I am thrilled to be back this week, diving into an incredible conversation with beloved therapist, Sissy Goff! We're tackling the topic of anxiety and its ripple effect on our kids and on our parenting styles.
With 30 years of experience guiding kids and parents, Sissy brings a wealth of knowledge to the table. Plus, she's sharing tips from her latest book, The Worry Free Parent. We cover so much in this episode, including:
1. A parent’s most important job
2. Why we are seeing more anxiety in kids (and parents)
3. 5 parenting traps
4. A parent's surprising superpower
5. Sissy’s moment of hope in the Covenant School shooting aftermath
Do you have questions about friendship for Dr. Alison? Leave them here.
Thanks to our sponsors:
Go to www.organifi.com/bestofyou today and use code BESTOFYOU for 20% off your order today.
Head to GreenPan.us and use promo code BESTOFYOU and you’ll receive 30% OFF YOUR ENTIRE ORDER plus free shipping on orders over $99.
Go to Reliefband.com and use promo code BESTOFYOU to receive 20% off plus free shipping.
Visit hiyahealth.com/BESTOFYOU and get your kids the full-body nourishment they need to grow into healthy adults.
Get 35% off your first order of Sundays. Go to SundaysForDogs.com/BESTOFYOU or use code BESTOFYOU at checkout.
Music by Andy Luiten
Sound editing by Kelly Kramarik
While Dr. Cook is a counselor, the content of this podcast and any of the products provided by Dr. Cook are not specific counseling advice nor are they a substitute for individual counseling. The content and products provided on this podcast are for informational purposes only.
Pre-order The Worry Free Parent by Sissy Goff and get a free bonus chapter
Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke
Related Podcast Episodes
Episode 65: Vulnerability, Parenting, and Letting Go of Control—Inside A Guy’s Perspective With Our Friends From Dadville
Episode 6: Do I Really Have an Inner Child? What It Means to Reparent Yourself
Episode 54: Can I Pray My Anxiety Away? A Surprising Approach to the Anxiety Pandemic & How to Walk Yourself & Your Kids Through It
Episode 56: Am I Really Supposed to Die to Myself? Misconstrued Messages and How to Disentangle From Them
Episode 44: Why Anger is a Surprising Friend, What Happens When You Avoid It, and How to Create Space for Healthy Expression of Anger in Your Family
Episode 39: Boundaries for Your Soul—How to Navigate Your Overwhelming Thoughts & Feelings
Episode 40: 5 Steps to Healing Painful Emotions & Why Parts of Us Get Stuck in the Past
Episode 41: Boundaries With Fear And Anxiety—How to Calm the Chaos Within and the Joy of Internal Boundaries
TBOY Episode 66
Alison: Hey everyone, and welcome back to this week’s episode of The Best of You podcast! I’m so glad you’re here. I missed you guys last week. I took a mini break during the middle of the summer, and I’m so happy to be back today with you with a brand new Back to School series. This series is about parenting and kids and culture. This will apply to you if you’re a parent, but even if you’re not a parent, we’ve got some really great topics on anxiety and the culture in general and how to stay healthy as an adult human which is what all of us need, not only for our own kids, but for every kid and all the people in our lives.
You’ll see a theme through all of these episodes. The more we do our own work to become healthy, to become whole, to become centered, to learn what it means to honor those C words, those C words we talk about in Boundaries for Your Soul, and also back in Episodes 39 and 40 on the podcast: Calm. Confident. Clear. Creative. Curious. Courageous. Compassionate. Connected. Right? These grounding words where we know we are leading from that Spirit-led place inside, from a calm nervous system, where we’re leading ourselves, and we’re leading our emotions not the other way around. Right? When we’re in that place, we’re going to be the best parents we can be. We’re also going to be the best neighbors, the best aunts, the best uncles, the best siblings, the best godparents, the best grandparents. . . all those roles we step into with greater clarity and with greater courage, when we’re calm and doing the work ourselves. So, these episodes are really for all of us who are trying to show up effectively in the lives of the people we love.
So in today’s episode, I’m talking with a fellow therapist, Sissy Goff. Sissy’s amazing, and we really get into today why it’s so important for us to not parent out of worry, out of anxiety and what holds us back from that. Why is it so hard not to let our worry and our anxiety take us over, especially when we’re parenting, but really in any challenging situation. And some of the even really well-intentioned coping tactics we all have that actually get in the way of allowing our kids to grow and develop and thrive and develop their own coping strategies as they deal with worry and anxiety. So this is complicated to tease out, right? We’re trying to parent our kiddos through worry and anxiety, meanwhile we have to deal with our own worry and anxiety in order to do that.
