Improving Self-Confidence in Teens
with Melanie McNally, PsyD
The teen years have always been tough. There’s a ton of change coming at teens from all directions, as well as an ever-increasing expectation of independence, accountability, and responsibility. But it’s a much bigger challenge to be a teen today, with the added social complexity of instantaneous distribution and social media. It’s no wonder the tween and teen years often have an inherent lack of self-confidence.
I’m talking to psychologist, Dr. Melanie McNally about supporting self-confidence in our teens and young adults on this episode of the Parenting ADHD Podcast. Dr. McNally offers loads of insights about healthy self-confidence and outlines several strategies for parents to help their kids manage anxiety and improve self-confidence. And this conversation is perfect for parents of younger kids too — start young because they’ll all be teens one day.
Resources in this Episode
NOTE: Some of the resources below may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.
- Permission to Feel: The Power of Emotional Intelligence to Achieve Well-Being and Success, by Marc Brackett Ph.D.
- Dr. McNally’s free download, Mental Health Toolkit
- Dr. McNally’s Books: Counting Dragonflies and the Workbook
MELANIE MCNALLY, PSYD
Dr. Melanie McNally helps teens and young adults become the super heroes of their life stories. She provides online support through teletherapy, virtual groups, private online communities, courses, and books that are all aimed at teaching teens and young adults how to manage stress and anxiety, develop coping tools, and learn how to like themselves, flaws and all. She wrote Counting Dragonflies, a novel for teens and tweens, about a girl who learns how to love herself, despite the difficulties she’s faced. An accompanying workbook will be out soon. Dr. McNally has worked in the mental health field since 2005 and teaches the skills, strategies, and tools that she herself has used and continues to use to manage anxiety. She and her husband and 3 dogs sometimes live in rural Wisconsin and other times live in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
Thanks for joining me!
If you enjoyed this episode, please use the social media buttons to share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for The Parenting ADHD Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That’s what helps me reach and help more families like yours.
Dr. Melanie McNally (00:03): A lot of times, I see parents want to protect and shield their teen from things where they may know it's a failure. They may know if their teen goes down this road, it's done. They can see the mistakes coming from a mile away and they want to protect and shield them. However, as long as we know that those mistakes aren't going to cause physical harm, we really need to allow them the chance to take that risk, make the mistakes, and fail.
Intro (00:37): Welcome to the Parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD, straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD-aholic and Mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.
Penny Williams (01:10): I'm thrilled today to be talking to Dr. Melanie McNally, and we're going to discuss teens, managing anxiety and improving self-Confidence, two things that I think are really top of mind and very important for our parents of kids with ADHD, maybe autism, other learning disabilities. Certainly a lot of times, anxiety, as well. Thanks for being here, Dr. McNally, will you share a little bit about yourself, who you are and what you do?
New Speaker (01:39): Thank you so much for having me. So I am a clinical psychologist, with a doctoral degree in clinical psychology, and I have a private practice in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, where I meet with clients, mostly helping to managing anxiety. And then I also have an online practice which is called Destination You, and that is 100% online support for teens and young adults focusing on managing anxiety and building self confidence. And we do that through teletherapy, which are individual therapy appointments, virtual groups, and then some self-paced online programs where teens and young adults can sign up and follow kind of a curriculum to learn different things. Like goal-setting, building self confidence, managing anxiety, developing coping tools, things like that. And I also have a book and a workbook available on my website as well. That's again, just helping teens to develop coping tools, to managing anxiety.
Penny Williams (02:48): It's so needed a place for teens to really grow and learn that they feel comfortable with, that's built just for teens and young adults, I think is such powerful thing. And I'm sure there's a community component here that really helps to lift them up.
Dr. Melanie McNally (03:06): And it's funny. The whole reason why I started the online component was, I had my private practice for while I was on my own at my private practice. I've been there for five years now. But before that, I worked at a couple of different group practices, but in my years of working with teens in person, I started to realize that a lot of teens, when we would meet in the office, they were very guarded really shy in terms of what they wanted to hold or what they wanted to share with me. And once there was a screen between us, which I realized this through my Instagram account, when I was found by one of my teen clients and all of a sudden there's a screen between us and all of this information is being shared so much more than what was being shared in session. And I just started to learn that it takes away the vulnerability. It gives them a lot more courage to use their voice, and they're not holding shame. They're not fearing judgment with that screen in between. And so that's how it kind of evolved because of what I saw was just a very real need in my practice.
