663: Mental Health, Time Management and Learning Together With Our Kids With Sara Olsher

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Mental Health, Time Management and Learning Together With Our Kids With Sara Olsher
Wellness Mama » Episode » 663: Mental Health, Time Management and Learning Together With Our Kids With Sara Olsher
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The Wellness Mama Podcast
663: Mental Health, Time Management and Learning Together With Our Kids With Sara Olsher
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Today’s episode is more of a vulnerable one for me. I’m here with Sara Olsher, the founder and CEO of the family mental health and wellness company Mighty and Bright. As a single parent and cancer survivor, she’s seen first hand how life can deal some hard blows. Her company provides overwhelmed parents and their kids with the tools the need to prioritize mental health.

And Sara and I talk about tough topics and how to navigate them with our kids. Including subjects like divorce, cancer, or deaths in the family. During my own divorce I learned that I needed to gather a good support system and outlet for my own emotions. This way I could have the hard conversations with my kids to help them cope with the situation, without them feeling like they had to carry my emotional baggage.

What I love about Sara’s company is that she helps parents in this process through tools like books and calendars. Her tip is to have each child keep their own calendar or schedule, so they feel secure and know what’s going to happen. The books at Mighty and Bright are also really helpful ways to explain hard subjects in age appropriate ways. The goal isn’t to unload extra stress on our kids, but help them cope with what’s happening.

Even if you aren’t going through a major life even right now, Sara’s tips and tools can help any parent and child have less mental and emotional stress.

Episode Highlights With Sara

  • How she got into the work of creating resources to help kids through something tough
  • The importance of talking to our kids about the hard stuff
  • Why we need to have the real conversations with them or they will make up stories about what is happening to help them understand
  • Why using simple language and explaining how this will affect them are two important pieces
  • How a calendar had such an impact on her daughter and her anxiety
  • The reason she wrote a children’s book to help navigate those hard conversations
  • The importance of therapists, accepting help when you need it, and healthy outlets for your own emotions

Resources We Mention

More From Wellness Mama

Read Transcript

Child: Welcome to my Mommy’s podcast.

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Katie: Hello and welcome to the Wellness Mama Podcast. I’m Katie from wellnessmama.com and this episode was a little bit of a vulnerable one for me. It touches on the topic of mental health, time management and learning together with our kids with Sara Olsher, and it especially touches on some tough topic topics and how to navigate them with our kids, including topics like divorce, cancer or deaths in the family.

And Sara is the founder and the CEO of the family mental health and wellness company called Mighty+Bright and the author of ten picture books for kids for coping with divorce, cancer, life changes and big feelings. As a single parent and a cancer survivor herself, she’s seen firsthand that the universe can duel some pretty harsh blows. And her company provides tools to help overwhelmed parents prioritize mental health for their kids by learning together and incorporating coping skills into day to day life. And she has a lot of resources around this topic. And we go into a lot of these today, including how she got into this topic. The importance of talking to our kids about the hard stuff, even when we don’t want to and how to do that in an age-appropriate way that doesn’t put our emotional burden on them, but supports them through the process as well.

We talk specifically, like I mentioned, about the topics of divorce, death, cancer, etc. And she also has great books for kids on simply learning to have context for their own emotional experiences, even outside of those things, and how to identify when an emotion is affecting them, where it’s showing up in their body, and how to deal with that in a way that’s healthy. So some foundational skills that are really beneficial to all kids and we get into a lot like I said, it’s a little bit of a vulnerable conversation for me and I share more than have in the past about my own life changes in the last couple of years. So without further ado, let’s join Sara. Sara, welcome. Thanks so much for being here.

Sara: Thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited.

Katie: I am excited too, and excited to learn from you today. And I think to start broad for anybody who isn’t already familiar with you, can you just give us a little bit of your background and how you got into this work that you’re doing?

Sara: Sure. Yeah. So I run a company called Mighty and Bright. Basically, the whole point of it is to create resources to help kids through really tough things. And for kids that can be something big, like divorce or a parent with a serious illness, but it can also be just like day-to-day stuff. Like when my daughter was really little, she struggled with things like stopping what she was doing so that we could go do something else. Like transition is not easy for kids. That’s kind of what my day-to-day is. It’s creating resources like that, like books and visual schedules.

But I got into it because I went through a divorce when my daughter was two, and she really was not coping super well, and I was trying to find ways to support her through that. And then when she was six years old, I was diagnosed with cancer. So I’ve really been through it in the last decade. But it’s not just me. When you have kids, everybody is dealing with this. And when somebody tells you you might die and you’re a mom, my main concern was my daughter. And so once you are a mom, it becomes a whole different world in which you really want to make sure that your kids are okay, in addition to you.

Katie: Yeah, I think even for moms, the struggle of sometimes making sure they’re okay at the expense of you, which is probably also something you talk about, of finding that balance so that everyone is okay. I love that you kind of introed with some heavy topics, because as much as we would like to not have to face those things in life, many of us will face those tough things. And then to navigate them as a mom is another level because our experience and our emotions also set a lot of the tone for how our kids are going to handle those things.