So if you’re looking for more resources as you’re listening to this episode, first, please check out Sissy’s brand new book, called The Worry Free Parent: Finding the Confidence You Need so Your Kids Can Too. And that’s exactly what this book is about. It’s a real deep dive with a ton of practical content to help you figure out how to major in the majors, what’s important, what matters, let go of what you can’t control, let go of what’s not yours to control, so that you can show up in the way that your kids need.
And another resource you might consider, are Episodes 39, 40, and 41, or my book with Kim Miller, Boundaries for Your Soul, which is all about differentiating from parts of us. And particularly, in this case, you’d be differentiating from an anxious part of you as it comes out in your parenting; from a worry part of you as it comes out in this world—and learning to take charge of that part of you so again you’re leading from that calm, clear place inside, where you’re showing leadership. So you’re majoring in what’s major and letting go of the rest, and you’re seeing clearly to help guide your kids through the challenges that they face.
So with all that being said, I’m so thrilled to bring you today, my conversation with Sissy Goff. Sissy is the Executive Director of Daystar Counseling Ministries in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1993, she has been helping young kids and their parents find confidence in who they are and hope in who God is making them to be. Sissy is a sought-after speaker for parenting events across the country and is a frequent guest on media outlets including CNN, Good Morning America, Inside Edition, NBC, and Christianity Today. She is the bestselling author of 13 books including her brand new book, which we talk about today: The Worry-Free Parent: Finding the Confidence You Need So Your Kids Can, Too. It’s such a great resource. Sissy’s a gem, and I’m so thrilled to bring you today’s conversation.
Alison: Thank you so much for being here, Sissy. All of my work is with adults, primarily women, and I don't work much with children. I did a little bit during my internships, but I was so thrilled that you have this book coming out and have so many questions for you and and really excited to have you on the podcast today. So thank you for being with us.
Sissy: I'm so honored to get to be, I've long been an admirer of yours and it's fun to get to connect and be kind of in person as much as we can be.
Alison: I know. Thanks to technology. There's so much more we can do this way. I kind of want to dive right in. Sissy. I mean, you've been working with kids for 30 years. Is that right? And I'm curious, what, what got you started? Why kids? Why did you start out specializing, working with kids?
Sissy: I wonder how many counselors would say this very same answer. But I became the person I wish I'd had in my life growing up. I grew up in a family where we didn't talk a lot about emotions or what was going on. I mean back in the 70s nobody was really talking about that a lot.
No one was passing feelings charts around the dinner table to talk about that. And I was the kind of kid who smiled all the time, no matter what was going on. And I had a lot of really amazing mentors in my life. But I would have loved to have had someone who had said,
“Hey, Sissy, no one smiles all the time. There's got to be more going on inside of you”.
And I didn't. When did you start doing this work?
Alison: Oh, it's been about 25 years ago, myself. Yeah.
Sissy: So similar. And I didn't even, I did not know a person who was in counseling. I didn't know people talking about counseling. And the only person I ever heard of doing something like this, you're going to laugh because we're probably, I'm older than you probably, but we're close to the same age, was Marlena from Days of Our Lives.
And she was a child psychologist. And I thought, well, that sounds cool.
Alison: Wait, was she really? I forget.
Alison: I wasn’t allowed to quote unquote, to watch Days of Our Lives, but I would sneak it because, and frankly, part of it was similar to what you're saying, because in the eighties, when I grew up, we still weren't really talking about feelings. And so some of the only ways you could get that was through television.
You'd hear people having these dramatic conversations or whatever. So that is so interesting that Marlena was a child psychologist,
Sissy: Can I ask you how you got started?
Alison: As a therapist? Yeah, I love this. We can definitely go back and forth because I love talking to other therapists so much. For me, it was very much, it was, I didn't yet know when I started to become a therapist. It was less about thinking–I still thought I had a perfect family. Although through the process of becoming a therapist, you kind of realize all the ways in which all of our families, even the best of our families, don't get it right.
