Episode summary:

Susan talks with Dr. Michele Borba about how families can create more connection, engage in meaningful activities, and regulate stressed nervous systems. An uplifting episode with inspiration and lots of usable ideas.

Dr. Michele Borba is a globally-recognized educational psychologist and parenting, bullying and character expert whose aim is to strengthen children’s empathy and resilience, and break the cycle of youth violence. She has delivered keynotes and workshops to over 1,000,000 participants and authored 24 books translated into 14 languages.She is an NBC contributor and appeared 135 times on the Today Show as well as Dateline, Anderson Cooper, Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, The View, NBC Nightly News,The Early Show, CNN and others. https://micheleborba.com/

 

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

 

  • How your family can implement daily Good News Reports
  • Fun, creative ways kids can help others while physical distancing
  • How to regulate our nervous system in times of stress

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Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I’m very glad you’re here. So how are you all doing? It is a challenging time for sure. I hope you’re staying in. I hope you’re staying safe today. My guest is Dr Michelle Borba and I think you’re gonna really enjoy our conversation. We’re going to share some very practical things you can do to make this time of physical distancing a little easier. But first I want to make sure you know about all the other ways we’re offering support to parents right now because it is definitely a time when we could all use a little propping up every Monday. You can join me for a free online virtual support group called Better Together Mondays.

 

Speaker 1:

This is just a wonderful uplifting get together of parents from all over the world who come together to ask questions and to share support. I’ve been joined by Janet Lansbury, Dr Tina Bryson, and Michelle Borba for these Mondays. This upcoming session will be with Laura Markham and I’d love you to join us if you’d like to. It’s a sweet pause in the day to come together with others who are going through a lot of the same challenges that you’re facing and you can always watch the replay if you can’t join us live. So sign up for that at https://susanstiffelman.com/better-together/ you’ll also find lots of other classes and get togethers on my website, including a masterclass on homeschooling during isolation, which had tons of practical ideas for managing your kids’ lessons with less stress, especially if you’re working from home. There’s co-parenting during COVID 19 that I taught with Katherine Woodward Thomas and Christina McGhee.

 

Speaker 1:

Really valuable practical support if you’re parenting with someone that you don’t live with. And next week I’ll be offering a class with Dr Laura Markham on helping siblings get along, which I’m pretty sure many of you could use right now. So you can find out about all of these programs at susanstiffelman.com and as always, if something has a registration fee, which we keep very low, scholarships are always available. So no one is turned away. We just want to help parents get the help they need. Now onto today’s episode with Dr Michelle Borba. Hi Michelle. I’m so happy you’re here.

 

Speaker 2:

Oh, me too. Susan, I’m so looking forward to this. 

 

Speaker 1:

So we have lots to talk about, but I want to let people know a little bit about who you are first, even though I had to trim your bio by about 8,000 words because it’s all of it is so good. All right, everybody. Michelle Borba  is an internationally renowned educator, an award winning author of 24 books and of course a parenting child expert. She’s spoken on 19 countries in five continents and served as a consultant to hundreds of schools and corporations with clients, including Sesame street, Harvard, the U S air force Academy, 18 army bases in Europe and the Asian Pacific. His Royal Highness, the crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and this amazing TEDx talk. Empathy is a verb. Michelle offers realistic research-based advice, cold from a career working with over a million parents and educators around the world. And of course dr  was an NBC contributor who has appeared 150 times on the today show and countless shows including three Dateline specials, dr Phil, the view, the doctors, dr Oz Anderson Cooper and it’s NBC. Oh my gosh. And your work, Michelle, if you didn’t know your work and her work has been featured in time. Washington post, Newsweek, people, Boston globe, us news and world report, the New York Times reader’s digest and globe and mail. Michelle’s a media spokesperson for many corporations including general mills, MasterCard, Johnson and Johnson and a consultant to McDonald’s and Disney. Yeah cause I just get weary reading all the things you do and every time we connect like are you getting on a plane again? Are you writing another book? Holy cow.

 

Speaker 2:

Well you need to be my new PR person. Thank you very much. Cause I got tired just listening to all of that. But the best thing I do is I get to be with parents. So that’s what it’s all about.

 

Speaker 1:

Some great conversations in the past few days about what families are going through right now. And the fact that this time is being etched into our memory forever, both because of the  tremendous fear and uncertainty and all the challenges that come with sheltering the place. But also because for many families this might be a time remembered as one that forged great connection between family members. So well let’s talk about how we can help our children relieve some of the stress intention and create some  healthy habits too. Build empathy and forge stronger connection with one another.

