"No one should have to trade their wellness for success." That's how Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out and Enough As She Is opened her Parent Program presentation in Massey Theater. And that was enough to get her audience's attention.
Her presentation was chock-full of actionable strategies for helping parents connect with their daughters in a manner that is supportive and prioritizes her wellbeing.
She started with the elephant in the room—the college admission process. Simmons advised parents acknowledge to their daughters that they are coming of age at time when the cultural pressure tied to the college process has reached a fever pitch. Let them know that the stress is not their fault, and more importantly, that their worth is not tied to the outcome of their college admission decision.
And while you're offering them words of comfort or advice, don't expect them to thank you.
They may roll their eyes at you or grunt their response to a question, but they are still connecting with you. "The way that they connect with us as they get older changes," said Simmons, "but they are absolutely listening." They're also watching you. Simmons emphasized that a parent's reaction to an event or incident sets the tone for the child's response and noted that research shows that parents have an enormous impact on their child's anxiety and stress levels.
To support your daughter when she is facing a challenging situation, start by showing empathy; whether or not you believe her feelings are warranted, you have to let her know that her feelings matter. Affirm her emotions and experience, because according to Simmons, "When we mirror back to our children, we are helping them feel secure. They are looking to us to feel what is true and right."
As a matter of practice, Simmons advises that parents cultivate a sense of gratitude in their families. "Today's kids are hearing a message that they have to be the best at everything they do," she said, "and end up walking around feeling a pervasive sense of self-criticism." Remind them that who they are right now is enough. Teach them to pause daily and think of three things that they are grateful for. Again, research supports this recommendation—those who take time to appreciate the good in their lives sleep better, and experience a reduction in the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
During her time to GA, Simmons also spoke to Upper School and Middle School students in separate assemblies, met with students conducting research on the topics of body image and academic risk-taking, and with faculty in small groups. GA has long invested in student, faculty, and parent programs focused on health and wellness, and Simmons' visit put a spotlight on this strategic area of focus.