Creativity, anxiety, and helping kids become their own superheroes

After Show Notes

Guest: Kathleen Lane

“Worry is courage waiting to get out.”
“I was born to make mistakes, not fake perfection.”
“Worries are just the things you don’t know yet.”

These are the kinds of statements that people who attend Kathleen Lane’s “Create More, Fear Less” workshops come up with. If only we could all be so wise! And who are these shining beacons of acceptance and wisdom? Middle schoolers, specifically, 4th-8th graders who struggle with significant anxiety. Yep, that’s right. After spending time in one of Kathleen’s “Fearless” clubs, these middle schoolers have been able to shift their relationship to their anxiety in a way that I rarely see even in adults. So what’s her secret? Through modeling her own humanity and using creativity to help kids explore their feelings rather than pathologizing them, Kathleen helps kids face their fears and worries. In doing so, the kids become their own superheros!

Kathleen Lane comes at this work honestly. A writer and creator, Kathleen is also someone who has an anxious mind. Even though she does not come at this from a clinical or therapy background, found so much in her work to be consistent with the ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) approach that I have found so helpful in my work as a therapist and also in my own personal life. In fact, I can see all 6 of the core ACT processes (Willingness/Acceptance, Defusion, Contact with the Present Moment, Flexible Perspective Taking/Self-As-Context, Values, and Committed Action) masterfully demonstrated in the Create More, Fear Less program:

Willingness/Acceptance: One of the coolest parts of Kathleen’s approach is that she doesn’t just help kids tolerate their anxiety, she actually helps open up to and even, at times, appreciate it. By helping them see that the same mind that gives them worries and anxieties, is also the same mind that helps them be creative and dream, Kathleen’s approach is one of making space for (i.e. willingness) rather than putting up with (i.e. resignation to) anxiety.

Defusion

Kathleen’s program uses metaphor and physicalizing creativity exercises to help kids be able to take a step back to look at thoughts rather than just from their thoughts. They become curious about their thoughts and feelings, seeing them as something to explore and look at rather than something that needs to be eliminated.

Contact with the Present Moment: Worry is all about an imagined future. By helping kids become more aware of and curious about what they are actually experiencing in this moment, even if it is unpleasant like a racing heart or sweaty palms, the Fearless program helps kids move out of the virtual reality of the mind and into their actual lived experience, which is where life and learning occur.

Flexible Perspective Taking: Each participant in the workshops, including the facilitators, share their worries and experiences with one another. For example, each session starts with the kids writing down worry on a rock and then sharing that with the group. This helps participants see that they are not alone. In addition, if they notice that they respond with kindness or understanding to other people’s worries, they may be able to see that they could respond to their own worries with that same compassion. Values and Committed Action: The Fearless program isn’t actually focused on helping kids not feel fear or “get over” their anxiety. It’s about helping them connect with and move towards something that is more important than their fear and anxiety. In this way, the
anxiety may still be present, but it’s not running the show. I was so inspired after speaking with Kathleen Lane and hearing about the work she is doing. I really wish we could have more programs of like this to give kids (and adults!) the tools they need to be more accepting of their scary or painful thoughts or feelings while at the same time, become their own superheroes focused on what is actually important to them. I hope you’ll take some time to check out her website, Createmorefearless.org and her book “The Best Worst Thing.”

And if you don’t happen to be lucky enough to be a middle schooler in one of Kathleen’s programs, but are interested in developing some of the skills around acceptance, mindfulness, and valued action that is so consistent with Kathleen’s approach, you can find an ACT therapist in your area here.

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