And it seems like this touches on a deeper vein, too, which is that often it seems like there’s a tendency of parents I know I’ve been guilty of this in the past to want to shield our kids from the tough things or not talk about it with them. And what I learned somewhat firsthand with my own kids in the last couple of years, going through a divorce and having lots of transitions in our lifestyle is that often it seemed like the not knowing was more difficult on them than having the hard conversations and that they seemed to feel more safe and secure when we could have the hard conversations and talk openly about things than when they didn’t know what was going on. And I know you have even more context to be able to provide here than I do, but maybe let’s touch on why it’s important to begin with this background, to be able to have those tough conversations and to talk about those things with our kids.

Sara: Yeah, absolutely. I think I was 34 when I was diagnosed with cancer. And so I got involved with a lot of other people that were young and had young kids and were going through cancer and having a lot of these conversations with them about why it’s so important to have to talk to your kids and use the word cancer and use the word divorce and use the word death. We have to be honest with our kids because if we don’t talk to them about this stuff, they will make up stories about what’s going on because they always know something’s going on. Their brains are working nonstop, their little ears hear things we had no idea they were hearing, and they can just sense a change in your energy in the household.

So if something is not right, they know it. And if we don’t explain to them what it is, they think we don’t want to talk about it, we shouldn’t talk about it. And so they’re not going to ask you questions. And instead, they’re going to try and make sense of what’s going on themselves, which oftentimes, because of the way that kids develop and the whole world kind of revolves around them, they think, my mom and dad aren’t talking to me about this because I did something wrong, something’s really bad. I wonder what I did, I’m bad kid. And they make up a story that in which they are the main character and they’re the bad guy. And we really don’t want that to happen. So that’s the reason why we have to talk about it as hard as it is.

Katie: Then let’s go through some of those conversations, or maybe just some general tips for approaching that. Because like we talked about, this is probably a tough thing for the parent as well. But how we approach it is going to set a lot of the tone for how they understand it and how they approach it. So touching on some of the big issues that you mentioned. How can parents, for instance, begin that conversation around a topic like divorce and their whole family life structure changing?

Sara: Yeah, I think it’s really important, first off, to kind of understand some context of how it’s going to actually affect the child’s life before you have the sit down conversation. Because kids want to understand what the thing is, but then they also need to know how it’s going to affect them and know more information. I think a lot of people talk about having age-appropriate conversations with kids and we’re like googling age appropriate conversations. But really it boils down to using simple language, not big words, and also putting in the context of how it affects the kids and what they need to know. They don’t need to know the why of why you’re getting divorced to the degree of like, blah, blah, blah did this and blah, blah, blah did that, that is not appropriate for them to know.

What is appropriate for them to know is sometimes when grown ups are in relationships with each other, sometimes it’s healthier for them not to be together anymore. And that the goal of a family and the goal of taking care of everybody and yourself is being in a place where you feel safe and peaceful in your own home. And so, because that’s the goal, we’ve decided that it would be better if we didn’t live together anymore. And that means that there’s going to be a lot of things that change in our house, blah, blah, blah is going to get a house in this place, and we’re going to stay in this place. And then you are going to spend time with both of us.

And then don’t get too complicated at first. I think the other thing we tend to do as parents is think we have to tell them everything all at once. We have to make sure we do it perfectly. We have to do it right. We have a whole list of things. But this is a conversation that needs to happen over and over and over again. It needs to be an ongoing conversation. They need to know that they can come back and ask you questions, so just that foundation. And then asking them if they have any questions, telling them that you’re allowed to be mad at you, they are allowed to be sad, they’re allowed to feel relieved. Any of the feelings that they have are okay. And that’s a good place to start with it.

Katie: Yeah, I think you touched on something really important, which is that having the real conversation, but also making sure you’re aware of what is appropriate for them to have the emotional burden on. And I would say, like, not giving them your own emotions for them to feel responsible for not leaning on them as a source of emotional support. That was the thing I learned, is I needed to find therapists and outlets and places that I can be vulnerable and break down and have all my emotional experiences. And when I’m with my kids, I want to have the real conversations, but not in a way where they feel like they have to emotionally support me, but in a way that I can show up and fully emotionally support them.

Sara: Well said.

Katie: And I would guess that this gets even tougher with more even serious conversations to touch on the one with cancer, I’m sure that was a really difficult conversation for you to have with her and probably very difficult for her to hear. And that’s statistically something that many of us will face at some point in our lives as parents. So how did you approach that conversation?

Sara: Well, I think one of the things to keep in mind, too, when having these conversations is there’s no expectation that you’re going to be perfect at this stuff and that you might regret the way that you said something or something that you said to your kids. But to apologize to them later is really important and try and repair that. So I just wanted to say that before we kind of get into the cancer part and the cancer conversation can be very similar to the divorce conversation in that think about how it’s going to affect the child. Think about what they actually need to know and have a little bit of info first before you have the conversation. And what I did was I tried to find children’s books because a lot of the time kids books about a topic. I ordered probably seven books about cancer because I wanted to find one that I felt honored my daughter’s intelligence and kind of explained to her what it was, but also didn’t talk too much about religion or like any of these other things.