And I love in your book that you talk about the fact that yes, in many ways we are learning now how to focus on mental health. And we talk about our feelings with our kids more, but we're all still in progress. We're all still learning. for me, it really was, my specialty is in faith and psychology, my PhD is in religion and psychology.
So for me, I had this really deep faith in Jesus. I had a really strong faith, but I had no clue who I was. I didn't know myself and I didn't even know that it was okay to think about myself, to look at myself, to understand myself. I thought that was selfish. So everything I've done is all about really focusing on, wait a minute, it's not selfish to look at your own feelings, to understand your own needs, to think about your own nervous system.
Psychology was coming alongside my faith–it's great to know a lot about God. We need that. And also we need to know about ourselves. That's part of becoming a human, a healthy, whole human.
And I love that you're taking that to parenting. The best gift we have to give to our children is to become our whole selves, which means we've got to deal with our own anxieties. We've got to deal with our own fears.
Sissy: Yes. Yes. That's a beautiful way to put that, to become our whole selves. And we get to reflect more of Jesus the more we know of ourselves because we're able to be more authentically the parts of him that he's placed inside of us. So cool. Thank you for sharing that with me. I love hearing that.
Alison: Yeah. Well, I love that you became that person that you had wanted to have been there for you. You became that safe attachment figure for other children, which is really what we're doing as therapists. We're becoming that reparative experience.
Sissy: Yes, exactly.
Alison: I love that. So as I read the Worry Free Parent, one of the things–I don't want to project onto you, but as I was thinking about what you were doing through my therapist lens is I could imagine you've worked with kids for 30 years. And through that, you're also working with parents. And I imagine, because it's really a book to parents, and in such a gentle, beautiful way, I hear you coming alongside parents saying, you guys are really the solution here.
You're the solution to your kid's anxiety. Tell me what, what led you to want to write this book, especially to parents?
Sissy: Yes. Exactly that. I mean, I can think of a parent I met with not long ago who came in and she was very concerned about her daughter and her level of anxiety. And the longer I sat with this mom in my time with her, you know how it is when someone's really anxious. It's like it wafts over to you.
You can't help but absorb it. And I was feeling it as I sat there with her and tried to be really gracious and say, “Have you ever thought about going to see somebody yourself? Tell me about your family history, all of that”. And she said, which I so appreciate, she said, “I have a very limited amount of funds and I have a very limited amount of time. And so I've got to prioritize getting my daughter in”.
A lot of parents feel that way. And that feels like good parenting. I mean, I'm going to take care of my child first. And with this mom, it was evident that what her daughter really needed was for her mom to do the work herself first.
Everything we know about family systems tells us the cogs are dependent upon each other and they're keeping each other turning. And so if the daughter had gotten help and not the mother, then nothing would really get better. And so I wanted this mom to get help herself because it's a trickle down.
I mean, it's contagious. And her daughter was young enough. I really did feel like the source was the mom and in her most well intentioned loving heart, she was missing it.
Alison: Yeah. Exactly. I love that. That in our most well-intentioned moments, we can still miss the very thing our kids need, which is for us to take that time, maybe even a little bit away from them, in order to become healthier so that the time that we're with them is more constructive, is of a higher quality, has more of that non anxious presence.
I know so many of the moms I work with, they think that more, more, more, more, more is better. And I'm always saying, actually, what's better is quality. If you can give those kids some quality moments of that non-anxious presence. You say in the book, and I thought this was such a powerful quote, you say, “A parent's job is to be the calmest person in the room”.
Sissy: That's a direct quote from a parent I was meeting with. I mean, it was a beautiful statement by this dad and this couple that I work with who are doing an amazing job with their kids.
They don't have parents that have modeled neither one of them anything that they want to do as parents and so we do parent consults at Daystar where parents are coming in to talk about their parenting and things they could tweak and that's what we were doing.
And he was talking about how they both get angry with their daughter more than they want to, which I feel like you and I could talk about that. I'm hearing that from parents more than I've ever heard it before.
And he said, I was yelling at her and all of a sudden I heard this voice that I had recently heard at a conference I went to who said, “I'm the CEO of my company. A CEO's job is to be the calmest person in the room”. And he said, “ my job as a parent is to be the calmest person in the room and I am blowing it”.
Alison: You're bringing up such a good point. Why are we all so on high alert right now? There's so much going on in our world.
