. It's called The Choice by Edith Eva Eager. And she's a clinical psychologist who's 91 now and wrote this book in her eighties. And she's a survivor of the concentration camps. Edith has the most profound and articulate wording about how to handle the idea of being a human and finding your meaning and dealing with suffering that comes with being human, no matter what kind it is. And what she says is so important for helping us find our joy. And, um, I'm having my kids read it, my book group read it. I'd want anyone to read this book to help you have a really healthy, beautiful mindset.
Amy O. (45:36):
Karen, I feel as though you've probably covered this, but we like to ask all of our guests one final question. If there is one thing that you could share with our audience that you would want them to know about mental health, what would it be?
Dr. Karen Cassiday (45:54):
It would be that there is no such thing as a mental health diagnosis or problem that cannot be overcome and that you don't need to take a despairing perspective. What we see is even if you have the most difficult to treat diagnoses, let's say you have schizophrenia. If you have a good family and community who persistently and patiently accept you, as you are and help you learn skills to deal with all the situations that are hard for you to deal, you can do amazing things. And I've seen this over and over and over in my practice. It's made me fearless in terms of working with families and kids is I've seen all kinds of situations where people thought nothing could be done or there wasn't enough motivation. And what I've seen is when parents can be that courageous, I'm going to accept you as you are, rather than as I wish you were. I'm going to learn to help you handle the now and to do the difficult things. Even if you don't understand at this moment, while it's valuable, you can do amazing things.
Dr. Lisa (47:03):
What a good way to end here. Thank you again so much, Karen, for joining us, it has truly been a pleasure and we are so excited to share your book and resource with the community.
Amy O. (47:14):
Thanks for joining us for another episode of parenting, the mental health generation
Dr. Lisa (47:19):
Stay current on all CATCH programming by liking us on Facebook @CATCHiscommunity or by visiting our website CATCHiscommunity.org.
Amy O. (47:29):
If you don't have your mental health, you don't have anything. There is a community of people out there that understands find it.