So I was trying to find a children’s book, so I reviewed a whole bunch of them and really didn’t find anything that I liked because kids are really smart, they can understand what something is from a scientific point of view. And so the way that I described to her what was going on was I started out by saying, have you ever heard the word cancer? And she was six at the time and I knew that she had heard it, but I knew she didn’t know what it was either. And so she said, I think I’ve heard that, but I don’t know what it is. And I said, okay, well, I want to explain to you what it is. And I said, basically, our bodies are made up of all of these tiny little building blocks called cells. And it’s kind of like building with Legos, but each Lego has its own job and our hearts are made of cells and our eyeballs are made of cells. All over our body it’s just cells. And the cool thing about them is that one cell can make another one anytime it wants to. And so it’s like building with Legos and never running out of blocks, which is like super cool, right?

And she’s like, yeah. And I said, So the problem is that sometimes a broken cell gets made and most of the time our body can get rid of those broken cells and the body just keeps on working the way that it does. But sometimes the broken cells doesn’t get destroyed right away or killed off right away and it starts making more broken cells because it doesn’t know what its job is. All it remembers how to do is make more of itself. And sometimes that can be a problem. If there gets to be, like, a group of these guys that are broken, they can make it hard for the body to do its job. And that little group of cells is called cancer. And when we find some of that, we want to take it out of the body. And that’s what I’m talking about. And she said, okay. And I said, So I found a group of those cells in my breast, and so I want to let you know that I am going to have surgery to remove those guys, but I want to talk to you about it so that you understand what’s going on. And basically this means I’m going to go to the hospital and I’m going to go to sleep, and then they’re going to take it out, and then I’m going to wake up and I’m not going to have any breasts anymore.

And she looks at me in the face and says, are you going to die? And I thought to myself, wow, didn’t think we were going to go quite there quite yet. And I said, some people who have cancer do die, but I am not going to. And I said that’s part of the reason why I want to talk to you about this is because the word cancer can mean a lot of different things. It can be something small, like what I have, or it can be something bigger where all those cells kind of like packed up their stuff and decided to move to other parts of the body. And then in order to get rid of them, you can’t just take out the clump because there’s lots of them. So you have to have a medicine that will do other things to your body, like make your hair fall out. And then there are some people who have so many broken cells that their body doesn’t work anymore, and then the body dies. And I said, so when I tell people that I have cancer, they’re going to have a really strong reaction because they don’t know what kind of cancer I have. And I don’t want you to get scared by the way that they act.

And I was really glad that I said that in the beginning because there were a lot of people who had a lot of reactions. And people do not always think about who’s standing next to you when they come up to you with their giant emotional reaction. And so I had to have numerous conversations with my daughter and say, now remember, that person didn’t know what kind of cancer I had and they were really scared and upset, but you and I know I’m going to be okay. And so it was a really good conversation to have.

Katie: Wow. Yeah, that’s beautiful context. And circling back to the other big conversation with divorce, I’m curious. You don’t have to get too personal with your experience if it’s not something you want to share. But I’m curious if you have any tips for navigating that in families where one of the parents might not be on the same page or be having a much different experience and not supportive of that. I know at the end of the day, we only all control our own emotions and reactions and we can’t in any way control the other parent. But if you have any tips for navigating that or at least being having one parent for those kids who are who’s stable and emotionally there for them and willing to have those conversations.

Sara: Oh my goodness. Yes, that was my exact experience. And it was a really rough, probably four and a half years, and the only thing that stopped the dramatics on the other side was my getting cancer, ironically. And now our relationship is significantly better. But I would say the first probably five years of my daughter’s life was all about trying to navigate how I handle the fact that the other party was saying awful things to her, was toxic, was trying to manipulate her and handle my own emotions around that. Because the fear that I had was actually bigger than anything that my daughter was experiencing. It triggered so much in me of like, what happens if she grows up and she wants to go live with her dad? What if all of these things and so to your earlier point, I had a therapist that really helped me process this stuff so that when my friends came over, when I was around my daughter, I was not talking about it because I think that we hear a lot about not talking trash about the other person. The reason we don’t want to do that is, first off, it’s not appropriate for your kids to hear that about their parent. But also, if you can think about the fact that your kids are whether they’re adopted or not, doesn’t matter. They consider themselves half you and half their other parent. And so any negative thing that you say about the other parent hurts your child, they internalize that and feel like something is bad about them.

And my daughter’s experience, especially as she started we were two when we went through the divorce, and then when she started to turn like maybe four or five, she started to see a lot of the things that her dad was doing and not really like them. And so one of the things that I said to her that I think really made a difference and is totally true is you got all the best parts of Mommy and all the best parts of Daddy. And that I think she internalized that because her dad does have great qualities. He is hilarious, he’s charming, he’s got lots of good things about him. And when she would come to me and share some of the things that she didn’t like or made her scared. I said, you know what, honey? Sometimes people do things that we don’t like and I hear you, and I’m sorry, and I’m here to support you and talk about it.