Penny Williams (04:24): Isn't that amazing that what we would assume as a barrier can be more freeing, more comfortable for other people. I just find that amazing. And we definitely are always looking for good ways to connect with our teens and our young adults. I know from my own experience that anxiety and self-confidence are very much linked and I think that there's a level of anxiety, even if you don't have an anxiety disorder, that still goes hand in hand with that self confidence piece. Do you want to talk about that for a minute? Speak to that?
Dr. Melanie McNally (05:12): Sure. So absolutely there's crossover between anxiety and low self confidence. The difference with anxiety disorders versus just kind of healthy normal anxiety is when it starts to interfere with our ability to function. And so for teens that would look like social functioning, academic functioning being able to participate in extracurriculars that they want to be participating in. And once anxiety crosses that line where teens aren't participating in life in the way that they want to, then that's when it becomes problematic. And certain of anxiety is very healthy. It motivates us. It can cause it can create a lot of drive. So if I'm a little anxious about a test that I have coming up in school that might motivate me to study harder, it might motivate me to put in some extra effort to email the teacher and ask questions.
Dr. Melanie McNally (06:18): But if it's now preventing me from sleeping, if I have chronic stomach issues, if I am not able to even show up on the day of the exam, because I'm so anxious, then it's crossed that line into that unhelpful territory. So it's similar to when you think of self confidence, a certain, well, our self confidence is always going to fluctuate. It's not this constant where somebody has high self confidence and then they're going to have it 100% of the time. It's going to fluctuate on a day to day basis. It's even going to fluctuate in certain situations, but it's being able to recognize when it's crossed over into that territory where it's really unhelpful when our low self confidence is preventing us from doing things that we otherwise would want to be doing, then it's a problem.
Penny Williams (07:13): And I see this so often with teens and young adults in that age population, do you want to describe what good healthy self-Confidence looks like? What, what is our goal there?
Dr. Melanie McNally (07:21): Yeah. So for teens, good, healthy self confidence. And again, I want to caution parents because it's not going to look like this 100% of the time, right? It's going, there's going to be fluctuations. But when we have healthy self confidence, a teen is going to be willing to take risks. They might sign up for a school play even though maybe they have never participated in the year before, or they're going to try out for the volleyball team, even though they're not that great at it. They're willing to try things or willing to take some risks, healthy risks. They are willing to talk about things or willing to talk about really hard things, whether it's with their parents or teachers or coaches. So they're not avoiding, they're not shying away from things that are problematic and healthy self confidence would look like the kind of language that a teen uses to talk about themselves and maybe even talk about others.
Dr. Melanie McNally (08:34): Sometimes we can see a lot in how a teen talks about their classmates or people in their friend group. So if they're constantly berating and, or being really judgmental or really critical of other people, then there's a really good chance that that's how they actually feel about themselves. And they're just kind of projecting that onto others. And that would be a sign of lower self confidence. But if we see a teen who is lifting up their friends, maybe they have a friend who is really smart in, in all the AP classes and doing really well. And maybe they just got accepted into a really great university and maybe our own teen isn't any of those things. They're not striving to be at the top college are striving to get top grades, but they're really happy for their friends and it shows, and it's genuine. That would be a sign of very healthy self confidence. They're not allowing themselves to fall into a comparison trap. They're not seeing somebody else's success as somehow taking anything away from that.
Penny Williams (09:45): I think that's a big one that comparison trap, I think, especially if there's anxiety in the mix, it's a trap that's so easy to fall into and can really weigh us down in so many ways.
Dr. Melanie McNally (09:59): Yeah. The comparison trap is huge. And, as a 44 year old woman, I don't pretend to know what it's like to be a teen these days with social media. But I feel empathy for what teens have to experience with social media. Having things put online, I've had teens where they've been films while they were participating in like a score or while they were hanging out with friends. And then that video was put on social media as a way to mock them spread throughout the school. And that type of behavior, sometimes the school will view it as bullying. Sometimes they won't, sometimes the teen wants to do something about it. Sometimes they just want to be really quiet and hope that it will disappear. But even just that having that as like an option that I could be recorded at any time, and that could be put somewhere to mock me or any little mistake or failure that I make is going to be put out there in the world for other people to judge and criticize.
