By Courtney Ulmer, Assistant Head of School for Academics
This summer I found myself climbing the concrete steps to the top of a waterslide in Minneapolis with my two nephews ages 6 and 8. They had just moved there and the community pool was more waterpark than pool. My stress level was pretty high. It was slippery, and there were other children dashing past to go down the slide. I had not been on a waterslide, roller coaster, or ferris wheel in many years, and I was standing inside the back hole of a triple donut tube. As one of us moved, we all moved. Yes, I was under some stress and feeling a little emotional but never any anxiety or feeling of fear, dread, or panic. Maybe my stress would have become elevated if I’d had more than two minutes to realize what I had gotten myself into or maybe I would have let myself become more anxious if I was not the adult in charge at the pool. Either way, after the climb up, the ride down the slide was the best part — but no, I did not go a second time!
During our opening of school, I had the opportunity to share a few words of wisdom from Lisa Damour’s new book Under Pressure: Confronting the Epidemic of Stress and Anxiety in Girls, our faculty and staff summer reading which Head of School Cathy McGehee invited our families to read with us. In Under Pressure, Damour addresses stress and anxiety in teenage girls in open and honest ways. She gives advice based on her work with girls, their families, and girls school communities. I spoke about how “teenagers sometimes deal with painful feelings by handing their unwanted emotions off to their parents” (p. 52) and how often that mid-day text or phone call can leave a parent worrying all day while the student has moved on from the concern by the time the two have a chance to speak again.
In the same chapter, Damour talks about “settling your glitter.” She explains how she employs small things — short walks, trips to the water fountain, a check in or phone call back in five minutes, or, quite literally, a shaken jar of glitter which needs to settle — before engaging an upset teenager in a discussion. For me, in the time it took me to apply my sunscreen before mounting the stairs to the waterslide, my “glitter had settled.” Damour advises first acknowledging that your daughter is upset, explaining the plan for the glitter to settle — “I will check back in five minutes and we can talk” or “let’s take a short walk” — before finally addressing what is going on.
When building in time for glitter settling, Damour explains three things that are accomplished. Your daughter sees that you are not “frightened by her feelings,” her “rational cortex comes back on line,” and she has the opportunity to share her thoughts and feelings with her parent, teacher, advisor, or dorm parent. Last spring as I was first reading this book and taking an online class with Damour along with Assistant Head of School for Student Life Emily Johns and fellow educators from across the country, I found myself employing this technique with students in my dorm and office. By acknowledging that I was open and willing to listen and talk but was going to give them a few minutes to collect themselves first, we were able to have more productive conversations.
At Foxcroft, our girls are both at home and away from home at the same time and for teachers, advisors, dorm teams, and our health care team, the partnership we have with each family is key to each student’s success. We encourage you to employ some of Damour’s tactics in conversations with your daughter, and to keep the lines of communication open, no matter how shaken up her glitter may get.