So I was a container basically for her feelings, but I did not lay judgment on her dad. I didn’t say, oh yeah, you’re right, he sucks. Like, what a terrible person. No matter how angry I was, I knew that villainizing him was going to hurt her. So trying to put yourself in your child’s shoes and recognize also that through this process there’s a lot of grief because grief is anytime something is taken away without your consent and for your kids. They had a household in which everybody was together and it is sad because especially if they’re idealizing their friends families. My daughter’s twelve now, and I often am saying to her, I know that it looks like blah, blah, blah, blah, house is perfect, but we don’t know what’s going on. Nobody is perfect. Everybody has their challenges and we have our challenges too, but we have our peace, we have each other. So just trying to talk to your kids through this stuff and not villainizing the other party and validating their emotions and not putting yours in it too.

Katie: Yeah, such great advice. Those were two of the vows that I made to myself early in the process, where that they would never hear me speak even remotely badly about their dad because of all those points you just said. And that he would never make an enemy out of me because I realized I could only ever control my side of this. I’m the only variable in this whole equation I have control over, and I’m going to be in any way I have control over a source of stability in this and that I will never contribute to there being a power dynamic or a conflict or letting him become the enemy or me become the enemy. And I think that helped a lot because there wasn’t a wall of anger to push back against and so everybody else hopefully could have their emotions without it escalating.

Sara: That’s beautiful.

Katie: And I can only imagine especially to have gone through two of those really big life changes in a very short amount of time for you that had to have profoundly shifted you probably as a person and certainly as a parent as well. I’m curious, what were some of those shifts that happened as a result of both the diagnosis and the divorce for you and how that shifted your parenting?

Sara: I really started to prioritize myself more. I tried to during the divorce in that I got therapy and I really tried to learn how to regulate my own emotions because there were so many of them. I gave up caring about some of the things that I had cared about when I was married that were kind of not that important. I felt really compelled to have a cute house, like well decorated house, and to do it all myself. And I felt guilty about hiring somebody to help me with the house. I felt like I should do this and I should do that. So I did not have a lot of money, but I negotiated with someone to clean my house every month because I tried to recognize that it wasn’t good for my stress level to do all of the things by myself. So I changed that pretty quickly.

But the thing that really changed everything was the cancer diagnosis. Because as a single mom, I was doing everything myself that I hadn’t paid somebody to do. And I couldn’t afford to pay somebody to do everything. So I would have people offering to do things for me and I would feel guilty about it. So I would say no. And I thought to myself, I chose this life. Nobody else chose for me to be a single mom. Why would I felt like a burden. I don’t want somebody else to feel like they have to pick up the pieces of the life that they had nothing to do with.

But the second I was diagnosed with cancer, I realized that was not an option anymore because I literally couldn’t get off the couch. And if my daughter was going to get to school, I needed to accept the help of the people who offered it to me. And it was a really great lesson to me because I started to see that when people were helping me, it made them feel good. And so I thought all this time I’ve been saying no. But the cycle of giving and receiving is a circle. And if we say no, we’re stopping that cycle. And it is a beautiful cycle that builds community, it builds intimacy, and it creates a full life. And so I started saying yes to people who offered to do things and it completely changed everything. And now I have a beautiful community full of people that I’m incredibly grateful for and who I would help if something happened to them as well. And that’s a community I had been depriving myself of for a very long time. So I would say that’s the biggest change.

Katie: And I might butcher this quote, but I once heard a quote that was helpful to me that was something along the lines of that this person admired people who can walk through the fire and come out carrying a bucket of water for those still in it. And I feel like that’s what you’ve done with your story in the work that you do now. So I would love to hear how you turned those hard things that you went through now into these resources to help so many other people, which I know led to you writing children’s books and creating all these other resources. But what was that process like?

Sara: Yeah, the first thing that I created was a co-parenting calendar for kids, because when we went through the divorce, my daughter was having a lot of anxiety, and I attributed that to what our house was like. She was afraid of men. And I thought, okay, the divorce is going to help with this. We’re going to have a peaceful house. Well, she turned that anxiety into all kinds of things. She was afraid of shadows on the ground. She was afraid of other kids. It was a disaster. And I went to a trauma informed child therapist for a two year old, and I was like, I don’t know what she’s going to do, but I need help. I don’t know what to do. My background was in psychology, but I studied adults, and I had no idea what I was doing.

And one of the things that the therapist did was when she was going on vacation, she had created this construction paper calendar, and she was using these Dora the Explorer stickers and was like, usually I see you on this day, but instead I’m going to see you on this day. And she was, like, counting and showing when my daughter was going to see her. And I said to the therapist, Is this really necessary? She’s going to miss one meeting with you, and it’s once a week. And she said, It really affects kids to miss an appointment with their therapist. It can erode trust. And so we just want to be open and honest, and because of the way the kids learn, we do it visually. So I went home, and the whole time I was thinking, there’s something here. And when I got home, I thought, I am going to create a calendar for our house. Because if missing one weekly appointment with a therapist is going to negatively impact her, what must it be like to go to school every day? Daycare? What must it be like to not know when you’re going to see your dad next?