Dr. Melanie McNally (11:06): I feel like that weighs on them a lot. And also just the comparison, getting on Tik Tok, getting on Snapchat or Instagram and seeing what other people are putting out there, which obviously is the highlight reel, but still, it looks easy. We look at somebody else's feed and it's like, Oh, their life looks so simple and easy and they're in all the AP classes and they're the star of the lacrosse team and their family gets along and everything just looks perfect for them while I'm sitting over here in my bedroom, I don't have any friends. My parents are in the process of getting a divorce and I'm failing biology. And then I'm going to feel really, really bad about myself when maybe just moments earlier. I wasn't feeling that bad and it all happened because I picked up my phone and started scrolling.
Penny Williams (12:05): Yeah. The level of stress that kids must have added to them now with social media and smartphones. I just can't imagine. I've said to my own kids many times, I'm so glad that I didn't have to deal with this when I was a teen. There's so much complexity there and so much fear as you're describing. I always think about the quote I think from Roosevelt comparison is the thief of joy. And I talk a lot about that with parents because as parents, we do that too. And when we have differently wired kids,
Penny Williams (12:46): it's so easy to compare other people's kids. And I talk about the same thing that that's their highlight reel and that everybody has struggles. No life is perfect. And I think for teens, without any experience and wisdom, it's a lot harder for them to really accept that and, and live from that space.
Dr. Melanie McNally (13:11): Definitely 100%. They're looking at the highlight reel. They're looking at people hanging out at times where maybe they weren't invited to hang out. When maybe these are the individuals in their friend group they might be feeling left out or kind of questioning why wasn't I invited, why am I not at that sleepover? And there's a lot of good to social media. And when I work with teens, I do what's called like a life cleanse with them. One of the things that they do in the self confidence program, where I challenge them to look at different areas of their life. And I include social media in that, and to become self aware as they're scrolling, how different posts are making them feel. And to start to kind of question why they're following certain accounts or certain people, and to maybe play around with either muting or unfollowing particular accounts that make them feel like crap to see if, if they can change the way that they engage with social media.
Dr. Melanie McNally (14:23): I know for my own Instagram feed, I in my own, Tik Tok, I make sure that I'm following accounts that are uplifting, educate, all motivational. And I want teens and young adults to be thinking that same sort of way. They don't have to follow people just because they go to their school. They don't have to follow certain celebrities just because everybody else is doing that. If those are not somehow adding value to their life. And so using social media as a tool because it can be really valuable and you can get a lot of great information and expand your world view and get exposed to all kinds of wonderful ideas that you wouldn't otherwise be exposed to. But we have to be intentional. We have to be mindful about how we use it. And sometimes I don't think teens are, they just tend to go on there and they're just kind of mindlessly scrolling and I try and encourage them to break that, break that cycle a little bit and be more intentional, be more mindful as they're scrolling and see what changes they need to make. Yeah,
Penny Williams (15:39): That's so important. And I do that myself and my own social media. I found that some people in my friend list on Facebook had just become kind of toxic, every post was negative and I just had to not unfriend them. I can't remember what it's called now, but unfollow, I guess, so that I wasn't seeing that in my feed on a regular basis because of that energy really is very contagious almost.
Dr. Melanie McNally (16:07): and that's such a good point because a lot of people don't think about what that energy it does transfer through screens. So we know, for example, like in person, we know that when, if I do an act of kindness for somebody, what research has shown us is that not only do I get a little boost of like serotonin and a little boost of some endorphins that are going to make me feel good, I get a boost of that. The person that I just helped into the act of kindness for, they also get a little hit, but also anybody who observed the act of kindness also gets a hit, will feel better and it's no different through the screen. So if I see something on YouTube or if I see a TikTok video where somebody did something really kind or generous for somebody else that's going to affect me, I'm actually going to feel really good versus true. If I witnessed something that's just awful or really judgmental or critical where somebody like body shaming, somebody else or teasing and like a really negative way or being just hyper-critical, that's gonna make me feel bad about myself. And again, it transfers through the screen. And so we have to be really mindful of that.
Penny Williams (17:38): Yeah. And I can hear some people thinking that's not real life. Like if we are really curating our social media feeds. So it's all positive and happy and feel good. That's not a representation of real life. What would you say to that? How do we find that balance between being real with our kids, but also keeping a positive, optimistic mindset?