You see all the things parents are dealing with. There's so much that we are dealing with, let alone our kids. And to myself, sometimes probably our collective nervous systems are activated. There's lots of research on all the reasons why, I don't know if there's any way to quantify that over history, but we certainly know this isn't a calm period of our history,
I guess what I first want to ask you is, you've been doing this for 30 years–are you seeing more anxiety? The stats are telling us kids are more anxious. I'm sure parents are more anxious. Do you actually see that in your practice?
Sometimes I look at the stats and that there's truth in them. And I also wonder, we're also diagnosing more. Right? We have more names to put on these things than maybe we did 30 years ago. So tell me, you've had a bird's eye view with kids. What do you think about that?
Sissy: Oh, I love that you're saying that. I'm so glad we're friends now because we think very similarly. Yes, we're diagnosing more than we've ever diagnosed before and we're over diagnosing so many things today and at the same time, yes, I am seeing more anxious kids and more anxious parents than I ever have before.
Especially for children the average age of onset used to be eight, it's dropped to six. And I would say for elementary school age kids, I'm seeing it more than I ever have. And then there is this significant uptick around puberty.
Alison: Mm hmm.
Sissy: So in those two time periods, I'm seeing it. I mean, among adolescents too, but especially those ages.
Alison: Do you have any sense of the why?
Sissy: Like you said, there's so many things we can talk about. I have never felt like there was as much pressure in as many areas of a child's life. And I don't think it's pressure that parents are putting on kids. It's cultural pressure that kids are supposed to be excelling academically in ways that I don't think it would have even occurred to us that we could do as well as kids are putting pressure on themselves to do.
They're supposed to be excelling athletically, artistically, and be doing five different activities at all times and in leadership positions. Honestly, there are times that , “How do I become a lobbyist and go to the government and say, we've got to do something academically”?
It's too much for kids. And I really do believe that. There's so much pressure. We could talk about technology. that parents are over-parenting right now. When you're talking about how things have changed and asking why I got into this, when you think about the 70s and 80s, especially in the 70s, the only parenting book was Dr. Spock. And all that I know he said was “smile a lot at your kids”, because that's the only thing my mom took from it.
And she smiled a lot and my sister and I, ironically, that's the compliment we hear the most–is that we smile a lot. Here, you and I are speaking to parents and adults from a mental health standpoint, but there's so many people giving input into all the things that parents and all of us are supposed to be doing.
And that is lending itself to parents feeling more like failures than ever before. I mean, there's so many things that are factoring in. You could speak to this, more than I could even. I'm seeing parents who are overcompensating for what they felt like they didn't get.
And so they're over-identifying emotionally with their kids and they're hearing them and attuning to them, but they're not giving 'em coping strategies to work through it.
Alison: Yeah. We're being really candid here, listeners. So here are two therapists giving their thoughts on, I sometimes think of it as the pendulum. I was probably on the back end of the, “children should be seen and not heard parenting approach, which is, you don't talk about your feelings. All the focus is on behavior.
Especially when you bring the Christian overlay into it, which was part of my experience. And I do see what you're seeing. There's so much attunement and obviously we need attunement. We know that attachment is so important and also, children need boundaries. We know that children need resilience. We know that children need to learn to cope. We know that children need to be able to survive hard situations.
And so I do think you're right. I do think that the pendulum can swing so far the other way to put so much pressure on parents, but it's also not so good for our kiddos who sometimes need to learn a little bit the hard way.
Again, it's that healthy balance of that book Dopamine Nation. Have you read that book? The author talks about the pleasure pain principle and how we need a little bit of hard things because that actually regulates in the brain the pleasure. We need the balance of both. We have to learn how to deal with challenging things in order to have that proper balance. So what you're saying makes a lot of sense to me.
So in your book you talk about different parenting traps, one being the helicopter parent. What are some of the other ways that you see parents out of really good intentions, but not quite getting it right?
Sissy: Yes, and I'm glad you said that and that's what I mean as we're being candid, that's what I would want to take it back to again if you're doing any of these things it's because you're a really good parent and you're trying so hard to love your kids. You want the best for them and out of that wanting the best, helicopter parenting is definitely one.
I kind of made these up based on what I'm seeing the most and one of them would be snowplow parenting, that idea of we're going to clear the path ahead of them so they don't have to deal with hard things. We can make the bump smooth and make it really easy on them.
Backhoe parenting, where I'm going to clean up their failure because I don't want them to have to deal with the repercussions of their failure. It is too much.