And so I took this sheet metal pan that goes underneath a leaky refrigerator and some electrical tape and some drawings that I had done of our family. And I showed her when she was going to see her dad and which days were school days. And it was like night and day with her anxiety. It made such a big difference, and I was shocked by how simple it was. And I started searching online to see if anybody else had created this, if anybody was talking about it, and no one was talking about it. So I started researching how kids learn and learned so much and basically created a co-parenting calendar, which I then put up on a website and was selling on the side of my day job for six years.

And then when I was diagnosed with cancer, like I had mentioned earlier, looking for children’s books and really didn’t like any of the ones that I had found, they were using kind of scary analogies. And the drawings looked, I mean, there was one of a surgeon that was holding a knife that was terrifying. And I just thought, there’s got to be some way to explain the science of cancer in a children’s book. And that was what I did during my treatment, was I wrote a book that is now published. It’s called What Happens When Someone I Love has Cancer and it explained the science of cancer and how it affects the child’s day-to-day life. And it immediately became a bestseller in its category. And I realized there’s a whole world of issues that kids are faced with every day. And if they had a calendar to understand their lives and how this big change would affect them and a children’s book to explain all the feelings that come up and what actually is going to happen and what the thing is that it would really help a lot of them.

And so now I have visual calendars and routine charts for all kinds of situations, whether it’s just, like, everyday changes or it’s divorce, child cancer diagnosis, their siblings diagnosis, their parents diagnosis, they’re in foster care, they have a military family, all these things that can cause change in their household. Their parent can now explain it to them visually in a way that really helps reduce their anxiety. And I have ten children’s books explaining various things, whether it’s cancer, divorce or just general change. And also a few books about emotions and teaching kids about how to identify emotions, where they are in the body, how the nervous system works, coping skills, that sort of thing. So it’s really turned into something beautiful. And my books are used in children’s hospitals and it’s really cool.

Katie: That really is a beautiful story and I love that you are touching on some of these such important topics and I think it speaks to something fundamentally shifting as well when it comes to parenting. And it seems like I’m very encouraged to see a wave of awareness around this and a lot of intentionality going into how we parent our kids that might be different from past generations, not that we can’t learn and gain so much wisdom from those as well.

This podcast is brought to you by LMNT, which is a company that I have had the chance to invest in and have loved since day one. They just released brand new grapefruit flavor on top of all of their other flavors that I absolutely love, including watermelon which is a kid’s favorite in my house, as well as citrus, raspberry, orange, and a couple of ones that I really like, like mango and lemon habanero as well. As you know, summer brings warmth and sunshine, and with it, energizing opportunities to all of us to move and play and be outside. But it also brings a fair amount of sweat. And if you are a regular sauna user like me, you know that sweat is part of it, as well as if you exercise regularly. And this is why optimal hydration is the key with the right fluid to electrolyte balance, because it isn’t just about getting enough water and fluid, but also making sure our electrolytes are dialed in and you feel the difference when you get it right. So when summer brings the heat, LMNT brings the grapefruit salt flavor to help you enjoy that balance all summer long. You can consider grapefruit or any of their flavors, your ultimate summer salt companion. And I love that they combine sodium, magnesium, and potassium in the clinically studied ratios to make sure that you can stay optimally hydrated even if you are saunaing or exercising or just spending time outside in the summer. Find out more about LMNT by going to drinklmnt.com/wellnessmama. And this is a one time flavor so when it’s gone, it’s gone for good. I highly recommend that you try it. I also would suggest trying watermelon and mango chili if you like a little bit of a spicy kick. But watermelon, like I said, is the kid favorite at my house and you can find those and all of their flavors at drinklmnt.com/wellnessmama.

This podcast is brought to you by Wellnesse, the company I co-founded to create truly safe and natural personal care products that are safe for the whole family. Our products use EWG verified safe ingredients and go beyond just avoiding harmful ingredients, including herbs and botanicals that benefit your oral health, skin and hair from the outside in. We believe that it isn’t enough just to avoid the harmful ingredients… that natural products should work as well as their conventional counterparts and that since the skin is the largest organ, adding beneficial ingredients is an extra way to benefit the body naturally. I’ve been fascinated by oral health since reading Weston A Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration years ago, and we now have a whole line of oral care products focused on supporting and nourishing the oral microbiome while naturally whitening and strengthening teeth. With three options of toothpaste (mint, charcoal and kids strawberry), natural floss, biodegradable flossers, and new probiotic mints designed to support the oral microbiome, our products help you have whiter, heathier teeth naturally. Check out all our wellnesse products at Wellnesse.com

I’m curious if you have any advice for parents who are choosing intentionally to do things differently than their parents did or their grandparents did and it might be having some struggles with extended family on those kind of things.