Dr. Melanie McNally (18:08): I'm glad you brought that up because when I talk about the social media feed and cleaning it up, I'm not talking about keeping it full of only positive, happy, optimistic things. I'm also including in there like educational information. Sometimes educational information might hurt a little bit, especially if we're looking at information on how to be anti-racist or if we're looking at trying to learn how to be more inclusive in our lives or in ourselves, some of the educational material, maybe a little hard to digest as a white person or as a heterosexual or something like that. But that's still really important information for me to learn and grow from. So it's not about just keeping everything really positive and wonderful. But what I am talking about is making sure that the things that we either unfollow or that we try to exclude from our feed are things that are really judgmental.
Dr. Melanie McNally (19:17): So things that include body shaming, other people, things that are really cruel, any type of cruelty towards an animal or another human, those things are not helpful. I know that those things exist in the world without having to see them in my feed and said, if I'm like, let's say, for example, I'm concerned about animal cruelty. Instead, what I could do was follow a group that's more educational and does things to promote animal welfare. So I'm still feeding that need, I'm still learning and growing, but I'm doing it without having to be bombarded by images of animals being treated really unfairly or unkindly. So it it's, we can still have that feed. We can still have education and information come across our, our feeds that aren't all optimistic and positive or anything like that. Cause that's a very privileged sort of a view. And I want to be aware of what's going on in the world, but I don't need to be observing things that are hypercritical or judgmental or shaming.
Penny Williams (20:29): Yeah. I'm so glad you made that distinction. And I feel like social consciousness needs to be part of our daily intake from others. We need to be really aware. I think it builds empathy in kids and adults and really kind of takes that privilege away. If we really curate what we're seeing in a way that kind of gives us only one happy view of the world, we're missing so much about the human experience and about others, that we all have differences.
Dr. Melanie McNally (21:08): Yes. 100%. And also even it can also help us find our purpose too, because if I do find something that lights me up, maybe I, I do follow some sort of like animal welfare group. And I see that there's a need to protect a dolphins or to protect wildlife or tigers or whatever. And maybe that leads me down the road to figuring out what I'm really passionate about. What is exciting, what tends to light me up. And now I can turn that into something that I can do something within the world and helping teens have passions to develop passions is really, that's actually a really important part of building self confidence. Even if those passions tend to change and shift over time, which they will because I certainly don't have the same passions that I have when I was 16 years old. They're going to change, but that's part of being confident as well as when we do have something that we really believe strongly in and something that excites us and that we're passionate about. It helps us to feel more confident and helps us kind of discover our voice and stand up for something that's outside of ourselves.
Penny Williams (22:32): Yeah. It's something we talk about a lot too, in the ADHD and autism community for parents that we really have to offer so many opportunities for kids to explore different things and find what are they passionate about? What are they good at? In a world where they tend to get a lot of messaging that they're not so good at things it's so crucial that we are working, not only to balance that, but to override that message to say, look, there is something that you're great at. There is something that really kind of lights your fire and that's a great starting point to building self confidence as you were talking about. What other things can we keep an eye on as parents? What can we do to really help our kids build their self confidence?
Dr. Melanie McNally (23:29): Well, we want to make sure that we are encouraging our teens to take risks. And I'm talking about more on the healthy side. Obviously, parents know the difference between an unhealthy and healthy risk, but we want encourage it. A lot of times, I see parents want to protect and shield 13 from things where they may know it's a failure. They may know if their teen goes down this road, it's gone. They can see the mistakes coming from a mile away and they want to protect and shield them. However, as long as we know that those mistakes are going to cause physical harm, we really need to allow them the chance to take that risk, make the mistakes and fail. That is so, so important to, I mean, I would say that's the most important part of developing self confidence is to allow them to encourage them, to take risks and allow them to make mistakes and fail because they will learn from those mistakes.
Dr. Melanie McNally (24:37): They will build resilience. They will figure out that they can handle hard things they'll learn to adapt. And that is a key, key component to building self confidence.
Penny Williams (24:53): Yeah, it's something I wish I had focused on with my kids much earlier. I didn't really have the awareness that that could be taught or that could be encouraged. And now, my son, who has ADHD and is on the spectrum, is 17 and we are working diligently in therapy on doing hard things, not avoiding, not having unhealthy coping mechanisms, but even having that confidence to say, I can do this. It might be uncomfortable. I might not like it, but I can do this. And then having those experiences. Neuroscience is showing us that that helps with new neural connections and moving even further into positivity and confidence and optimism from our brains having those experiences, seeing I really can do this.