Sidecar parenting, which I feel like we both see a lot. This is what I went through when I was growing up. A parent thinking, “She's like me. So I'm going to step in because I assume that she's feeling exactly what I felt. And so she's going to be in the sidecar zooming around with me”.
And then parade float parenting, where I'm going to make this as fun as it possibly can. And we're going to entertain ourselves along the way. So you won't feel any sadness or anything hard.
Alison: How do you encourage parents who are listening, how do you mitigate? How do you begin, because all of this is driven by anxiety. To bring this back. I was thinking about how there's all these headlines screaming about anxiety. Our kids are anxious, it's such an anxious world.
The news is half of what's feeding all of the anxiety and the response to all that is more anxiety. We start to clench. Our nervous system goes into that fight, flight, stay. We start to get more anxious and we double down on the anxious parenting, which is the exact opposite of what it means to be the calmest parent in the room.
When we read all the headlines, when we see all the anxiety, when we see all the landmines and the pitfalls that our kids might be even headed toward, the response is not to double down on one of those styles that you listed. It's actually to take a step back and do the work of calming ourselves.
So how do we do that? Right? The first step I would think is to begin to understand, gosh, this is the voice of anxiety. This is the voice of anxiety. I've got to take a U-turn and do my own work to work through my own anxiety. So how do you talk parents through that?
Sissy: Yes. And I wonder if you experienced this too. There's something that happens with the amygdala. That's the part that's taking over, as we know, that it's almost like when you lived in a dorm or a sorority house and one person would start their period and then everyone's on their period.
I feel like one amygdala gets activated and everyone is in that place where everyone's screaming, panicking, going down in the spiral together. I don't know that that's scientific, but it feels like it's what happens so much of the time.
So, okay, so what to do? The first thing I would say is, and again, I feel like I'm preaching to the choir. We probably have the same ideas, but I want every family to have a code word. And a humorous code word is even better, so it could make you all laugh when you say it, but anybody in the family has the authority to say, “Watermelon” or whatever it is.
And when that is said, we're going to stop. Because like you said, if we're functioning out of our amygdala, we're not going to get to a rational place. There's going to be no productivity in conversation. There's going to be no healing, no reparations, nor restoration.. I can't even get to the words, you know what I mean. So, nothing good is going to come, like you said. And so, we need a pause. A word that makes us pause. And we each go to our separate spaces.
And I will say to parents, “It is fine if you need to go to the bathroom and lock the door, it is absolutely fine to get away from them at that moment”.
And then it was funny when you were talking earlier, Alison, I was thinking, I would bet you're an amazing therapist, because even the way that you talk as you're engaging with someone, you talk slowly and I can hear your breath. My breathing is being regulated as I'm hearing you talk and breathe.
That's where we need to start. We've got to slow down with parents and we've got to get their bodies calmed back down so their blood vessels can dilate, the blood flow can shift back to the cortex, all the things that we know.
Because it's easy for people to feel like mindfulness is really hokey pokey and there's nothing to it. Instead, it changes the chemistry of our brains in those moments and we can come back and have that healing conversation.
Alison: That's so true. And no matter what, you have seen it all. You are truly working with parents who have seen the worst of the worst. And no matter what, I want people to hear it, going back to that breath of, I am here in the moment. I have what my kids need in the moment. They have my love.
I always think, Sissy, that is how God loves us. God doesn't always fix it. God doesn't always make it better. God doesn't always clear the path ahead of us, but God is always with us. And that's what we're modeling for our kids. We may not be able to fix it for them. We may not be able to make it better. But you know what? We're going to be with them through it and that's what they need.
We have to find that in ourselves. And I love that you'd go through such practical mindfulness, grounding, breath work with parents. That really works to keep you in the moment with those kids. And that's what they need.
Sissy: And anxiety pulls us right out of it. We are not there with them in those moments.
Alison: The other thing I love that you talk about in your book, Sissy, is another fantastic quote, “If you don't learn to stop criticizing yourself, that very same criticism will spill over onto your kids”. Tell us a little bit about that. What's the danger of our own criticisms for our kiddos?
Sissy: well, I would say I am one who has a lot of critical self talk and somebody said that to me. A good friend said that to me years ago. She said, “you cannot hate yourself that much without some of that hate spilling over onto the people closest to you”. And it had never occurred to me up until that point that that's what happened.