Sara: Yeah, I think our parents generation did not have the research that we have. There is so much that has come out over the last 30 years about emotional intelligence and what the benefits are to kids in understanding their own emotional world and what the protective factors are for kids, what the scary things are for kids to witness as kids, but also, like, what can help them cope better. So we have a lot of research and there’s no shortage of parenting information out there. I’m sure I am not the only one that had a stack, like 9 miles high of all of these fantastic children’s books and no time to read them. So I think it’s both a blessing and a curse in that we now know all of the benefits of teaching our kids these things and guiding them in these specific ways. But we now are also totally overwhelmed by the amount of information out there.

And during the pandemic, they came out with all of this research and they declared a national crisis for kids mental health. And they were talking about how ER visits for elementary age kids were through the roof and that they had already been rising. And it was so overwhelming. And I went to my daughter’s elementary school principal right when they were starting to send the kids back to school. And I said, this is really alarming. And the government has given all of the schools some funding to be able to help kids with their mental health. What is your plan to help them? And he had no plans. Like, he literally ran away from me. And I thought, this is not good.

And so I started doing some research about how you can help protect your kids and what programs were out there to teach parents how to do this. And there really wasn’t anything. But there was a whole lot of research, but no way to bring it home. And so at that point, I was thinking, I wonder. I just finished my last book, which was called Nothing Stays the Same, But that’s Okay. And the purpose of that book was talking about change. So it was really helpful during COVID. But I recognized that there were so many more things parents could be doing, and it was too hard. So I created an advisory board for Mighty and Bright, and I found an early childhood specialist to partner with me to create an entire line of resources that would help parents teach positive mental health skills to their kids while also learning them at the same time, because, again, we were not raised this way.

So it starts with the everyday structure and showing your kids what to expect, but then it goes through all these other things, like actually teaching kids problem solving, because how many of us ever actually learned how to solve a problem? Talking about identifying emotions and where they live in the body, which is the intro to somatic processing, which is incredibly helpful. But so few of us learned how to do coping skills and learning how the nervous system works, how we can calm our bodies down and to do it in a way that is fun and isn’t adding a whole bunch of stuff to your to do list. And then at the end of the day, you have this actual physical product in your hands that will last years, and it turns into a common language that you have with your kids to talk about anything from, Oh there was a bully at school to years down the line, you got your heart broken for the first time and then they’re going into adulthood empowered with skills that we all needed to learn when we were younger. But we didn’t know or their parents didn’t know. So I’m really proud of our generation. I feel like we’re kicking butt and taking names and really changing the game and breaking cycles in a way that is truly admirable. I’m really proud of us. I wanted to create something for us.

Katie: Yeah, I’m proud of seeing that shift too, and a thing that I love and what you’re doing this makes so much sense because in my kids, one of my core values is focusing on autonomy and helping make sure that they always understand those things that are within their control and how capable they are. And they understand that I believe they are capable and that they can figure out anything they put their mind to. And I love that you have resources for kids in this too, of them having their own calendar. We have a family calendar. My older kids have naturally started doing their own. But I love that this is a concept you bring to all ages of kids because, to the point you made earlier, that probably gives them so much of a feeling of understanding and security around their own schedule and knowing where they’re going to be. And as you were saying that, I was putting myself back in childhood and thinking, yeah, in hindsight, it is kind of a little bizarre to not know what’s going to happen until it happens in your own life. And so that alone seems like such a valuable step. But maybe talk a little bit more about the value of kids having their own calendar and just how beneficial that can be.

Sara: Yeah, it’s funny because I think when we think about that, we’re like, oh, my gosh, if I lost my calendar, I would be an absolute wreck. I would be so stressed out. And our kids are asking us a lot of the time a whole bunch of questions like, when is my play date? What day is school? When is dinner? All these questions that, if they had some semblance of control, would be able to answer for themselves. And it really does empower them to find the answers themselves. But also there’s a sense of control and empowerment that comes from owning that thing and having it. It’s a sense of pride. It’s funny because I’ve been doing this for a decade now, and parents have been using their calendar that they got from me ten years ago, and their kids love the calendar and they’ve attached to it like it’s a lovey or something. Like they are constantly going back and referencing it because it’s their life and it’s displayed in a way that they are proud of and they can go and change the magnets themselves. It’s called a connection calendar because the idea is that every Sunday or whenever works for your family, you’re sitting down with your kids and there’s these little reusable stickers that you put on the magnets so that you can show them what’s happening each week.

And so it’s a place where some time set aside, like five minutes every week, where you sit down with your kids and you’re talking about what’s happening in the coming week, which seems like it would just be okay. This is another thing to do, but it’s opening up communication and conversation for your kids to ask questions, to tell you things that they are nervous about. To tell you things that they’re excited about. And it’s a real time for communication in a way that really changes their perspective of what support looks like. It reminds them of things so they’re not kind of like trying to keep it all in their heads. And from a developmental point of view, this is like a serious executive functioning skill to be able to keep information in your mind that you can’t see and they don’t have that skill yet. And so this is helping them build it, but also from not just a weekly calendar perspective. If you show them their routine in the morning and in the evening, they are empowered to then do stuff themselves without asking you over and over again because they can’t remember what comes next.