Penny Williams (25:52): I was afraid of it. And it wasn't the most fun thing ever, but I can totally do it and even feel good about the fact that I did do something hard.
Dr. Melanie McNally (26:04): Yeah. And you just hit on a really important point there too, about the discomfort, being able to tolerate the discomfort. We want teens to feel the discomfort and realize, I can tolerate it. I stood on stage in front of my entire senior class and I gave a speech and it sucked, my voice was shaking. My knees were shaking. I was sweating, but I did it and I didn't die. And that discomfort is such an important thing that we want teens to get comfortable.
Penny Williams (26:44): And I can speak to that example myself actually, because I have wicked social anxiety and I finally have been learning to cope with it a whole lot better because it wasn't really identified or addressed as a kid or even a young adult. And I have started doing some public speaking and was completely terrified. The biggest audience that I had, I thought for sure, I was gonna pass out. I was never even gonna make it to the podium. And then once I did it, every engagement after that has been so much easier because I felt what it was like for it to be hard at first, but to be able to, and it actually changed my brain's reaction with my anxiety- worry brain when I come to that same situation now, after that point.
Dr. Melanie McNally (27:46): I'm just grinning ear-to-ear hearing. I hope you are so proud of yourself for doing something that is absolutely terrifying. And also too, that's a huge part of what parents can do to help their kids build self confidence is when parents do things that are terrifying for themselves. So in letting their teen know, I am terrified of this presentation I have to give at work tomorrow, or I can't believe I signed up to give this speech in front of all these people. What was I thinking? I was so scared and for your teen to see that anxiety, but then to see you actually follow through and do it. And even if you floundered and didn't do well in coming home though and sharing the experience of I was brave and I did it and I am so proud of myself. I'm not even concerned with how the message came through or anything because I did something that was terrifying. And when every time you do that, it's not only good for, like you said, all of the things that are happening with your own neural connections and synaptic connections in your brain and all the things that are firing and being rewired, but it's that same thing is happening for your teen. And they're witnessing that. And then they're learning from you. So good job on like all levels. Oh my gosh, I love that.
Penny Williams (29:18): Yeah. Yeah. And it was a conscious decision to push myself to say, I can do these things. I want to do these things and to really push and it worked out and it made everything else simpler after that inI that kind of regard. And I did talk a lot to my kids even leading up to it. Like, I can't believe I'm doing this. I so terrified. I don't know if I really can. And then afterwards there were a lot of people in my family who were pretty surprised even my father, because he knows how much my whole life I have avoided public speaking. He's completely shocked that I do it now. That's such a good example about our parents seeing our limitations and kind of falling into them. And that really propelling our own thoughts about how limited we must be in those areas. If he had been more "I think you can do it. Don't let this limit you." When I was encouraged, I was like, Nope, not good.
Penny Williams (30:30): I wanted to be a communications major in college and I didn't do it because there was one public speaking class and I was not going to do that. So it's really limited me, throughout my life. So it's amazing. Sometimes it takes a long time. We think about these hurdles for our kids and our teens and, Oh my gosh, they're almost adults. And they have to be out in the world. They have to succeed. And sometimes it just takes longer to get there. And that's okay. Every journey is different.
Dr. Melanie McNally (31:04): Yes. And that even goes back to the whole thing we were talking about earlier with the comparison trap that not comparing maybe them to even their sibling out something a little bit more quickly, or their sibling was able to do something. It was so much easier. And then now look they're now 10 steps behind and what does this mean for them? But knowing that every individual is different, every kid is going to be different and is going to develop at a different rate. Our brains aren't even fully developed until between the ages of 22 and 25. So that development to throughout adolescents can look very different. And sometimes there's huge growth spurts in the brain and brain development where a year ago they seemed really socially and emotionally immature. And now all of a sudden, a year later, they're a completely different person. And so it's good for parents to kind of keep that perspective too, about development and occurring at different stages and growth occurs differently. And to not fall into that comparison trap of either what the parent was able to do when they were their child's age or comparing their siblings or to friends' children.