Are you an Enneagram person? Okay, I'm a One. What are you on the enneagram?
Alison: Three wing Two. I always tell Beth McCord I'm a two and a half. I ask her if that's the real thing. 2.5.
Sissy: 2.5, that's good. That's a great combo. Yes, so you do too then with some three. I mean, I'm seeing parents do this more than ever, where I feel like they're being so hard on themselves and so critical of themselves, and there's no way to stop that voice from spilling out onto them, because we have such high expectations of ourselves, and we're not meeting them, and inevitably, we end up putting the same high expectations on them, and maybe it's not academically, but in terms of their character.
Our work, as you said before, our work is always going to ripple over onto them. And so when we're learning to have a kinder, gentler voice with ourselves, we're going to have a kinder, gentler voice with them. And like you said, it doesn't mean we don't have boundaries. It doesn't mean we don't give them consequences. But at the same time, we're compounding the problem if we're all in this shame spiral together.
Alison: Yeah. There's such a difference when you're in a calm place yourself. When you say to your child, “I love you and we're not going to do this now”. And it actually carries more authority and more weight when we are calm than when we're activated and yelling or trying to extinguish a behavior versus entering into it with that.
Again, we're humans. We're fallible. We make lots of mistakes. I love in the book that you say “we get 50% of it”.
Sissy: Dan Allender. Well, and what you're saying Alison, one of the things I've seen happens is all the trends we could talk about. Kids are struggling with self-regulation more than ever before. Part of what I'm watching happen in counseling is kids, rather than learning to use coping strategies, are using their parents as coping strategies.
And so I'm a child and I've gotten all in my amygdala and I'm reactionary at this moment and upset. If I can draw you into that battle with me, then I'm going to have an emotional release and I'm going to feel better because I got all that out. Which we know is a terrible pattern to be learning for the rest of our lives, if that becomes how we process our emotions–by drawing someone else into a fight.
Alison: Wow, that's so interesting. It's sort of like, it's almost like co-regulation, but the unhealthy version of it. Instead of co-regulating them in the sense that we become that calm presence, which allows them to regulate themselves, we get drawn into it with them.
Sissy: Yes, I never thought about it like that. That's exactly what it is.
Alison: That's so interesting. I love that you talk about this in your book toward the end about trusting your gut. And it goes back to something you said about, there's so much information out there. This information highway can kind of freak any parent out.
There's so much, it's almost the opposite of what we had right when we were little. There was almost no information. Now there's too much. It's saturation. And so I love that in the middle of that, you're saying at the end of the day, you are their parent. You know what they need.
Talk to us a little bit about that. It's good to read books. It's good to learn about these things. We need to educate ourselves. But at the end of the day, we are the parent. We are the ones God has put in our child's life.
So what's that balance? How do we know when to kind of let the noise fade away and be in that moment with our kids? How do we know how to do that?
Sissy: Well, we've got to do our own work. I mean, that's the biggest piece of it because the danger of anxiety with kids is being like the worry monster. With teenagers, I talk about it being the worry whisper, but we all have that voice in our heads.
And with a kid, with a fifth grader, it is really easy to say, “You are not sick. There's no way you're going to throw up at this moment”. There’s worry spiraling you around that. What you and I would both know is that we could track development and know what kids are going to get stuck on in terms of the worried loop of thoughts based on their development because it's the worst thing they can imagine at that age.
For parents, the worst thing that you can imagine is something happening to your kids. But instead of being able to say, I'm not sick, I'm not going to throw up. It feels real. Anything that you start to perseverate on as a parent can feel like this is my intuition and I've got to take care of my kids in this rather than “I'm in a worried loop and I'm stuck”.
And so like you said, teasing that voice out, learning to recognize that that’s anxiety. That's not my gut. That's not my intuition. That's not the Holy Spirit speaking through my gut. And then learning to trust. Pray and trust that that's God's voice and that's certainly what I do as a therapist more than anything.
I pray that my gut is in line with the Holy Spirit and that's what I've learned to trust the most in a conversation with somebody as to where to go next. As to the question to ask. And for parents, intuition is a superpower and the more they use it, the more they lean into it, the more they'll trust it.
Alison: Yeah. I love how in the book, you go after anxiety. It's a tool of the enemy because paradoxically, it actually takes us away from that God-given intuition, that God-given-Holy-Spirit-led gut. And so I love what you're saying. I kind of want to slow this down here for the listeners.