 

Speaker 2:

There’s so many simple ideas. The key is to find one that works for your family and keep doing it over and over again because stress builds, but you can actually reduce it with family routines. And I think the first one that’s proven is our kids are missing recess, so we need to reinstate that and we can do that easily in our home. We just have to figure out the one time that’s going to keep working. So you even ring a bell and it’s recess time and then figure out what you want to do. Now for some kids you can pop in a workout video. This is a great time maybe that you want to help your children learn to do yoga, which is a great stress reducer. Or it could be shooting baskets or lifting weights or bring it back, those old favorites like you know, red Rover and duck, duck, goose and mother. May I ask your kids what they want to do. If you have multiple kids in your family like I do, then what you do is you rotate. So who gets choose what they do that day. But the key is keep it up and keep it going. Many families are actually zooming with  other families so that they can have their kids’ friends do the exercise together and each parent just takes on the part of being the exercise leader for the day.

 

Speaker 1:

I love that and I love having the kids be the leader, you know? Okay. That today it’s Julie’s turn to teach aerobics and you know, might be a little bit goofy, but it will be fun and laughter is such a great stress reliever and just movements. So thank you.

 

Speaker 1:

So you wrote an incredible book. I know that you researched this book for 10 years and selfie. Why empathetic kids succeed in are all about me world. And it emphasizes the importance of empathy and talks about the kind of alarming reduction in that incredibly important value and characteristic. How can parents use this time to build empathy in their children, both for other family members who they’re living with and sheltering in place with as well as neighbors and members of their community and family at large?

 

Speaker 2:

Well, actually this is a really good time, Susan, because our kids have been so used to texting and looking down, not up. So why not rebuild? Always look at the color of the talker’s eyes and do your family mantra. And if you do that, actually what will happen is your kids start gazing at one another. How wonderful to know the other prison exists. But the second thing is emotional literacy is actually the gateway to empathy. Our kids can’t empathize and feel with another person unless they can go, Oh, daddy looks stress or mommy sounds upset or brother looks, you know, really ticked right now you can do the same thing. For instance with grandma, meaning FaceTime or Skype, but prime your child before they do that. Little FaceTiming with how do you think the person is going to feel before you get online? Or how do you know how she feels or watch grandma’s face and you’ll know when she gets a little tired and it’s time to say goodbye or I bet grandpa’s really lonely being by himself. What can you make to feel and feel happy? You’re priming your kids, you’re teaching emotional literacy and you’re rebuilding connection, which is so critical and that’s what resilient kids have in their lives is that team of champions who were always there for them.

 

Speaker 1:

I love that because you’re really helping. You’re teaching them, showing them what to watch, for, what to look for, to attune themselves to another human being, whether it’s the person across the room from them or on the other end of the zoom call and reading those signals has been diminishing as kids text more and more often. So this is an opportunity that we have to broaden their or widen their capacity too.

 

Speaker 2:

Connect with others and we absolutely must because it also will help you learn what you’re, your own child’s stress signs are so you can be more empathetic as a parent. You can also help your kids tune into one another and that’s wonderful, but because unfortunately many of our kids have been learning emotional literacy based on emojis and you don’t learn emotional literacy by looking at those drawings, but only with voice tone, with looking face to face and body posture and we’ve got time on our hands. We might as well capitalize it now.

 

Speaker 1:

That’s fantastic. Can you say a little bit more, because that book was so powerful, can you just invite parents to, I think a little bit more about developing empathy in their kids over this time and for themselves as well?

 

Speaker 2:

Well, I discovered when I was writing on selfie first, knowing that empathy is dipped 40% in our kids. The most wonderful thing I discovered Susan, is that empathy can be taught, empathy can be taught. Then let’s find the simple little ways to weed it up and tune it up. And one thing that I discovered that I love was that images, the kinds of images our kids see can either elevate their empathy or diminish it. Well, the problem is right now we’re all under compassion. Fatigue is only we’re seeing as the doom and gloom of the world. And what that happens after a while is your, your children begin to see the world as a mean and scary place. And now it goes pessimism going up and empathy going down. So one of the things that I want us all to do is start limiting our intake of depressing news.

 

Speaker 2:

Let’s start looking for uplifting stories and they’re there, but we need to tune the man so our kids see that the world really is a good, wonderful place. What I love to do is encourage parents to share good news reports as a family and they’re so wonderful. You can do those before bedtime or family meals or start the morning with them. And it’s a way to just restore our faith and humanity. You look in the back of newspapers or you set a Google alert for good news and it’ll absolutely pop up fabulous stories, or you can get your kids to search and share as well. There’s my favorite one did just happen just last week was two kids in Ohio. They decided that there was their old neighbor, 78 years old and was all by herself, that they were going to help her. And so they chartered their, their cellos down, walked up onto our porch, knocked on the door, and kept their social distancing 10 feet away. She was on one chair. They were way on to the other coroner. And what they did was give her their just their own little concerto all by themselves with that. Can you imagine how wonderful that is? But it’s also wonderful for the children who did it because what they’re seeing is the impact of that woman’s face that is so happy that they’re going, Oh my gosh, I did something glorious. And they want to do it again. So that’s what you’re looking for, inspiring stories.