Penny Williams (32:26): We really let society and our own childhood define our expectations for our kids. And when you have a kid who's differently wired, you just can't follow those expectations. You have to let your child guide that — who they are, where they are. And there's so many kids here are asynchronous, so they could be wicked smart and, you know, reading on a college level in fourth grade and yet not be able to get their homework done and turned in. And so knowing that I think is so powerful for parents and really defining those expectations in a way that our kids can meet them like that. That's the goal of an expectation is that someone can actually succeed with it. We don't want to set all these expectations that our kids can't meet because that's erroding self-confidence, that's giving them the message that they can't succeed at anything. And the opposite is true when we set achievable, doable expectations for our kids we're helping to build confidence.
Dr. Melanie McNally (33:38): Yup. And then even finding that fine line of something that is going to be a little outside, their comfort zone, something that is a little bit harder than what you think they can achieve to really challenge them and push them a little bit harder because getting outside their comfort zone is so, so important and something that we want kids to be doing, but then understanding getting outside their comfort zone, like you mentioned earlier, it's going to be different for every child in every teen. So for one teen going outside, their comfort zone might mean standing on stage and giving a speech. Whereas for another teen going outside, their comfort zone might make mean making eye contact with their crush in the cafeteria. It's going to look different. And as parents and as professionals helping them, our job is to help them figure out what going outside their comfort zone looks like to them, not to us, but to them and helping them set those goals based on baby steps, say what you said with having these attainable goals. We want to start small. We want them to be able to achieve initially. So they build their confidence. They feel good about themselves. And then the baby steps start to the steps, start to get bigger. And so they're a little bit harder, but now they have that belief in themselves that they can do hard things. They have resilience, they have the confidence. So they're much more willing to take these big stretches or these big leaps to the next step. Whereas in the beginning they need to be taking the little smaller steps.
Penny Williams (35:25): Yeah. I can tell a little brief story about that. My daughter is in college and she is about a five and a half hour drive away. She has never liked driving. It's anxiety for her. Because she's going into her senior year, she just made that drive home on her own spring break, which ended up staying home for months, which we didn't know was going to happen. But she started though little incremental steps. We would go to see her and we would meet her an hour from her school. Then we would meet two hours from her school. So we just took smaller steps and she traveled in a different way until she was comfortable with driving herself. And she was a total mess that morning. She completely didn't think she could do it. She knew she didn't want to do it. Just the long and tediousness of the trip in general. And when she got here, we literally ran outside and cheered for her because it was a big deal. And now she knows that she can do it. It wasn't fun for her, but it's totally doable. And it's not a problem now.
Dr. Melanie McNally (36:47): Yeah. That's such a great example. I love it. How you guys did the baby steps. Like literally, in terms of the time span, the time spent driving and you can apply that same methodology to anything else. It's just kind of figuring out what are the baby steps for getting somebody comfortable. And so defining those little baby steps and then stepping on them, building on them and then making the steps a little bit larger each time.
Penny Williams (37:23): It makes me think about how people train to do the high jump. They're raising the bar a little bit each time as they conquer one level and they get over, they're increasing it incrementally until they reach a goal or are able to do what they had set out to do. But if they had just started with the bar all the way at the top, they may have never succeeded because they needed to build slowly that skill and that experience really to succeed.
Dr. Melanie McNally (37:57): Yeah, definitely. And a total side note you just made me think of this with any type of goal that we're setting or any type of thing that we're trying to achieve. Mental rehearsal is so important because our brain does not know the difference between real and imagined. And so if I'm sending the goal that I'm going to stand in front of the school and give a speech or maybe I've already done all the baby steps, and now that's my final thing and I've got it scheduled and I'm running for student office or whatever, I can mentally rehearse the speech, get as detailed as possible, imagine myself sitting on stage, waiting to be called up to the microphone, imagine myself walking in. I can see what I'm doing. I can imagine myself standing at the podium, making eye contact with the audience. I see certain people. I go through the entire speech in doing that mental rehearsal is invaluable because our brain, like I said, doesn't know the difference between real and imagined. So we're getting that practice. And so that way, when we actually have to give the speech, if we've done that mental rehearsal, several times, our anxiety or social anxiety or regular anxiety will be a little bit less than it is if we just went in cold turkey without ever having done the mental rehearsal.