Number one, learn to identify the voice of anxiety. In the book, you say, give anxiety a name. It's a part of you. It's a part that needs you to learn to differentiate from it. When you name something, you're saying this is not all of who I am. I'm putting it out here. I'm separating out from it.
You give some great names, and you do it with kids where they can really learn to identify, this is the worry voice. This is the worry monster. But that's what we do as parents too. We have to start to go, this is my anxious voice.
So number one is identifying that. I would suggest for those of you listening, if your heart rate is up, if your pulse is high, if you're in that state of fight flight, if you're tense, if you're feeling panicky,
Sissy: –with the same thought circling back around and around,
Alison: –all of those things are a good cue. It's your worry. And then you've got to do those other exercises: you go through the grounding, the mindfulness, the calming, so that you're not making decisions out of that anxious place. And that's what taps you back into that gut.
the big part of it is first identifying when we're in the anxious mind.
Sissy: Yes, exactly. And again, it's hard to do because the issue feels more valid than any other topic that our anxiety is going to attack.
Alison: What do you see as the most common things that anxiety is going after? In one section of the book, you gave a list–you did a poll on social media, and you sort of created a list of the kinds of things anxiety is saying, the ways that it's speaking. Can you share some of those with us?
Sissy: Two that stand out to me right now, off the top of my head: One is attaching future meaning to present problems. I remember a mom who said to me, “We were on a trip and my daughter threw her trash at the trash can and she did not put it in and she left it there for the cleaning people to pick up. She is not going to learn how to function as a human!”
I get that that was disrespectful and unaware. And we're making this a little bigger, maybe, than the situation warrants, but that same version of the story I have heard thousands of times. Something my child's missing right now means that they're not going to be able to drive, they're not going to be able to have healthy relationships, they're not going to be able to xyz. We project and project and project and project. And so that would be one.
The other, and when I did that social media poll, in some ways it may have kind of birthed this book more than anything, but I was so disheartened for parents about their own sense of failure. That's what I felt like they were circling around the most. The thought of, “I'm not doing it right. I'm not doing enough. I don't know how. I'm not the right parent”.
All the things, all the places we go in our heads when we're not our healthiest selves.
Alison: And that voice, whether it's the anxious voice or a critical voice, when we're leaning out of that, that's what then is actually bleeding out to our kids. It's what's leaking out to them. They're picking up on that. It can feel righteous in a weird sort of way–that's not the right word–to beat yourself up. I'm a terrible parent.
But it's not helpful. It's not helpful to us and it's not helpful to our kids. So what's a way to reframe that? How do we reframe that voice in our heads as we begin to notice it?
Sissy: Well, it's part of that code word of wanting parents to back up in the moment and do the breathing. And I want parents to think about why am I anxious in this moment? Because as much as parents feel like failures, as much as they're getting angry, it's typically because what they're wanting for their kids in that moment is really good.
E.g. I'm angry as we're trying to get out of the door for school, really, because I know my child's already had five tardies this semester, and if they get another one, they're going to have to go to Saturday school, and then they're going to miss the birthday party that they really wanted to go to.
So it's all of these good things I want for my kids, but the delivery is off, and I'm getting angry instead of stopping myself and saying, I'm wanting more for them in this moment than they do.
I'm more invested than they are. I've got to stop and let them deal with the consequences. But that reframing idea of, I feel anxious because I care about my kids, I'm trying to be the best parent I can be, it enables us to have a kinder, gentler voice towards ourselves.
Alison: Yeah, I love that. I had a friend years ago and sometimes this comes back to me, but she would say the phrase, “sometimes you have to let the ceiling fall”.
And when you were describing that moment. like even in my own life, still something will happen–I'll get sick, I had COVID recently and I had to cancel some things and it can feel like the world's going to end.
And it's such a good reminder that the world doesn't end. It actually keeps going. It's okay. And the more we pause to really notice those things, there's a gentleness to that even in those parenting moments.
I love what you're saying. Like, I don't want my kid to get another tardy and the world won't end. We're gonna be okay. We're here really that changing that self talk inside of us and sort of showing up with that with our kiddos.