 

Speaker 1:

And Upworthy is a great source of that. There’s some wonderful resources. I’ve been asked so many times of parents, how, what about self esteem? How do I raise my child self esteem? And what you’ve described is the real answer. It’s not saying great kid, you’re so wonderful. It’s when they get to experience from an outsider or someone who they helped that they made their day better, that they’re, that they’ve contributed in a meaningful way to the uplift of another person’s life and nothing raises a child’s sense of self in a positive way like doing that. So that’s a great story. There was something else you had mentioned to me about some teens in texts.

 

Speaker 2:

Here’s some other ones. Our teens are pretty darn savvy online and unfortunately a lot of seniors aren’t. So I love this story. It was teens from in Texas. What they decided to do was help an older generation there were living at the assisted living, learn the apps and devices so they could stay engaged with their families during this time, they didn’t know how. So, but the seniors are doing is giving Skype and FaceTime lessons over zoom like 30 minute little tutorials, answering questions to help seniors in an assisted living, and everybody’s winning on that one because they’re feeling so glorious. The kids feeling like I’m making a difference and the seniors are so grateful because now they can connect with their own kids. Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah, so these are some.

 

Speaker 1:

Cool things, Michelle, that parents can do to foster closeness and connection and reduce anxiety and stress. Let’s talk about regulating the nervous system because I know that you’ve addressed that in some of your writings and teachings that there are ways that we can not only top down give some instruction to our kids, but we can participate with them.

 

Speaker 2:

We can and if we do these together or if we teach our children or better yet they teach us, what happens is that’s the best model to learn anything and if we really want to reduce stress and it’s going to be part of our kids’ lives, it’s an uncertain anxious world the rest of their lives. This is now the time to teach them a new habit to replace that stress build up. And one of the simplest, no-cost ways is deep breathing. Now, I learned this from Navy seals when I was working on army bases and I’m going, my gosh, if Navy seals are retraining their brains, and they said, this is the simplest way we go into fight a battle and stay cool and cognitively a word. I said, what we debrief, I mean, what are you talking about is if we take slow, deep breasts, the problem is people don’t do it right and they make it too fancy dancy.

 

Speaker 2:

The key is you’ve got to take the breath. The moment with the stress starts to build and you take a deep, deep down. So you tell your children, put your hand on your tummy. We’re going to take a sleep dog breath. From there, we’re going to inhale like you’re riding up an escalator and now you hold it. But here’s the key, said the Navy seals, UX sale, slow and deep. Keep thinking about the breath, but the XL is twice as long as the inhale. So it’s a one, two breath. Now is that easy for kids to learn? No, it’s not easy for us to learn. So you practice and one of the coolest ways to practice is actually with called belly breathing. And that is you go back to back with your child. Each family member gets to hold back to back. You just link elbows to elbows together.

 

Speaker 2:

And what you do is you practice deep breathing, but your child can feel your breaths and your inhaling XL. So they mimicking them themselves. If they’re still breathing too, too fast, then put a feather on the table. Or it could be anything. It could be just a flower and say, breathe as slowly as you can to see if you can move the feather across the desk. But don’t get it going up in a high because that means you’re not doing it right. Oh my gosh, it’s so easy and fast. But do it as a regular routine. And after a while what you can do. One more thing to build in the empathy as you’re breathing and you finally got that down. Teach your child to think about helpers. So you’re actually doing gratitude breathing. I’ll get a little teary eyed when I do this because a mom said her child was so pessimistic. So she said, let’s do the slow, deep breathing, but every day let’s start thinking about people, not just you. The people out there who were helping you, like the doctors, the paramedics. Oh my gosh, the national guard. There’s think of one, close your eyes and think that person and think of the kind things you want to send him. What happens is your child starts building empathy, starts thinking we not me, and actually learning to calm down. This is a win win. Oh gosh.

 

Speaker 1:

What a blessing.

 

Speaker 1:

So, so many great ideas and I know you and I are going to actually teach a class together so we get to go much deeper and the, and the eye does that. We want to, I encourage people to consider is how our kids can thrive through this time.