Penny Williams (39:30): That's exactly what I did. I rehearsed that speech in my living room using the PowerPoint exactly. As I would do it with the clicker, probably 30 times. Everyone was rolling their eyes at me. Are you really going to do that again? Yes. Because I need that comfort level to be able to do what I'm about to do. I know myself enough to know I have to almost have this memorized in order to handle the rest of what is going to be coming at me in that situation. Practice is key. The more you study for a test, the more confident you are in taking it potentially, we can look at that as an example in general life, the more we practice something, the more confident we get with that.
Dr. Melanie McNally (40:23): Yeah. And I do want to just point out there's a difference between preparation and mental rehearsal, because preparation is kind of like what you're talking about, where going through the PowerPoint numerous times, having it memorized. But the mental rehearsal is where it's not about memorizing the speech. It's more about getting comfortable with the feeling of being on stage and trying to engage as many senses as possible. What we'll see in the audience, how we might hear the things that we might hear the feeling that we're going to have in our body, even imagining ourselves being really nervous when we're up there, or we can imagine ourselves being really confident when we're up there, but trying to evoke the experience or the feeling of the experience and going through that way, as opposed to the preparedness where we're memorizing, we're planning, we're preparing and that's 100% necessary and helpful for managing anxiety. But the mental rehearsal is where we can really work on building our confidence, because if I can rehearse something where I'm feeling really I'm making eye contact, I'm smiling. I have that feeling in me when I'm done with my rehearsal and I can hold on to that feeling. And then that way, when I go to actually give my speech, I can bring that feeling back up again, inside me because I've experienced it before, likely to feel confident when I'm on the stage.
Penny Williams (41:56): That's a good distinction. I even asked for a photo of the room which I didn't get, but I really wanted to envision all of it so that I didn't have to worry about the what if's. I could just know what I was going into pretty concretely. And I think this mental rehearsal is such a valuable strategy for kids with ADHD or autism, kids who kind of push against
Penny Williams (42:27): New environments or doing new things that they haven't done before. And I think this may be even more true for those on the spectrum, my son would just say no to everything at a certain point in his life for two or three years. No, I don't want to do that. No, I'm not going no, no. Everything, it was an automatic, no, he was putting up this wall because he didn't know what to expect. He didn't know what it was going to be like, because it was something new. And so the more we started having conversations about what it would be like, what our plan B would be if he was maybe sensory overwhelmed and just not at all okay. We could leave or we could, take a break and walk outside or whatever, just really talking through what it would look like, what it would feel like, how loud it might be was super helpful.
Penny Williams (43:25): In being able to say, okay, I can try this. Maybe I won't like it, but I'm at least going to see why this is like, what this is about, because we did some of that rehearsal on envisioning that you're talking about.
Dr. Melanie McNally (43:45): Yeah. And then you also brought up something else in there with having some tools in place to either manage the discomfort or just some coping tools in place to manage the anxiety that, may come up while we're experiencing the discomfort. So, having coping tools is a really important part of being able to managing anxiety. And it's also a big part of having self confidence, because if we're, for the times, when we're not feeling confident, if we have a good arsenal of coping tools that we can rely on, it can help us get through those times when we're our self confidence is lower or the times when we're feeling really anxious. And so definitely making sure that parents are either teaching their kids coping tools or they're modeling really good coping tools themselves, whether that's keeping their journal every day, doing exercise. Cause we know exercise is so good for anxiety, practicing, expressing gratitude doing some like deep breathing exercises or some meditation, but just making sure that we're, we're teaching, we're promoting, we're encouraging those kinds of things so that our teens see that there are things we can do when you are feeling really uncomfortable or when things are really hard. We do have some tools that we can rely on.
Penny Williams (45:13): Yeah. That's probably been the biggest strategy, the most helpful strategy for us and our family is making plans for the what ifs, all those what ifs that we worry about. What if the worst thing happens? What if my car breaks down and I'm three hours from home? Okay, well, here's the plan... What would you do in that situation? And just even having the tiniest little conversation and making a really loose plan of what could happen if that catastrophe were to actually happen in real life, it provides a lot of relief and it seems almost silly to people who don't have anxiety. "Well if something happens, then figure it out then." But when you have anxiety, figuring out before is what you need because your brain is going to catastrophize no matter what, you can't just stop that. So how do you handle it?