Sissy: Yes. And if that parent could think, not only is the ceiling not gonna fall, but I know that suffering produces perseverance. And perseverance, character and character, hope. And so what my child is learning in this moment is hope, which is so much more valuable than the fact that they're gonna get another tardy
Alison: Mm hmm. That's good. Oh, that's so good. Sissy, as we kind of wind down here, tell us a little bit about what's bringing you hope as you work with kids, as you work with families, as you work with parents. What's bringing you hope?
Sissy: I'm going to go to a really dark time before I come back to that, if that's okay. We have a little summer retreat program for the kids during counseling. So I have been there this summer and I've been in worship every night and really rich teaching and all of those things this summer.
But when you ask that question, where I went to was I have been very involved in the Covenant School. A friend of Catherine Koontz, the head of school and I have spoken over there a lot of times and we have a lot of Daystar families that are there and so I was at the reunification center that day and walking closely through that with the school and the families and you know, it's one of the worst things that is imaginable in our world, certainly as a parent, as a therapist.
I mean, it's unspeakable. Because I'd been there anyway, I ended up being on some news programs talking about it because of being local and all of that. And one of them was CNN and I had gotten a call to go down early in the morning to be on this live CNN broadcast and I get really nervous on things like that and I certainly don't want to but I certainly do and I was nervous about going and I was so emotional and exhausted and depleted.
This was the very morning after it happened and I was supposed to be there, I can't remember, 5:30 in the morning and I went down, and I had not thought about the fact that it's cold in Nashville in March in the mornings. and I thought we were going to be inside some kind of trailer. And I go down, and we're outside, and I'm a nervous wreck.
And I'm standing there. I didn't even know what it was going to look like. And it was like across from the White House. you see all the people lined up, and all the people are lined up on the street. And, I'm waiting to go on camera on live TV, and when I get cold, my kneecaps shake.
That's such a silly thing, but I don't know why they do it, but my kneecaps were shaking. I don't know if it was more cold or nerves. And I turned around and the street we were standing on was directly opposite the Covenant School. And this was late March. And so here was the sign for Covenant.
And that means you're entering onto their property. And I was, you know it's the darkest day I've ever experienced living in Nashville. And then next to that sign was the sign for the Easter services. And I thought, that's it. Like, there is nothing else we can say on our darkest day that I remember other than, he is risen. And this is the reason we even have Easter.That hope, that reminder of hope has really carried me. Every time I go back to that, every time that has spoken to me more powerfully than anything.
Alison: That even in the midst of this darkest hour, he has risen.
Alison: That is, that's it. That's the basis of our hope. And I love that. I mean, against the backdrop of everything you're trying to communicate through what you do and through this book, that's why we have to do this work of staying calm and staying in a place of hope.
That's it. While we are still living, while we are still on this side of heaven, we have reason to hope and we have reason to give that hope to our kids. Yeah, that's beautiful. Thank you so much for the work that you do.
Sissy: Right back at you, Alison, you are delightful to talk with.
Alison: Oh my gosh. I imagine you among all of these kids and I'm so, so grateful. And I know it's not easy. I know you see really hard things and such good work that you're putting into the world. So thank you for that. Tell people how they can find you, how they can find your work and this beautiful book that's coming out into the world.
Sissy: You're so kind. Raisingboysand girls.com is our website and it connects you to all things related to us. And we get to be a part of the same family, the same podcast family, which is so fun. So we're podcast cousins. We could call ourselves that at TSF and you can find that at Raisingboysandgirls.com and then I try to be as active as I can on social media helping parents as much as possible.
So @SissyGoff on Instagram and then David Thomas who's my male counterpart. He and I both are doing things on raisingboysandgirls.com.
Alison: Great. I love it. Well, please get yourself a copy of Sissy’s book. It's so practical. So wise. So gentle. I mean, you really struck a balance of giving some real truths in a really gentle, encouraging, beautiful way. So, check it out and, I have one last question I ask all my guests, which is what is bringing out the best of you right now?
Sissy: That's a great question. I would say I have a senior dog. She is almost 15 and she doesn't sleep as much as she gets older. And so she has gotten into the habit in the last year of waking me up at 6 or 6:15 every morning. I didn't used to wake up that early and it is bringing out the best of me. It has taught me to have margin in a way that I wasn't having before and I love it.
Alison: I love that. Well, thank you so much for being here, Sissy.
Sissy: Alison, thank you for having me. Thank you for your voice in the world and the difference you're making.
Alison: Thank you.