And if you sit down and you build that routine with them together and you say, okay, here are all the things we’ve discussed need to be done, what order do you want to do them in? Now they feel a sense of control and a sense of power having basically worked with you to create this thing and they will go and do it themselves. So it really does build confidence. It’s really a powerful thing and it’s super simple and super easy to do.

Katie: And it makes so much sense. I feel like I didn’t fully learn that until I was an adult and actually had kids myself and realized there’s a lot of talk about all the mental load that moms carry. But I realized a lot of my stress was not actually coming from having to get all this stuff done. It was from managing all of that in my head and constantly having all those open loops of what I was going to cook for dinner and I needed to do laundry. And there wasn’t defined times when all of that would happen. And one of the shifts that helped so much for me as a young mom was just to define when all those things would happen so that there was a routine for me and knowing when I was going to do the laundry, when I was going to bulk cook, whatever it was. So it took the mental aspect of that away even though the same number of things were happening. And then I realized later on when the kids got older, the same thing was true with them. And just simply defining some of those things reduced the questions, which is another source of fatigue for a lot of moms is the endless questions. And so it makes sense that having that structure would reduce kind of those two stress points, especially for moms. Especially, it seems like.

Sara: Yeah, absolutely. The non-stop barrage of questions is….

Katie: Yeah. And shifting that perspective for me and reframing it to realize like, oh, it’s natural for kids to have questions. This means they don’t have the tools themselves to answer these questions. So how can I build in tools or some kind of structure that lets them be able to find answers without only having to depend on me and also building things into our family culture of when you’re interested in something, I’ll show you how to research it. You have these amazing tools at your disposal. You can learn anything you want at any time. You don’t have to always come to me for the answer. And I may not even know, but there’s resources that are safe online that can teach you those things. And I think building those things and has taken a lot of the day-to-day stress off for me for sure.

Sara: I love that. Yeah. And to your point, I think a lot of families have these command centers that have every we have the best of intention to keep these things up to date. Right. But there’s something about having their own life displayed on their own calendar that is the secret sauce to making this work because they don’t need to know about what everybody else in the family is doing. And looking at that can be really overwhelming to them. Especially if you have lots of kids in your house and kid number one has soccer, kid number two has this and that doesn’t affect this child. They’re less likely they don’t feel a sense of ownership over it. So having their own that doesn’t have the cats vet appointment on it, it’s really empowering to them. And especially something that they don’t have to share is a win all the time.

Katie: I agree. And it’s something, like I said, my older kids have implemented, but I’m inspired to now go home and implement with my younger ones. I think that’ll help their process a whole lot. And I feel like there’s endless directions we could go and this would cover many more than hours, than just a 1 hour podcast. But I want to also make sure we circle back and speak to the parents in these situations as well and any additional advice you have for the parents who are navigating these difficult situations. We’ve gotten to talk a lot about the kids, but you’ve gone through some pretty tough life experiences. Do you have any advice for the parent in navigating those.

Sara: I think my number one is getting help, getting a therapist, getting and accepting help from people who want to offer it to you. It’s up to them to put boundaries up. If they are offering it to you, they are offering it to you. They aren’t offering it to you because they feel guilty. And if they do, that is not your concern. I would go down all these rabbit holes of like, well, I don’t know if blah, blah, blah actually really wants to do that. I felt guilty for something that they had offered, and that was not the goal. So really try to take care of yourself by allowing your community to support you, I think is one of the hardest things to do and the most important.

Katie: Yeah. And just learning how to accept help in general, whether it be through therapy or whatever the process is. I realized I still had some lingering elements of that recently in kind of a laughable way, when I was using Open.AI and ChatGPT to just organize some of my own work, I had already written into different formats. And I felt bad asking it to revise things. And I was like, Wait, this is a computer generated AI and my people pleasing is kicking in.

Sara: I love that. Yeah, the self-awareness is key there. You’re like, oh, boy.

Katie: Yes. And I think the other element of that, too, is as parents, when being vulnerable and being without relying on them for emotional support, but being real in those moments where things do get tougher, we don’t handle things exactly perfectly. I think there’s actually potentially even more connection possible when we can admit like, oh, I wish I had handled this differently. I’m sorry I got impatient, I’m sorry, whatever it was, and we have a conversation around it because that also frees them up to have their own emotional experience and to feel okay in that if they see us do it. So many lessons.

Sara: Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. That vulnerability research shows that you can feel good about it, that repair is better for your kids than being perfect in the first place.

Katie: Yes, absolutely. 100%. And I will, of course, link to I know you have so many resources. I will link to your books and your website and where people can find you in the show. Notes for you guys listening, that’s wellnessmama.fm. But a few questions I love to ask at the end of interviews. The first being, if other than your own, if there’s a book or a number of books that have really profoundly influenced you, and if so, what they are and why.

Sara: Wow, what a question. I really love reading fiction, to be honest, because being able to go into someone else’s world is a wonderful escape. So I am a voracious reader, and I’m not sure if there is a single book that I could choose because I read probably 50 or 60 books a year. Unfortunately, I don’t have a specific recommendation.