Dr. Melanie McNally (46:12): Yes. And it's really important to have those worry plans because then it helps us see that, okay, you know what? That problem is manageable. It might suck. It may not be the greatest thing in the world. But now that I have a plan in place, I can manage this situation or I know what to do. And you're right. When people are struggling with anxiety, when people are dealing with things, it on a daily basis, those what ifs, we can't just ignore them. And sometimes parents will be like, Oh, don't you don't need to think about that. Don't worry about it. Are you worried too much? But that's not going to stop it from going away. Is that that worry, isn't just going to disappear for the teen. And in fact, all that's going to happen is now the teen is going to learn what they can and cannot share with you.
Dr. Melanie McNally (46:59): And then they're just hold their worries inside instead of sharing them. And we obviously, we want them to share their worries. We want them to express them because when they hold those feelings inside, that's when it gets dangerous. When we don't know what they're thinking, we don't know what they're feeling. So whenever they do express worries, it's really important to listen, to be an emotion detective, not an emotion judge. There's this great book called "Permission to Feel" by Mark Brackett. And he talks about being an emotion detective, like helping to figure out helping others and for ourselves to where we ask questions to start to kind of get to the bottom of things, to figure out how people feel. So for parents that would mean asking very open ended questions, to see where the worries are coming from or what the worries specifically are versus an emotion judge who would be somebody who would just shut down a worry immediately. You don't need to worry about that, or I don't know why you're wearing, that's so silly. That's ridiculous. And then we're just shutting it down. And that is not what we want to be doing for many, many reasons.
Penny Williams (48:15): Yeah. It's not healthy at all for our kids. And I think we don't talk nearly enough about feelings and emotions with our kids about developing that emotional intelligence and that every feeling, every emotion is okay, is natural and how to cope. We don't have those conversations. We just kind of assume that as part of childhood development that they will figure it out, they'll find their way. And it's so, so valuable to model all these things and also to have discussions around them so that we can help our kids to really build that language. A lot of behavior, unwanted negative behavior for kids with ADHD or autism, stems from not having that awareness or even the language to communicate feelings. And so there's a lot of good work that can be done as our kids are growing up to really help them identify that. And then that leads to being able to help them develop these good coping strategies, to work with them on building self confidence. And that everybody has these feelings, even feelings that we deem are negative, you feel a lot better about yourself than when you thought that all the other people were happy and you're not.
Dr. Melanie McNally (49:39): Yeah. And it's all about teaching everyone, there's no such thing as a bad feeling, what we do with our feelings that can be problematic or that can cause consequences, but feelings themselves like anger is not a bad feeling. Sadness or depression is not a bad feeling, but even just a basic thing that maybe parents who haven't yet, who haven't started to identify feelings, or haven't done a lot of feeling work with their children. I do want to say it's never too late. It doesn't matter how old your kid is. And you can even start with just going on Google and finding a free feeling wheel or emotions chart that lists. Depending on your child's emotional development, you may want one that's really basic, or you may want one that's a little more nuanced and has a lot more feeling words on it and just hanging that on the fridge. And when you're talking about things asking, so how does that make you feel? And if they're having trouble, or if they're only coming up with really basic emotions, like happy, sad, mad, go look at the feeling chart or the feeling wheel and see if they can find something that's a little more specific, but until we identify what our feelings are, we can't really figure out what we need to do next. So it has to start with identifying how we are feeling in order to figure out what we need to do. Absolutely. This has been such an insightful conversation. A lot of things that we don't necessarily think about doing with our teens are how we can really support them.
Penny Williams (51:21): I know we get really overwhelmed if we have a teen who has poor self esteem or low self confidence, and we don't always know what to do and how to help in a way that is truly helpful and healthy. Sometimes the instinct is to push, and pushing isn't always the right thing to do. So I really appreciate your wisdom and insights and strategies that you've shared here today. I do want to let everyone know listening that links to Dr. McNally, the destinationyou.net website, as well as social media links will all be on the show notes for this episode. And you can find those at parentingadhdandautism.com/095. And I just want to thank you again, Dr. McNally for being here and really sharing some of your work with everyone who's listening in the audience.
Dr. Melanie McNally (52:24): Thank you so much for having me. This was really fun and thank you so much for everything that you're doing for all the parents out there. These types of podcasts, they're invaluable. So thank you very much.
Penny Williams (52:38): With that, we'll end this session and I will see everyone next time.
Outro (52:40): Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats at parentingadhdandautism.com.
Speaker 4 (53:09): [Inaudible].
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.