 

Speaker 1:

How even though it’s so challenging and the world feels upside down, that this can be such a gift in that way, that silver lining sometimes are even during difficult times, that they can come through this with a sense of themselves and their resourcefulness and their capability and their compassion that we couldn’t have orchestrated.

 

Speaker 2:

Yeah, there is a silver lining to this and we’ve got to keep in mind that Thrivers are made not born. It’s not a temperament, it’s not DNA. That means parenting. We are can be real miracle workers right now. Not trying to do too much, but trying to figure out the one little thing that we’re going to make into a routine and a ritual that we do so often that pretty soon our kids can do it without us and that means it’s all over. We’ve all survived. The door opens, the kids walk out and they’ll go, I’m still doing that debriefing.

 

Speaker 1:

Yay. I did it right. So, Oh, what a gym. I always like to wrap up with a tip and maybe we could think of something that parents can start this week and it could

 

Speaker 2:

Be even one of the things we didn’t get to, which has to do with reading, but something that we can invite parents to set an intention and creative practice. Or it could be the things you’ve talked about, but let’s come up with something that they can make a decision right in this moment, in the next week ahead. They won’t be implementing on a regular basis as a way to make some profound and long lasting shifts. Well, the first thing to that, and that’s exactly what it is, in order to change and create a habit, we need to be intentional and we need to figure out what the heck we want to change. So take a moment right now and think of everything you’ve heard or make your brain go out. There’s something far better than I heard from somebody else and I want to try that. I don’t care what it is, but then put it on your screensaver or have your kids draw a picture of it and put it on the refrigerator.

 

Speaker 2:

You know the best way to remember it also set an alarm on your phone so it dings that if you’re going to do a recess and it’s going to ding everyday at 10 o’clock or my favorite idea when mom told me, and she’s, I always forgot to do the idea of the deep breathing until she reminded her most verbal kid to be her reminder. She said it never failed, mom. We’re supposed to be doing that deep breathing now and pretty soon it became the habit. That’s what we’re looking for. Simple little things to just keep doing it and it usually takes around 21 days. Guess what? We have around 21 days. There’s one more thing we’ve got in our favor. Find what works and keep doing it. Oh my gosh, that’s fantastic. Michelle Borba you are sent a gift to so many around the world and certainly to me as a colleague and a friend, I value you.

 

Speaker 2:

I’m so thankful that you’re in my life. And any final thoughts or words for these wonderful parents who are tuning in? No. Well, I think the most wonderful thing I ever heard actually was when I was a writing a book. It’s going to be called Thrivers and it’s coming out, but I was actually interviewing people who have overcome enormous obstacles and one of them was a woman who was living through the blitz. She was a reporter, much older, but I finally said, how’d you do it? How’d you carry through all those nights of those bombings? And she said, know I don’t even remember those bombings. And then all of a sudden she said, Oh, it was because of what my grandparents were doing. I said, well, what the heck do your grandparents doing? Well, as soon as the rates would come in, they’d say, okay, let’s, let’s get the curtains closed. And then we do ring around the Rosie. We’d start singing the same games over and over again. We’d sing songs and block out the sound. You know that that whole thing from Britain keep calm and carry on. That’s exactly what they did. That’s how they got through. Because parents who model calmness, that’s the best way to create kids who are going to be able to survive at all and do it themselves. Oh gosh. Wow.

 

Speaker 1:

Beautiful. Oh well thank you.  I need a Kleenex. Thank you. Yeah, I did a schooling class today and at the end we brought all the parents on who wanted to be seen. We had many, many parents, but some of them said yes, we’d like to see each other. And that was it for me. I just said, are we just going to sit here and look at each other and cry? And a few of them said, yeah, yes, this is hard. These are difficult, challenging times. But also there’s so beautiful when we kind of hold hands and come together and we make sure that the people in our world have the help they need. Because remember everyone, some of the people who need support are not going to be asking for it. So we invite and encourage you to keep an eye on the people that you know in your world who might be struggling a little bit more and encourage them to reach out for help or say a kind word, even to let them know that you’re thinking of them. Thank you, Michelle. 

 

Speaker 1:

I hope you enjoyed that. I love Michelle’s enthusiasm and hopefully our conversation left you with some useful ideas for getting through this time a little more easily. As always, if you’re enjoying these podcast episodes, it would be great if you’d leave a quick rating or review or tell a friend about it or all three. And if you have a particular topic or question you’d like me to address, just email podcast@susanstiffelman.com okay. Then remember, no matter how busy life gets or how crazy life scenes look for those moments of sweetness and joy, they’re there. We just sometimes have to look for them. Stay safe, stay home, and I’ll see you next time.

 

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