Katie: Well, that’s awesome. You’re definitely above the national average by many multiples as far as your book reading. So I love that I’m learning to read fiction because in that same vein of self awareness, I realized my personality tends to be very type A and wanting to complete things in a timely fashion. So I pretty much don’t ever watch TV series because I feel like I have to finish them or it’s an open loop. Same thing with books. So I learned to speed read when I was very young because I can’t leave a book unread.

Sara: Wow.

Katie: And so if I start a book in a given day, I have to finish it. So I haven’t read as much fiction as I would like just because it’s a commitment for me. I know I’m going to spend several hours of that day reading. But I love that. I think it’s a good reminder that not all books have to be in a self-development or nonfiction, learning something capacity. And that sometimes getting to enter that different world is a really important mental break and I think also speaks to this emerging idea that I think is important as well, that self-care doesn’t have to be bubble baths. Sometimes self-care is asking for help or going to therapy or reading fiction or watching a series on Netflix if that’s what gives you a mental break. And so I love that our generation is also redefining that a little bit.

Sara: Yeah. And don’t feel guilty about it. If you want to watch Netflix, watch Netflix. And that is what you are doing in that moment. And that is a good thing to do.

Katie: Exactly. I love it. Well, on that, another question I love to ask at the end is if there’s any parting advice for the listeners that could be related to any of the topics we’ve talked about or entirely unrelated life advice that’s been valuable to you.

Sara: I think I would just say it doesn’t need to be that hard. I think there’s so much information out there and it can make you feel like you’re not doing enough. But the true value is in simplicity, I have found, and I’ve become really self-aware in how things are affecting my body emotionally. So I would just say my number one piece of advice is to try and develop that skill because it is a skill that takes a long time to build to recognize how things are affecting you emotionally. And if it feels bad, stop it.

Katie: And I know some of your books touch on that for kids and helping them develop that skill earlier than many of us got to learn as adults and are still learning. So I love that those resources are available. Like I said, those will be all linked in the show notes or I know they’re available where books are sold as well. But I’ll make sure the links are all in one place. And Sara, I’m so grateful for your time today. This has been a wonderful, vulnerable conversation that went in a lot of directions, and I’m so grateful for everything you’ve shared.

Sara: Thank you so much for having me. It’s really an honor. Thank you.

Katie: And thanks, as always, to all of you for listening and sharing your most valuable resources, your time, your energy and your attention with us today. We’re both so grateful that you did, and I hope that you will join me again on the next episode of The Wellness Mama Podcast.

If you’re enjoying these interviews, would you please take two minutes to leave a rating or review on iTunes for me? Doing this helps more people to find the podcast, which means even more moms and families could benefit from the information. I really appreciate your time, and thanks as always for listening.

Thanks to Our Sponsors

This podcast is brought to you by LMNT, which is a company that I have had the chance to invest in and have loved since day one. They just released brand new grapefruit flavor on top of all of their other flavors that I absolutely love, including watermelon which is a kid’s favorite in my house, as well as citrus, raspberry, orange, and a couple of ones that I really like, like mango and lemon habanero as well. As you know, summer brings warmth and sunshine, and with it, energizing opportunities to all of us to move and play and be outside. But it also brings a fair amount of sweat. And if you are a regular sauna user like me, you know that sweat is part of it, as well as if you exercise regularly. And this is why optimal hydration is the key with the right fluid to electrolyte balance, because it isn’t just about getting enough water and fluid, but also making sure our electrolytes are dialed in and you feel the difference when you get it right. So when summer brings the heat, LMNT brings the grapefruit salt flavor to help you enjoy that balance all summer long. You can consider grapefruit or any of their flavors, your ultimate summer salt companion. And I love that they combine sodium, magnesium, and potassium in the clinically studied ratios to make sure that you can stay optimally hydrated even if you are saunaing or exercising or just spending time outside in the summer. Find out more about LMNT by going to drinklmnt.com/wellnessmama. And this is a one time flavor so when it’s gone, it’s gone for good. I highly recommend that you try it. I also would suggest trying watermelon and mango chili if you like a little bit of a spicy kick. But watermelon, like I said, is the kid favorite at my house and you can find those and all of their flavors at drinklmnt.com/wellnessmama.

This podcast is brought to you by Wellnesse, the company I co-founded to create truly safe and natural personal care products that are safe for the whole family. Our products use EWG verified safe ingredients and go beyond just avoiding harmful ingredients, including herbs and botanicals that benefit your oral health, skin and hair from the outside in. We believe that it isn’t enough just to avoid the harmful ingredients… that natural products should work as well as their conventional counterparts and that since the skin is the largest organ, adding beneficial ingredients is an extra way to benefit the body naturally. I’ve been fascinated by oral health since reading Weston A Price’s Nutrition and Physical Degeneration years ago, and we now have a whole line of oral care products focused on supporting and nourishing the oral microbiome while naturally whitening and strengthening teeth. With three options of toothpaste (mint, charcoal and kids strawberry), natural floss, biodegradable flossers, and new probiotic mints designed to support the oral microbiome, our products help you have whiter, heathier teeth naturally. Check out all our Wellnesse products at Wellnesse.com

Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

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